Bias in Literature: Uncovering Prejudice and Stereotypes

Bias is the act of showing undue favor, support, or endorsement toward a person, group, race, or argument while opposing another. Bias is not limited to cultural contexts; it can manifest in various aspects of academic life, literature, such as gender, sexuality, religion, nation, subjects, and everyday life. Essentially, it represents an illogical and non-neutral support for one viewpoint over another. The word 'bias' originates from the French word "biais," meaning angle or slant.

Types of Bias

Bias can take various forms, extending beyond literary works to encompass propaganda, gender-related bias, age-related bias, racial discrimination, religious discrimination, marginalization, and stereotyping.

Examples of Bias in Literature

Example #1: Bias Against Women in "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare

"In Shakespeare's 'Hamlet,' the character Hamlet expresses biased attitudes toward women. Some interpretations suggest that these lines reflect misogyny, with Hamlet seemingly holding a negative view of women's frailty and lack of self-control, particularly directed at his mother for her quick remarriage."

This example illustrates gender bias demonstrated by the character Hamlet within the play.

Example #2: Stereotyping of Jews in "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens

"Charles Dickens' novel 'Oliver Twist' presents the character Fagin, a Jew, in a manner that perpetuates stereotypes. Fagin is taunted for his alleged insolence by another character, Sikes. The language used by Sikes reflects a prejudiced view of Jews and implies contempt and veiled bias."

This instance highlights how stereotypes and bias are portrayed in literature through character depictions.

Example #3: Gender Bias in "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin

"In Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening,' Dr. Mandelet and Mr. Pontellier exhibit gender bias. Dr. Mandelet implies that modern women, including Edna Pontellier, have been influenced negatively by 'pseudo-intellectual women.' Mr. Pontellier echoes these sentiments, describing Edna's behavior as peculiar, thus displaying bias against the female protagonist."

These examples showcase how both male characters in the story demonstrate bias against the female character, Edna Pontellier.

Example #4: Bias Against Jews in "The Merchant of Venice" by William Shakespeare

"In 'The Merchant of Venice' by William Shakespeare, Antonio refers to Shylock, a Jewish character, in derogatory terms. Antonio describes Shylock using scornful language, depicting him as a wicked person due to his profession as a moneylender. These lines reflect bias against Shylock and the Jewish community as a whole."

These lines demonstrate how bias can manifest as racial prejudice against characters such as Shylock.

Example #5: Racial Bias in "Othello" by William Shakespeare

"In 'Othello' by William Shakespeare, Iago uses racial bias to turn other characters, including Barbantio and senators, against Othello. He employs derogatory language, referring to Othello as an 'old black ram,' using racist slurs to manipulate people's feelings and opinions."

This example shows how Iago employs racial bias to create conflict within the story.

Bias: Its Meaning and Function

Bias in literature serves as a tool to implicitly convey prejudice against specific communities, faiths, sects, or races. It raises awareness of certain biases and prejudices, encouraging readers to think critically. Bias can also be used to provoke thought in a different direction than usual. However, it can also contribute to the creation of prejudice, leading to hatred and conflict. Bias can result in 'othering,' where people who are different from 'us' are portrayed negatively.

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