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William Blake

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Social conflict is the manifestation of irreconcilable social differences that arise when an inherent sense of superiority, prejudice and misconceptions form the basis of social interaction. Through the use of a variety of literary techniques Chris Baker's stimulus piece 'On the 394', William Blake's poem 'London', and Shakespeare's 'The merchant of Venice' all explore the consequences of social conflict in each text.

The stimulus material 'On the 394', a short story by Chris Baker explores the potential for social conflict that results from prejudice and conflict. In the narrative, an old women's unthinking acceptance of talkback radio host's opinions, results in her own prejudiced perceptions of others. By establishing the women's fragility and age through the adjectives such as 'stooped' and 'lined and yellowed' Baker creates the impression of an individual incapable of causing any harm.

However, this impression is undercut by the dialogue in which she voices her opinions. The colloquialisms in her speech, including 'All them gays drink there... Getting' up to their carrying on' conveys not only her prejudices but also suggest that these prejudices are the result of ignorant generalisation.

Baker employs irony to highlight the gap that exists between her prejudiced belief and her observation that the boy is a 'lovely young fella', unaware that he will be going to the pub where 'them gays drink'. Similarly, her thoughtless acceptance that 'the Japanese... get free courses at UNI' is juxtaposed with the reality that the student is from Indonesia and is worrying about the amount of money her parent spent on her fees, implying that social conflict is the result of ignorance.

However, by finally presenting the women's warm acceptance of the young Koori girl, Baker makes us aware that the real source of conflict is the talkback radio host, who manipulates the opinions of the lonely and vulnerable, and uses that media to incite hatred. Therefore the narrative presents the dangers of uniformed opinions and prejudices as a potential source of social conflict.

Social conflict in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' is manifested not only in the injustices that Shylock enumerates as he denounces his mistreatment by the Christians but also in the clash of injustices between 'the usurer' and the man who 'lends out money gratis'. As Shylock succinctly describes the consequences of such irreconcilable social differences as 'an ancient grudge', it becomes obvious that constant denigration and humiliation of one social group by another will ultimately culminate in a desire for revenge.

Shakespeare introduces this perspective of social conflict by allowing Shylock a dominant voice in the play. The cataloguing of injustices in a n emotive monologue, 'You spat on me... you spurned me ... you called me dog' is further reinforced by the repetition of rhetorical questions such as, 'Hath a dog money?' and 'Is it possible/ A cur can lend/ three thousand ducats?' the extent to which discrimination has scarred the psyche of Shylock is reflected in the very emotive monologue in which he voices his humanity through a series of rhetorical questions, 'Hath not a Jew eyes?...If you poison us, do we not die?'. These questions, which become a basis of Shylocks' 'lodged hate', offer an insight into the cause of social conflict and its often destructive results.

The social interaction that occurs between the Christian Venetian and Shylock provides further evidence of racial and religious bigotry. The recurring motifs of 'cur' and 'dog' with which the Christians such as Antonio and Bassanio allude to Shylock, embody their contempt for 'the Jew'. Gratiano in the trial scene uses the bestial image of wolf to condemn Shylock's desire for revenge as 'wolfish, bloody ... and ravenous'.

Shakespeare's portrayal of these characters that remain ignorant of their own prejudices conveys the inherent sense of superiority



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