The Civilized and the Primitive: Two Contrasting Perspectives Essay

The Civilized and the Primitive: Two Contrasting Perspectives Essay

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European writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, permanently captured the cultural attitudes and popular opinions associated with the ideas of civilization and the primitive of their time. The Era of New Imperialism brought culturally polarizing ideas to the forefront of public thought—ideas like the exploitation of primitive peoples for the benefit of civilized Europeans. Several decades later, during the Interwar Period, many ideas of the previous century were challenged, yet many established attitudes remained. H. Rider Haggard’s She epitomized the new imperialist culture of the late 19th century as it promoted a naturally determined separation between the civilized and the primitive. Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents embodied the reflective yet traditional culture of the early 20th century by furthering the animalistic characterization of primitive people and by criticizing civilization for its impediment of people’s happiness.
In 1887, H. Rider Haggard wrote She, a novel that incorporated the attitudes and ideologies associated with the new imperialism that dominated European thought and policy of its time. During this era, European powers greatly increased their global influence; from the French colonization of Indochina to the British in India, nearly every western European country claimed possession of an overseas colony. One of the most important events of this imperialist period was the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. During this international meeting, European powers divided up the continent of Africa into separate European colonies. Not a single African was present; the conference was an exclusive meeting of European powers to negotiate the details of their possession of an entire continent....

... middle of paper ... When compared to Haggard’s older, more polarizing opinions, Freud’s ideas seem more moderate, as he noted both positive and negative features of each societal type. These two sets of opinions on civilization and the primitive could be made relevant to some of today’s issues, like the widening technological gap between developed countries and third-world nations. As western countries become remarkably more advanced in technology, medicine, and education, a moral question arises: is it the duty of first-world nations to share their modern advancements with the people of more primitive countries? Perhaps a closer look into the ideas of Haggard or Freud would lend a valuable answer.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Ed. and Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1962.
Haggard, H. Rider. She. New York: The Modern Library, 2002.

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