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Burial Rites Essay Response

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Hannah Kent’s speculative faction novel ‘Burial Rites’ (2013) follows the life of a 19th century prisoner Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in the last few months of her imprisoned life. It considers not only the fact she is imprisoned, but also the un-expecting family with whom she is placed to live with in her final months, and the relationships she forms with each of the family members and those around her. The novel explores many ways in which a person can be scarred by the prejudgments and the views people [a]hold against them. Because rumours and gossip was such a big factor of everyday life, people [b]often made decisions based on them[c], and many of them [d]were shallow and uneducated biases. Many kinds of prejudice[e]  evident in the text, from sexism to classism, which generate anger for those who see it and want to change it, but can’t, and all of these preconceived ideas lead to destruction within and between characters[f].

The role that rumours and gossip played in this time period was a huge part of everyday life and also crucial in forming ideas and judgements on others. This dependence on rumours and belief in them caused detrimental harm to a person’s [g]character. Agnes was referenced by many in the valley as a “witch”, “murderess” or “animal” even though they had never met her, but only heard of her.[h] This preconception of Agnes being a totally horrid person led to her name being broken beyond repair in the valley. It is [i]not until some way into her imprisonment that her [j]true involvements in the murders are revealed, and by then [k]her being is already destroyed in the views of others. “’They will say Agnes and see the spider, the witch’” shows [l]that even Agnes is aware of this prejudice against her and is upset by it. “’If you make a mistake in this valley it is never forgotten’” emphasizes the role [m][n]of rumours and how they are being used to form opinions, and also considers the harm Agnes is experiencing from these harsh comments and judgements.

Chauvinistic bias is evident throughout the novel, and the consequences that follow for those who go against it leads to them being judged very harshly and produces a negative view of them. Men see themselves very much as above women in this time, and women were not supposed to be smarter than men, it was seen as unattractive and it wasn’t common for a girl to be very literate. For women it was normal to just be a housewife, and [o]bare children, and cook and clean, and anyone who was outspoken about the inequalities of this was frowned upon. Agnes and Sigga were very opposite in this regard, as Agnes was intelligent, “’All [Agnes’] life people have thought [her] too clever’” and Sigga was not so much. Sigga ‘knows her place’ of looking after Natan and his house, whereas Agnes “’was always fixed on bettering herself’” which was ill favoured in this time frame. This is what led to the difference in sentencing of Agnes and Sigga for the crime that was committed, as the preconception of Siggaperceived [p]was “pretty” and “dumb” compared to the ideas of Agnes as a “spinster woman”, “They pity her…They hate me” shows the difference in views, ending in Agnes’ execution, while Sigga was pardoned from it. This shows the destruction that occurred from the two different kinds of women and how they appeared to men, and thereafter how they were treated and viewed by them.



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