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The way a piece of writing is interpreted by the reader depends on the cultural context within which the reader lives. A reader employs their historical and political setting along with their cultural and social environment to construct meaning within a text. Personal experience, class, gender, race/ethnicity and cultural identity also help to establish the readers beliefs, values and attitudes.
Taking a traditional approach to reading a piece of writing restricts the reader from interpreting subordinate ideas and presses the reader to only pay attention to the dominant ideas in a text. In traditional reading practice the reader generally considers one connotation in a text and the personal context of the reader plays no part in their understanding. The only source of meaning comes from the use of generic conventions and the dominant ideas of the time. Dominant ideas are theories promoted by people of power and superiority. In traditional reading practices these ideas are claimed to be the meaning of a text; unchangeable over time and the same for all groups of readers.
Contemporary reading practices encourage the reader to explore a range of possible meanings in a text and analyze and challenge these meanings. Taking a contemporary approach means that the reader is open to argue that readings of a poem are not simply interpretations of what is there; rather these readings are constructed in support of the values and beliefs of particular groups of people.
My Country by Dorothea Mackellar is an iconic Australian poem about the love of the land, the sheer beauty of Australia and the sense of belonging there more than anywhere else. The values reflected to the reader are that Australians are patriotic (?Wherever I may die, I know to what brown country, my homing thoughts will fly?) and respect the land they live on (?All you who have not loved her, you will not understand?). They would not have looked any further into the poem, or made any other meaning than the reading invited by the text, because, as far as their experiences and values lead them to believe, Australia was theirs to love and theirs to call home. This anglocentric view of Australia derived from when the early settlers first came to Australia and claimed the land that offered new beginnings, a beautiful landscape and rich soil. Australia was a place where people coming from deprivation or hardship could settle, find work and start a new life. These contextual attitudes helped enforce the beautiful and welcoming portrayal of Australia in the poem.
A traditional reading of this poem therefore simply reflects the personas so- called love for Australia and the beauty and wonder of the land which he/she calls their own. ?I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror, The wide brown land for me?. A traditional reading allows the reader to simply and naively appreciate the beautiful and flowing verses of the poem, ?Green tangle of the bushes, where the lithe lianas fall and orchids deck the tree tops and ferns the crimson soil?. This has the effect of lulling the reader into a belief that all is perfect and complete.
In taking a contemporary approach to reading My Country the reader is inclined to leave the past behind and find new, deeper meanings behind the dominant themes. It encourages the reader to also challenge the indirect ideas presented by the poet. This approach forces the reader to acknowledge that something is missing from the poem. We are led to notice that there is no mention of the Aboriginal Australians. It brings the reader to actually question the title My Country. Surely the persona doesn?t own the country. The use of this title is discriminative especially against the traditional owners of the land. This poem is particularly romanticised and it is evident that the poet has silenced these issues in order to preserve the idealistic feel.
Theres a strong sense of naivety in romanticising the harsh environment of Australia. For example, speaking of 'droughts and flooding rains' and 'food and fire and famine' as if they're majestic, poetic forces in the landscape. Contemporary knowledge informs us that these forces are a major threat to the country. I.e, the recent Queensland floods, Western Australian draught and Victorian fires.
In conclusion, I feel that its important that contemporary reading practices challenge traditional ways of thinking. In the
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My Country, Dorothea Mackellar, Landscape, Reader, Guggenheim Fellows, australian poem, generic conventions, subordinate ideas, dominant ideas, reading practices, experience class, traditional reading, personal context, race ethnicity, reading practice, sheer beauty, values and beliefs, piece of writing, gender race, cultural identity, social environment, traditional approach, cultural context, connotation, australians
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