Cultural Encounters - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1652 Words
Date:  2022-12-14


Cultural encounters involve the contacts and interactions between people from different backgrounds (Kosmitzki, 1996). In such a case, the encounters become fundamental to one's perception of cultures and oneself. Cultural encounters determine the social aspect of a person. The elements differ on individuals due to the relationship between the culture, and individual's self-worth and identity. This paper examines how cultural encounters influence one's self-worth and identity in relation to Zadie Smith's short story "Martha, Martha."

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How the Story Treats and Develops the Concept

Analysis of the story shows the authors reservation regarding the concept. The way she introduces the theme requires the attention of the reader to realize how she understands the concept. As Skeggs (2013) indicates, regardless of the approach a writer decides to display a theme, a good literature author must choose around which theory this piece will revolve. Smith paints the idea of cultural encounter negatively. Due to their previous meetings, the Americans, Pam Roberts and Martha Penk face self-denial. The story displays the whole of the American society's suffering from the memories of September Eleventh attack of the World Business Center at the Twin Towers. Smith refers to the roars of the plane as 'some prehistoric bird' (p. 189). During their conversion in the library, Martha opens the window to confirm what is causing the roars. As a result, Pam feels disturbed. Smith writes that 'Pam felt she might just scream if the girl kept letting the outside in' (p. 189). The annoyance results from the memories of the attack as she always feels it is a repeat of the incidence (Skeggs, 2013).

Martha's and Pam's conduct shows that their encounters were not only an event but also developed into part of their life. The two are fighting with their past. Pam, a divorced middle-aged woman, fights eminent depression from the haunts of a terminated marriage. As a result, she always stresses the concept of individualism. After reading the poem on the book that had an image of a dad and a child, Martha cries secretly in the toilet. The book triggers her memory towards a hurting past event that makes her always emotional when she remembers the same. The two question their self-worth due to the perception they receive from the society which expects all women of her age to settle in marriage (Skeggs, 2013).

How the Author Manifests Her Awareness of the Theme Using Ideas, Words, and Scenarios

Bolt (2013) alludes that a good author understands the theme they purpose to relay to the readers before commencing on any work. Smith is aware of the cultural encounter. In her introduction, Smith writes that these are "close-ups, not panoramas." She introduces the concept of September eleven incident to reinforce the theme. She also describes that Pam is playing 'Mozart's Requiem' (p. 179). The idea confirms America's preoccupation of the possible repeat of the culturally significant September Eleventh memorialized each year.

Smith uses Pam's luck of understanding of English when she chooses to show the lack of understanding of Latin. Smith capitalizes the lyrics 'OH, I SEE YOU WILL GO DOWN! AND I SEE YOU WILL GO ALSO!' (p.179). The statement indicates Smith's intention to expose Pam's fear of the unknown. Smith deliberately chose the name, Martha Penk. Penk means a nobody while 'Martha means alienated. Therefore, the names describe Martha 'like small fish in a big pond.' When Marth was looking for an apartment, Smith writes that the weather creates 'pathetic fallacy' (p.188). The obscuring snow mirrors the lack of cultural understanding (Bolt, 2013).

Smith uses language and lexicon to demonstrate the problematic nature of cultural encounters. The Middle Eastern men apologize profusely for confusion they did not cause, and later Pam patronizes them for playing in the snow. The author delineates the 'Middle Eastern' through the use of incorrect syntax. 'I make mistake. Sorry, please.' (p. 180). Martha uses the wrong phrase when she says 'I just arsked the taxi to take me to nearest hotel.' (p. 181). Yousef, a Moroccan, though educated, the syntax seems ordinary, but the author restricts his use of language. 'No, She's just a fat girl now! I feed her too much!' (p. 191). Smith uses this approach to signify Marth language alienation (Bolt, 2013).

How Pam Roberts Express Her Understanding of the Theme

Pam is aware of the theme and even displays her conscious over the same. The culture of capitalism makes her believe in individualism. Having separated from her husband, she undergoes self-denial. She advice Martha to focus on her own life and make things work for herself. The fact that she separated from her husband informs us of the possibility of a negative encounter with the husband. Pam claims that what society expected her to do was to bear children. The two notions indicate her notion of the concept (Kosmitzki, 1996).

Pan is preoccupied with September Eleventh. Though the towers referred to are Harvard's, her exposure to the anxiety caused by airplane sounds makes her wish to keep everything closed. This incidence together with Mozart's requiem demonstrates how Pam's has changed her life since the attack. When Yousef and Amelia decide to move to Morocco, she relates it with the fear of another September. The reasoning results from the preoccupation of her mind with the attack (Kosmitzki, 1996). Pam visualizes Martha as being inside a Snow-globe. The description indicates her understanding of what some encounters can affect someone; putting her in a cage. When she spots Martha's, she interprets the scenario as if Martha is in isolation from her surroundings. She sees an 'A shrimpish girl...snow boots, putting her weight on their edges like and ice skater.' (p. 179). She also presumes Martha as a rude person. Her presumptions results from thinking that the previous encounters would have influenced on Martha's character (Kosmitzki, 1996).

How Martha Penk Expresses Her Understanding of The Theme

Martha is also aware of the theme. After her encounter with her friend, a lady who is now a lawyer, she too desires to enroll in law classes. Her answers are mostly very cautious and curt. At the end of the story during a flat viewing at the apartment of a young family, Martha flees because of the emotional weight of her past. Martha wishes to live the life of this young family because she thinks Amelia husbands encourages and motivates her (De Castella, Byrne, & Covington, 2013).

Before Martha runs away, she reads a poem at the back of a photograph that is signed by Ben and Jamal. Although the author never explains who Ben and Jamal are, they must have been an essential part of her life. Martha excuses herself and breaks down in the bathroom crying: It is probable that either Martha has encountered a separation with her husband and kid, or the picture shows her partner and child. Remembering the judgment, she takes from society makes her break into tears (De Castella, Byrne, & Covington, 2013). We learn that she has recently inherited twelve thousand dollars. The authors make us think that it might because to the death of her love in an accident (De Castella, Byrne, & Covington, 2013).

How the Concept Of "Color/Skin" Highlights The Theme

Smith introduces Martha by a degrading description of her appearance. When she says that Martha wore 'a cheap-looking grey trouser suit and some fake pearls,' she indicates her low class of life which might be a result of events that worked against her dream (p. 180). The statement also supports the role of the grey color which the author says 'conspired to make her older than she was.' Smith also uses color to indicate how it is misused to signify superiority of some races. She writes that people of other races 'who marry whites feel superior' (p. 192) This case indicates the authors use of dull color to degrade the qualities of a person (Quayle and Sonn, 2013).

Also, Smith uses color to show the selectiveness of black Americans to basketball. On page (190), the author says that 'there's always been the basketball scholarships. They're completely here on their own steam now'. The statement alludes to the many black people in America who prefer to play basketball. How the author describes the cohorts makes the ready think that basketball in America is 'culturally a black thing.' The author uses the color to indicate the role of culture in the USA. Pam admits that there are 'Lots of Chinese young people too, and Indian, many. Many! Oh, there's plenty, plenty of people of color here'. The interaction that takes place amongst the group has led to a multi-cultural country. The Algerian Yousef prefers to bring his family out of America because he feels America's environment will not favor his children (Quayle and Sonn, 2013).


Cultural encounters influence identity and self-worth of a person. The author uses the concept to tell us how American, Martha and Pam perceive themselves due to part events. America's live with the fear of a repeat of the of fatal attacks. Because of condemning nature of the society towards unmarried women, Martha and Pam fight with the feeling of separating from their families. Authors of such literature should develop themes that promote the growth of women to boost their esteem and self-worth.


Bolt, D., 2013. Social encounters, cultural representation and critical avoidance. In Routledge handbook of disability studies(pp. 297-307). Routledge.

De Castella, K., Byrne, D. and Covington, M., 2013. Unmotivated or motivated to fail? A cross-cultural study of achievement motivation, fear of failure, and student disengagement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), p.861. Retrieved from

Kosmitzki, C., 1996. The reaffirmation of cultural identity in cross-cultural encounters. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(3), pp.238-248. Retrieved from doi/abs/10.1177/0146167296223002

Quayle, A.F. and Sonn, C.C., 2013. Explicating race privilege: Examining symbolic barriers to Aboriginal and non-indigenous partnership. Social Identities, 19(5), pp.552-570. Retrieved from

Skeggs, B., 2013. Class, self, culture. Routledge.

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