Bias Definition

Bias is as an undue favor, support or backing extended to a person, group or race or even an argument against another. Although bias mostly exists in the cultural context, it can creep into various other forms of academic life and in literature such as sexuality, gender, nation, religion, subjects, and general life. In other words, it is a single-side or one-side illogical and non-neutral support of a viewpoint in favor against the other side. Etymologically the word ‘bias’ has been derived from the French word “biais” which means angle or slant.

Types of Bias

There are various types of biases. It exists even in the non-literary texts. It could be propaganda, gender-related, age-related, racial discrimination, religious discrimination, marginalization and also stereotyping.

Examples of Bias in Literature

Example #1

By what if fed on, and yet, within a month —

Let me not think on ‘t. Frailty, thy name is woman!

(Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Act-I, Scene-II)

Although spoken by Hamlet in the play, these lines show biased attitude of the Elizabeth playwrights toward feminine gender. Some critics have interpreted these lines as misogynistic attitude of Hamlet that he hates women, let alone his mother for her hasty marriage. What he means is that women are generally frail creature, having no self control. Therefore, it is a gender bias demonstrated by Hamlet.

Example #2

“The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table, affected to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend. He was obviously very ill at ease, however.”

(Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens)

This is an extract from Charles Dickens’ famous novel, Oliver Twist. He has presented the character of Fagin, the Jew. Here Sikes taunt him for his insolence of coming between him and his dog. However, Fagin shows very humble attitude. The language used by Sikes clearly shows stereotyping of the Jews. It comprises contempt and veiled prejudice that is also a type of bias.

Example #3

Has she,” asked the Doctor, with a smile, “has she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women–super-spiritual superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them.”

“That’s the trouble,” broke in Mr. Pontellier, “she hasn’t been associating with anyone. She has abandoned her Tuesdays at home, has thrown over all her acquaintances, and goes tramping about by herself, moping in the street-cars, getting in after dark. I tell you she’s peculiar. I don’t like it; I feel a little worried over it.”

(The Awakening by Kate Chopin)

The doctor is clearly against women and assumes that modern women have impacted the mind of Mrs. Pontellier. Mr. Pontellier is describing how his wife, Edna Pontellier has acted in a different way than a woman having children and a husband should behave. However, the doctor’s views reflect his gender bias. Leonce has also verified these comments of a doctor. This shows that both the men are biased against the only female in the story, Edna Pontellier.

Example #4

Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

(The Merchant of Venice, Act-I, Scene-III by William Shakespeare)

Antonio, a character in the Merchant of Venice speaks these words about Shylock, the Jew. He is referring to him in highly scornful terms to demonstrate that the Jew is an evil incarnate. These lines are important as Antonio and Bassanio display bias against Shylock or the entire Jewish community. He is being referred to as a wicked person due to his profession and as if he is on the devil’s side.

Example #5

“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!”

(Othello Act-1. Scene-I, by William Shakespeare)

These lines from Othello shows how Iago uses bias to make Barbantio and other senators turn against Othello. He terms him an “old black ram” which is a racist term. He is using a racial slur against Othello to make people hate him.

Bias Meaning and Function

Bias in literature is used to implicitly send a message to the readers about specific prejudice against a community, faith, sect or race. It is used to make people aware of certain defects in people. It is also used to make people think in a different way than they usually do. In fact, bias is used to create prejudice, leading to hatred and war-mongering. It is also called “othering” of the people different from us.