Bias

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

“None of your damned business,” Al said. “Who’s out in the kitchen?”

“The nigger.”
“What do you mean the nigger?”
“The nigger that cooks.”
“Tell him to come in.”
“What’s the idea?”
“Tell him to come in.”

(“The Killer” by Ernest Hemingway)

Although Hemingway is never accused of being biased, however, his story “The Killers” has words that show the characters are biased toward the African American community. The use of the word “nigger” is an insult to their ethnicity, which was used to call the African American young man. Max uses this word to tell Al that he is working in the kitchen which shows his racial bias toward him.

Example #2

“Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything—like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”

“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

This is an extract from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout’s explanation, though seems highly unbiased and effective, does not impact Atticus. Atticus believes that these are just fancy words for drawing room discussions. This does not happen in reality. Bias exists and will continue to exist in life. The use of the word “nigger-lover” is too prominent to disappear in reality.

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

IAGO
“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.