Definition of Stereotype

A French term, stereotype, was used as an adjective. It has been derived from two Greek terms, stereos, which means firm and solid and, typoes, which means impression. In other words, it shows how an impression ideas make.

As far as its first use is concerned, it was first used in 1798 in the printing trade. I Firmin Didot was the person who used it in typographic plates. The word, stereotype, since then, has been in use to specify things or models. However, in 1850 its use witnessed a new change that means an image of a person, and later Walter Lippmann used it in the psychological image of a person through social construction.

In literature, the stereotype is a term that means to construct the image of a person, group, clan, tribe, or region through generalizations.

Categories of Stereotypes

Stereotypes have two major categories. The first is an explicit category in which a specific group or specific person is presented as a stereotype through some specific generalizations. Stereotyping, thus, becomes a weapon to stigmatize people. The other category is implicit in which the victims are not aware of stereotyping and also have no control of their being the victims of such social construction.

Examples of Stereotypes in Literature

Example #1

The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

“You! The Hazara! Look at me when I’m talking to you!” the soldier barked. He handed his cigarette to the guy next to him, made a circle with the thumb and index finger of one hand. Poked the middle finger of his other hand through the circle. Poked it in and out. In and out. “I knew your mother, did you know that? I knew her real good. I took her from behind by that creek over there.”

This passage occurs in the novel of an Afghan English novelist, Khalid Hosseini. It is clear that the Hazara community living in Afghanistan is a victim of stereotyping. Some of the generalizations that he counts in other parts of the novel are quite implicit here. The soldier’s comments are stereotyping the Hazara boy to make him a scapegoat for the societal norm of their social construction.

Example #2

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

On the ration cards of Nazi Germany, there was no listing for punishment, but everyone had to take their turn. For some it was death in a foreign country during the war. For others it was poverty and guilt when the war was over, when six million discoveries were made throughout Europe. Many people must have seen their punishments coming, but only a small percentage welcomed it. One such person was Hans Hubermann.

This passage occurs in the novel of Zusak, The Book Thief. Zusak is presenting double stereotyping in this novel. The first is of the Germans that are Nazis, which is now used in the negative sense and the second is of the Jews as of Hans Huberman whose identification shows how they were stigmatized, othered, and then butchered.

Example #3

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

“If my teeth are to be cleaned, I don’t go at all. I am an Indian; it is an Indian habit to take pan. The Civil Surgeon must put up with it. Mohammed Latif, my bike, please!”
The poor relation got up. Slightly immersed in the realms of matter, he laid his hand on the bicycle’s saddle, while a servant did the actual wheeling. Between them they took it over a tintack. Aziz held his hands under the ewer, dried them, fitted on his green felt hat and then with unexpected energy whizzed out of Hamidullah’s compound.

M. Forster has presented Hamidullah stereotyping his compatriot, Mohammed Lafit as well as himself. He says that as they are Indians, they are like that. They have the same habit. In fact, this social construction has stuck into their unconsciousness in a way that they cannot shake it off. They are aware of it and have control over it. Therefore, this is an example of explicit stereotyping.

Example #4

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora–bear sorrow and want
for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves.
It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.
Oh, you think and talk like a heedless child.

This conversation occurs in the play of Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House. Although the entire play shows how patriarchy stereotypes women, Helmer has been shown how he stereotypes his wife, Nora, and belittles her, using the social construction of women. Helmer has used the generalization to stereotype Nora who is well aware of it. It means the victim is fully conscious and can control it. Helmer states it clearly that no man can do this for the loved one and that only he is doing it for her. Nora clarifies this and Helmer again stereotypes her as if her thinking is childish. This stereotyping makes her feel estranged and victimized.

Functions of Stereotype

The first function of stereotyping is to make a person feel belittled or belittle a person to win hegemony over him. It happens explicitly or implicitly. It is explicit when the victim is already aware of it and knows his place in the social fabric. In such a construction, a further attempt of the person engaged in stereotyping shows that he wants to continue his hegemony. However, in the implicit method, it is clear that the victim is going to resist and this resistance may lead to conflict. Another function of stereotyping is satire and mockery of the victims.

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