In the essay “The Consequences of Literacy” by Jack Goody and Ian Watt, the authors shed light on the value that society has placed on literacy. It is almost ironic that the authors chose such a title that highlights the dichotomy between “literate” and “non-literate” cultures. Most people would think being literate would create a significant advantage over the non-literate, however that is not the case. There are several reoccurring themes throughout the essay such as the huge emphasis placed on literacy, memory, cultural traditions/ cultural heritage, generations, and the past.
Goody and Watt’s so eloquently asks “And what proportion of the society has to write and read before the culture as a whole can be described as literate?” It raises a thought provoking question, “How do we determine literacy?” First we must begin to ask, “What is literacy?” Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write. For one to have the ability to read and write one must first be educated through either school or some form of learning environment. In non-literate cultures “one generation hands on its cultural heritage to the next (pg. 305)” through memory and storytelling. In the art of storytelling, it usually is from the “older generations” like grandmothers and grandfathers; traditional beliefs are also passed down as well. When I was younger my grandmother and my great-grandmother would share with me the beliefs and the customary way of behaving in Jamaican society. This was achieved through their retelling of the past. It was about what they learned from the past that they believed to be “true” and which they instilled in me. There was never much importance placed on literacy but more so about etiquette. To some degree I believe the appreciation of literacy varies by cultures.
The essay takes us on a little dance from Egypt to Mesopotamia to Eskimo to Greece to China in which we learn about history. The essence of this is to focus on the past. It is widely said that history repeats itself but for us to acknowledge it we must understand it. Particularity “early in prehistory, man began to express himself in graphic form; and his cave paintings, rock engravings and wood cravings are morphologically, and presumably sequentially, the forerunners of writing (Pg. 311)”As a result man was the stepping-stone for creating the forms of language that we now have. We have gone from a time of having basic forms of doodles to hieroglyphics to now a well recognized alphabet system as a result has completely refashion the way we communicate.
In summary, Goody and Watt’s essay illustrates how literacy has impacted our society. Relatively to the essay, the Phaedrus and the theme of rhetoric bring attention to grandiose ability to speak. With this in mind it is continuously shown the power speaking effectively has on our society. In other words without the constant approach to improving literacy by Man, anthropologists, sophists took we would have remained primitive.