The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not
belonging, as being different in some
fundamental way. Any stranger becomes the Other. The group sees itself
as the norm and judges those
who do not
meet that norm (that is, who are different in any way) as the Other.
Perceived as lacking essential
characteristics possessed by the group, the Other is almost always seen
as a lesser or inferior being and is
treated accordingly. The Other in a society may have few or no legal
rights, may be characterized as
less intelligent or as immoral, and may even be regarded as sub-human.
Otherness takes many forms. The Other may be someone who is
The Other is not necessarily a numerical minority. In a country
by an imperial power, the far more numerous natives become the Other,
for example, the British rule in India where Indians outnumbered the
British 4,000 to 1. Similarly, women are defined
and judged by men, the dominant group, in relationship to themselves,
so that they become the Other. Hence Aristotle says: "The female is a
female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities; we
should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural
- a different race (White vs. non-White),
- a different nationality (Anglo Saxon vs. Italian),
- a different religion (Protestant vs. Catholic or Christian
- a different social class (aristocrat vs. serf),
- a different political ideology (capitalism vs. communism),
- a different sexual orientation (heterosexual vs.
- a different origin (native born vs. immigrant).
The group which is defining the Other may be an entire
society, a social class or a community within
society, a family, or even a high school clique or a neighborhood gang.
The Other and the Outsider
The outsider frequently overlaps with the Other, but they are not
identical. The outsider has the possibility of being accepted by and
incorporated into the group; offspring are very likely to be
accepted into the group. The Other, however,
is perceived as different in kind, as lacking in some essential trait
or traits that the
group has; offspring will inherit the same deficient nature and be the
Other also. Therefore the Other and
the offspring of the Other may be doomed forever to remain separate,
never to become part of the group--in
other words, to be the Other forever.
The Other in Literature
The Other is a common figure in literature. If you took Core
Curriculum 1.1, you may recognize this
concept in a tragedy like Medea. Medea as Other is doubly
dangerous. For the Greeks,
any non-Greek was the Other or a "barbarian," and Medea is a barbarian.
She is also the Other in being
female; woman, as Other, is often perceived as inherently dangerous.
Medea justifies these views of the
Other in the terrible vengeance she wreaks on Jason because he betrayed
her and abandoned her and their
Do you see any relevance of this concept of the Other to the
works we are reading in this course?
- Is Hedda Gabler the Other in any way--as a woman with
unacceptable aspirations or passions
for her time and class?
- Is Jane Eyre the Other in any way--in social class, in her
goals, or in her nature? Consider her in the Reed household, at the
Lowood School, in her position as governess, in her relationship with
Rochester or with Blanche Ingram. If she is the Other, does she remain
the Other or is she able to
her separate or inferior status and find acceptance?
- There is no question that the Blacks in The Bluest Eye
as the Other
in society and that they perceive themselves as Other. In what ways is
their Otherness manifested? How
are the children taught to be the Other? What consequences do the
blacks in this novel suffer because they
are the Other?
- Similarly the Chinese mothers in The Joy Luck Club
are presented as the Other
in American society; are any of them the Other in Chinese society?
Otherness also functions in the
family relationships. The Chinese mothers perceive themselves as Other
from their daughters, and their
American-born daughters perceive themselves as
Other from their mothers. In what ways is their Otherness manifested?
are the children taught to be the Other? How do the mothers become the
Other to their children? What
consequences do the mothers and daughters suffer because they are the