A Literary Mirror

A Literary Mirror

Language has weaved its way as one of the aspects we look at when defining a person’s character whether that character be real or fictional. Fictional characters have been molded into people that we have generalized today. We have made their qualities extreme in order for them to catch our eye. While these character’s may have language which is exaggerated such as in books like Catch-22. It is made clear that these characters are the reflective of how we generalize people today. Sometimes its people in higher position imposing others to speak toward them in a different way such as in 1984. These generalizations we make towards language in real life affect what we put into books like Catch-22 and 1984 and how we use those books to reveal the actions some people take with language.

An example of how language is judged in fictional literature is in the book Catch-22. The book is set in Pianosa, Italy in the year 1943. The character being mentioned in the quote is a man named John Yossarian who is a man of Assyrian descent fighting on the American’s side. In this scene the colonel is mad at Scheisskopf for something he didn’t do and the colonel is trying to get answers while Yossarian’s name pops up in the conversation. The colonel asked the lieutenant, “Yossarian? Is that his name? Yossarian? What the hell kind of a name is Yossarian?’ Lieutenant Scheisskopf had the facts at his fingertips. "It's Yossarian's name, sir," he explained.” (-Heller pg. 78) This scene shows how easily people are categorized as foreign just because of their name and how the language of which their name is derived from does not sound familiar to us. While generalizing people we subconsciously tend to treat those who are foreign as enemies though it does come through our voice and is easily seen here as the colonel repeats the name several times, as if he is trying to make sure that this strange name is the name of a soldier who is fighting on their side. Also the lieutenant responds in such a safe way as to avoid being punished for saying something to make the colonel upset. His response is short and concise and lacks any descriptive details as he does not want to provoke the colonel any more than he seems to be. What the author is trying to portray with this scene is that we tend to see foreign names and foreign languages as a way to generalize people as a bad or good person. In reality a person has no authority or possible way to change the name they were born with. He does this while also showing us the people in lower ranks in society tend to respond much more formally and without adding details that are not asked for by their peers.

Another example of how literature is reflective of our view on language is seen in the book 1984. In the book a variation of English called Newspeak is founded. The reason for the implementation of Newspeak in the fictional society is to shorten the amount of words in our vocabulary by omitting synonyms and antonyms while replacing them with prefixes. In this scene, Winston Smith, the main character, said, “Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.” (-Orwell pg. 23) This quote is highly reflective on how the government tries to limit what bad things we can say about them. In the book the worst thing one can say about the government in Newspeak is, “Government ungood.” In which case you would have to explain why you believe such but you don’t have the vocabulary to do so. This is an extreme example reflective of how our society manipulates people to follow their language which in this case is consciously done by the government. The quote shows that there is an overuse of several words and everyone sounds generic in relation to each other in the book. While this does reflect what was currently happening in the book when the book was written it was not reflecting of language in reality. It was reflective of how the government limits people in every way of slandering the government, such as in literature. In this case, language is used because, it is the way to get at the core of the problem.

Another example is from a scene with a woman in Catch-22. The scene takes place in Rome when Yossarian is off duty at a nightclub and he sees a girl named Luciana sitting at a table alone by herself after some drunken soldiers left her alone there. Speaking to Yossarian she says, “All right, I'll dance with you,' she said, before Yossarian could even speak. 'But I won't let you sleep with me.' 'Who asked you?' Yossarian asked her. 'You don't want to sleep with me?' she exclaimed with surprise. 'I don't want to dance with you.' (-Heller pg. 153) This quote shows how we reflect the way opposite genders interact in real life with language in fiction. The language she chooses when speaking to him is to make herself seem not as inferior as she is trying to make herself seem better than what the situation would make one think considering she is alone at the table. Also she thinks she can predict what he is thinking and shows that when she says she won’t sleep with him because, she feels as though men are predictable. Yossarian’s response is that of a typical man trying to keep dominance of the situation and is not trying to be strung along by Luciana. She obviously predicted wrong of what Yossarian was thinking since he says he doesn’t want to dance with her and she is shocked at his response. He does not outright say he does not want to sleep with her because, he sees an opportunity at sex and since he is in the army, he has not had any sex for a long time. The conversation is of course an exaggeration of what a usual conversation between a man and woman at a night club would look like in the 40’s but, what Heller is portraying is how genders tend to believe they can take advantage of each other and know what the other gender is thinking. They use language as a way to test if that is true or not by either being blatant like Luciana or somewhat subtle like Yossarian.

Language will always be a key aspect in reality and in fiction when defining a someone’s character. Generalized characters in fiction will always be a reflection of how we interpret individual languages and styles of language. It can be seen in books like Catch-22 where people make assumptions on other by language or show those assumptions with language such as we do in reality. It could be like in books such as 1984, where language is imposed on people and all people sound the same which is reflective of how government wants to prevent speech against them. In any case authors feel the need to put reality into fiction so that we can realize the generalizations we make and how wrong they may be.

Works Cited

Heller, Joseph, Christopher Buckley, and Jonathan R. Eller. Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

Orwell, George, and Erich Fromm. 1984: A Novel. New York, NY: Signet Classic, 1984. Print.