Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Language is in itself what makes humans intelligent. The ability to articulate thoughts and ideas with words is what differentiates Homo sapiens from all other species on this planet. As literature has drastically evolved over many centuries, the subtle yet poignant art of using literary techniques to send empowering and insightful messages continues to light a spark in the imaginations of people everywhere. While the two stories in question are different worlds with entirely different premises, they both have overlapping and reoccurring themes that develop the individual stories. Some of these consistent themes are religion, the attempted explanation of values, and a generational/cultural divide. When focusing on the language and its purpose, it is also important to recognize these themes in order to best interpret the text and its potential meaning. In “Jesus Shaves” by David Sedaris and “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, Sedaris and O’Connor use language as a tool to introduce characters’ traits, paint the complicated imagery of multiple settings, and provide beneath-the-surface commentary open to any and all interpretations.
In “Jesus Shaves”, author Sedaris inserts the reader directly into a French class, where a debate of Easter history and tradition is sparked. The first student commands, “’It is,’ said one, ‘a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit” (Sedaris/Norton 416). Another classmate interjects, “He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber” (Sedaris/Norton 416). As the class continues to try and arrive at a firm understanding of what Easter entails, Sedaris comments, “The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm” (Sedaris/Norton 416). Sedaris masterfully uses comedy to have the reader feel as though he or she is sitting right there in that classroom, listening to these determined, babbling people misrepresent history. This technique is not only used in the construction of the overly colloquial diction used by the characters in the story, but also with Sedaris’ well-timed commentary as the story progresses. The beauty of this short story is that while the characters have a rather unintelligent conversation based in hearsay, Sedaris actually forms the overall message into an eloquent opinion. From banter to philosophy, Sedaris focuses on language in a different way: “In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom” (Sedaris/Norton 417). Sedaris is attempting to show about people in the modern world, through these French students and their seemingly endless debate, is the idea of giving “other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt” (Sedaris/Norton 417).
In “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, O’Connor uses a variety of language techniques to help illustrate personalities, as well as paint the imagery of good ol’ southern culture in Georgia. O’Connor depicts a family enduring a generational and cultural clash, in which there is an overarching theme of “ignorance is bliss.” Throughout the detailed story, characters are described in ways that drip with detail. Many characters in literature are introduced in a prompter way that seems existent only to be used if the book were made into a film; but this is not the case in O’Connor’s stories. This over-the-top yet welcomed depiction of each individual is mentioned every time a person comes up in the text, not in just a singular, introductory sense. In the story, Mrs. Hopewell’s daughter, Joy, is a reluctant and rebellious adult child who legally changed her name to Hulga to spite her mother. O’Connor explains, “When Mrs. Hopewell thought the name, Hulga, she thought of the broad blank hull of a battleship” (O’Connor/Norton 435). As Hulga’s past of education and veering from traditional customs constantly angers Mrs. Freeman, in an indirect way O’Connor somewhat sides with Mrs. Freeman in the way the language is used. It is possible that this childhood of fighting traditional values and a culture of shame catalyzing self-deprecation is what the author dealt with in her own personal life. In a beautiful contrast of education and language, the main event of the story is when a conman playing the part as a religious advocate intersects with the Hopewells. When these parties first meet, the conman wastes no time in explaining his presence, “Lady, I’ve come to speak of serious things…I know you believe in Chrustian service” (O’Connor/Norton 438). While his intentions were swept under the rug initially, O’Connor uses this language to help give an idea of the rural south in the post-WWII era, as well as to illustrate an almost creepy, maniacal, and manipulative sense to this man the entire time he tries to make his case.
Language is without a doubt a power vehicle for commentary, and can without intention speak volumes. While there are a variety of factors involved in the construction of a story, language plays a major role—whether it is how a character speaks, or how the author’s diction shapes the story. Without the art form of language, literature would suffer. There are languages all throughout the modern world, but literature’s spark of cognitive and creative juices is the most powerful one.