“Whore Lady”, “Nigger”, “Damn”, all content from the 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, a Pulitzer prize winning novel, that remains banned even in this modern-day society. The question remains. Is there a need to use expletives in literature? Many individuals believe that an author can convey an idea or feeling without using profanity, others believe that the author should be able to express themselves freely as to not advocate censorship in literature.
Profanity as a topic demands analysis, due to its fervent arguments arising from controversy throughout the ages. This dispute has infested the literary field relentlessly, continuing to impact writers, and readers due to censorship and book banning resulting from the usage of such language. It is a vital subject matter to address, as the utilization of such verbiage, by the author is imperative to depict realism in both fiction and non- fiction genres. An author’s creative process does not always adhere to the permissible rules of their ages. Their creative expression and plight to provide a realistic view of what they believe is required for a story to unfold, is compromised due to accusations of “indecent” and “unnecessary” verbiage. The effective use of profanity depends on a multitude of variables that can either contribute to the success or to the failure of a literary piece.
The chosen thesis that Expletives are an imperative component to dialogue, to depict realism in literature will be substantiated through the literary examples of The Shining by Stephen King, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Further research and literary analysis will prove, through the credible evidence revealed, that expletives are necessary to the discipline of literature in order to depict authenticity, an essential variable in creating effective characterization and realism in writing.
In the book, “Damn, A Cultural History of Swearing in Modern America”, author Reb Chirico discusses the influential force of curse words. He states that when people curse, they are literally “giving vent to our anger”. Cursing is also a social affair that inspires bonding in specific groups, such as the Military or within certain gangs or clubs. This viable supportive substantiation of the “why” and the “how” profanity has become an integral component of the human culture.
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout observes a dinner guest, the Cunningham boy, who pours syrup over his entire dinner. The boy came from an impoverished family and it was indicated that he rarely ate and was starving. Scout, one of the antagonists (and narrator), looks on with disgust expelling: “ What in the Sam Hill” (Lee). This was a curse word for the era in which the story was written and Scout was adamantly reprimanded, however this is not the “ raw talk” that seems to evoke rage in the novel. The literary piece was banned and shunned do to it’s use of “ nigger” and “ whore”. It is true that these are two of the most despicable words in the human language, however the political climate of the novel evoked strong feelings. Racism and rape are not “light” subjects to address. The author is only depicting the emotions and realistic dialogue of the population and culture, that embody his characters. In order to display the authentic feelings conjured by their characters, the interjection of objective language must be displayed. Harper Lee sought to reveal the tumultuous and tense environment brought on by racism in a small Southern town . There is no room to be pretentious and “ politically correct”. This avoidance of representing the true slang of both the culture and the era would “would only dilute and subdue the intensity of the truth, robbing the reader of the true emotions provoked by the political climate.
Scout addresses her attorney Father, Atticus regarding her harassment at the playground regarding the fact that he was defending a Blackman in court: I was ready to punch Cecil Jacobs in the face. He had announced in the schoolyard the day before the Scout Finch’s daddy defended niggers, Atticus?” I asked Atticus, “Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” Atticus replied, “Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.” “’s what everybody at school says.” “From now on it’ll be everybody less one –“ Lee”. To delete this scene, to candy coat, or delete the questionable language would only provide momentum to ignore the entire subject of racism at hand, therefore allowing the racist to persevere, in their plight to oppress. Deleting the truth of a culture simply to appear to be politically correct is only damaging the cause targeted. Readers must see the brutal truth to comprehend the intensity of the volatile actions that prompted such language.
The effectiveness of profanity usage in literature depends upon the context in which it is used. A majority of the time cursing is written in a storyline to depict realism. It is utilized to capture the essence of the character and the reality in which they reside. The author implements such language because they decide that it is a critical approach in order to convey the characterization that is pivotal to the reader and the overall visualization of the mentality of the character that they are striving to depict effectively. To swear is human, therefore necessary if an author is to display a realistic view of the setting.
“Humans get angry. They crave precise expression. There’s something about cursing or using vulgar language that acts as a release valve. Most of us have experienced a moment when a good old rule-breaking bad word just feels sublime rolling off the tongue, and so it is for fictional characters” (Sims, Elizabeth, Writing Fiction).
Elizabeth Sims, an author and contributor to the Writer’s Digest online provides an author’s view on implementing “raw talk” efficiently and why they use it. She states that a writer must be true to the voice of the characters and that well written “raw talk” can make the character appear more live like and authentic. The author must collectively decide if this is vital to the character that he is portraying, is it necessary for the visualization of the setting, and does the usage achieve the result that that they are aspiring to project? A good author does not use profanity due to laziness or shock, but rather because the word is the “best” word to use as to allow the character to speak or add emphasis to what they are speaking of. How boring could it possibly be to the reader of a novel if all language would remain solely politically correct? Isn’t this the reason that one resorts to indulging in a book to begin with? The reader’s desires are to be whisked away in to a fictional setting and to become present in to the story. If the author does not provide realism for a setting or a character, then the reader will become disengaged and will lose interest due to the false and empty depiction. The public needs to realize that it is not the author that is promoting and using the profanity, it is the fictional character. To further demonstrate the effectiveness that can be achieved with the use of curse words a literary example is provided.
Stephen King has also had numerous books on the “ banned” list due to his input of vulgarities. My intent is to prove King does not rely on shallow vulgarities, simply for the sake of shock value. Stephen King’s use of linguistic elements instead instill life-like components, in such a way that they inconspicuously transform the audience’s beliefs, through imagery, to depict a feasible and solidified world of realism in a fantastical setting. King inputs profanity, sexual connotations, and raw talk only when necessary to enhance, or emphasize the intensity of the scene, to illustrate vivid realism for the reader. King employs literary mastery to instill realism with, and without profanity into fantasy effectively through the use of literary devices. Expletives, and raw talk are imperative to depict realism in literature, allowing King to integrate with the fantasy genre, forming an authentic world/setting in the mind of the reader. The portrayal of realism is not caustic, or profane, merely “life”, like it or not. “Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do― to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street” (King P. 89).
King preys on our internal fears, and he manipulates his verbiage to comply with this basic reality, of the family next door colliding with the antagonist outside force. King chooses to consistently link the fantasy world back to our own to instill its shocking impact. To effectively relay this to his readers, he sets the foundation by presenting a relevant setting, reinforcing the overall theme, and state of the character in that moment.
Stephen King created one of the most famous characters in literature, Jack Torrance in the book, The Shining. Jack is a tortured writer and recovering alcoholic who is hired as the caretaker at a remote hotel with his family. The family becomes snowbound and supernatural forces slowly invade Jack spiraling him in to the depths of madness leaving his wife and son in danger. In a very intense scene whereas Jack has clearly descended in to insanity:
“You’ve had your whole f__ing life to think things over, what good’s a few minutes more gonna do you now? Please! Don’t hurt me! I’m not gonna hurt you.