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Naimah Hares

Language and Emotions


Communication is essential in terms of connecting and expressing thoughts with reality because it stimulates in terms of letting out emotions and getting a need or desire fulfilled. Benjamin Lee Whorf pointed out that, We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do...We are thus introduced to a new theory of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated. Language, although limiting in terms of expressing thoughts, has become the key to healthy communication as human desires have grown more complex. Despite using similar linguistic backgrounds to view the same picture of the universe, language, the ideal tool for expression, can be limited by traumatic experiences. The tragedies that the main characters undergo in Kurt Vonneguts Slaughterhouse Five, George Orwells 1984, and Jonathan Foers Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close present such limitations through similar and different grief responses, their impact on the characters, and stress the importance of continuing communication in order to reach closure and positive progression. Winston Smith, in 1984, wants to express and share his experiences, but struggles to find a satisfying way to express them. Winston Smiths traumatic experiences come from repressed memories of his mother and sisters starvation to death and his knowledge of the governments extent in controlling its citizens perception of reality in a dystopian society. Winstons ability to communicate was already limited by the governments monitoring of every citizens actions and continuous eradication of words in the English language, but his personal experiences haunted his dreams and incited sorrow, anger, and a need to rebel that he did not start to understand until he decided to finally communicate his thoughts through human interaction and writing. He described his feelings as:

Hares 2 His mothers memory tore at his heart because she had died loving him, when he was too young and selfish to love her in return, and because somehow, he did not remember how, she had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable. Such things, he saw, could not happen today. Today there were fear, hatred, and pain, but no dignity of emotion, no deep or complex sorrows. All this he seemed to see in the large eyes of his mother and his sister, looking up at him through the green water, hundreds of fathoms down and still sinking. (Orwell 16)
The emotional impact of his mothers sacrifice finally struck Winston when he wrote vehemently against the government by writing over and over DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER for causing such oppression and pain of its people (Orwell 12). Winstons memory of having solid evidence of the governments control and manipulation of the truth through changing news articles, especially of an event that he personally witnessed, provided only more fire for hating the world he lived in. He states:

The date had stuck in Winstons memory because it chanced to be midsummer day; but the whole story must be on record in countless other places as well. There was only one possible conclusion: the confessions were lies.Of course, this was not in itself a discovery. Even at that time Winston had not imagined that the people who were wiped out in the purges had actually committed the crimes that they were accused of. But this was concrete evidence; it was a fragment of the abolished past, like a fossil bone which turns up in the wrong stratum and destroys a geological theory. It was enough to blow the Party to atoms, if in some way it could have been published to the world and its significance made known. (Orwell 46)
His epiphany of his hated of Big Brother leads him to take his expression a step further, searching for the people he dreams of in order to communicate and share his views with-Julia and OBrian. He

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eventually goes as far as blatantly rebelling the government, breaking government oppressions by having a sexual affair with Julia, and even exposing himself to a government official such as Obrien in order to join a rebel group. Even then he is not satisfied because he is unsure of trusting Obrien and can only relate to Julia to a extent because each characters picture of the universe is slightly different: Julia rebels just to feel a sense of freedom, whereas Winston wants an understanding of his need to rebel and the measures to take in order to take it down and preserve the hatred of the government in others. Because he never finds a method of expression and communication that would give him closure of the memories that haunt him, he reaches a level of fatalism that gets him arrested and tortured by the followers of Big Brother.

Unlike Winston, in Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim struggles to find a way to even communicate his feelings about his experiences tragic to others. Billy Pilgrim experiences the horrors of the Dresden bombing of 1945, seeing ...stockyards, with all the fence posts gone, with roofs and windows gone-told her about seeing little logs lying around. These were people who had been caught in the firestorm (Vonnegut 79). The experience left such a profound effect on him that he has hallucinations that make him think he time-travels to other events, both past and future, in his life. His flashbacks include unrealistic circumstances that develop a coping mechanism for his shock and grief. For example, in many violent circumstances of Billys present life, Billy flashed back to when he was abducted by aliens and endorsed their concepts of time and death because to him they provided a logical explanation and acceptance of the horrors he experienced. Billy even tries to spread word of such concepts to the world through publishing articles and broadcasting, stating: The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will

Hares 4 exist...It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. (Vonnegut 13).
These flashbacks and apathetic coping mechanisms have a negative impact on Billy because they present ideas that lead him to suppress his emotions and grief mentally and physically from everyone. His emotional suppression and self-isolation is finally broken physically when his suppressed memory of the Nazi soldiers reaction to the Dresden bombing gets resurfaced by a trigger in the present: His mouth filled with the taste of lemonade, and his face became grotesque, as though he really were being stretched on the torture engine called the rack (Vonnegut 76). This event is crucial because it is Billys realization that the aliens concept of grieving death was not possible, as even the people he looked up to and took these ideals from, not only the aliens, but the Nazis themselves, experienced a tragic event that they themselves could not find an logical and positive explanation for. After his epiphany, he finally opens up about his war experience in both his hallucination and reality, from his fictional lover to an arrogant Harvard professor writing about the bombing in Dresden. Like Billy, Thomas Schell Sr. in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has experienced the tragedy of Dresdens bombing, losing his girlfriend Anna and being unable to cope with such a loss. Out of all the characters mentioned, he is the most impacted in terms of being able express his thoughts and emotions of the incident. He slowly stops being able to speak any word and relies on the words he writes on his body and notebooks to talk to others, which limits his vocabulary and projection of thoughts and feelings. In refraining from speaking, Thomas also throws aside any hope of coping with his loss by trying to love again. He demonstrates this in one of his letters to his son:

I wanted to tell her everything, maybe if I'd been able to, we could have lived differently, maybe I'd be there with you now instead of here. Maybe if I had said, 'I lost a baby,' if I'd said, 'I'm so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything,' maybe that would have made the impossible possible. Maybe, but I couldn't do it, I had buried too much too deeply inside me. And here I am instead of there. I'm sitting in

Hares 5 this library, thousands of miles from my life writing another letter I know I won't be able to send, no matter how hard I try and how much I want to. (Foer 118)
Although he voices his thoughts in the daily letters to his son, he still fails to communicate by never mailing them and isolating himself from the world for so many years. Unfortunately, it is not until his sons death that he finally begins to make some closure by burying his letters in his sons grave and sending notes to his wife forty years after leaving her. Grief is an fundamentally an emotional response to loss that can limit communicating and connecting with the world. Winston, Billy, and Thomas each experienced a variation of loss; Winston losing a mother, sister, and control of freedom, Billy losing a sense of reality and idea of how to deal with death, and Thomas losing his love. Although each character deals with his loss in his own way, each struggled throughout his life to find a way best suited for him to express and share their feelings that would help him find closure and move on with his life. These characters reflect more than their novels message; their issues in communicating with the world and taking the step to seek out others to connect with in the end is still a reality for many others today that struggle find the means to express their views and simply emote to the world. Communication with people and the world, whether writing or talking, is important especially in terms of traumatic experiences because it can relieve excess tension by means of venting, and allowing to make connections with others with similar experiences that can provide support.

Hares 6 Work Cited

Foer, Jonathan Safron. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.

Orwell, George. 1984. Ed. Erich Fromm. New York: Harcourt, 1949.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five, Or, the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.

New York: Dial Press, 2005. Print.