It appears that in this particular semester, I have had the privilege to read a genre that I would honestly never even think about reading: young adult literature (in a class that is aptly named Young Adult Literature). And so, this semester I read eight different novels written for and marketed to young adults (age 12-18 give or take a few years). The last book I read was titled Feed by M.T. Anderson. The book is a dystopian novel that takes place in the future and speaks on issues regarding hyper-consumerism, that is, the buying of too much pointless junk for which America is known (a theme I heartily agree with throughout the book). Like many of the other books I read for class, the book was full of coarse language, had some sexual innuendos and, of course, including briefs scenes of alcohol. It is regarding the language that I believe the book needs to be analyzed.
Now, I am not necessarily a prude when it comes to what I read, though I do believe that having good judgment in what we allow into our minds is important. When reading through Feed, you will begin to pick up very quickly on a trend of sorts. That is the book is coated with adult language. I am generally not a fan of so much cursing in literature (honestly, when it comes to literature itself, I see no reason why filthy language be needed at all. It cheapens the work in the end.), but in the case of this book, I have to admit that I understand the argument he is trying to make concerning language, an argument I happen to agree with. As mentioned before, the book centers around a future time period, and in this future both children and adults speak very differently and use a much different diction than we are used to. It makes for a somewhat confusing read at first, but once you get into the book, it starts to make a little more sense. The case I believe Anderson is attempting to make is that our language, headed the way it is, will eventually collapse on itself because we are virtually running out of words as our vocabularies shrink from each generation.
This particular thesis I happen to agree with wholeheartedly. Our language is, in some very real ways, slowly dying as we foster a new generation that does nothing but watch T.V., play video games, and text all the day long. Our vocabulary as a culture consists of using very little of the potential that can be applied to any given situation. When regarding the inappropriate language in the book, we see that Anderson uses swear words as if they are used in every day conversation. The f-word is said by everyone and in every situation you can possibly imagine. It does not surprise me, however. When we look at young adults in America, we see that perhaps the number one word they use more than any other is the f-word.
Think about it. Whether they are happy, sad, upset, amazed, they feel they have to use that word. Instead of saying: “This particular instance that just occurred is deplorable to me. I am beginning to feel very upset and indignant about what is going on in our country,” they feel they must use the aforementioned word to describe their current temperament. Now obviously, we cannot expect people to pick up the language as it was spoken in the nineteenth century, but we can at least try to foster a generation that explores a larger range of diction which would enhance their speech, their poetry, and their prose.
I would hope that one would not just take this from me though. We should look to some examples in literature to see just how far our language has fallen and how it affects prose. Here is a snippet from an nineteenth century author:
That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another son from his slumbers, threw open his chamber windows, and looked out upon the world beneath. Goswell Street was at his feet, Goswell Street was on his right hand – as far as the eye could reach, Goswell Street extended on his left; and the opposite side of Goswell Street was over the way… And having given vent to this beautiful reflection, Mr. Pickwick proceeded to put himself into his clothes and his clothes into his portmanteau. Great men are seldom over scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire; the operation of shaving, dressing, and coffee-imbibing was soon performed: and in another hour, Mr. Pickwick, with his portmanteau in his hand, his telescope in his great-coat pocket, and his note-book in his waistcoat, ready for the reception of any discoveries worthy of being noted down, had arrived at the coach stand in St. Martin’s-le-Grand.
We see here that this passage shows a great range of vocabulary and displays various ways in which menial tasks can be described. Mr. Pickwick puts himself into his clothes instead of his clothes on; shaving, dressing, and drinking coffee are described as operations; and even the sun is described as a “punctual servant of all work” something that is comically true but rarely said in such a way.
When it comes down to it, the difference to me is rooted in our motivational deficiency disorder that keeps current students from applying themselves when they read. As a consequence, every book I have read for the class this semester has been a very easy read by my standards which are not very high. I would consider The Pickwick Papers, the book from which the above passage is taken, to be a somewhat difficult read because of how the author chooses to write the story. Now, we need perspective more than anything. If historically speaking, young adults could at one time read Dicken’s without becoming frustrated what does that say about our current young adults? That the classics are outdated? That they simply are not ready for the content in the classics? If we say that, I believe we are insulting their intelligence. Giving a student an easy read after an easy read and telling that student that he is a good reader is doing that student an injustice. If we assume the student is incapable of reading Shakespeare by sixth grade and thus teach them all through elementary as if that will be the case, we are fostering a generation of students who cannot read Shakespeare by sixth grade. For my own sanity, and hopefully someday for the future generation that I bring up, I hope to be fed and to feed something else besides the stuff that is constantly thrown our way and considered good literature all the white devaluing language and destroying good prose.
But when your countenance fill’d up this line, Then lackt I matter; that enfeebled mine.