The three stories I will be analysing are Arthur C.
Clarke’s ‘The NineBillion Names of God’, Janet Frame’s, ‘You Are Now Entering the Human Heart’and Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ and they’re one commonelement: fear. Yet each story is different; Clarke presents a sort of cosmic despairwith an oncoming and unseen apocalypse, Frame gives us a genuine andnon-judgmental look at how everyday human fears can trap us and Hemingwayleaves his characters in an existential crisis bordering a state of depression.These stories deal with the darkest and most negative parts of human emotionyet still engage us and encourage readers to draw out meaning from the story.
This begs the question: when does a text become meaningful for us? This paper will examine how a story’s style, explored throughlanguage’s, and consequently diction’s, effects on compelling storytelling aswell as presenting each text’s types of fears. These are the primary elementsthat engage readers by building the plot’s form and atmosphere. However, whilethey are necessary, I argue they are not the only elements that make a piecemeaningful or emotionally felt. This is where Hemingway’s ‘Iceberg Theory’ or Theory of Omission contributesto a story’s style. Defined by Beegel, the theory explains that ‘the underwaterpart of the iceberg is the emotion, deeply felt by reader and writer alike, butrepresented in the text solely by its “tip”‘1.
The lack of knowledgethe writer gives us creates numerous possibilities of subtext, allowing thetext to become a ‘site for the projections of anxieties and hopes, and isunderstood in terms of its therapeutic functions and effects’2.’Every word is a site of struggle’3 as Bakhtin observes and the textbecomes a space for competing voices, representing different struggles andmeanings for its readers. ______________________________1 SusanF. Beegel, Hemingway’s Craft of Omission:Four Manuscript Examples (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1988) (pp.
91)2 RobPope, Studying English Literature and Language (Oxon: Routledge, 2012), (pp.274)3 Pope,(pp. 255)The text only creates significance once the reader gives it importanceand empathises with these same emotions. Reader-response theorist NormanHolland believes ‘it is as much the text which analyses the reader as thereader who analyses the text’4. Thus, the final element of a trulymeaningful story comes from the reader-response of a text.
It’s as essential ina text’s meaning creation as the writer’s intended style. This literaryframework is rooted in phenomenology, which maintains that ‘objects attainmeaning through their perception in a given person’s consciousness’5.This paper will analyse the effect of style in creating meaningful texts underthe lens of reception theory and how reader-response evokes the fullsignificance of a text.
The Effect of Language on StyleOne of the most important elements of style is language, which can bedefined by a ‘given system for communicating ideas or feelings’6. Inliterature, this is communicated through the use of signs, found in a text’sdiction. The language and as a result diction of the text has a directinfluence on the message of the story as well as the way this message hasreached the reader’s consciousness. To understand this effect, we must firstanalyse how the text’s language has done this.
______________________________ 4 Pope,(pp. 274)5 JulianWolfreys, Ruth Robbins, Kenneth Womack, KeyConcepts in Literary Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006)(pp. 78) 6 Wolfreys,Robbins, Womack, (pp. 60) In ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’, the diction is complex, with 4-dollarscientific words used frequently. To ‘modify the output circuits’, ‘systematicpermutation of letters’, ‘electromatic typewriter’ and ‘adapt your AutomaticSequence Computer’7 are all located in the beginning when describingthe machine or the mathematical procedures that govern it. These are commonelements of a science-fiction story and already set the tone of an unemotionaland straightforward scientific attitude towards the story’s philosophical core.It’s also heavily descriptive with many instances of personification whendescribing the ‘remote checkerboard of fields’ or the ‘never-ending rainstormof the keys hitting the paper’8. Readers’ attention is drawn to thestory’s scientific rigour in dealing with the moral and religious dilemma ofdiscovering God’s name but arguably, only become engaged in these humanelements of the story as placed the casual reader can relate to and visualise.
These personifications can also be analysed as a metaphor for thestory’s motif of the intersection of science and religion, as natural settingsare only highlighted under a mechanical context or through the eyes of theengineers. The ‘distant mountains’ are only given importance under thescientist’s gaze as ‘names he had never bothered to discover’. ______________________________ 7 ArthurC. Clarke, The Nine Billion Names of God,(pp. 1) https://urbigenous.
net/library/nine_billion_names_of_god.html accessed 4 January 20188Clarke, (pp. 2-3) ‘You Are Now Entering the Human Heart’ uses shorter and more casualwords, forging a conversational tone between the writer and reader. ‘Were therenot places in the South where you couldn’t go into the streets for fear of therattlesnakes’8, almost asking the readers to be more sympathetic toMiss Aitcheson; which one of us has not felt fear like she has? Whendescriptors are used, they’re focused less on conjuring the scene and more ondescribing the feeling at that moment. For example, ‘the exit light blinked,hooded’ and the attendant’s lack of care towards Miss Aitcheson’s terror wasdescribed as if his ‘perception had grown a reptilian covering’9,both of which are direct references to the coldness of the snake wrapped aroundMiss Aitcheson’s neck.
While Clarke focuses on describing the scene, Frame’sheavy use of metaphors shows us what the human consciousness looks like duringa moment of fear – ‘She was evicted from them and from herself and even fromher own fear-infested tomorrow’ and at that moment had nothing but ‘the smallcanvas chair by the Bear Cabinet of the Natural Science Museum’10. Thelanguage here can only be analysed under the light of Robert Lamb’s comment onthe short story’s lack of space that relies heavily on suggestiveness andimplication, where the reader has a larger role in bringing the narrative tolife11, a response to a subtext that would intrigue them.In the moments where Miss Aitcheson’s fears are exposed, the audiencetoo experiences both her paralysis and aftermath of being gripped by fear.
Thenarrative’s language suggests that the journey through the human heart was anexploration on the nature of fear, revealing the story’s emotional core at theclimax just as the audience completes the journey alongside the protagonist. ______________________________8-10 Janet Frame, You Are Now Enteringthe Human Heart (pp. 2-4) http://moodle.nottingham.ac.
uk/pluginfile.php/4147580/mod_resource/content/1/YouAreNowEnteringTheHumanHeart.pdf accessed 4 January 201811 Robert Lamb, Art Matters (BatonRouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010) (pp. 34)’A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ utilises brief and concise language andheavily contrasts the previous stories with its lack of descriptors and complexdiction. Yet the characters’ existential crisis and depression is conveyed justas clearly as the fears in Frame’s and Clarke’s pieces.
The few descriptorsused are purposeful, as they describe the actions of each characters – the oldman ‘sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light’and this phrase is repeated once again when readers visualise the ‘terracewhere the tables were all empty’12. At once in just two sentences,the shadowy darkness of the night is emphasised and vivid while the lonelinessof the café is highlighted by the sole man that stays up ordering more brandyto drink. We know he is deaf but this only becomes significant at night where’it was quiet and he felt the difference’13. The lack of description evokes the reader’simagination and they build on this nuance; the old man prefers the solitude andquiet of night where during the day all we can imagine him “hearing” are his ownchaotic thoughts, a recall of the story’s motif about what it means to despair. Macherey states that the primary focus of a textual study is what thetext does or does not say14; it becomes the role of the criticalreader to read between the story’s expressed subject matter (presences) andsuppressed subtext (absences) and fill in the pregnant silences.
Thiscould explain why the heavily descriptive language in Clarke’s story helped tovisualise the vast landscapes of the Himalayas and the apocalyptic terror ofthe world ending yet the sparseness of language in Hemingway’s piece served amequally important but very different function. _______________________ 12-13 Ernest Hemingway, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (pp. 1) http://www.url-der.org/a_clean_well_lighted_place.pdf accessed 4 January 201814 Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production (1966)The despair of human existence is much closer to home than the distantfear of an apocalypse. Readers can empathise and relate to this emotion despitethe sparseness of language Hemingway uses in describing ‘nada’, thus evokingthe same fear of nothingness. In fact, it’s only because of the omission ofdescriptive language that the piece becomes emotionally felt.
The authordoesn’t tell them what the characters feel, thus controlling what the audienceknows about the story. Upon the Lord’s Prayer parody of nada ‘Hail nothing fullof nothing, nothing is with thee’, the story can be an interpreted as a lookingglass into the pits of human despair. The theme of the story becomes clear andreaders sympathise with the older waiter, understanding now the importance of a’clean, well-lighted place’. Language is the author’s treatment of and attitude towards the subjectof the story. While the subject of fear is prevalent in all three stories, themeaning readers derive from these fears are varied: ‘The Nine Billion Names ofGod’ is shrouded in an intellectual atmosphere that arguably, distances thereaders from the real fear of the world ending because of its science-fictionelement. While the other two stories are also fictional, the treatment of bothMiss Aitcheson and the older waiter are more pronounced; their fears are drawnout and focus on the moment of terror and their consciousness. This isexplained with economised, metaphor-rich language, whose sparseness makesreaders pay closer attention, allowing them to catch the text’s doublemeanings. This particular method of style will be analysed with respect to itseffect on reader-response in making certain pieces comparatively moremeaningful.
The Effect of Omission onReception Theory Gestalt psychology attempts to understand our ability to acquire andmaintain meaning. It argues that ‘the human mind does not perceive things inthe world as unrelated bits and pieces but as configurations of elements,themes, or meaningful, organised wholes’15 This is the basis of receptiontheory, where the text is not one original meaning but a ‘succession of momentsof reception, each one affected by the expectations, tastes and aims of thereceivers’16. Thus, we can deduce that some of our most meaningfulmoments in a text can be derived in those moments of reception. The questionremains: what style must a story affect to create moments that trigger ourreception the most? This style is Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, which elaborates theimportance of omission as it would ‘strengthen the story and make people feelsomething more than they understood’17. This theory can beunderstood if we look at Macherey’s notion of gaps and silences in a text18,areas of indefiniteness analysed through a psychological lens. Readers practiceaffirmative negation, the activity of meeting these blanks and vacanciescreatively; by relating to what is said in the text through their ownperceptions of the world and similar human emotions. In doing so, ‘readers makesense of themselves instead of making sense of the text as an ‘other’19. _______________________________ 15Selden Raman, A Reader’s Guide toContemporary Literary Theory, Great Britain, 2005 (pp.
12)16 Pope, (pp. 273)17Lamb, (pp. 41)18 Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production (1966)19 Pope, (pp. 274)I argue that this connection with a text upon identifying with it iswhen it actually becomes “meaningful”. Omission is utilised in all threestories but to different extents, conveying corresponding types of fear andevoking various levels of engagement in readers. We’ll compare examples ofomission in the stories in the character’s speech.
In Clarke’s story, there’sfrequent turn-taking in conversation between the lamas and modern characters. Thedialogue’s purpose is mainly to reveal plot points – the lama reveals thepurpose of the machine, ‘We have been compiling a list which shall contain allthe possible names of God’, the ethical core of the story ‘there is aphilosophical problem of some difficulty here’, what is supposed to happen whenthe computer finishes working ‘it will be the end of the world’ and the climax,’Wonder if the computer’s finished its run. It was due about now.’ The dialogueand scenes can be seen as transitions focused on advancing the story whichbuilds up the oncoming dread but the numerous details tell the story for us,lacking subtext and not allowing readers to derive their own meaning orsignificance from the story’s apocalyptic fear. Silence is more powerful in conveying subtext and deeper meaning. It canindicate power balances in a story; a character is powerful if there’s no needto speak and powerless if they’re unable to speak. In Frame’s story, the mostimportant characters are those that hardly speak. The narrator does notconverse but is powerful because she takes the role of astute observer,noticing the Miss Aitcheson’s underlying everyday fears like being ‘afraid toanswer the door’ and ‘to walk after dark’.
However, Miss Aitcheson’s powerlessnesscan be seen through her inability to speak when she is forced to hold thesnake. Characters like the museum attendant and schoolchildren may not be ableto see this but only readers will put together the depth of her emotion when wecouple her terrified speechlessness with her sharp denial, ‘No, I’m not afraid.Of course not.’ Readers begin to place their own meaning in the story – ispride part of the journey through the human heart? And is it this same pridethat leads to our downfall at the hands of fear? While there’s certainly an emotionally felt element in Frame’s story,allowing readers to derive meaning by relying more on subtext, the reader isstill not responsible for bringing the narrative to life. This is more obviousin Hemingway’s story where the theory of omission is heavily utilised,especially in regard to dialogue. The use of omission, and leaving nothing forthe readers is ironic and a call back to the story’s despair revolving’nothingness’.
Omission proves to be a dynamic technique whose role herebecomes less about form and more of a thematic concern. The reader immediately visualises the characters of the older andyounger waiter. The younger waiter is arrogant and mean, taking out hisfrustrations on the old man by saying, ‘He should have killed himself lastweek’ and ‘I don’t want to look at him’. However, it isn’t because he’sinherently a bad person, simply that he and the older waiter are ‘of twodifferent kinds’. The older waiter knows what the old man is going through but doesn’texplicitly show it or talk about it. ‘I am of those who like to stay late atthe café’ is his sign of solidarity with the old man. He belongs with thepeople who understand despair, ‘with all those who do not want to go to bed’.
The younger waiter doesn’t understand this but he doesn’t explicitly say iteither. His ‘confidence’ doesn’t allow him to and as the older waiter tells himof the importance of a clean, well-lighted place to old men who despair, heshuts him down with a ‘good night’. The omission of additional details about the origins of both thesewaiters, where their sorrows come from and even a lack of temporal framework orsense of place doesn’t disrupt the meaning of the story.
Rather, it organicallyshows character revelations and observations about the people in the setting.With the omission of extra detail or descriptors, readers can impose their ownideologies or meaning on a text or constructing the scene as a whole, using thebits and pieces of essential information. It’s this very lack of detail that makes the story more universal byunderlining the general existential anxieties suffered by the old man and theolder waiter. This is the point at which the felt element becomes most obvious andreaders can extract or implement a variety of meaning from the text.