The Importance of the Written Word in Jonathan Safran Foer’s
Everything is Illuminated (2002)
Letters and notes from one people to another have been considered a notable and charming style used by most literary artists of the contemporary generation. The collection of personal messages and thoughts written by very well-molded characters has always been one of the well-loved tricks in fiction writing that readers admire and love. Aside from this, a very good and artistic command of language also has the ability to give a work of literature an impressive form. These literary features may not always be easy to achieve, and accomplishing them may be suggestive of a literary work’s potential to be an award-winning piece. This is what exactly happened to Jonathan Safran Foer when he first attempted to enter the literary world. His work, Everything is Illuminated, his debut novel, received a spectacular number of positive remarks from critics as it combines the right mixture of very well-molded characters, an impressive collection of letters in the novel, and an impeccable command of language. Specifically, the readers, together with critics, found one peculiar thing about this work of Foer. It was his way of forming a collage out of the letters and narrations his novel holds as well as his valuation about the written word as a very commanding aspect of fiction writing. This is one writing style which was not typical in the contemporary genre of fiction novels; however, as what Foer’s debut novel proves, this style was able to win the taste of the critics and the readers.
The Effect of Foer’s ‘Collage’ Writing Style to the Readers’ Perception of the Story
Foer’s Everything is Illuminated reveals a story which revolves around the quest of a boy who was named after its author, Jonathan Safran Foer, to find a certain Ukrainian woman named Augustine who saved his grandfather’s life from the Nazis. It would be difficult to grasp the depth of the novel by reading just a few pages, for each sentence and transition add to the overall effect and impact of the novel to the reader. Basically, the novel is a “collage” of stories of history, memoirs, love, and death in narrative form. This could be the main factor which sets the plot apart from all the novels released at that time. Although readers have that eternal impression that narration just adds up to the tiresome and boring trait of a novel, Foer was able to prove in his own way that narration can cause a different effect when used artistically and creatively. This technique has been clearly applied in his debut novel.
On the surface, the novel appears to be a weave of letters and narrations from two different characters. Although some readers tend to find this trick confusing and misleading at first, a deeper analysis and appreciation of the transitions will eventually enable them to see the real wonder of such trick. Typography is often used in advertising and campaigns, as it is a mix of different materials such as words, pictures, and colors. However, in this novel, Foer was able to apply this strategy in the written words and thoughts of his main protagonists. The novel can be dissected into two languages, which are the language of Jonathan Foer, who is fictionally recounting the history of his grandfather’s place, and Alex Perchov, a Ukrainian native who ambitiously learns to speak and write English and who also eventually becomes Jonathan’s friend. These two characters serve as the main voices and narrators in the novel and give the story an interestingly intertwined plot consisting of their ventures and travels.
At first glance, this trick done by Foer may look quite confusing and misleading. However, several readers and critics of the novel reveal that this novel has nothing to do with confusing interconnection. This novel is about the clever ability of an author to make two colorful and interesting characters have one same amusing effect on the novel. This writing trick also shows a creative and imaginative way of connecting characters. In the novel, the main connection of Alex and Jonathan has been apparent through writing. Their acquaintance only becomes clear and comprehensible when they were depicted to be corresponding with each other through letters, suggesting the characters’ deepening connection. Considering this, it can be said that at least, through this novel, the purpose of weaving together letters and thoughts from two different characters in the story can possibly create an artistic impact rather than a confusing effect. Through Foer’s masterly ability to link these two narrators’ tales and clearly shift from one character’s point of view to another, he was able to make his readers follow through his transitions and shifts, making the novel uniquely interesting.
It is true that this writing trick is not always easy to do. This can be the main reason why this “collage” writing style or typography in writing is not yet a very prevalent style in fiction writing in the contemporary genre. Foer’s choice of applying such kind of style reveals that he is an author who focuses on and pays attention to linking two completely unique characters through written words and thoughts. This technique also gives the readers an idea that Foer is not the type of author who settles for a safe writing style; rather, he gives off the impression that he is willing to take a risk and give his readers an interestingly new story. In addition, writing appears to have a considerable significance in the lives of the characters themselves especially for Alex, who grew better and better as he practiced writing in the English language as depicted in the story. Aside from these, this style of Foer also aids the readers to be more analytical and thorough in their reading. This is because a novel like this would be difficult to understand and grasp if readers would habitually skip paragraphs and not practice reading between the lines. Thus, more than just a show of artistic and creative ability in writing, the inclination of Foer to this kind of writing style goes to show that he cares about how intelligent and smart his readers would become after reading his work, which is another good quality for an author.
The Significance of the Written Word in the Novel
Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is explicitly a written world realm. It is basically a collection of letters and insights from two amusing characters where the twists and turns of the story come from. In this novel, the written word can be observed to play a very essential role, and this is to connect the lives of the main protagonists of the story. Foer also made a good job of making the readers realize through this work that they must indeed focus their attention on written works as these are where the secrets of the story are revealed. The readers of this novel will also realize that paying attention to these details, like the text formats, is indeed very significant since the part of the characters’ voices and letters are differentiated through the very small dissimilarity in text formats.
The written word also plays a significant role in the characters of the novel. This significance can be seen evidently in the Trachimod’s people’s obsession to writing in order to distinguish truth from rumor. Specifically, these people consider something as true when it is officially written. Moreover, the importance of writing can also be observed in the people’s inclination to the Book of Antecedents which is a collection of the most trivial things they know. As a matter of fact, these people would even write in a repeated manner, “We are writing… we are writing… we are writing,” and when there is nothing to add in the Book of Antecedents, acting like writing is actually their living: “Even the most delinquent students read The Book of Antecedents without skipping a word, for they knew that they too would one day inhabit its pages, that if they could only get hold of a future edition, they would be able to read of their mistakes” (Foer 196). This just reflects the significance of written materials in the lives of the people in the story—even those who would be thought of as non-readers. Aside from this, the fact that Jonathan’s entire venture is based on writing itself is already a concrete proof that writing plays an essential role in this novel and in the lives of its characters.
In several ways, this practice of the people of Trachimod and their obsession to writing reveal much about how predisposed they are to documentation. In many ways, the written books of incarnation clearly depict the people’s way of recording facts and things that they do not want to forget and that they want to share with the future generation. This implies that in one way or another, the people of Trachimod understand and realize that writing has a connection with remembrance and memorization. Quite obviously, Trachimod’s people will find it easier to remember things when they have easy reference materials where information are recorded and kept. Just like in the contemporary real world, people rely on written documents as a reference for the things they have to remember. Although there are various forms of media available today, many still stick with the quite traditional yet reliable written works to enhance their memory and remembrance of things. This appears to be the thought that the depiction of written materials in the novel aims to express. Obviously, written materials are presented as influential and powerful tools which do not only affect what people think are true and valid but also serve as an aid to making people remember valuable and important things.
This depiction of written materials in the novel appears quite logical and understandable as there are no high-tech or state-of-the-art mass media technologies in the story that the real contemporary world enjoys today. This implies that the people in the story are left with no choice but to rely and trust the written works and materials as basis of truth and credibility since no other more reliable material can serve the same purpose in the story.
This debut novel and masterpiece of Jonathan Safran Foer can be considered as a risky, tricky, yet a very successful product of imagination. It is a proof that having two completely different narrators of different personalities and language aptitude is not such a bad idea when there is a masterly mix of clear transitions and connections between the personalities and the lives of the characters. This may appear confusing and distracting for some, but with the right command of language and usage of transitions, this trick may do magic in fiction. Moreover, this novel is also a proof that written materials are crucial in people’s knowledge and memory. They record events from the past and present, recount the memoirs of a long lost grandfather, serve as a reference to the mistakes done in the past, and function as a collection of the great things that people experience at present. This also implies that no matter how advanced media technologies may be, writing will always remain to be one of the world’s most credible sources of knowledge. Thus, more than a peculiar presentation of the tales of two protagonists, this novel is a good example of how valuable writing and written materials are and what alterations and improvements they can do to an individual. Hence, the right kind of transitions and the right choice of language make this novel of Jonathan Safran Foer an impeccable novel of its own kind.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Everything is Illuminated. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.