Friday, July 28, 2006

Sledgehammer Symbolism

Slacktivist, in is ongoing scathing critique of the "Left Behind" novels, offers up a cautionary tale to writers who use "meaningful" names for characters in their fiction:

Once you've carefully chosen a Meaningful Name, you may begin to worry that readers will miss it. Such worry can lead you to think you need to underscore and italicize your Meaningful Name to make sure that readers recognize and appreciate it. No good can come of this. Give in to such worries and soon you'll be writing things like:

Shepherd thought of her name, Grace, and it seemed more appropriate than ever. She had come into his life unbidden and undeserved ...
He then invited readers to share examples of this phenomenon. Here is mine:

OK, the most flagrant example of this I can think of is in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown". The very title is an example of the phenomenon. But not the most egregious. You see, Young Goodman Brown has a wife named Fatih. This allows the protagonist to exclaim such elephantine double-entendres as:

“With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!”

and:
“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment.

and:
“But, where is Faith?” thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into his heart, he trembled.

and:
“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband. “Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!”

When we read this in American Literature class, my friends invented the term "sledgehammer symbolism" to describe it. [I can't remember if it was Grishnash or Mad Latinist/Justin who came up with this.]

The character "Mr. Knightley" in Austen's Emma is another example that comes to mind. But I think Hawthorne takes the cake.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Justin/Mad Latinist said...

Who invented the term "sledgehammer symbolism?" I have no idea. Certainly Grishnash and I bandied it about a good deal in Highschool, but I have no recollection of its invention, or even if it was really one of us.

Of course in Highschool anything invented by either Grishnash or myself may just as well have been invented by the other, because we worked together so closely on such things. So unless Grishnash cares to claim he invented it, we may just have to say it was invented by Guy Anonymous.

"Guy Anonymous, inventor of sledghammer symbolism, pondered over his name, and how appropriate it was. 'It would be a perfect name for a character in some sort of poorly written novel, or better yet, a second-rate blog post', his friend Otto von Metadrama had told him...."

4:24 AM, July 30, 2006  

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