Horrible Words

Nicholas Johnson: Big Dead Place (149-176)

Within the novel, Big Dead Place, the life of young men and women in the frigid conditions of Antarctica is depicted.  The main character or the voice in which we hear the story told is from a boy named Eirik Sonneland, who starts out working as a dishwasher.  The way the story is told is through many gruesome details and crude language.  Antarctica is not depicted as a wonderful place to live but quite the contrary or at least that is the impression I get through the use of language and intentions.  Many of the phrasings and especially a couple of the letters written are highly inappropriate and I personally felt a little uncomfortable reading them.  However, the use of inappropriate language and gestures helps tie the whole idea of what Antarctica is really like. 

During my section, the language became really abrasive and almost hard to read at times but the message was definitely conveyed.  The letter written to Scott from Shackleton and the letter in reply was filled with dirty gestures and language but conveyed the idea of how disrespectful some people really can be and especially in the middle of nowhere like Antarctica.  The intention for writing the disrespectful letter is understood but I do not see the need in using such inappropriate words or gestures to get a message across.  Johnson explains the situation in Antarctica very well by stating, “The most important things are to occasionally seek decisive assistance, to mimic the mannerisms of the immediate superior, and to occasionally let out a squeak or yelp of fear or pain.” (161)  I think that the inappropriate behavior derives from the young men looking up to their superiors and mimicking what they do.  In order to step up within the realm of Antarctica, one must follow the three simple steps because working hard does not get you very far within this environment but submission does.  I believe the people also misbehave because of the unchanging climate of the weather.  One can live within dark, cold environments for so long before acting out or establishing ones sense of fun in order to forget where you are and what kind of weather is outside the walls.  The same routine occurring over and over again year after year can drive anybody to insanity or in this case, to the point of acting out for sheer fun. 

The motives or unintentional conditions that lead to misbehavior are apparent within this text.  The underdogs or new people in Antarctica are given the secondhand jobs that nobody wants and in order to move up to a firsthand job, they must follow the key idea of submission to a superior’s request.  The foul language and gestures are used in order to demonstrate the dirty, harsh conditions that accompany many people who live in Antarctica.  The novel is not written elegantly because nothing within Antarctica to this story teller is beautiful or clean.

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One Response to Horrible Words

  1. lisaboo09 says:

    I like that you decided to focus on the language Johnson uses in Big Dead Place. As I was reading I also noticed that he would use curse words or be very blunt with certain descriptions. The one description I found very “out there” was when he talks about the different sandwhiches and how they are referenced to sexual terms. I laughed because I was wondering if he put it there for humor or for some other reason. I like that you think his use of language is from mimicking their superiors. I also think they act this way because they need some sort of entertainment. They are in Antarctica with not much around them to do. They find some way to entertain their boring lives by doing and saying things that they may not say elsewhere.

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