"Handing the cup over, she gets the nastiest look from the customer, as their eight-year-old snickers at her cursing. She's oblivious to it, but it kind of pisses me off. Who the hell are they, bringing an eight-year-old here past midnight and buying their kid caffeine? Then they have the nerve to get all righteous?"- Society's Foundlings, Ellie Lieberman
Many have different opinions about cursing in books, especially in children's books, Middle Grades, or YA. Certain books, such as Bridge to Terabithia, have been banned or challenged for it. Other books, such as the also banned, The Catcher in the Ryee, discuss one of the issues many people feel about cursing, seen whenJ.D. Salinger draws a connection between the graffiti that reads 'Fuck You' with a loss of innocence.
In Society's Foundlings, there are about fifteen "fucks." I know this because after watching some interviews about The Perks of Being a Wallflower and learning that in order for a movie to be considered PG13, it could only say "fuck" about once, I got curious about my own work. While this fact about my book will turn away some readers, as an author, it was important, essential, and at time deliberate for the reader to understand the characters.
For Carver, as seen in the quote at the beginning of this blog, cursing is the not the worst thing in the world to him. He chooses to be more concerned with the physical health for a child, for example, rather than his co-workers use of expletives in front of the child. That can be taken a step further. He is more concerned with the parent's judgement of his co-worker and the hypocrisy of said judgement.
It can be said this is hypocritical from a character who takes his sixteen-year-old friend for burgers and shakes at midnight (arguably for both of their well-being, though) and also says later he'd prefer his caffeine "in an IV drip. Stat." Or, the fact that the co-workers use of cursing was during a conversation about how Carver was judging his cousin's friend. This situation in and of itself can show how we, as people, don't always recognize a negative trait in ourselves as easily or readily as we do with someone else. It can also show the difference between Carver and his co-worker, Ophelia Cortes, especially in their reactions.
However, hypocrisy aside, Carver is also a character who has messed up a lot when he was in high school and who has seen some of the darker sides of humanity. Whether it is directly stated, implied, or inferred, Carver hasn't had the nicest or easiest life. His choices in the past are part of this, but so are the choices of others who had been around him ( i.e. why doesn't he mention a parental figure?). A big part of him, especially during the story, is choice and that extends to his choice in vocabulary, as well as his choice of what he concerns himself with.
That being said, he also reads extensively. His choice in books also shows more a freedom with vocabulary. As the author, I have my own opinions and thoughts about this that may differ from yours, as the reader. Please keep in mind, your interpretations are not wrong. These are just mine.
To me, Carver's search for that "more," for that freedom, to not feel the constraint or burden of financial struggles and past mistakes would extend to his philosophy about vocabulary and how he speaks. To me, it seems like he's the type of character who would not necessarily view a word like "fuck" as an offensive word. I don't think curses hold the same power for him.
This is also where he differs from say, Clem or Math. The only time Math says "fuck," is at the climax of the story, when emotions are running high, and conflict is running higher. To someone like Math, the word holds a certain power, especially for expression. It can also be argued that what Sampson, Math's brother and Carver's cousin, has said and what both Sampson and Carver have done is more offensive than Math's use of the word "fuck."
Here's where I throw my two cents in as an author. There are certain words that we have that are offensive. By this, I don't mean curses like the ones we are discussing. Should they be in literature? There is still that debate about books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
This book was written a very long time ago. That one word was prevalent and it remains just as offensive now as it did then. It can be argued that a book like this can be used to start the conversation about the power of words and the importance of learning from the past. Especially with how easily and how often it appears in the book. That illustrates another problem, though, if the conversation is not had. I've also heard arguments that you shouldn't tell an author what they can and cannot write, or change a classic.
I think the issue is bigger than this, though. Between the way people are reacting about taking down Confederate statues, the fear caused by the election and other current events, and even someone like Bill Mahr cracking a joke, whether he meant to or not (which illustrates it's own problem with our society and use of certain words), these conversations need to be had. There needs to be a dialogue.
Should that dialogue occur with a book like Huckleberry Finn? It's written by a white man with a character who is a white boy. There are probably better examples out there, but the fact this is the first book that comes to mind speaks a lot about the society around me and myself, one of the things I'm trying to work on personally.
Also, I am a white author. I will never know what it's like to have a word like that, with so much history and connotation tied to it, directed at me. I know this word has power. I know this conversation needs to take place. It's not me who should be talking, though. It's me, as someone who is white, who needs to be listening.
Conversation makes it sound like I have the right to speak on a subject that I have never lived through. I can't say the word, nor do I think I ever could. Ice-Cube was on Bill Mahr, and he said the word was their's now. And it should be. It's time white America starts to listen.
I'd like to think, even Carver, would find there are more offensive actions and words out there than "fuck." As a YA author, I don't think we do any of our readers justice if we try to shield them from important conversations. I also don't think it is very fair to them to be more concerned with whether or not the book they read has curse words than what they're hearing on the news and seeing in the society around them today.
Originally posted on Goodreads!
As a side job to support my writing career, I work as a yard supervisor at an elementary school. Part of this job includes assisting children in the lunchroom. That was what I was doing when some students noticed a cloud of smoke in the distance beyond the fence on the other side of the playground.
A group of the students began speculating as to what might be the cause of the smoke. A fire seemed to be the most likely culprit, according to them. A house fire.
Another little boy raised his hand to get my attention and informed me that he not only did not appreciate the type of conversation but that it was putting him off his lunch. I suggested to the group of students that they needed to respect the fact this other kid asked them to please stop and maybe speak quieter so the other student did not have to hear and could finish his food. Understandably, a conversation of that nature is rather frightening and even unsettling to think about. And, all in all, it is lunch time and the boy needed to be able to eat his food.
As I walked away from the table, something about how I handled the situation did not sit right. What happened kept replaying in my head and upon a minute or so of more thought led me to another way of looking at it.
Why shouldn't that group of students still be allowed to talk and speculate? Yes, it was an unsettling conversation, but what did it teach to them and that boy about when unsettling conversations are brought up? Just as that boy has a right to eat his lunch in peace, that group of students had a right to talk it out.
Talking is a way of coping. And smoke, like a car accident, is hard to ignore. Human nature lends itself to curiosity and often talking it out is a way to reach an understanding.
I went back to the table and told that boy, "You know what? Just as they need to respect that you don't like this conversation, you need to respect that they might need this conversation. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you don't like what is being talked about, you don't like what show just came on television, you don't like a certain book, you can remove yourself from the conversation. I understand that it is frightening or unsettling, but if they keep talking about it and you can still hear it, you can take your lunch and move to a different seat."
Big concept in a seemingly little moment, self censorship. It reminded me of banning books. Amazing books that bring up some incredible conversation, but because one person objects, suddenly they try to silence it, ban it. More often than not, these are conversations we need to have, too. That people do more harm than good in trying to censor others, rather than simply censoring for themselves.
Gathering dust in the depths of my mind, random thoughts dusted off and put out there for the world to see...