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Literary scholars including novelists, playwrights, poets and authors of short stories, as well as essayists, play a significant role of providing the society with a mirror through which it can see and comprehend deeply its various social, cultural and political trends, which are critical to individual and collective well-being.
Literary scholars deploy various writing styles and literary devices such as imagery, a literary motif, allegory, symbols, a structure or a convention among others in order to bring out themes of their writings clearly. This effort enables them to help their readers relate their writings with the societal reality and thus grasping what the writer intended to pass on through his or her writings.
For instance, Barbara Ehrenreich uses humor in her interesting essay titled “Spudding Out” to deal with a somewhat serious societal situation. The purpose of this paper is to review the situation she has addressed, discuss elements of humor she has used in her essay and find out whether humor is appropriate in passing on her intended message to her target audience.
The situation she has dealt with
Academically, literary works are a creative and constructive way of condemning evils such as corruption, impunity, gender violence and discrimination of any kind, which could be understandably an obstacle to the progress of a society in the eyes of the wise, intellectuals, as well as political leaders of good will. They also serve to comment on the ineffective and unjust socio-economic and political systems of a society. In addition, they enable scholars and thinkers to ridicule intolerable and potentially destructive social behaviors or trends.
Barbara Ehrenreich has humorously used her essay to attack Americans destructive sedentary lifestyles and addiction to television. She is particularly, concerned about how this trend has adversely changed Americans image and how it has made young people immobile and lazy in a humorous language that easily makes the reader to laugh.
Laughter is part of human behavior that just like other human traits is controlled by the brain. Conventionally, people recognize it as a visual manifestation of happiness or an inner feeling of joy. Laughter results from one experiencing an amusing situation and hearing a joke or from other stimuli to mention but a few (Provine, 2001, p.2). It is mostly a very enjoyable feeling.
Presently, intellectuals view laughter as a form of communication (Provine, 2001, p.2). They even believed laughter as possibly the first for of communication among the human species, which subsequently gradually changed with emancipation of the voice by walking and breathing in to human languages.
Use of humor is a common writing style in literary works and performing arts used by writers and artists to address a serious societal issue in a tickling or amusing manner (Fry, 2010, p. 27). For instance, irrespective of the adverse effects of a sedentary life style and addiction to television taking roots in American society, which she actually identifies, Barbara Ehrenreich uses a language and style that is at the same time entertaining.
For example, Barbara amusingly attacks the fall of the Americans from being the salt of the world into what she calls ”couch potatoes” meaning people who spend most of their precious time glued on their lie down chairs (Hunt, 2002,p.626). Barbara accuses the television as this sole cause of this immobility. At one point, she is worried that the youngest Americans who people supposedly expect to appear active and mobile are the highly thoroughly immobilized.
She amusedly says that the young are immobile and physically lazy such that they can switch off the pacemaker of their neighbors when they are at fifteen yards (Hunt, 2002, p. 626). According to Barbara, even though one can see people in the television doing the same things we do in reality, ridiculously, you will never see them watching television. Now this proves funny because the very same people who keep stuck to the screen have no time for television.
Effectiveness of humor
Apart from educating and informing us, literary works also serve the function of entertaining people. Laughter is usually a very pleasant sensation which any sound-minded person would not mind experiencing as many times as possible.
In fact, humorous writers attract a larger audience than scholars whose work lack playerfulness and comedies. Therefore, even though Barbara is addressing a serious situation that touches on individuals’ physical and social wellbeing, humor is appropriate in bringing those issues to the attention of the readers.
Even though it is tickling to hear that people fear to go out because ‘fear of infrastructure’, they are most likely going to pay attention to the real issues addressed by the essayist as they search for more humorous lines in the essay. Humor enables writers to make people laugh and at the same time see their mistakes and even folly. Some of the elements of humor used in the essay include the use of a tickling language.
For example, Barbara calls this new trend spudhood and calls Americans television addicts couch potatoes to signify their unpleasant immobility in front of the television. Being a biologist and a career health scientist, Barbara understood very well the adverse effects of physical dormancy attributed to an extremely sedentary lifestyle. She therefore uses ridicule to scorn reasons why American people fear going out, as well as their addiction to television.
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Literary works at a deeper level of analysis are a mirror through which the society is meant to see its flaws and folly. Apart from educating, literary works are also meant to entertain. Therefore, one can use comedies and seriousness to convey a theme effectively. Barbara uses humor to address a serious issue of extreme sedentary lifestyles and addiction to television in a manner that is tickling and fascinating.
Fry, F. (2010). Sweet Madness: A Study of Humor. New York: Transaction Publishers.
Hunt, D. (2002). The Dolphin Reader. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Provine, R. (2001). Laughter: a scientific investigation. New York: Penguin Books.