POC Writers & Award Winners

Cartoon stack of multicolored books.

The two pieces that I chose to do my analysis on were the first paragraphs from two different POC novels. I choose to use these pieces because they set the scene for the two novels Paradise, by Toni Morrison, and The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Coincidentally, before I decided to use these two novels for research, I didn’t realize that they had both been major literary prize award winners in the same year, however, different awards. The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997 and Paradise won the Nobel Prize in the same year. 

I came across these two novels in different classes, but in the same program just months apart. When I started reading them, they both sounded very similar. Not in context, or what they were about but rather, the feelings that they brought about within me as I was reading. And it wasn’t until I took my Linguistics class with Dr. Hill, this past semester, that I even considered that they could have been written with the type of sentence patterns to evoke the same type of feelings that were necessary for these types of stories. But I am getting ahead of myself. 

Let’s talk about the novels themselves. Paradise, by Toni Morrison is a fictional story about a town named Ruby, that is created by all black society that inevitably falls victim to the same problems that 1960’s American society was dealing with despite their population stemming from an all-black community. The story deals with themes of racism/colorism, classism/casteism, inter-generational struggles, and inclusion and exclusion. I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t read them (I definitely recommend both Paradise and The God of Small Things) but after reading Paradise, it reminded me of The God of Small Things

Now, The God of Small Things, is a story about two twin brothers who are experiencing growing up in Ayemenem, in South Asian, India right up until the time of Partition, and the troubles that they face. The two stories aren’t connected to each other, but as I read the books one semester after another, I felt as though noticed similarities between the two novels. As I began to re-read novels, I realized that I felt the same feelings arise. And a thought occurred to me, “Do these authors use the same or similar sentence patterns and type of verb phrases to evoke the same feeling within their readers?” So I took the first paragraphs from each of the novels (because I felt as though they had the most information and they set the tone and the stage of each of the stories) and broke them down and this is what I noticed. 

This is from The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, : 

“1.) May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month (Pattern 3). 

2.) The days are long and humid (Pattern 2). 

3.) The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees (Pattern 8).

4.) Red bananas ripen (Pattern 6).

 5.) Jackfruits burst (Pattern 6).

6.) Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air (Pattern 6). Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun (Pattern 9). ” 

Now, this won’t make sense until I add the other paragraph from Paradise by Toni Morrison which I will add after this sentence. 

This is from Paradise, by Toni Morrison,: 

  1. “They shoot the white girl first (Pattern 7). 
  2. With the rest they can take their time (Pattern 8). 
  3. No need to hurry out here (Pattern 6). 
  4. They are seventeen miles from a town which has ninety miles between it and any other (Pattern 1). 
  5. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just begun (Pattern 2).”

At first read, you can see some similarities between the two paragraphs. They read short, pungent, and matter-of-factly. As if to say, “This is what has happened” or “what will happen and nothing can change it, this is the way things are”. The feelings that I felt were along those lines as well as feelings of sadness, apathy, and fear. But the question in my mind still remained, how did they do this with different words and different storylines and the differences in active and passive voices? 

So, I began to break down the sentences using the rules for sentence patterns explained in Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolin, Loretta Gray, and Joseph Salvatore. In this there are only ten possible sentence patterns that exist within the entire English language. So, as I broke them down I began to see how these sentences began to push me towards those feelings and how they set the stage for the novels.

If you look back at the paragraphs, each sentence is numbered and after each sentence there is a corresponding pattern number that follows. And as I have indicated, there are some sentence patterns that occur in both Paradise and The God of Small Things. We see that the sentence patterns that the two paragraphs have in common are pattern 2, 6, and 8. Now the information in Understanding English Language tells us a few things about these sentences. Pattern 2 is in what they call the “Be Patterns” meaning it has a “be” form in it. What was interesting about these sentences is that the adjective in the sentence is the subject complement to the noun phrase in the sentence. This is what I believe gives the sentence that feeling of “this is what has happened”, that strong “finality” feeling. The sentence complements the situation by further describing it, so that the reader fully understands what is happening. For example, in The God of Small Things in sentence two we see that it is a pattern 2, as it states “The days are long and humid” [The days] being the noun phrase, and [long and humid] being the adjectival that further explain the days. The word [are] in the sentence acting as the “be” form or verb phrase. All together it gives the final push for a sad and informational effect. 

Next we look at sentence pattern 6. As the book tells us sentence pattern 6 is simple but rare. It states that only there’s only two components to the sentence. The noun phrase and the intransitive verb. And in these sentences it’s pretty clear to see where they’re at, they are sentences 4 and 5 in The God of Small Things and sentence 3 in Paradise. Sentence 5 in The God of Small Things reads “Jackfruits burst.” [Jackfruits] are acting as the noun phrase and [burst] is acting as the intransitive verb. Although [burst] is a verb it is intransitive because nothing is actually being done to the jackfruit. It is not expressing an action or something being done to the jackfruit. The strange thing about this sentence is that, the proceeding sentence is Red bananas ripen, another pattern 6. But it’s funny how these sentence are simply talking about what fruit does naturally that in and of itself creates the feeling of apathy as well as finality. As in “this is just the way that things are, the way things will always be, and nothing can change that”. It’s a strange thing to get from fruit, but it’s what this sentence pattern allows the writer to do. It gives a short, pungent effect to the reader that drives home the tone that was previously established. Now, similar to the sentence pattern 6 in Paradise which states “No need to hurry out here.” We get that same feeling with the same type of sentence pattern referencing something completely different in a different story altogether but the same effect, short, and pungent re-establishing what has already been given. 

It’s interesting to look at, and then brings us to our last sentence pattern, pattern 8. The book tells us that this pattern is in the patterns that contain transitive verbs, that also contains a subject (NP1), a transitive verb, an indirect object (NP2), and a direct object (NP3). Additionally, an easy way to understand that is a pattern 8 is to see that there are 2 noun phrases that follow the verb and one must be a direct object and the other an indirect object. In Paradise we see this done in sentence 2 as it reads “With the rest they can take their time.” And broken down it is [They] acting as noun phase one, [can take] being the verb phrase, [their] functioning as the indirect object or the second noun phrase [with the rest]  working as the third noun phrase or the direct object that then creates sentence pattern 8. I think these function to remind the reader that everything comes down to the same things in the end. As sentence pattern 8 has 3 different noun phrases that each can reference something different within the sentence. But I think here, the point of this is reaffirm that all roads lead to the same thing, that we will reach the same conclusion, nothing will change in the story and it will happen just as it is being told to the reader. It is similar to the sentence pattern 8 in The God of Small Things as it reads “The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees”. It is making reference to life a death cycle that the previous fruits were mentioned, it has different noun phrases like the river, the crows, and mangoes and they all reference something different in the sentence, but they still have that feeling of “this is the way things are, this is the way things have always been, that same ‘finality’ feeling”. 

In the end, what I am trying to get at is that although these stories are about two wildly different things and describing different events, they evoke the same feelings utilizing the same type of sentence patterns. The authors utilize intransitive verbs to invoke pungent strong feelings while also utilizing simple adjectives to inform the reader of the situation. And lastly, the authors give description and detail that references their previous sentences as to tell the reader that everything is connected, and final just as their sentence patterns are.

– Martin Jimenez

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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