In Our Time

Promotion of Performative Utterances in In Our Time College

Words are important. But, as is commonly said, ‘actions speak louder than words.’ In speech-act theory, there are two types of utterances, constative and performative. Constative utterances can be identified as true or false. Performative utterances perform some action through the act of being spoken, or as John J. Austin writes, “to state that I am doing it: it is to do it” (Austin, 6). If actions do hold more influence than speech, speech-action would be the most influential type of speech. This is why, in Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, Nick is shaped by the performative utterances of authority figures more than he is shaped by constative utterances. In order to show the utility of performative utterances and how they are promoted in the English language over constative utterances, a close reading is required.

The performative utterances of Nick’s father in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” influence Nick for the book’s entirety. At the end of the story, Dick, Nick's father, leaves the house and his wife for a walk. His wife asks him to send Nick inside to speak with her. He does not. The dialogue, “All right. Come on, then” (Hemingway, 76) is a performative utterance, one that grants permission with its usage. And, with...

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