Riddley Walker

The Hart of Language: Analyzing the purpose of Riddleyspeak in Riddley Walker 12th Grade

In Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Hoban portrays a post-apocalyptic society ravaged by a nuclear war. While he masterfully crafts the story to warn readers about the dangers of technology, the real achievement is in the strange language, called Riddleyspeak, in which the book is written in. As Ferdinand de Saussure asserts, language is the mechanism by which people pull ideas from the nebulous cloud of thought. One can only know as much as he or she can express, so language not only affects how people think but also serve as a framework for a community to be built on. Russell Hoban uses the altered Riddleyspeak language in Riddley Walker as mirror into the values and psyche of the destroyed society.

On a superficial level, the new language is able to change the nuances, connotations and even meanings of words. For example, diplomacy becomes “plomercy”, which indicates the shift of the very idea of diplomacy to something much more sinister with the new word for the idea encapsulating “mercy”. In this sense, the new language is able to vividly capture the history and cultural change of this fictitious society. Hoban is able to transmit to the audience the representation of this society and its values not only through the plot...

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