Why the Attitude?

Why the Attitude? A Better Understanding for the use of Body Language in Literature

By Danielle Lucie

Teens have been notoriously characterized by their eye rolls and heavy sighs. It is the unwritten form of language that allows people to send clear messages (typically of disapproval) to those around them. While this is not a newly discovered phenomenon, how did such attributes translate to our favorite characters in novels, especially as it pertains to the YA genre?

Body language, properly known as corporal language, has become a bit of an aesthetic characters will adopt to personify their roles; thus adding an element of realism to a fictional story. Body language in literature also allows the author a space to create a tone or emotion without the use of spoken dialogue. The idea behind employing nonverbal cues is to provide the audience the opportunity to connect situations and establish connections within the text without explicitly telling the reader what to feel or think.

Throughout time, novels have not always incorporated such humanistic traits. Books such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley relies upon sensory detail to create round characters. The interesting shift in literature today is when devices like corporal language are used with non-human characters. Often times the Young Adult genre is classified by its appreciation of the paranormal and other dystopian themes. When the author gives nonverbal expressions to convey an emotion of a non-human entity it makes that character more relatable and many times more favorable. Vampires, zombies, werewolves, mermaids, demons, ghosts and animals all have been personified through means of body language in popular YA books like: The Twilight Series, Supernatural, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Lost Voices, etc. Corporal language could be as subtle as a villain walking erectly in order to symbolize confidence. In Lost Voices, by Sarah Porter, one of the mermaids Dana is described as being wide-eyed and squirming. Without any other information the reader can gather she is feeling anxious. This helps to create a much more authentic emotion being portrayed by the character than if Porter would have simply written, “Dana was feeling nervous.”

Body language helps to create a more tangible character in a novel. It provides us with a raft of comfort in a sea of unchartered waters. Next time you read your favorite piece of YA literature consider how the use of corporal language influences the credibility of its characters.

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