For one of the blog posts that we worked on in English class, I worked with a group in order to examine a movie, Lilies of the Field, and a story that borrows elements of its plot, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and how the names of their characters impacted their messages. We worked at a relatively good pace during the planning phase, but when we got to the actual essay writing, things began to go awry. While we had a general idea of where the essay was going, we had two different ideas of how to format the essay; while we were able to eventually hand in a well crafted essay, the amount of compromises that had to be made in order to include input from each of the group members was staggering. After this experience, I began thinking about how I had felt that my creative input was stifled throughout the process, and I realized that this need for compromise extended further beyond the scope of my essay writing. In fact, I believe that it extends all the way into the writing of literature itself.
There are many different ways in which authors must make compromises when writing, and one of the most common ways is censorship. According to the current Oxford Dictionary of Media and Communication, censorship is defined as “any regime or context in which the content of what is publicly expressed, exhibited, published, broadcast, or otherwise distributed is regulated or in which the circulation of information is controlled.” In simpler terms, this means that censorship is when publicly distributed content is regulated to be more appropriate for consumer viewing. This undoubtedly applies to literature, as it is also a form of public content. When authors write and attempt to publish novels, there is a process by which their books are judged and refined to be more acceptable. A prime example of this type of censorship can be seen in the distribution of the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. According to The Airship, an independent publishing company located in Montgomery called NewSouth published a commemorative edition of the book that changed some of the language. All of the uses of the ‘n-word’ were replaced with the word ‘slave’, and other words were changed to make the book more inoffensive. Though Twain was not alive to see this altered version of the book, I believe that this alteration went against his original vision of a grounded story about racism in the south. While the views presented in the book are still there and strong, some of the initial integrity of the piece was destroyed, and this was entirely due to censorship. Though it doesn’t destroy a piece, the effect that compromises have on written works is still impactful, both for the author and the reader.
On the other hand, there are examples of authors who throw compromise to the wind and write whatever they feel, whether coherent or not. The works of Percival Everett are a good example of this principal. One of his books that we read in class was I Am Not Sidney Poitier, a book about the adventures of a boy named Not Sidney. In an earlier blog post, I talked about a specific character named Ted Turner who has a very peculiar habit of breaking off into non sequiturs every time he makes an appearance. And while he certainly is a big source of randomness throughout the book, the story is filled with plenty of instances of unprompted observations, such as the musings of Percival Everett, a professor at Not Sidney’s college, or the comments of Not Sidney himself. Rather than limit himself in his writing by simply writing how he is expected to, Everett seems goes against compromise and write what appears to be random, such as when Ted comments that, “A fellow told me that when he got struck [by lightning] he felt like he had glass in his shoes” while Not Sidney tells him that his teacher failed him. (40) While most other stories that I’ve read in the past stick to mainly plot relevant details and sensible storylines, Everett’s writing is different. His writing bring’s up seemingly random topics and got me to think about topics that had nothing to do with the current story. His style greatly separates itself from the idea of compromise.
When considering the situation that writers find themselves in in terms of compromising, there seems to be two camps. On one hand, there are authors who change their work, through either forced means or purely by their own volition, in order for it to be considered more appropriate for general audiences. On the other hand, authors like Everett also exist who do their best to defy what is considered normal, and write how they like despite censorship. Both seem to oppose each other, but I believe that including both is the healthiest way of writing. While trying to keep your story and language as acceptable as possible is good for getting your book read by as many people as possible, I also believe that adding your own personal choices and ignoring compromise at times is perfectly acceptable, and also serves to spice up your story. After all, if all writers did was compromise, every story would be the same. And I feel that balance between the two is key to writing a good story.