“I don’t care for obscene language when it’s used for the sake of shock,” I said. “But in Rubyfruit Jungle, I think it furthers the plot. It helps the reader know Molly.”
“Are you serious? Brown didn’t have to make Molly Bolt that nasty. The dirty words are there for no reason.” Her voice got louder. “And please! lesbians don’t act that way. I would know, wouldn’t I” She was red-faced, so I took my leave.
The quoted exchange took place after a friend of mine sought my support when defending her perspective on the use of obscene language in literature. I meant what I said; I don’t care for language that does nothing for the plot. Reactions should be obtained through action, not with an overload of four-letter words. But there are times when certain words are essential for characterization. I think Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown illustrates what I mean.
Molly Bolt, the main character, embraces her circumstance and reaches for happiness. Rita Mae Brown uses tone, point of view, perspective, setting, and language to create a novel that is not just about a young girl finding out that she is a lesbian, but about any girl growing up in world that doesn’t quite understand her. This might sound similar, but it is not the same thing. Molly’s story doesn’t focus on homosexuality. The tale is about what any person might go through when going from child, to teenager, to adult. It just happens that Molly is a lesbian.
She is an extremely intelligent and resilient child who is curious about funny looking body parts. She enjoys exploring the forbidden, and when a few dollars figure into the equation, she is willing to share someone else’s forbidden bits with the rest of the world. She laughs at her friend’s uncircumcised penis because, well, “It looks ugly” and “no one else has a dick like that.” The fact that, to her, her friend Broccoli’s penis looks hideous has nothing to do with sexuality. It is the thing of young friendships; they are honest and unpretentious, just like Molly. Exactly like the girl who would fart and probably claim it. I almost deleted the word ‘fart,’ but I’m choosing against it. Molly would say fart. She is that type of girl; not dirty, not particularly rude, but full of spunk and earthy reality.
Her beliefs are her own, and she refuses to let anyone make her think or want otherwise. And as a teenager, she falls in love deeply and forever with different people. She loves to kiss girls, enjoys fixing things, is always ready for a fight, and would do something wild—like sleep with her best male friend—just to see what it feels like. She sleeps with other guys, too, in order to fit in and to avoid unwanted societal attention. This kind of behavior might demoralize a lesser being, but not Molly. She knows she is in charge of her life, and she is doing it because she wants to; at least for a while.
Young adult Molly is as confident as the child and the teenager. When things don’t work out with a school or with a lover, she picks up her things and heads to New York City with a bit over twenty dollars in her pocket; she is not afraid to hitchhike. Or to share the backseat of a car with a stranger who is also looking for a very temporary warm bed. And she has principles. She believes “The big pigs use heterosexuality and women’s bodies to sell anything in this country—even violence.” And that “It looks destructive, diseased, and corroded. People have no selves anymore (maybe they never had them in the first place) so their home base is their sex—their genitals, who they fuck. It’s enough to make a chicken laugh”. Yes, Molly is the girl who says “corroded,” “fuck” and “chicken laugh,” in the same sentence and makes them fit. Her idiosyncrasies are so hers that the reader has no choice, but to accept that Molly Bolt is real. She sounds like no other person.
Molly’s intellect and courage are enormous, and her heart is even bigger. She doesn’t laugh in the face of the teenage lover who forsakes her, or gets even with the stepmother who abuses her. She remains lovely, true to herself, and real all the way to the end. So I will repeat myself, for every now and then, I feel we must in order to make our point clear: obscene language, explicit sex, gore... are not elements I love to see in literature or on the screen in huge doses, but sometimes they are necessary in order to tell an honest tale.
How do you feel about obscenity in literature, my Wicked Luvs? Would you ban it to preserve people’s sensitivities?
|I absolutely adore this cover, in case you were wondering ;-)|
P.S. There’s a lot more to the argument, but right now I’m too frustrated to discuss the details and stay unbiased. I’ll tell you in a few days. Maybe next Wednesday...