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 Ling 131: Language & Style

 Topic 13 - Shared knowledge and absurdist drama (Session B) > Zoo Story > Task G skip topic navigation

Topic Contents
Absurdist drama
Zoo Story
Getting to know Applicant
Assumptions in Applicant
Turn-taking in Applicant
Topic 13 "tool" summary
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Zoo story passage

Zoo story

Task G – Concluding remarks

We can see that Jerry’s conversational behaviour in this extract is peculiar and difficult to interpret. And so it is very unsettling, both for Peter and for us. Most of the things we have seen relate in some way to clashes between Jerry and us concerning the way that he makes use of schematic assumptions. He appears to need to spell out assumptions that we would not expect to spell out, and can apparently change assumptions dramatically from turn to turn. His use of style is also sometimes inappropriate. It is thus not surprising that Peter seems unsettled in the conversation and we find it difficult to interpret Jerry’s behaviour satisfactorily. This unsettling effect related to character assumptions and how they are used is one of the hallmarks of absurdist drama.

Note also how there is a bit of an issue in this extract concerning which schematic assumptions we ‘take along’ to the text (see our discussion of Tasks B and C, for example). Should we operate with the assumptions that were in place at the time the play was written, or the ones we currently hold? Traditional literary criticism took the former line, suggesting that to use knowledge not available at the time a text was written was anachronistic and could lead to mistaken understandings (i.e. it would be rather like assuming that the word ‘gay’ in a text by Shakespeare could mean ‘homosexual’, even though that meaning for the word did not arise until the 20th century). Some modern critics believe that it is reasonable for the reader to take along more modern assumptions as they merely lead to different understandings, not a false ones. We are with the traditionalists on this one, even though it is harder work (you have to research assumptions and the meanings of words in former times – or other cultures if the text concerned does not come from your culture – cf. texts written in English by Africans or Indians, for example). But you need to work out for yourself where you stand on this debate.


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