Literature, Language, and Life

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Showing and Telling: Habeba

“Showing and telling” is a technique used in writing that allows readers to better understand the mood, characters, and events of a novel. According to Lodge, showing is the quoted speech of the characters. Since the events that take place in the book are linguistic, the character’s quotes mirror what actually occurs. Showing also introduces to the audience both the personality and the feelings of the character, and gives an overall in-depth explanation of the events that are taking place. On the other hand, telling is the author’s summary, or the narrator’s language. This can accelerate the tempo of the narrative; it skips over things that are unimportant, or distracting. Telling does the opposite of showing in regards to the individuality of the characters: it does not give us a clear picture of the character’s traits; rather it gives us a broad overview of the character, or event that is taking place.

In her novel Paradise of the Blind, Duong Thu Huong switches between showing and telling in order to deepen the reader’s ability to both connect with and better understand the characters along with the events they endure. Paradise of the Blind revolves around a girl named Hang who is recalling her past throughout the novel. The novel is written entirely from Hang’s perspective. At times she gives a detailed description about parts of her life, and other times she gives a vague overview of what took place.

In Chapter 2, the author talks mainly about the early life of Hang’s mother, known as “Que”. A mixture of telling and showing is used to keep the reader engaged. For example, when describing Hang’s mother and father, showing is used, it states “ My mom had just turned twenty. Ton was twenty-six. They say she was the most beautiful young woman in the village. My father had his charm. What’s more, he had an education.”(p.20)  Here, the author strategically uses showing when introducing an important character. Duong wants the readers to have a clear depiction of what Hang’s parents were like. However, later in the chapter, Duong uses telling when explaining the disappearance of Hang’s mother. This is narrated as,“ She bundled up a few clothes and left the village that December evening.”(Pg. 32) Here the author just uses a simple statement to describe what happened. The author giving so little detail compels the audience to keep reading in order to find out why it is significant, and what happens further along in the story.

As the novel progresses, Duong continues to strategically use showing and telling based on which is more fitting. In chapter 6, showing is used to portray Hang’s feelings about her childhood. She states, “To me, my childhood seemed like a ball kicked across the road, aimless, without any purpose” (Pg.91) In this line, the audience is being shown exactly how Hang feels, as though they were inside her brain. Because of this, the readers are able to understand how events that Hang recalled previously in the novel negatively impacted her childhood. Later in the book, telling is used by Duong to give a sense of the events that took place. After Hang tells about her reuniting with her mother and the happiness that she and her family felt, she skips forward in time. She states, “ This happiness lasted a year. The following year, Uncle Chinch came down with diabetes.” (Pg.177)  Here, Hang does not give any context to the happy year that she mentions. This information is briefly given for the reader to have an idea of what life was like for Hang.

Duong Thu Huong’s choice of when to use showing and when to use telling greatly enhanced the reader’s understanding of the novel. Duong’s use of telling helped the reader understand what was happening, and where the events took place. While the use of showing allowed the audience to form a vivid mental picture of the characters and events that occurred. Overall, the technique “showing and telling” encourages the readers’ interest in the novel and allows them to better understand, or imagine the characters and events.

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