In today’s world, it feels as if every sentence, no matter the platform, is inherently censored and carefully constructed. This phenomenon can be attributed to political correctness, or PC, movement. The PC movement has permeated all major platforms such as radio, social media, television, and literature. The fact of the matter is that some different phrases and motifs have been redacted from the acceptable language column. The intense and visual language that accompanies sex, drugs, and violence is nothing more than a mere vaulted afterthought. The PC movement within itself has innumerable positive aspects, such as being politically and ethically correct to be conscious of other races, genders, religious groups, ethnicities, and others. However, when recounting very troubling historical events, it is almost impossible to provide censorship. In Marlon James’s novel, The Book of Night Women, the negative aspect of this type of language comes to fruition. Marlon James knows all too well that without the use of this vulgar and explicit language, he wouldn’t be able to paint an accurate picture of the events, feelings, and people who existed in one of the most disturbing practices in modern history: Slavery. Marlon James, the author of the book, is a Jamaican born novelist who grew up in Kingston. The novel follows a young girl born into slavery navigate through a brutal reality immersed in slavery, rape, murder, inequality, and torture. James is able to create a masterful view of slavery in Jamaica through careful and thorough research combined with his own censorable experiences growing up in Jamaica. This use of language along with James’s use of broken English allows the reader to experience a world in which is unimaginable, but also historically and culturally representative of the era in which slavery existed. Despite this language, at times, being hard to read, the vulgarity and vivid descriptions of the repugnant events are strategically used by James to cast a light on the true horrors and events in slavery and forces the reader to align themselves with the real fear and events slaves had to endure.
Right from the get-go, James uses extremely graphic language to establish the style he intends on using in his novel. The novel begins with the gorily described birth of our main character Lilith. James exclaims, “People think blood red, but blood don’t got no color. Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come” (James 3). James’s usage and infatuation with describing blood during Lilith’s birth is no mistake. Blood has transcended time as a universal symbol for suffering and violence. Describing Lilith’s blood in such details gives us a glimpse into our main character in the sense that she was born in blood and will be literally and figuratively draped in the substance throughout her whole life as a slave. Furthermore, James makes a connection through his language and detail when he says “Not when blood spurt from the skin, or spring from the axe, the cat-o’-nine, the whip, the cane and the black jack and every day in slave life is a day that colour red” (3). In vividly describing daily possible occurrences for slaves along with the red tint of blood, the reader can make a connection between just how prevalent blood is in a slave’s life. It is a substance that is so integral to a slave’s life that James wastes no time emphasizing that most slaves are both born, exist and, ultimately, die in blood. James also does something very interesting with the English language. By using improper English, James is able to express violence in a way proper English cannot achieve. His goal in doing so is to make the language violent to highlight just how violent slavery was within itself. James’s violent and descriptive nature regarding blood establishes it as a central theme to this novel which, in turn, means it is a central theme of slavery.
Too often when learning about slavery, the experiences of the women are neglected. James shatters this commonality in delving into the many rape scenes that occur throughout the book. It was not uncommon for women to be raped as a form of punishment and this punishment could come from anybody in the plantation’s hierarchy. However, one of the most disturbing and surprising rape scenes (if that is possible) described in the book comes in chapter two as 14-year-old Lilith kills Paris, a Johnny-jumper. This is especially surprising because Paris is black, an incidence that is often left out of the history books. Perhaps the best encapsulation of how language can illuminate the violence is when Paris exclaims “Pussy not doin’ me no favour all de way over deh, so get your black arse over yah…She don’t know what to do” (15). This language resonates with the reader and truly lets the reader imagine the terror in the room. Furthermore, James goes on to write “Better to get rip to pieces by the bushdog or wild boar…than feel that she walk up to a man by herself and let him ravage her” (16). This description portrays the phycological and physiological affliction being placed upon her. Moreover, this language allows us to not only grasp the moment but to also get an interior glimpse of what Lilith is feeling and thinking. For most, being raped and then killing the perpetrator is not a common thing. That is why James’s use of this harsh, crude language is so essential in painting a complete and utter picture of a truly harrowing act that thousands of women feared and dealt with daily.
In one of the most disheartening parts of the novel, James utilizes his style to illuminate the horrific nature of slave auctions and the dehumanization that occurs. Lilith, accompanied by her master, walks into town and passes a live slave auction. One particular slave, worth a lot of money, decides to, as James put it, “bolt” (324) when he was sold. James writes “But the negro man run only so far before the chain yank him by the neck and he drop flat on him back” (324). The dehumanization bestowed upon someone being sold with a chain around his deck is deplorable. To put it in perspective, if that had been an animal in this scenario in recent history, it would be animal cruelty. James also describes that when the slave tried to escape the white women and men were scared for their lives almost as if this human was a bloodthirsty lion (324). Lilith describes her yearning for freedom and guilt as she isn’t able to even look this poor human in the eyes. James writes, “But Lilith know the sound even though she never hear the wail before. She know what he bawling for and force herself not to look in him eye, for she know he looking at her” (324). In using this language, James is effectively distilling the bond of fear, uncertainty, guilt and the unspeakable bond they share. This language captures a deeper more intricate look into the white man’s motives and the effect on the recipient of terror.
As censorship establishes deep roots in today’s society, it is imperative that it is abolished when the idea that must be inferred from them isn’t comprehensible to the basic mind. James’s style tears right through the heart of proper language and casts light upon Jamaica’s nation language. As Brathwaite put it when stating what the Caribbean education system did wrong, “People were forced to learn things which had no relevance to themselves…came to know…English kings and queens than they do about our own national heroes, our slave rebels, the people who helped to build and destroy our society” (Brathwaite 310). Brathwaite indirectly acknowledges the need for a language that tells the story from their perspective and to shine a light not on the villains, but rather the heroes. Marlon James masterfully tears down the walls of censorship and in doing so allows the audience to be able to dive into the minds of slavery, the terror and the effect it had on them. He successfully and effectively gives his readers an unimaginable experience of which should be regarded as fact, not fiction.