That they can talk: Themes of communication in wordless novels and post-apocalyptic literature

Plan Author

  • Sophia Gorjance, 2016

Fields of Concentration

  • Writing

Sample Courses

Project Description

An original post-apocalyptic novella.

Faculty Sponsors

  • T. Wilson
  • Gloria Biamonte
  • Tom Toleno

Outside Evaluator

  • Katie Kramer, Middlebury College


In addition to two critical papers, on Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker and the silent novel The Arrival by Shaun Tan, respectively, this Plan features an original post-apocalyptic novel titled Under New Stars and a world synopsis and plot for a young adult fantasy trilogy. In the novella, a band of survivors eke out their low-tech lives in a post-apocalyptic village, foraging for reusable items in a nearby city and haunted by the fearsome “ferals.” Sophie includes elements of transformed language in her novella, a phenomenon she explores in her critical analysis of Riddley Walker, widely considered a prime example of a thoughtfully executed post-apocalyptic shift in language.


Intellectual control through language is a highly important aspect of dystopian literature. Presuming that dystopian governments have a vested interest in controlling the populations they rule, we have to discuss how control of language controls peoples’ perceptions of the world. The hypothesis which has grown out of the work of linguist Edward Sapir and later his student, Benjamin Lee Whorf, claims that the language one speaks controls the reality one perceives. It’s almost impossible to test or investigate, but even only conceptually, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has a lot to offer. Ultimately, Sapir- Whorf says it’s impossible to express something that there are no words for in a given language. Governments like the Party in 1984 accomplish intellectual control by literally controlling the language that is spoken, whereas in A Clockwork Orange the domination which Alex is reacting against causes him and his droogs to develop Nadsat, a warped Slavic/English slang vernacular which allows them to control their experience of the world and differentiate themselves from those they consider beneath them.

We weren’t fast enough. The ferals kept up. The stones they threw and their howls like dogs became one thing striking us. Davey shouted, Drop the packs! He struggled his own straps off his shoulders and his pack hit the ground, all the forage flying out across the path ahead of us. Fin looked to me, fear like a minnow in a lightning storm all across his face. Dropping the packs meant no trade in town: people wouldn’t get things they need. We knew about ferals, Fin and me, but there hadn’t been any in more than a hand of years, and they couldn’t be bad enough to leave the packs, nothing was that bad, not even dogs—
Drop them! Davey shouted again. He was ahead of us, faster without the weight but staying with us from fear. Screams still fell around us and we broke hands without looking and struggled free of the straps. My pack hit my foot and I almost fell with it but Fin grabbed my shoulder and some of my hair and pulled me, pain full, with him.