“Wanted: straight words” in Percival Everett’s novel WoundedAuteur : Marie-Agnès GAY
Although less blatantly reflexive and metafictional than Percival Everett’s most famous works, Wounded does offer an insistent reflection on language. Indeed, although it does not shun referentiality in its realistic portrayal of a small Wyoming community confronted to a sudden outburst of violence borne out of homophobia and racism, the novel – through its homodiegetic narrator, a University-bred cowboy and art collector – also obsessively explores the relationship between words and the world. It is this dimension of the novel that our paper will focus on. After studying the way the novel’s numerous dialogues paradoxically stage the characters’ desperate attempts at direct communication, straight words constantly failing them, we will then show that Wounded actually seems to place a ban on linguistic straightness: “Wanted: straight words” thus suggests, as in the common yet ambivalent use of the expression, that straight words are precisely what should be suppressed, eradicated. Indeed, in the face of sterile, and thus deadly linguistic straightness, healing may only come from devious words and their bifurcating meanings, or to quote the author himself, from “nouns and names [that] behave badly and play loose with meaning”. The commitment to the right to difference within the story is thus matched by an apology of differance on the textual level, words forever escaping capture.
Marie-Agnès Gay is a Professor of American Literature at the University Jean Moulin – Lyon 3. She specializes in 20th– and 21st-century American fiction. She has published on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Ford, Allan Gurganus, a gay writer from the South, and her interest in minority writing has recently extended to Asian American writers.
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Marie-Agnès GAY « “Wanted: straight words” in Percival Everett’s novel Wounded »,
Lectures du Monde Anglophone / LMA, 1, 2015,
© Publications Electroniques de l’ERIAC, 2015.