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Language and Communication
[…] school was a waste of time. It meant dozens of teachers hassling him about being dyslexic, and it meant Alan working full-time when Alan wanted to go to college. If Alan would just let Nick work full-time at the garage, then Alan could go to college and Nick would never be saddled with anymore reading, and everyone would be happy. (4.2)
There are probably plenty of people out there who can sympathize with Nick. When words don't come easy, neither does high school English. But Alan thinks it's important for Nick to acquire good reading, writing, and speaking skills (along with a high school diploma). Why do you think Alan feels the way he does about Nick's education? And what do you think? If Nick likes working on cars and he's good at it, why can't he just do that full time?
"The dancer shares a part of himself with the demon in the dance, but he has to be careful what he says when the demon comes. If he says the wrong thing or takes the wrong step, then the demon can have all of him." (5.27)
Yikes—no wonder Nick lets Alan do the talking for him when he dances. Clearly, misspeaking in the middle of a demon summoning has more drastic consequences than stumbling over a poem in English class. Hmm. Maybe this has a little something to do with Alan's insistence that Nick finish high school…
"What's the big deal?" Nick asked roughly, not sure what words would help and what words would upset Alan more. (9.111)
Um yeah—so this is when Nick has been… interrogating Gerald, the magician, with a lot of bad cop methodology and no good cop in sight. Nick knows Alan's upset, but he can't quite figure out why. And the words—he has no idea what to say in this situation. It's kind of like when your parents or your buddies are mad at you and all you want to do is make it better, but everything that comes out of your mouth seems to dig you into deeper trouble. We hate that. And we're pretty sure Nick does, too.
[Nick] fought with black incomprehension: Alan wanted a particular response from him, and he didn't know what it was. (9.183)
Here it is again—another situation where Nick knows there's something he's supposed to say or do, some gesture that would smooth things over or make everything all right, and he can't. Figure out. What it is. Sometimes it almost feels like Nick is a foreigner in a strange land where he doesn't know the language or the customs. And we feel for him.
Gestures like that did not come naturally to Nick, any more than comforting words did. (10.164)
Hair ruffling. Head patting. A slap on the back. They all communicate different things, and each one of them can have multiple meanings depending on how and when they're carried out. This kind of communication doesn't involve words, but it still has Nick completely baffled. Like people with Asperger's Syndrome or autism, his ability to read social cues seems to be compromised.
He couldn't seem to find any words, just a hollow feeling where words should have been. He opened his mouth and an odd sound came out, like a croaking bird, and he stared up at her blankly. (11.80)
Oh the words, the words—they just don't come easily to Nick, and it makes us wonder: if he can't put his thoughts and feelings into words, can he really know what it is that he's thinking and feeling?
"Do you find words difficult?" Arthur asked. "I can't imagine that you're any good at reading or writing, and as for lying—Words are so alien to your kind. They can't come easily to you." (15.23)
Arthur uses Nick's difficulty with words as evidence to support his claim that Nick is not actually human. But the fact that Nick can talk at all seems to indicate that he might not be exactly what Arthur thinks he is, either. So you tell us: what is Nick?
Black Arthur had been right, though. He had never been human, never felt things in a human way, never been completely comfortable with a language made of words. (17.23)
Really? Okay, so we'll go along with the "never been completely comfortable with a language made of words," but (ahem) there are plenty of humans who feel that way about language, too. And as for the "never felt things in a human way" bit, well… we're not so sure about that.
He made an effort to catch her eye, and when he did, he smiled.
"Well done," he said.
Mae looked sick. Nick realized that somehow he had said the wrong thing, and he was just thinking that Alan would have said the right thing when he saw Alan stir. (17.68-70)
Seems like maybe it would be kind of maddening to have a brother who always says the right thing—especially if you yourself had a knack for always saying the wrong thing. To that end, we'd like to give big kudos to Nick for waiting until Chapter 11 to take out his frustrations on his eloquent brother.
[Nick] felt cold, empty of the right words. He knew how to talk, but he did not know what to say. (17.79)
And that's the crux of the matter, isn't it? Nick has words, which separates him from the animals (and the demons), but he doesn't really know how to use them (which makes the line between him and an animal or a demon a little blurrier). One interesting thing about this quote though, is that it suggests that his inability to use language makes him feel cold and empty. Do those feelings make him more like a demon, or less?
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