The written word is a mighty powerful thing. How do we know? Well, without it we wouldn't have Charlotte Doyle's narrative. (That is, the story she tells about herself.) For the novel's main character, writing becomes a means of education, reflection, and perhaps most importantly of all, a way to record her experiences. Once written down, Charlotte's adventures (and the radical ideas they promote) can be reproduced, circulated, and read by countless people. Her writing can influence, inspire, infuriate, and ignite a whole host of people.
We should also mention that the written and spoken word are often contrasted in the novel. For example, the captain and Charlotte read and write in books. The captain notes all of the ship's events in the log, and he's always got a copy of the Bible on hand. Likewise, Charlotte writes in her journal and reads her books from school. The crew, however, are mostly illiterate. Their tales and personal histories are passed down through stories told out loud. While Charlotte and the captain are part of a culture that depends upon reading and writing to transmit important information, the crew participates in an oral culture.
Questions About Literature and Writing
- Is writing a kind of agency for Charlotte? ("Agency" means the capacity to act.)
- What's the difference between words written down and words spoken out loud? Which one is more powerful?
- Why does Charlotte's father burn her journal? What does this act symbolize?
- Do you think Charlotte should have taught the crewmembers to read and write? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Writing is a form of empowerment. It's only through recording and reflecting on her adventures that Charlotte finds out who she truly is.
Writing can be used to empower people; however, the written word can also be a means of oppression. Jaggery, for example, uses the Bible and the ship's log to intimidate his crew.