Are We Writing for Fear Itself?


(Image selected by Aaron Winston, Editorial Assistant, found Here)

As FDR said (that’s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for those who are unaware), “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Indeed, it seems that fear itself has become somewhat of a cornerstone of contemporary literature. What, you ask? Well, we say…

In a fascinating research study outlined by’s Madeleine Davies in her article “Literature Trends Show That No One Wants to Feel Anything But Scared,”Google’s digitized library was statistically surveyed for usage and repetition of emotional language with interesting results: we use less emotional language in the traditional sense (love, empathy, romance, you know what I’m talking about) instead seeing an increase in fear-based emotional language.

Strange. I could have sworn Holden Caulfield used emotional language. Perhaps even happy emotionally language (this is a joke, I’m no phony).

Regardless of Caulfield’s emotional stability (questionable, that one), the study in question perused over five million texts and compiled average usage lists for tone words. Davies reports that these tone words were then split

into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise).

You already know the result – the categories of anger, fear, and sadness received more hits with fear moving up as of the last half century. Interestingly (seriously, this is interesting), parallels were noted between historical events (like wars, the 20th century’s violent speciality) and literature both during and in the wake of such events.

Davies leaves us on this note:

The study points out that a decrease in emotive language in literature does not necessarily equal out to a decrease in the emotional depths of the people who read it. I might push this even further and say that a lack of emotional language in a book doesn’t mean that the work is in itself emotionless.

We here at the Dodge agree with (or are very much inclined to support – diplomacy is sometimes necessary) Davies. As our domain is primarily centered on the poetic, we have witnessed a literary shift over the years – free verse, beat poetry, narrative poetics, confessional poetry and so many more subdivisions and classifications that have risen in the past half century.

Literature evolves along with society and, where many of the academics are concerned with rationally understanding the world, literature acts as the brother figure, taking the chaotic, sometimes incomprehensible, subjectivity of human existence and framing it in a way that is understandable. But to say that what the past few decades of English writers have been trying to understand, whether consciously or otherwise, is fear? Perhaps Davies is onto something. Maybe the lack of emotional language does not determine the emotional nature of the book.

What do you think? Please, contribute to our conversation!

As always,

Aaron Winston, Assistant Editor of the Artful Dodge


About artfuldodgewooster

Ohio based literary magazine, now over twenty years old, still in print, and gradually spreading across the digital world. Official Website:
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