Examples of Distortion in Literature & Functions

Distortion means changing something from its original form or connotation. It distorts the information, departing from its natural state, giving a false or twisted depiction.

The distortion results in a move away from the true substance of what is being discussed, whether optics or sound; it interprets one-sidedly and often deceptively. Such occurrences often affect how information is seen and understood, influencing opinions and conclusions.

Functions of Distortion

Distortion performs several functions across different contexts:

  • In art and photography, distortion is used to produce images which are visually striking (and yet unconventional), giving the work an element of strangeness or weirdness.
  • Music and audio production often employ intentional distortion to produce certain tonal effects, injecting richness, depth of color into the sound.
  • Narrative distortion is used in literature and storytelling to subvert traditional ways of thinking, prompt reflection or arouse an emotional response from the readers.
  • Psychology and cognitive studies use the study of cognitive distortions as a means for understanding unhealthy thinking patterns, which prompts growth in individuals which ultimately can lead to increased mental well-being.
  • Controlled distortion is often used in industrial design to improve the function and appearance of products, providing novel solutions that combine form with substance

Examples of distortion in literature

Example#1

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The narrator Nick Carraway frequently uses distorted language to convey his perceptions and emotions. In one instance, he describes Gatsby’s mansion as follows:

“It had a tower on one side, spanking new but with solid marks of construction still visible… The air was alive with enough singing cerevisiae to perform boisterous athletics, and through the trees, palpitating heart and soul, the Woolworth Emporium glittered obliquely.”

In the passage, the writer employs vivid and exaggerated language to convey the splendor and excess of Gatsby’s wealth. The tower seems spanking new, but solid marks of construction make it seem less than perfect. The air is not just alive but full of singing yeast, which gives it a sense of vitality and excitement. The repetition of the letter ‘g’ in ‘Woolworth Emporium glittered obliquely’ creates a musical effect that contrasts with the tedious nature of the building.

Example#2

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

“She was not outside, exactly. But my house was no longer a house. A thin milk line bent close to the roofline, sucked scared by a tree—not a tree I could name—and brought down the pink and blue columns. First one, accompanied by shrills. Then there it was again and again. Grass-blade crochets, bound for somewhere, stripped leaving a Nevertheless, She Persisted patch round where a wall had been. The place nobody’s working that nobody’s guarding anymore took shape in the rising dusk.”

In the aforesaid excerpt, Morrison employs disjointed and abstract language to convey the surreal and traumatic nature of slavery and its aftermath. The narrator sees her house like it’s not really there and feels like something spooky is around. The world outside her seems to split into different parts, which makes everything feel broken. The shrills and grass-blade crochets create a sense of dissonance as though the reality is unraveling.

Example#3

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Here, the narrator uses the distorted language to convey the magical realism of the story. He describes the protagonist Remedios the Beauty as follows:

“She was not ugly, she was merely plain, but as soon as she lifted her eyes to smile, her face fell back into a state of nullity; it seemed to be a mask that had been invented to conceal something, but in each accompanying movement some feature was revealed that immediately canceled out whatever expressive value the mask had recently had.”

In this passage, Marquez employs contradictory language to create a dreamlike and mesmerizing effect. The protagonist is neither ugly nor beautiful but falls between these extremes, which exists in a state of ambiguity. Her face is both a mask and a revelation, which suggests a duality of identity. The language creates a sense of paradox almost as reality is warped and distorted.

Example#4

“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

In the work, Snowman has used the distorted language to convey the dystopian and post-apocalyptic world that he now inhabits. He describes the transformed landscape as follows:

“The sky itself was unnatural: too blue, too blank, too without color. There were no clouds at all. There was a deep silence, scraped and blank as well, with no rustle of leaves or stir of air. The two figures moved soundlessly, gliding like ghosts beneath the flawless dome. They made no shadow. They were not real. They were images, Plastic people, designed to be watched, designed to perform.”

Here, Atwood employs harsh and otherworldly language to convey the surreal and unnatural nature of the transformed world. The sky is too bright, too perfect and too devoid of color. There are no clouds or movement, which suggests a stillness that is almost too perfect to be real. The figures themselves seem unreal. They are not part of the natural world but has been designed to be watched and observed.

Examples of distortion in literature
Examples of distortion in literature

Example#5

“Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath

In this literary work, the distorted language has been employed to convey the pain and trauma of the life of the writer. She describes herself in the following way:

“Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a callity for suicide. And I have slaughtered Six million kisses, Six million screams. And I am not done yet.”

Plath employs extreme and vivid language to convey the intensity of her own experiences. These words are means of communicating the pain and trauma that she has experienced. The language is both brutal and dark. The writer emphasis on words ‘hell’ and ‘slaughter’. The repetition of the number six creates a sense of magnitude and horror. In fact, the narrator is carrying a weight that is almost unbearable.

Example#6

“Lord of the Flies,” by William Golding

While using the distorted language, the savagery and chaos have been revealed that have taken hold of the boys on the island. The writer has described the actions of the character Roger in the following way:

“Roger won a very cruel victory. He shot the sow that had saved the life of Simon. He wanted to do it faster, and straighter. He wanted the bloody jugular. With Arthur’s help he lifted the sow and fastened ropes to her heels and rump. She tried to squeal and got his knife.”

In this excerpt, Golding uses graphic and violent language to reveal the brutality and savagery of the actions of Roger. The words ‘very cruel’, ‘bloody jugular’ and ‘wanted to do it faster and straighter’ create a sense of horror and revulsion. Furthermore, the use of objects like ropes and knives adds to the brutality of the scene.

Example#7

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

The writers describes the protagonist Gregor as under:

“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible verminous beast. He lay on his armour-plated belly, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-shaped brown belly and two little black eyes.”

Here, Kafka employs the stark and unsettling language to convey the grotesque and horrifying nature of the transformation. The use of words like ‘horrible’, ‘verminous beast’ and ‘armour-plated belly’ create a sense of revulsion and disgust. The emphasis on physical detail, such as the protagonist’s ‘dome-shaped brown belly’ contributes to the irrational and disturbing nature of the scene.

Why writers use distortion?

This method is frequently used by the writers to create a few special styles or for using expression of complex emotions and notions. They use twisted language to make their work sound surreal and mythical. By using this technique, the writers are able to create unsettling moods that is impossible to achieve through prosaic description. Techniques such as metaphor, hyperbole and personification change perception by bending logic to break out from the traditional way of seeing things. 

Human fatality and human spirit distortion is another effective tool used by writers to describe the subtleties of personality. In the end, distortion is a useful method by which writers can create memorable and stimulating pieces that will stay in the minds of the readers long after they have put down the book.

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