What would the world we know be like if we experienced it without our senses? Nothing to hear or see, no smells to make our mouth water, unable to experience the thrills touch brings us, and food becoming tasteless. With this being said, it is understandable why the best most effective texts often incorporate vast and effective amounts of sensory into their descriptions. Sight allows us to visually understand our surroundings, express ourselves through objects and actions we are able to experience due to our eyes. Sound allows us to experience music, language, the sounds coming from our environment. Touch allows us to feel things and complete everyday tasks. Taste gives us motivation to eat certain foods. Smell fills our nostrils with the good and bad odors that surround us. All of these senses enhance our everyday lives. What’s also amazing about humans is that when one sense is taken away the others become keener. When the use of sensory words is applied the descriptions are enhanced and the meaning of the book can be more clearly understood in many cases.
Using the texts I have studied during my time in this English class, I have complied a list of ways these senses have enhanced the meanings of the novels we have read. In Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler, there was a disease that each member of an enclave had contracted and continued to spread. When the disease began to take over parts of their brain, there senses were stimulated and enhanced. This sensory enhancement was an important part of the book when it came to how the infected were feeling especially in comparison with the uninfected humans they were surrounded by. One of the characters informed another; “We read body language. We see things you wouldn’t even notice- things we didn’t notice before” (Butler, 486). In addition to enhanced sight with the ability to more quickly recognize body language and the meaning behind it as well as see clearly in the dark, the infected could hear much more keenly, and smell things humans would never even consider to have a specific smell like when a woman is at the stage of the month where she is most fertile. Their sense of smell also allowed them to distinguish who else was contaminated with the disease and what stage they were in, and who was uninfected. Their taste preferences also morphed in such a way that raw meat became desirable and the amount that they ate increased tenfold. The children that the infected population produced had senses even keener than their parents. The kids were more animal like in their features and have what we seem to consider more animal instincts and senses. Their hearing, sight, smell, and tastes gave them more animal like abilities. By explaining all of these sensory changes in the text it allowed the reader to have a better understanding of what the infected population was experiencing which in turn enhanced the overall effectiveness of the text in being able to rely certain themes and messages. In another book, Home by Toni Morrison, the main character, Frank Money, had been affected by his past traumas in such a way that in times of stress would alter his vision. His vision would go from vibrant and colorful then turn into a black and white scenery. In one scene when this happened to Frank, he was “just sitting next to a brightly dressed woman. Her flowered skirt was a world’s worth of color, her blouse a loud red. Frank watched the flowers at the hem of her skirt blackening and her red blouse draining of color until it was white as milk,” and the world became devoid of color (Morrison, 23). Then later, when the world had become black and white through his vision, “whatever the world’s palette, his shame and its fury exploded,” meaning that all the color reentered into his world (Morrison, 24).
The book Zulus by Percival Everett was heavily filled with descriptive language. One reoccurring theme I noticed throughout the novel was the importance placed on the color white and how the color was altered and effected depending on the situations. The white was described inside and outside of buildings and even to aid in explaining the feelings of emotions. The main character, Alice, describes a scene where the a building was “sickly white and clear, reflecting the sky’s hue” which was pink in color, meaning that the building had been painted white but was tinted with the pink from the sky, no longer pure (Everett, 143). This being said, it seems that most of the buildings looked this way in the tinted world. At one point Alice discovered “the one white building looked white” (Everett, 81). Later in the story, Alice was captured and beheaded by a woman running a rebel community named Rema. When Alice was exposed to what was called the Body room Alice noticed that “the white wall behind Body-woman Rima seeming more than white” (Everett, 105). The novel also uses the color white to aid in expressing Alice’s emotions. Fear and pain are described as “[flashing] white through Alice,” a few times in the book (Everett, 176).