The Frequency of “I”

Editing the new, digital version of the text proved remarkably tedious. I was given two different novels to edit: the end of “The Parable of the Talents and the beginning 150 pages of “Fledgling.” I corrected the errors from the last few pages of “the Parable of the Talents” extremely quickly: there were not many extra characters and the separation of the paragraphs was kept intact. All I had to do was correct misspellings. After this easy experience, I was expecting the rest of the project to be finished extremely quickly.

Then I moved on to correcting the new, digital text of “Fledgling.” Unfortunately, my scanning process was more complicated than I would have liked. Because my BYU ID had an old, unused email address, I could not access the scanned files using my own account. I borrowed my husband’s ID to scan and send the digital files: after receiving the files he emailed them both to me. While the first file, the end of “The Parable of the Talents,” sent easily, the 15o pages of “Fledgling” could not send as a normal PDF, so he compressed it. I believe this was the cause of the extremely large amount of errors in my new, digital text of “Fledging.” Paragraphs were separated incorrectly, quotation marks were irregularly interchanged for the its singular form, words were misspelled, words were omitted, etc. The most blatant and annoying error to correct, however, was the mis-recording of the word “I.” It was marked incorrectly more than half the time it appeared. On some pages, it was almost every time it was written. It was often interchanged for marks such as “|” , “{” , or “[“. Sometimes a J was inserted in its place. Sometimes a “L.” In any case, it was a mess to correct.

Despite it being extremely tedious and annoying to edit, the incorrect recording of the word “I” made me make some interesting conclusions about the text. I have just finished writing a 10 page paper about Derek Walcott’s epic poem “Omeros.” In my paper, I addressed the idea of representation: in the poem there is a self-inserted poet-narrator that interjects in the narrative. He writes his feelings about each character, creating the plot through which their motives are shown, their character and personality explained. Essentially, he controls the characters he writes. In the poem itself, the personal pronoun “I” is hardly ever used. It only manipulated when the meta-narrative of the poet-narrator interjects. Indeed, this creates some problems in terms of giving certain characters proper representation. The females in the narrative especially lack depth of character are written as merely objects and metaphors to further the poetic motives of the writer. Thus, the lack of the pronoun “I” in the narrative means that the characters do not get to express their feelings themselves. It can be concluded, therefore that the characters are not representatives of true human expression.

What does this mean about Octavia Butler’s “Fledgling”? “I” is included extensively: nearly 20-30 times as page in the most extreme examples. With the brief skimming I did of the text, this means that there is more dialogue. There is more internal dialogue. It means the main character thinks a lot about her feelings, her actions and her motives. Because of these narrative devices are used more extensively in the text, it could be concluded that characters are represented properly. The main character especially forms her own opinions, speaks her mind, and thinks about herself.

I suppose this is a mini-study of the project we will be completing for the final. However, in the short survey I did of the interjection of the personal pronoun “I” in Octavia Butler’s “Fledgling,” I can conclude that studying the frequency of words within a text can help us draw conclusions about the character of the book and its author.

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2 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Condie

    I LOVE THIS! Even though the actual process of OCR is a pain, the end result reveals so much, even if we did not fully read the book. It is fascinating how a program allows you to see a character more fully just be the presence (or lack there of) of pronouns. THis is something that the Modernist Short story Project, which does OCR and many text processing things, would love to hear about! It’s all about the stats!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Allie, although I’m sorry you had such problems with the correction of the files. The compression of the PDF probably made a big difference to the amount of work that you ended up doing.

    The conclusions you’ve drawn from this experience are important, however. The word “I” is fairly common in English, but every author will use it differently, as you’ve discovered, and it points to different things that they care about. It also, of course, helps highlight whether a narrative is in first-, second-, or third-person. That alone is something that you might not immediately realize you can discover when reading from a distance. The final will give you a chance to see to what degree your discoveries align with the whole of Butler’s corpus.

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