Monologs

"Monolog" may not be the technically accurate word to cover what I have in mind here, but I refer to a speech given by one person. It may be a formal speech, or an excerpt from it, or it may simply be a lengthy speech by one person within a lengthier conversation between two or more people. It could also be a lecture, or part of one, given by a professor, minister, or drill sergeant. They come in many variations and disguises, but what follows here are three that illustrate how the writer can say a great deal about a person simply by recording accurately what he or she says, especially when speaking at length.

In the "Delhi" chapter of her book Destinations, Jan Morris captures the flavor of India through a monolog given by a government spokesman.

"Certainly," said the government spokesman, perusing my list of questions, "by all means, these are all very simple matters. We can attend to them for you at once. As I told you, it is our duty! It is what we are paid for! I myself have to attend an important meeting this afternoon—you will excuse me I hope?—but I will leave all these little matters with our good Mrs. Gupta and all will be taken care of. I will telephone you with answers myself without fail—or if not I myself, then Mrs. Gupta will be sure to telephone you either today or tomorrow morning. Did you sign our register? A duplicate signature if you would not mind, and the requisite application form for a pass—it will make everything easier for you, you see. Have no fear, Mrs. Gupta will take care of everything. But mark my words, you will find the spiritual aspects of our city the most rewarding. Remember the River Ganges! As a student of history you will find that I am right! Ha ha! Another cup of tea? You have time?"

We come away from this monolog with some understanding of the government official, especially his feeling of self-importance, but we also come away with a feeling about how it must be to deal with the government of India. I came away wanting to meet our good Mrs. Gupta. Surely she and many other Mrs. Guptas provide the government whatever efficiency and effectiveness it has. Had the author chosen to interrupt this monolog with little summary bits about what the official looked like, what his office smelled like, or to give a glimpse of Mrs. Gupta in the outer office, much more would have been lost than gained.

The following excerpt from "The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong" by Nicholas Tomalin, as collected in Tom Wolfe's The New Journalism, is a good example of specialists' language, and it also makes an important point about how effective the direct quotation of a monolog can be.

The General has a big, real American face, reminiscent of every movie general you have ever seen. He comes from Texas, and he's 48. His present rank is Brigadier General, Assistant Division Commander, United States Army (which is what the big red figure on his shoulder flash means).

"Our mission today," says the General, "is to push those goddam VCs right off Routes 13 and 16. Now you see Routes 13 and 16 running north from Saigon toward the town of Phuac Vinh, where we keep our artillery. When we got here first we prettied up those roads, and cleared Charlie Cong right out so we could run supplies up."

"I guess we've been hither and thither with all our operations since, an' the ol' VC he's reckoned he could creep back. He's been puttin' out propaganda he's going to interdict our right of passage along those routes. So this day we aim to zapp him, and zapp him, and zapp him again till we've zapped him right back to where he came from. Yes, sir. Let's go."

Creative nonfiction writer Joe McGinniss, in his book about the Alaska of today, Going to Extremes, does not use many conversations or monologs, but he does quote one short monolog captured aboard one of Alaska's state ferries. A small group of Alaskans are sitting around the ferry's bar as they prepare to leave Seattle for the north.

Eddie the Basque moved quickly to a corner table, where he had spotted two heavy young women with teased hair. I sat at the bar and ordered an Olympia beer. Duane Archer was telling the high state official about his new truck, a Ford, and about the way he had bought it. He had two cigarettes going at once.

"So I said to that son of a bitch, 'Listen, you son of a bitch, I want that heavy-duty bumper on there and I want them studded snow tires on there and I want that extra layer of undercoating on there and I want that auxiliary heater hooked up and I want this taken care of by four o'clock tomorrow when I come back here to pick this baby up and I don't want any more shit about it."

The high state official was nodding. Duane Archer took a swallow of his drink. V.O. and water was what he drank.

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