Alienation and Language in "Local School"

In his personal narrative "Local School," Patrick Karjala uses spatial imagery in order to demonstrate how different groups can be divided over, or form around, language. Each of the many groups in the story has a specific language, or jargon, as well as a specific place they fill. Together, they do not form a definitive whole, however. Rather they are chaotic and muddled. Patrick, as the outsider, can understand and appreciate this "salad bowl" culture, but not become a part of it. Thus, it is only from this unique viewpoint, the reader is able to clearly see each of the groups in the story and the ways that language and space divide and define them.

The most obvious example of a language barrier that divides two groups is the difference between the "local style of speech" (Karjala 1) and the English which he author normally uses; it is this "pidgn English" (Karjala 1) that most sets Patrick apart from the locals. He states that even after nine years, he could not speak the dialect and that the "locals still laughed at him when he tried" (Karjala 2). Throughout the whole narrative, he rarely speaks directly to any of the other characters; there is virtually no dialogue in the story. This emphasizes the character’s lack of communication with those around him. Instead, he is simply commenting on the events which take place around him. He observes, but rarely interacts. In addition, throughout the narrative, Patrick refers to "the locals" a term which deliberately excludes him. He does not consider himself a part of the whole. The language forces him to only observe and occasionally participate in, but not become a part of, the regional culture.

This linguistic exclusion makes it evident that Patrick is not a part of the community that has been created by the locals, despite living on Kauai for nine years; while he may participate in the building of the playground, or be able to move freely through all the high school groups, he is still separate. First, he states that he "had felt that he was in an alien place when he had first arrived, but over the years, he had come to appreciate the way people acted and lived" (Karjala 2). Appreciation does not imply that he is a part of that which he is assessing. It suggests a distance that allows him to observe, understand and impartially comment upon the dynamics around him. He can appreciate but not assimilate.

This is not the only point where the character actually declares his separateness, but as Patrick observes the cliques in the school’s courtyard, he states that he "didn’t feel a part of any specific one" (Karjala 3). This is not necessarily a negative situation, for the character’s impartiality allows him to candidly comment on the less desirable traits of the locals as he does on page one. Here, the character remarks that "they tended to be nice and smiling one second, then in your face the next" (Karjala 1). Perhaps the character is wise to remain aloof.

This distance between Patrick and the others around him is also reinforced through the author’s use of spatial imagery. At the school, each group is carefully defined by its space; the "‘surfers were surrounding a banyon tree in the center, and on the other side of them, against the library wall were the ‘skaters’" (Karjala 3). Each clique is "grouped in their specific places in the courtyard" (Karjala 3). The space they occupy defines who they are and with whom they belong. Patrick, in contrast, is not down in the courtyard among the groups, but rather above them, on a bridge. This provides an ideal place to observe "the fray" (Karjala 3) below. Yet it also symbolizes the distance between his character and those that surround him. He is a part of the larger picture of the school as a whole, and has connections to individuals in many of the groups, but he does not have a defined place in the scheme. He does not "feel a part of any specific one, yet felt like he was part of the whole clutter. No group acknowledged him as an elite member of heir number, but he was always welcome wherever he meandered" (Karjala 3). Like a gypsy, he has broad connections to the culture around him, but no defined role or place which he inhabits. This physical separation is a powerful way of demonstrating what the language barrier hints at.

Through dialogue and spatial imagery, the author shows readers how Patrick, despite his many years in Hawaii, is not specifically a part of any one group, and this position give hi an unusual view of the world. Each of the many groups in "Local School" has their own space at the school as well as their own language which keeps them separate from the rest. Many readers of this story, belong to a group themselves, and so cannot impartially observe the dynamics of the "fray." It is only because of his unique space "above" the groups that Patrick is able to show the reader a different view.






Works Cited


Karjala, Patrick. "Local School." Narr. U. Puget Sound, 2000.