For the Love of God! now in college?

Many authors, ok, ok, all authors can say they’ve sold more books than me. But! Not many of them can say an academic paper has been written about their book. Allison Velez, a student at West Chester University, did For the Love of God! a great honor by completing a literary analysis on the book. And what a flattering analysis it is!

And let’s hope that this is the first of many papers written about For the Love of God! Don’t you think English courses would be so much better if you had to read this book instead of Shakespeare?

Tell us what you think. Would you say this is a good analysis? Comment below!

 

For the Love of God! A Literary Analysis of Reader Response

by Allison Velez

Uncommonly honest, heartbreaking, and hilarious. These are the terms found in

the synopsis on the back of Robert Ortt’s first novel, For the Love of God! A Memoir of

Army Basic Training? It remains unknown how carefully these words were chosen, but any

reader of this memoir knows how accurate they proved to be. Using the English convention

of reader response, I completed an analysis of this book. In just two-hundred and thirty

pages, Ortt invokes an array of emotional responses from his readers, ranging from sorrow

and pity, to joy and pride. It could not have been predicted that a book about basic training in

the United States Army would turn out to be one of the most compelling novels I have come

across in a long time.

Reader response theory focuses on the intersection of a reader and a text. When a

writer publishes a literary work, they are releasing it into the world to interact with readers.

Every reader’s response will be unique because while an author only writes one set of words,

that single set of words contains the power to evoke a multitude of emotions from a

multitude of readers.

In Ortt’s set of words, he chose “uncommonly honest”. If you ask a military

serviceman to tell you about their time in training or in service, it seems unlikely that they

will choose to tell you about every time they cried, every time they wanted to quit, and every

time they realized their new career choice was nothing like their favorite childhood military

movie. Ortt uses this uncommon honesty as what author Robert Scholes, in his essay A

Fortune Fall?, would most likely refer to as a tool of manipulation (Scholes 118). Ordinarily,

the term “manipulation” is accompanied by a negative connotation. However, in this

instance, I do not believe Ortt’s manipulation carries with it any negativity. He is using his

skills as a writer to invoke specific emotional responses from his readers and while that is

manipulative, it lacks any and all malevolence. An example of how Ortt does this is every

instance in which he writes down thoughts that would appear to the average person to be

thoughts so personal, they would not have ever been said aloud. His detailed and honest

recounts of basic training, because he appears to have held nothing back, reveal the type of

raw writing that is guaranteed to stir emotions within a reader. By writing in a manner that is

causing his audience to feel personally connected to him, Ortt is manipulating their emotions.

When the privates “got smoked”, the reader felt their pain. “Getting smoked is the real form

of punishment that civilians only think they know as a result of what they’ve seen on

television…Getting smoked means having to do any series of exercises that a drill sergeant

can dream up.” (Ortt 31) The yelling of phrases like, “That bitch!”, every time Olivia, Ortt’s

girlfriend in the story, broke his heart, readers responded in an overly emotional manner. Ortt

successfully used his uncommon honesty to his advantage, inviting each reader to become

intensely interested in his story.

This uncommon honesty is not the only persuasive literary element Ortt used in

his novel. There are some elements that are elementary, existing to serve members of Ortt’s

audience that may be elementary readers. An example of such an element is the combination

of pure honesty collaborating with the emotional, heart wrenching storyline. American actor

Toby McGuire, as Spiderman, once said, “This story, like any story worth telling, is about a

girl.” The feminist within me cannot help but agree and Robert Ortt’s novel further validates

this quote. The underlying love story, or love tragedy, between himself and his girlfriend

exists for a purpose. That purpose is to serve the elementary readers. Readers of any level

can relate Ortt’s classic love storyline. The purpose of including such a basic section of the

story for these readers is so that anyone can enjoy this book. However, when writing his

memoir, Private Ortt had a greater goal in mind than simply entertainment.

Robert Ortt’s desire was to bring readers beyond the label of “elementary” reader.

Like Scholes explains in his essay, “Good reading involves reading every text

sympathetically, trying to get inside it, to understand the intentionality behind its

composition. It also involves reading every text unsympathetically, critically—but the

sympathetic has to come first or the critical reading is impossible.” (Scholes 118) Ortt wants

his audience to read his memoir with the intent to understand the intentions behind it and to

read it critically. In a personal interview with Robert Ortt himself, he explained specifically

what response he ideally was seeking from his readers. “I want the reader to ponder or

contemplate the effects of religion on personal identity, how religion defines our identities,

and since those identities are intrinsically subject to change, are those identities true? If not,

then is their origin true or false?” Concepts such as these are beyond the scope of what an

elementary reader would recognize within a text and respond to. Readers who practice

Scholes’ idea of “good” reading, however, would. While the on-going theme of a struggling

relationship can appeal to any hopeless romantic, Ortt’s true intention was to write in a way

that would enrapture, enrage, and sadden his audience.

Robert Ortt also summons reader response by doing what Charles

Bazerman refers to as “invoking genre”. Bazerman, in his essay The Life of Genre, the Life in

the Classroom, uses the example of the genre of newspaper editorial. He writes, “When we

invoke a genre such as a newspaper editorial, we are invoking not just a pattern of timely

topic, evaluative and emotional words, and policy recommendation—we are invoking the

role of journalism and commentary…and the influence of its readership.” (Bazerman 23)

What he means is that not only is a newspaper editorial creating the practical and obvious

responses like timely topics and policy recommendations, it is invoking whatever influence

the editorial will have on its readers. In For the Love of God!, the genre being invoked is

memoir. With memoir comes the obvious responses of a non-fiction storyline and a more

wide-spread awareness of one man’s life story, but it also invokes self-exploration and

further contemplation whatever moral or ethical issues that had been brought up within the

memoir.

Another technique Ortt utilized to draw a specific response from his

audience is the use of small anecdotes. These short, detailed stories serve two purposes. First,

they provide the reader with a laugh exactly when one is needed. Robert Ortt recounts some

audacious, but hysterical, stories of the times he spent in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri that

are capable of making almost anyone laugh. One story in particular consisted of a private by

the name of Waller. Waller was being forced to tell his drill sergeants (one of whose names

was Sergeant Johnson) that he needed to make a trip to sick call because he had a tick on his

“Johnson”. The Sergeant’s reaction was fanatical, telling the young private that he would

make him “pay for that mistake every night until he graduates.” (Ortt 220) The second

purpose of Ortt’s sporadic anecdotal writing is to provide frequent opportunities for the

reader to feel as though they have a personal connection with the author. Reading about the

intimates details of anyone’s life will leave you feeling as if you are close and personally

connected to them. Ortt knew this and used such information to his advantage.

Through each of the elements described, Robert Ortt created a narrative

that effectively engaged his readers. He gives the audience a chance to smile, to laugh, and to

cry. All the while, he is also encouraging them to ponder mysteries of religion and personal

identity. Whether the reader is an elementary one, or someone who reads on a deeper and

more sophisticated level, Ortt was able to evoke responses from every corner of the

emotional spectrum.

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