Illiteracy in Fiction YKTTW Discussion

Illiteracy in Fiction
How illiteracy is treated in fiction.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-07-17 16:29:20 sponsor: Discar (last reply: 2012-08-20 19:49:22)

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Illiteracy is treated very differently depending on the languages of the work in question. In the Western world, a character being unable to read is a minor tragedy, and a sign that someone seriously screwed up raising them. Often, that character's plot will revolve around learning to read.

In the east, however, this is not quite the case. In Japan (and a number of other countries), it isn't all that surprising to find someone who can't read kanji, or whatever the local high-level equivalent is. Kanji is so advanced that even people who study the Japanese language regularly are expected to need a dictionary on hand to read literature. This has spawned an entire media type, the Light Novel, which mostly uses the simpler hiragana instead.

Therefore, a Japanese character who can't read/write kanji is treated as a bit of an idiot, but nothing to write home about. Foreign characters also fall into this a lot.

Western Examples:

Live Action TV

  • Charles in Charge has an episode where a boyfriend of Sarah hides his illiteracy by getting her (and others in the past) to do his homework for him. Portrayed as sad but sympathetic.

Eastern Examples:


  • In Sailor Moon, Chibi-Usa brings back a letter from the future, written by her mother, Neo-Queen Serenity. The characters are well aware at this point that Serenity is the future version of the main character Usagi, but can't believe Usagi could write such an intelligent and mature letter. Until they notice that the letter doesn't have any kanji in it.
    Rei: You can even see where she made mistakes and erased them.
    Ami: Couldn't she have just used a dictionary?
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