The size of the sensory homunculus’ hands, tongue, ears, nose, and eyes represents the relative space that human body parts occupy on the somatosensory cortex and the motor cortex and the relative sensitivity of each of the senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and vision, respectively.
In first five paragraphs of Monster, Frank Peretti uses sound and sight to link paragraphs, which not only provides transitions that might otherwise not exist, except as chronological associations among the incidents of action represented by the author’s descriptions, but also lends to the action itself a sense of immediacy, creating the illusion that the reader him- or herself is, as it were, on the scene. Whether through auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory, or tactile sensations, such references to the senses and their perceptions can link paragraphs for any writer, whether Peretti or you, whether the fiction is of the horror or another genre. Therefore, it is worthwhile to consider how Peretti accomplishes this feat, quoting a few paragraphs from his novel. In doing so, we start with the first paragraph and quote the next ten, each in turn, as well, bolding the auditory sensory links in blue and the visual sensory links in green (which are neither bolded nor colored in the novel itself, of course):
The Hunter, rifle in his hands, dug in a heel and came to a sudden halt on the game trail, motionless, nearly invisible in a thicket of serviceberry and crowded pines. He heard something.
The first rays of the sun flamed over the ridge to the east, knifing through the pine boughs and morning haze in translucent wedges, backlighting tiny galaxies of swirling bugs. Soon the warming air would float up the draw and the pines would whisper like distant surf. But in the lull between the cool of night and the warmth of day, the air was still, the sounds distinct. The Hunter heard his own pulse. The scraping of branches against his camouflage sleeves was crisp and brilliant, the snapping of twigs under his boots almost startling.
And the eerie howl was clear enough to reach him from miles away, audible under the sound of the jays and between the chatterings of a squirrel.
He waited, not breathing, until he heard it again: long, mournful, rising in pitch, and then holding that anguished note to the point of agony before trailing off.
The Hunter’s brow crinkled under the bill of his cap. The howl was too deep and guttural for a wolf. A cougar never made a sound like that. A bear? Not to his knowledge. If it was his quarry, it was upset about something.
And far ahead of him.
He moved again, quickstepping, ducking branches, eyes darting about, dealing with the distance.
Before he had worked his way through the forest another mile he saw a breach in the forest canopy and an open patch of daylight through the trees. He was coming to a clearing.
He slowed, cautious, found a hiding place behind a massive fallen fir, and peered ahead.
Just a few yards beyond him, the forest had been shorn open by a logging operation, a wide swath of open ground littered with forest debris and freshly sawn tree stumps. A dirt road cut through it all, a house-sized pile of limbs and slash awaited burning, and on the far side of the clearing, a hulking yellow bulldozer sat cold and silent, its tracks caked with fresh earth. A huge pile of logs lay neatly stacked near the road, ready for the logging trucks.
He saw no movement, and the only sound was the quiet rumble of a battered pickup truck idling near the center of the clearing.The book goes on, for approximately 425 more pages, so we will part company with it here, and see what we can fathom as to the narrative and rhetorical purposes that Peretti’s sometimes simultaneous, sometimes alternating use of mostly auditory and visual sensory links within and among these paragraphs suggests.
He waited, crouching, eyes level with the top of the fallen tree, scanning the clearing, searching for the human beings who had to be there. But no one appeared and the truck just kept idling.
His gaze lifted from the truck to the bulldozer, then to the huge pile of logs, and then to the truck again where something protruding from behind the truck’s front wheels caught his eye. He grabbed a compact pair of binoculars from a pocket and took a closer look.
The protuberance was a man’s arm, motionless and streaked with blood.
Often in the novel, as in its opening paragraphs, sounds precede sights, reversing the order in which human beings normally perceive their environment, for we are much more dependent upon sight than hearing; sight, it could be said, is our preferred sense. It is the one to which we look, if such a pun may be pardoned, before we look to any of the others.
Hearing and touch tell us much, and we are also highly dependent upon them, of course, and less so upon smell and taste (although, once the novel’s protagonist, Rebecca [“Beck”] Shelton, is abducted by the monster of the novel’s title, she is surprised as to how much she becomes dependent upon her sense of smell as well as those of her sight and hearing). In the big pine woods, to which Beck, her husband Reed, and their friends have come to undergo a few days of survival training, sight is greatly reduced by the thick foliage of the dense stands of trees, and normal perception is put, as it were, off balance. (Even the hunter frustrates vision by wearing camouflage.)
Moreover, with the sense of hearing heightened and the sense of sight impeded, the auditory perceives nothing reassuring; far from it, the sounds of the forest are unfamiliar (“He heard something,” but he doesn’t know what, nor do we, the readers), and even the sense of sound, like that of sight, is reduced and obstructed: it is often reduced to a whisper or a lull, or silenced altogether. What is heard distinctly is the terrifying howling of “something” that, as Peretti is careful to inform us, is unlikely to be any familiar forest predator, whether wolf, cougar, or bear. The implication is that, whatever the howling “something” is, it is far worse even than these predatory beasts.
The deep forest makes the use of the senses upon which human beings most depend--sight and sound--problematic at best, increasing their ignorance and subjecting them to more potential menace. As such, the reduction of the senses, referenced within and between the novel’s opening paragraphs by the sensory links of sound and sight, of the auditory and the visual, may be a metaphor for the ignorance of humanity itself, especially in regard to knowledge that is assimilated by means of the senses--in other words, empirical knowledge, the type upon which scientists, including the evolutionary biologists who are the novel’s antagonists as much as the monster of its title, depend.
If the senses are undependable; if they are all but shut down, as it were, at times, then, perhaps, the sciences that are built upon them and its theories, including the theory of evolution, are tentative at best and prone to error. Certainly, this is the view of the creationist scientist Dr. Michael (“Cap”) Capella and his “lovely Coeur d’Alene Native American” wife, Sings in the Morning, or “Sing.” Ironically, both she and the novel’s other Native American character, a tracker, believe in the reality of the monster that abducts Beck; it is the immigrant European, the white man, who disbelieves, despite Caucasian scientists’ attempt to create, a la Dr. Moreau, a hideous new species of human-animal hybrids.
The undependability of the senses, especially those of sight and hearing, seems to reinforce the irony of empirical scientists who are skeptical of divine creation, having neither the eyes, as it were, to see the error of their theory nor the ears to hear the creationists’ criticisms of their fallacious reasoning. If anything, it is faith, not empirical knowledge or even reason, that must save the day.
It is good writing to link paragraphs by the use of words and phrases that appeal to sight and sound, both within and between, paragraphs, but it is superb writing to make such a device thematic as well as merely rhetorical, as Peretti does, creating of such links a metaphor that echoes and reinforces the novel’s very theme, expressed explicitly, several times by Dr. Capella in the course of the novel, and, quite succinctly, by one of Cap’s colleagues, Dr. Emile Baumgartner: “Tampering with DNA is like a child trying to fix a high-tech computer with a toy hammer. It’s always am injury, never an improvement, and we have boxcar loads of dead, mutated fruit flies and lab mice to prove it.”
Empirical science, sense-based, as it is and must be, has its limitations, even aided by reason, for the senses are limited, often inaccurate, sometimes deceived, and cannot penetrate beyond mere appearances. To pretend to understand the origin of the universe and the consequences that flow from the uncaused cause of the Big Bang is not only absurd, but it is also dangerous, Peretti suggests--as dangerous as being alone in a dense forest in which there be monsters that one cannot see or hear--until, perhaps, it is too late.