Monday, April 28, 2014

What is Your Title?

I'm a little over halfway through Native Son right now, and it's fantastic. Right now, it would be in my top five books from the list. But while I've been reading it, I keep finding myself thinking back to my last book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. What I keep thinking back to though, is on line I read, on the 160th of 193 pages; specifically, the line "They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."

Whenever I read the title of a book, in the book, I can't help but think of the "Family Guy" episode where Peter says he "usually only gets this excited when they say the title of the movie, in the movie." We then see Peter watching "Clear and Present Danger," "As Good as it Gets," and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." I must admit it does excite me in some small way as well.

Reading the title of the book in the book this time, started me thinking of what other books from the list have had this happen. However, unlike references to other books on the list, I haven't been keeping track of every instance, so I'm forced to go by memory.

My previous book, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret opened with the title, and it was used quite frequently throughout. Same thing for Catch-22, which was not only used quite often, but also explained at great depth; "it's the best there is" after all.

The most common occurrence of this has been because the title is a character's name, so naturally it also appears in the text. This was the case for Lolita, Beloved, Herzog, Mrs. Dalloway, and Falconer. A few times, it's been because the title is a setting in the book, as in Slaughterhouse-Five and The Bridge of San Luis Rey, or something central to the plot, as in Ubik and Snow Crash.

In these cases, it isn't really much of a mystery as to why the book was given the title it was. But I do wonder about more subtle uses of the title, as in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Or in The Catcher in the Rye, where the title does make an appearance, near the end when Holden Caufield dreams of a job catching children before fall off the merry-go-round, but it really isn't central to the story. It's titles like these that I'm curious as to how they came about.

Did Zora Neale Hurston write the above passage, solely to include her title in the text? Probably not. But nor do I think she did not have a title until asked by here publisher, "what is your title?" At which point I'm sure she didn't randomly open the book to page 160, saw the above passage and replied "how about Their Eyes Were Watching God?"

It's these more subtle uses of the title I'm probably missing when I go through all the books trying to remember if they were used in the text. I can however, eliminate several book where I'm sure this didn't happen.

Scarlett O'Hara never says, "...but after all, we were Gone with the Wind," and neither does anybody else at Tara or in Atlanta (if you ask me the book is the poorer for it too). I'm also pretty sure Deliverance never appears in the book, unless the Griner brothers were asked to "deliverance" the cars to Aintry, the town down river. But I'm pretty sure they were not.

From now on I'll be sure to make a note whenever the title is used in a book, but as I probably won't be reading most of these books ever again (Naked Lunch, I'm looking in your direction), I'll likely never have a comprehensive list. If you know of any uses of the title in a book from the list, please let me know in the comments section!


  1. Returning to Tara after Atlanta burns, Scarlett wonders if it has "gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia". This info from creator of

  2. I completely forgot about this! Thanks for that. Should have known, that Robert would know.

    I'll have to find another example of the title not being used. Did anybody say, "It's a complicated tale involving 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?'"