Who is Maurice? : The Constructed Image of the Amazing “Maurice.”


Formalism is one of the approaches in literary criticism that started to be popular in the twentieth century. It is a method of literary analysis that focuses on the form, structure and literary devices within the text. According to Dobie, back in the 1920s, formalism came into existence through the discussions between American authors, poets, writers and literary theoreticians and at that time, it was previously known as New Criticism. Among those who were involved in the evolution of New Criticism were Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks and John Crowe Ransom. These people had been sharing and exchanging ideas and opinions in their discussion sessions for quite a long time. The literary magazine ‘The Fugitive’ was the one that is responsible for spreading the ideas of the formalists.

Dobie also mentioned that the formalist approach evaluates only the literary text itself without including its cultural, historical or biographical context into consideration. The formalists strive to understand how the form and literary devices were put together as one in its text form. Therefore, the formalists can keep a track and also trace the evolution and development of literary forms or even the literature. The name of the New Criticism movement was changed into formalism after the critics finally acknowledged the importance of form in a text. As a result, many prominent literary journals and anthologies adopted and complied with the doctrines of formalism. In the 1940s, formalism became popular not only in America but also in England.

A novel written by Terry Pratchett entitled ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents’ has been chosen for this essay to identify how Maurice has been characterized by the author through forms and text. In brief, this novel is about Maurice who is a manipulative cat that lives like a human along with his educated rodents that have funny names. The rodents really look up to Maurice as a leader since he is considered the cleverest in the Clan. However, he is very pretentious and has his own agenda in which he wants to gain more profit by using the Kid, the piper and his rodents to execute his plans. This essay would further analyze how the formalism of the texts resembles Maurice as a character. The text will be analyzed based on the speech acts, turns taking, choice of words and linguistic deviation.

Speech Acts

In analyzing Maurice’s character from a formalist perspective, only the text which is its form and structure will be examined. Formalists are more interested in looking into the meaning of the text rather than understanding what the story is talking about (Dobie 41). Maurice’s character can be represented by using several tools. The first tool in formalism that will be used to analyze Maurice’s character is speech acts. According to a study by Austin (qtd. in Simon and Dejica-Cartis) speech act is defined as the way people express their psychological states such as gratitude, irritation, embarrassment, etc., or the way people involved in social interaction such as promising, requesting, warning, etc. (235).

Igoshev states that a speech act is an action that is performed via utterances and the action is derived by the intention of the speaker. For example, people interrupt or speak to someone by performing the action of asking, ordering, etc. (2). Hence, the representation of Maurice's character can be analyzed by using the speech act to look at the meaning of the word uttered by Maurice and the intention when he uttered the words. There are three types of acts which are locutionary act, illocutionary act, and perlocutionary act.

These three acts in speech acts are performed simultaneously by the speaker. Firstly, locutionary act is the utterance that produces a meaningful linguistic expression comprising phonetic and syntactic aspects conforming to any meaningful utterance. Secondly, illocutionary acts are the reason or purpose of uttering something. It is what the speaker means to convey to the listener after performing the locutionary act. Lastly, perlocutionary act is the intention for an effect for uttering something (2).  It can be seen from the excerpt in chapter 1:

“Did I say talk?” said Maurice. “I don't think I said talk, did I? Did the coachman run away or did you kill him?” The man’s face went blank.

Based on the example above, the first act (locutionary act) shows the syntactic aspect that can be highlighted is the use of the verb "did" which functions as auxiliary. Maurice’s dialogue is an interrogative utterance because Maurice is asking a question and the question mark. As for the phonetic aspect, he kind of uses a bossy tone based on the syntactic structure. Then, the second act (illocutionary act) provides the reason for his question including the way he speaks. He asks the question because he can sense that the man disrespects him just because he is a cat, so it irks him a bit. There is also a direct force in his utterance which somehow can be presupposed as he is giving a command to the man. Lastly, the third act (perlocutionary act) delivers the effect of his utterance. The way he speaks makes the man speechless and afraid to talk back. He wants the man to respect him and make him realize that he is in a powerless state. It can also be considered a warning for the man to behave properly as he can do anything to him. Thus, Maurice's character can be analyzed by using speech acts as it can give a better understanding of his character.


The next tool in formalism that will be used to analyse Maurice’s character is turn-taking. Turn-taking, one of the approaches in conversation analysis can basically be understood as “people in a conversation take turns in speaking” (Nordquist). The founder of conversation analytic method, Harvey Sacks, mentioned that ‘turn’ is the fundamental element that occurs in a conversation (Mey 139). One conversation analysis that focused on the turn-taking system was done in 2010 to analyse the famous fiction character, Anne of Green Gables. In the analysis, they highlighted that the presentation of characters in the form of conversations helps the reader “to be more involved” to the story, thus turn-taking can be a significant tool to examine how a certain character is being developed in a novel (Abbas et al. 56).

Turn distribution is one component of turn-taking that can be used to analyse Maurice’s character development which looks at, for instance, the number of turns shared and length of turns taken by parties involved in the conversation. Although Sacks et al. marked that turn distribution is “not specified in advance”, it is an important element to be observed as an impact of an individual's turn order style in every conversation (Ruhlemann and Gries 175). In the novel, Pratchett has narrated several interactions that occurred between Maurice, the educated rats, and the humans that portray the way Maurice’s character was being developed. On many occasions, Maurice the cat always seemed to dominate the conversation. This can be seen from the beginning of the story as shown in the first chapter;

'Do we really need to keep on doing this?' she said.

'Well, of course, no,' said Maurice. 'I don't have to be here at all. I'm a cat, right? A cat with my talents? Hah! …, but for that you need… what did I tell you that you need?'

'Money, Maurice,' said Dangerous Beans, 'but-'

'Money. That's right, 'cos what can you get with money?' He looked around at the rats. 'Begins with a B,' he prompted.

'Boats, Maurice, but-'

'And then there's all the tools you'll need, and food, of course-'    

To provide context for the above excerpt, Maurice was discussing with the Changelings and Keith their plan to rob Bad Blintz town. The number of complete turns taken by Maurice is more than the complete turn gained by the rats. Maurice clearly had interrupted the next speaker’s turn and did not give the floor, i.e. “the right to speak” to Dangerous Beans to finish his turn and provide his justification for not wanting to rob Bad Blintz, hence making Dangerous Beans to drop the turns. Moreover, by looking at the length of the turn taken by Maurice in responding to Peaches (she), it was somewhat a very long turn as compared to other turns taken by the rats. Nevertheless, it is sensible because he wished to convince the rats to follow his plans for the sake of gaining profits. In fact, that was what Maurice usually did throughout the novel in which he tended to dominate the conversation whenever he wanted the rats and humans to believe in his words. Another example below from chapter 12 illustrates how Maurice took control of the floor with his long argument to trick humans to believe in his logic.

'Will they?' said the mayor.

'Yes,' said Maurice. 'And now, I'm going to tell you a story about the lucky town. I don't know its name yet. … And that will be a very lucky town, because then there'll be rules, see?'

'Not exactly, no,' said the mayor.

'Well, in this lucky town, right, a lady making, as it might be, … and the rats will say "Right you are, missus, no problem at all". And then-'

'Are you saying we should bribe the rats?' said the mayor.

'Cheaper than pipers. Cheaper than rat-catchers,' said Maurice. 'Anyway, it'll be wages. Wages for what, I hear you cry?'   

Choice of Words

The next tool is lexical choice. Karlgen highlighted that in the making of a sequential connection to narrative intended, the author would go through a scrutinized picking session in deciding the elements that would make up the plot which includes the major lexical items; nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs (129). Through choosing then the reader or the audience will later be able to imply the construction of the story given by the author. In characterizing Maurice, the author did not really make a huge distinction between animals and humans in terms of lexical choice (Karlgen 130).

In describing Maurice, the adjectives that are used in connoting together to the main character are amazing, smart, and bright. Clearly, these are the common narrative for intelligent humans. The positive connotation made in implying the character of Maurice himself as sentient animals with a good brain working on good progression as the leader of his own scam plan. Most of the adjectives are rather psychological and both attributive and predicative in the sense that it inferred Maurice as the clever and dependable gang leader in the plot.

They said he was amazing. The Amazing Maurice, they said.

He'd just been a cat. A bright cat, but nothing more than a cat.


The adjectives supported Maurice as the narrative of the character that stand-alone through the attributes given without having to make any connection outside of the text.

Given the use of verbs, in this novel, the author maintained a fair share in between the usage of human verbs and animal behaviour-verbs. As the characters of this novel are mostly sentient creatures who happened to be intelligent and possessed human-like behaviour, there is no apparent contrast in both categories. Dynamic verbs like stretched, said, swaggered, sighed, and wailed which are often attributed to human actions, are used to represent actions by Maurice as well.

'I haven't seen rat-catchers who've been so busy but still have nice clean boots,' said Maurice.

He swaggered so much when he walked that if he didn't slow down he flipped himself over.

Maurice sighed, and stuck his head out of the window again.


In contrast, Maurice’s identity as a cat is retained through the verbs which are usually found to be attributive to animals such as crawled, clambered, and claws out.

'Oh boy,' muttered Maurice, and crawled under the seat.

Maurice clambered out of the saddle-bag and stretched.

In this sense, the idea of sentient is limited to the point where the rats and the cat is still using their nature in expressing or moving around though, as the theme of this novel discussed them being more than just normal animals.

Linguistic Deviation

The last tool is linguistic deviation. Formalists believe in the notion of art as a device of defamiliarization which explains why most writers including Terry Pratchett purposely use unconventional language or original language in a short story or novel which is to give an unexpected surprise to the reader who is not familiar with the language. This technique of creative language used is called linguistic deviation in which writers deviate from the common or normal language use to create a foregrounding effect. According to G.N. Leech (n.d) in his book A Linguistic Guide to Poetry, in order to investigate the significance and value of work of art, one must focus on the element of interest and surprise rather than the usual ordinary pattern. There are eight different types of linguistic deviation according to G.N Leech (n.d) which are phonological deviation, lexical deviation, graphological deviation, grammatical deviation, semantic deviation, syntactic deviation, deviation of historical period and deviation of register types. However, based on this novel, this essay is going to focus on only two types of linguistic deviation which can be found within the text which are lexical deviation, and grammatical deviation.

Lexical deviation is one of the commonly used linguistic deviations which comprises of a few elements such as neologisms, colloquial language or vulgarism, nonce use, compounding, functional conversion, and others (Leech as cited in Miyata). Taking the most famous element in lexical deviation, neologism is not simply a coinage of a new word but technically the novelty of the use of a word (Leech as cited in Miyata). In simpler terms, neologism is also known as lexical invention or innovation. In the Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, the usage of this lexical deviation not just gives unexpected surprise to the reader but also has given shape to Maurice's character and further helps to build the reader's imagination on the characterization of Maurice. It can be noticed that Maurice's use of vulgarism or being mentioned by the author as swear words in cat language characterized Maurice as a cat who is not at all innocent. The linguistic evidence can be found in chapters 1 and 6 which are krllrrt (6) and prbllttrrrp (1) in which are foreign to humans to exclude humans in his conversation. He technically doesn't want humans to understand what he said and he also wants to avoid the rodents from not believing in him anymore. So, he decided to appear kind, respectful and well-mannered. The usage of vulgarism in a daily conversation does mirror someone’s personality or character in some aspects (Miyata). Hence, it can be deducted that the author purposely characterized Maurice as someone pretentious through the usage of these words which is identified in formalism theory as lexical deviation to give the defamiliarization effect to the readers.

Other than lexical deviation, grammatical deviation can also be found in this novel which highlights Maurice compared to other characters. Grammatical deviation is the deviation of language in terms of its grammar, for instance, deviation of an adverb by ending in -s, confusion of affix, comparison of adjectives and other deviations of grammar features (Leech as cited in Miyata) which is purposely done by the writer to foreground certain characters, in this case, Maurice. Grammar deviation in Maurice’s conversation could indicate the educational background of the character or the current personality of the character, for instance, laziness and anxiousness in communicating with other people or simply because Maurice was an uneducated cat before he ate something from the dump of the University of Wizard in which he claims he would never eat anything from the dump. One of the examples of grammar deviation is in chapter 1, where Maurice used the word inconspicuously (9) where it purposely been highlighted in italic by the author to indicate Maurice is deviating the grammar due to anxiousness at that time. He and the stupid-looking kid, Keith was slowly escaping from the crowd because they were scared of being found out or become suspicious to the audiences who were clapping at that time. Thus, it causes Maurice to abandon the rules of grammar in his conversation unconsciously. 


In conclusion, it can be inferred that the characterization of Maurice is made up of some elements from the theory of formalism which are speech acts, turn-taking, choice of words, and linguistic deviation. Maurice, who is a cat able to talk and think like a human being. It can be seen throughout the story that Maurice is superior rather than man and sometimes people feel afraid to talk to Maurice. Hence, they really respect Maurice although he is a cat. Besides, Maurice is among the most dominant characters compared to the others because Maurice tends to communicate a lot and make people believe with his scam theory. The character of Maurice is also portrayed similar to humans in which the author describes him as an amazing cat. Lastly, the character of Maurice can be seen through the way he communicates in which he uses certain words that cannot be understood by the human.

There are certain limitations of this formalism theory. One of the limitations is its focus on the literary text only. Formalism theory ignores the other features such as historical aspect, moral aspect, biographical aspect, psychological aspect and gender aspect. For example, the formalist disregards the time of the work, the background of the work, the author’s religious or political views and also the author’s personal life. It is because the formalist believes that the meaning of the words, the structure of the text, the rhyming of the text, and the meaning of the text as a whole are the most important features that they need to focus on more.

Other than that, the formalists also tend to ignore the opinion of the audiences regarding the text. Gillespie states that formalism theory does not require any interpretations from the audiences. The formalist believes that they should discover the true meaning of the text instead of interpreting the text based on the response that they received from the audiences. It is because the formalist thinks that interpreting the text based on the feedback from the audiences will lead to affective fallacy. In order to avoid the ambiguity of a text, the formalist rejects any ideas or comments from the audiences.

This analysis of the characterization of Maurice can be improved by including other kinds of theories alongside the theory of formalism to make sense or create a connection between linguistic evidence and other contexts such as social and historical. For instance, we can use grand narrative theory to study why Maurice ends up with such character or personality. As everyone believed that the nature of animals is different from humans, but why the author creates the character of Maurice who can talk and think like a human being.

Other than that, we can also use another theory like historical criticism to link the linguistic evidence that can be found within the text with the historical background of the author to understand why the author chose to make Maurice as the main character and to find out whether Maurice does resemble any figure based on historical evidence. Based on the above suggestions, it can be deducted that a good analysis is an analysis that can dissect, explain, and elaborate a text comprehensively by considering all aspects without bias.

Works Cited

Abbas, Nawal F., et al. “A Conversation Analysis of Some Excerpts from Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables.” The International Journal - Language Society and Culture, no. 31, Jan. 2010, pp. 52–61., https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299525009_A_Conversation_Analysis_of_Some_Excerpts_from_Montgomery's_Anne_of_Green_Gables.

Dobie, Ann B. Theory into practice: An introduction to literary criticism. Cengage Learning, 2011.

Gillespie, T. Doing Literary Criticism, Helping Students Engage with Challenging Texts. Hawker Brownlow Education, 2010.

G.N. Leech as cited in Miyata, M. (n.d.).  A Linguistic Guide to Poetry. Longman. 1969. Pp 57, http://dickens.jp/archive/ot/ot-miyata.pdf. Accessed 19 June 2020.

Igoshev, K. M. “SPEECH ACT IN TERMS OF SPEECH ACT THEORY.” Academia.edu, www.academia.edu/33459008/SPEECH_ACT_IN_TERMS_OF_SPEECH_ACT_THEORY. Accessed 19 June 2020.

Karlgren, J. Textual stylistic variation: Choices, genres and individuals. In The Structure of Style 2010, pp. 125-142. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Mey, Jacob L. Pragmatics An Introduction. 2nd ed., Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Miyata, M. Types of Linguistic Deviation in Oliver Twist. Linguistic Deviation and Foregrounding, pp 1-21. http://dickens.jp/archive/ot/ot-miyata.pdf Accessed 19 June 2020.

Nordquist, Richard. Turn-Taking in Conversation Analysis. ThoughtCo., 17 July 2019, www.thoughtco.com/turn-taking-conversation-1692569#:~:text=In conversation analysis, turn-taking,conversation take turns in speaking.

Ruhlemann, Christoph, and Stefan Gries. “Turn Order and Turn Distribution in Multi-Party Storytelling.” Journal of Pragmatics, 10 Aug. 2015, pp. 171–191., doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2015.08.003.

Simon, Simona, and Daniel Dejica-Cartis. "Speech acts in written advertisements: Identification, classification and analysis." Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2015, pp. 234-239.



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