“I am hope”. Excitable speech acts in The Sandman. A stylistic and multimodal analysis

31 May 2024
Conference Room

“I am hope”. Excitable speech acts in The Sandman. A stylistic and multimodal analysis

In 2022, Netflix released the first season of the US series The Sandman, based on Neil Gaiman’s homonymous work published by DC Comics between 1988 and 1996. The story features Morpheus, Lord of Dream, striving to save and restore his realm after being dethroned and held captive by humans. To do so, he must find the lost divine tools that legitimise his power. In episode four, A Hope in Hell, during his quest Morpheus confronts Lucifer Morningstar, Ruler of Hell.

By employing Austin (1962) and Butler’s (1997) theories on speech acts, the present study analyses the two deities’ face-off as a compelling example of how language performativity increases and vary according to personal power and power relations. The whole encounter is a mock-polite dialogue, both verbal and non-verbal, between two sovereigns who distrust each other. It escalates into a challenge that promises to be physical, but then turns out to be an exchange of verbal assaults where interlocutors can harm each other through words. As these speech acts draw from specific semantic and semiotic categories, considerations on Morpheus and Lucifer’s characterisation are also made by relying on the frameworks of Multimodality (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2006) and Im/Politeness (Culpeper, 2001).

As the study highlights the importance of sociocultural implications behind language choices in clashes of power, the case study retrieved from The Sandman is a clear key to understand a real and current type of interaction, that is political confrontation. However fictional and possibly extreme, studying language in fiction is useful as narrators and characters create stylistic effects by violating aspects of interaction (McIntyre and Bousfield, 2017): “[s]uch violations can be revealing of how processes of interaction work, and these insights can be useful to pragmaticians in reassessing and revising pragmatic concepts and frameworks for analysis”. (759-760)



Austin, J.L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford Clarendon Press.

Butler, J. (1997). Excitable Speech. A Politics of the Performative. Routledge.

Culpeper, J. (2001). Language and Characterisation. People in Plays and Other Texts. Routledge.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen T. (2006). Reading Images. A Grammar of Visual Design. 2nd edition. Routledge.

McIntyre, D. & Bousfield, D. (2017). (Im)politeness in Fictional Texts. In The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic Impoliteness (pp. 759-784). Palgrave Macmillan.