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I am working with a friend on a essay and we have encountered a capitalization question. The book we are analyzing is The Assault by Harry Mulisch. The central event in the book is the attack on his family which we have been referring to as either the assault or the Assault. My reasoning is that it is a one time event and so it should be capitalized but my friend thinks otherwise. Thanks in advance!

I looked it up in the Chicago Manual of Style and found:

the Revolution;the revolutionary war

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2 Answers 2

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Something may be a one-time event, but that doesn't mean it's capitalized. I would refer to "the assault" throughout unless you're using the book's title. "The assault that takes place in The Assault assulted my senses."

In English, aside from capitalizing the first word of a sentence, the only time words are generally capitalized if they are proper nouns or titles:

  • Names ("John", "New Jersey", etc.)
  • Formal titles when used as a form of address ("Doctor, it hurts when I do this" and "Mother, will you pass the salt?" but "My doctor says to never, ever stand on my head" and "My mother passed the salt.")
  • Titles of books, movies, and other works ("Arguing that the empire portrayed in The Empire Strikes Back is representative of the Roman Empire is a weak argument.")

There are more arcane rules of capitalization for edge cases, and the style book you're using can affect how you handle some situations. (For example, do you treat the text after a colon as a new sentence or a fragment?) Here are a couple of good examples that are freely available:

Of course, there are informal situations where you can decide to capitalize a word regardless of these rules. Fiction will sometimes do this, and I do it in emails for effect to point out The Big Concepts, but this can be overused far too easily.

Above all, pick a method and stick to it.

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On the other hand, if an event has central importance to a plot, even if it hasn't been given the name "officially" (whatever that means), it can sometimes be capitalized. For example, in the series of alternate-history books beginning with 1632, the unexplained event that caused the rip in the fabric of space-time is consistently referred to as the "Ring of Fire". In the case of an essay about a book called The Assault, I would look for capitalization patterns in that book and, if it's done there, do it in the essay. –  Monica Cellio Feb 11 at 18:00
    
@MonicaCellio That's a choice that authors and editors can make, certainly. –  Neil Fein Feb 11 at 22:45

I would only capitalize "the Assault" in this context if the people involved are imbuing the event with such importance that there can only ever be one assault in their lives. It's THE assault, so they give it proper noun status.

Sort of like the conflict which occurred from 1914 to 1918 was originally called the Great War, because there had never been one so large or destructive before. It was THE war.

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