Friday, May 11, 2012

Using Imagery to Create Tone

In addition to diction and detail, writers use images such as similes, metaphors, personification, and synecdoche to establish tone. For posts explaining various types of imagery, including those listed in the previous sentence, use the Timeline feature of this blog to travel back to March 11, June 10, and June 17 in 2011, or use the Search bar to enter the image or trope (a trope is word or expression used figuratively rather than literally) that you wish to review.

To illustrate the use of imagery and reinforce the use of diction and detail to establish tone, I have selected an early paragraph from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), a masterful work being celebrated for delivering wisdom and pleasure for more than fifty years. This year, the film, starring Gregory Peck, is fifty years old. The words quoted below are also read by the narrator of the film.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

Such paragraphs are memorable because of the effective use of diction, including alliterative word choices, and the use of details and images. Unpack the tone by reading the paragraph closely, this time listing the significant, connotative words, the specific details, and the images employed to establish a tone.

Your lists may resemble the one below:

·      Old and tired old town (diction)
·      Rainy weather…red slop (diction and detail)
·      Grass … on sidewalks (detail)
·      Courthouse sagged (personification)
·      Hotter … black dog suffered …bony mules … flicked flies … sweltering shade (oxymoronic) … summer’s day (diction and detail)
·      Stiff collars wilted (detail)
·      Ladies … like soft teacakes (simile) … frostings of sweat … sweet talcum (diction and detail)

By adding up these words, details, and images, readers can infer a tone: oppressed. Maycomb’s age, its decaying, neglected infrastructure, and its weather oppress everyone and everything from dogs to men and women; each and all suffer there. And this tone matches the overall tone of the novel: as a segregated town during the depression, no one thrives, but the African-American population endures the heaviest burdens.

Reading Challenge:

Read or re-read the entire first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, evaluating each paragraph for tone devices and defining the overall tone of the chapter. Then push on, more mindful of style and tone as you read the entire novel once again. You will also enjoy “reading” the film from 1962. And if you still have not had enough of this wonderful novel, buy or borrow the unabridged audio book, read by Sissy Spacek.

Writing Challenge:

Pick a neighborhood in your community. List words, details, and images that could describe the neighborhood, then organize these into a paragraph that reveals the tone without using the tone word or its synonyms as one of your words in the paragraph.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): More Commonly Confused Words, Flaunt and Flout

Mrs. Dubose flaunts (displays ostentatiously) her racist supremacy, so much so that Jem flouts (disregards a rule) the civil standard to respect others’ property and destroys her camellias in a fit of rage.