Language, Tone and Style Powerpoint

Language, Tone, and Style
Literature: Craft & Voice
Nicholas Delbanco and Alan Cheuse
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
 Language – The words of a story, including syntax
(how words or other elements of the sentences are
 Tone – The author’s attitude toward his or her
characters or subject matter.
 Style – The characteristic way in which any writer
uses language. Language and tone with other
elements, like symbol and irony, create style.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“I know that there are many
things that can open a story,
that can start a person
working. For me it’s
language. It’s not an idea.”
- Amy Hempel
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Reading for Language
 The language used in fiction can be lush or lean,
formal or colloquial, but to be successful it must
be creative.
 The language provides a window through which
we as readers see new worlds, or come to see our
own world differently.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Reading for Language continued
To explore an author’s use of language, ask the following questions.
 What is being said, and how and why?
 What effect does the author wish to create through language?
 What effect does the writing have on you?
 Are there particular words that are important to the style and
tone of the story?
 Are there key images that have an impact on the style and tone of
the story?
 How would you describe the language chosen by the writer?
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“Tone is the attitude
that the writer lays
over the story itself.”
─ Richard Ford
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Reading for Tone
What tone of voice can we hear in fiction? Consider
just some of the possibilities.
Serious or comedic?
Distant or intimate?
Direct or roundabout?
Restrained or emotional?
Ominous or lighthearted?
Straightforward or ironic?
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
 Part of detecting tone in a story is the recognition of the author’s use of irony –
if indeed the author is being ironic.
 Irony is a difference between what occurs and what you expect to occur or
between what is said and what is meant, and often involves some sort of
reversal in circumstances of fate.
 A young man seeks to impress a young woman so he buys a new suit, gets a
fresh haircut, and practices a more sophisticated speech, only to be rejected by
the girl who wanted a natural sort of guy.
 Oedipus tries desperately to escape his curse by leaving his home, but he only
hastens its fulfillment.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Verbal and Dramatic Irony
• Verbal Irony – a person saying one thing and meaning
– For example, your neighbor catches you taking out the trash in your wrinkled
pajamas, with your hair askew, and says, “You’re looking fabulous.”
• Dramatic Irony – a situation in which an author or
narrator lets the reader know more about a situation
than a character does.
– For example, in Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour,” the reader knows that Louise
was not overjoyed to see her husband return home at the end of the story. We
know that the doctors are incorrect, when they conclude that she had died “of
joy that kills.”
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
 Style – the way in which an author tells the story, or the
characteristic way in which a writer uses language and other
literary devices, including sentence structures, rhythm, imagery,
symbol, and irony.
 Style is the verbal identity of the author. Over time, authors will
develop distinct individual voices.
 On occasion, an author may stray from his distinct style to fit a
narrative voice. Thomas Wolfe’s characteristic style is marked by
elegance, polish, a rich vocabulary, and a powerful emotional
force. This style is at work in his most famous novels, Look
Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again, but not at work
in “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.”
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
"You do not create a style. You
work, and develop yourself;
your style is an emanation
from your own being.”
─ Katherine Anne Porter
"Style is as much under the
words as in the words. It is as
much the soul as it is the flesh of a
─ Gustave Flaubert
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Reading for Style
Consider the following questions when trying to describe an
author’s style:
 Is the language lush or lean?
 Are the sentences long and complex, or short and simple?
 Does the author make use of irony?
 Does the author make use of symbols?
 Do the events of the story seem plausible? Could they happen in actually?
 Would you consider the style elegant? Hard-boiled? Lyrical? Unadorned? Ornate?
Self-conscious? Colloquial? Experimental?
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Language, Tone, and Style in
“The Rememberer”
Aimee Bender said that “The Rememberer” developed from a dream. “I was going
through reverse evolution with a friend, and we became dolphins and swam
around in a tank.” About five years later, she wrote the story.
 “The Rememberer” is told in a tone that might be described as flat and dreary with a
strong undercurrent of sadness. Bender creates tone through very simple and direct
sentence structures, which themselves are often rhythmically flat, monotonous, and
choppy. Yet to relieve the grimness Bender surprises the reader with humorous
details, frequently delivered deadpan, and observations, like her chewing whole packs
of gum in mere minutes.
 How does the tone reflect the situation of the characters? Their feelings? Does it
reflect the story’s theme?
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Language in “The Rememberer”
 Bender’s diction remains simple throughout the story. However, her diction, attention to detail, and
the narrator’s contemplations contain wonderful surprises for the reader. Consider the effect of such
details as Ben’s being kept in a “glass baking pan,” which the narrator later calls “a cooking boat”
when she places Ben on a “baby wave” and wonders if the pan will wash up on shore for someone “to
make cookies in.” The language is simple but the detail, especially given its context, adds surprise,
humor, and sadness all at once.
 Consider the effect of Bender’s use of repetition in the following and elsewhere: “… he was sad
about the world … He was always sad. … We’d sit together and be sad and think about being sad
and sometimes discuss sadness.” Dreary? Humorous? Revealing of character?
 It is possible that the narrator’s use of alliteration, repetition, and humor could be a way for the
narrator to forget her loss and escape into prose, thus losing herself and her misery in language?
 Is it also possible that writing becomes a means for the narrator to contemplate her loss and perhaps
reach a fuller understanding of the situation.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“Rememberer” continued…
Consider how “The Rememberer” fits into the following genres:
Minimalism has a rich tradition in American literature. Minimalist writing is marked by slightly plotted
storylines, terse and oblique prose, flat and cool-surfaced tones, seemingly realistic and even hyperrealistic
details, and characters often more extrospective than introspective. Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver are
often associated with minimalism.
Magical Realism or Magic Realism
Magical realism is a tendency in the arts, especially in painting and fiction, to present works with a
conventionally realistic surface and conventionally realistic elements, but with subtle undercurrents of
supernatural and mystical possibilities, which might draw from myth, dream, fantasy, and magic, and go beyond
simple coincidence. It is as if something magical intervenes on the characters and their worlds. Other authors
associated with magical realism include Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
Consider Bender’s statement in her “Conversation on Writing” under “Fiction and Magic” in which she mentions
magical realism and its “imaginative leaps” as a way to write with “more depth and perspective.”
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Language, Tone, and Style in “Only the
Dead Know Brooklyn”
Thomas Wolfe experimented with different styles and new ways to tell stories.
Born in North Carolina, Wolfe moved to Brooklyn in 1931. “Only the Dead
Know Brooklyn” could only be set in one place.
 Wolfe tells this story in a Brooklyn dialect. To obtain a better sense of sound, read a
section of the story aloud. Is Wolfe’s use of dialect effective? Does it seem colorful?
Stereotypical? Disrespectful? Humorous? Is it a tribute to Brooklyn’s uniqueness
and its people?
 Why is the “big guy,” an obvious outsider, quoted with a Brooklyn accent? Are the
tones of the big guy’s speech different from the narrator’s and other’s?
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Language, Tone, and Style in “Only the
Dead Know Brooklyn”
Depiction of Brooklyn
 Brooklyn is as much a character as any of the individuals in the story – perhaps
more so, as none of the characters is named. Like the dialect of the narrator,
Brooklyn is unique, rough, and colorful. It is also dangerous, diverse, and complex, a
place where residents learn their surroundings and develop resourcefulness not
through maps but through experience, a place where brawls are commonplace and
where bartenders keep baseball bats for defense. Its various and diverse
neighborhoods, suggests the narrator, cannot be known in a single lifetime. Yet the
residents also seem provincial, seemingly concerned only about their immediate
environment, and become overly impassioned about minutia.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” continued …
Contrast and Irony
 Part of Wolfe’s style is to use contrast. The narrator, for instance, contrasts with the
“big guy” in several ways. The narrator sees himself as street smart, a man of the
world, or at least a man of Brooklyn, an experienced man who doesn’t need a map
but relies on his instincts and his resourcefulness honed by experience. Yet the
narrator is actually quite provincial, although he kindly takes the “big guy,” who
remains very curious to him, under his protective wings.
 Ironically, the “big guy” is more adventurous, more daring, and more willing to
explore strange territories than the narrator. The “big guy” is more outgoing,
unafraid to ask directions and engage strangers in conversation. He demonstrates a
different kind of toughness.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” continued …
Significance of Swimming
 The narrator is proud of how he learned to swim, which indicates, he
believes, his toughness, his resourcefulness, and his ability to survive.
(His brother pushed him off the docks.) However, the “big guy” is
“swimming” not drowning in Brooklyn, as he survives his Brooklyn
experience, encouraged not by a brother but by his own curiosity and
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Language, Tone, and Style in “Saboteur”
Ha Jin communicates meaning in “Saboteur” through many different strategies and techniques – all of
which form the style of “Saboteur.”
Point of View
 Ha Jin tells his story through a third-person omniscient narrator, which allows the reader
access to all the characters’ thoughts. We see Chiu’s somewhat gradual loss of confidence in
a system which he supported and we see Fenjin’s response to him at the end, through which
we can infer Ha Jin’s feelings about Chiu’s act. This point of view allows Ha Jin to include the
last paragraph which brings the story to a shocking conclusion. Is Ha Jin at all sympathetic
to Chiu? Is he angrier at Mao and the state?
 The story is told in a direct, restrained tone. The narrative voice restrains anger and
bitterness, which are never far from the surface. Yet there is also a sense of urgency, as, he
believes, he has a story that must be told. There is no comic relief in the “Saboteur.”
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“Saboteur” continued …
Symbol (including physical appearance)
 Ha Jin uses physical appearance to reveal his characters and their positions in the culture. Both Chiu
and his bride are weak – reflective ultimately of their weak positions in the state, despite a life of
comparative comfort. Chiu suffers from heart disease and hepatitis and his wife has pale cheeks,
headaches, and perhaps weak eyes. The policemen, however, are empowered; they are “stout,” “tall
and of athletic build” – a human version perhaps of the large concrete statue of Mao.
 Since Chiu lectures on acceptable subjects, he and his wife live a comfortable life. Among other
comforts, his television (rare in China at the time) reveals his status and privileged position. … On one
professional retreat, “Chiu was the only one among his colleagues not to be affected by the fleas.”
The fleas are symbolic of governmental interference.
 At the end of the story, when Chiu turns bitter, disillusioned, frustrated, and enraged, and with his
hepatitis “finally attacking him,” Chiu makes “up his mind to do something” for revenge. On his way to
the train station with Fenjin, he stops at several restaurants to spread his hepatitis infection. Fenjin
notices that his former professor looks “ferocious,” “jaundiced,” and “ugly,” reflective of the moral
decay of Chiu who will make innocent people suffer and die for his mistreatment.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“Saboteur” continued …
 The central irony of “Saboteur” is that despite his intellectual accomplishments and his
privileged status, Chiu is naïve to his government’s daily practices. Even after his arrest, he
trusts the government, its justice system, and newspapers. Before the chief of the bureau,
Chiu evokes his privileged status (“I’m a scholar, a philosopher, and expert in dialectical
materialism”) and he demands compensation and a letter of apology for his arrest – which
is hardly the threat Chiu believes it to be.
 Saboteur takes on multiple meanings; some of which are ironic. The term is first applied by
the policeman at the beginning of the story to Chiu for “disrupting public order” – of course,
it is a false charge. Before the chief of the bureau, Chiu calls the policemen saboteurs.
 By the end of the story, we realize that there are several saboteurs: Chiu for his final act of
vengeance, the policemen, the chief of the bureau, and ultimately, Mao Zedong for creating
his totalitarian regime. All sabotage individual freedom and justice.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
Language, Tone, and Style in “How to Date a
Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”
In “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie,” Junot Diaz presents a
narrator who reveals more about himself than he realizes.
Language, Tone, and Point of View
 The narrator writes in colloquial English with occasional Spanish words and phrases which reveal his
background as a Dominican inner-city youth. He writes in a self-assured, confident tone with
occasional lapses which reveal a low self-esteem underneath the machismo posturing.
 The narrator uses his style, which includes mild neighborhood vulgarities, to establish credibility and
to establish further his reputation as an experienced and tough man, a voice of authority on women.
 His manual on dating is written in a language, tone, and style that might be defined as urban teenage
bravado. As in most how-to manuals, the narrator addresses the reader directly in the second person.
Would the authenticity and effectiveness of the story be compromised if it were written in standard
 As part of his style, consider his use of detail. Particularly revealing is how the author uses
“government cheese” to reveal the narrator’s poverty, youth, and his evaluation of girls from different
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
“How to Date” continued …
Irony and Characterization
 Although he is just in high school, the narrator presents himself as an experienced
man of the world, one who knows how to manipulate different kinds of young
women as well as their parents. Readers will find much of what he says to be
humorous and his advice on how to be “smooth,” ironic. If we read carefully, we can
determine that he has actually had few, if any, successful seductions. In fact, as we
read, we become aware of his lack of confidence and his insecurity, if not his low
 Consider the humor and irony in several passages: perhaps his confrontation with
Howie, the neighborhood bully, and his defense for running away (“never lose a fight
on the first date”); his false expression of sympathy (putting the hamburger down
and saying, “It must be hard”); and his suggestion on how to use a polluted sunset
for Romantic effectiveness.
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8
For Further Consideration
1. Rewrite a section of one of the stories in this chapter in a
different style. For instance, write either “Only the Dead Know
Brooklyn” or “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or
Halfie” in another dialect or in standard English. What is the
2. Consider the importance of setting to “Only the Dead Know
Brooklyn,” “Saboteur,” and “How to Date.” How do the settings
affect the characters and their judgments and evaluations?
3. Compare and contrast the tone of “The Rememberer” and
“Saboteur.” How does the tone reflect theme and character?
Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 8

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