In literary works, tone refers to the author's attitude towards the subject, character or events of a story. Understanding the tone of a literary work can help you become a good reader. You can analyze the tone of a literary work for an essay or class paper. To be able to analyze tone, start by recognizing common tones in a literary work. Then, set the tone of the literary work and explain it effectively to get high marks in class.
Part 1 of 3: Recognizing Common Tones in Literary Works
Step 1. Notice if the piece has a serious or somber tone
Serious and gloomy are the most common tones in literature, making reading heavy. Serious tones often appear somber or dark. You will feel sad or uneasy when you read serious works.
A good example of a serious or gloomy tone is the short story “The School” by Donald Barthelme
Step 2. Recognize the tone of tension
A suspenseful tone is also common in literary works, and is usually found in horror or mystery stories. The tone of suspense sparks fear and anticipation in the reader. Oftentimes, you get excited about the continuation of the story or very nervous when you read a suspense story.
An example of a good suspense piece is the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Step 3. Pay attention to the tone of humor
A humorous literary work will make the reader smile or laugh. Tones of humor are often found in comedy or satirical works. Humor can also be funny, witty, or ironic. Sometimes authors use a humorous tone to balance out the serious tone of the same literary work, such as a novel or short story.
An example of a great tone of humor is the poem “Snowball” by Shel Silverstein
Step 4. Recognize a sarcastic tone
Sarcasm is often used to elicit laughter and entertain readers. This tone often seems piercing and critical. You can find sarcasm in novels and short stories, especially if told through a sarcastic first-hand narrator or with a dry sense of humor.
A good example of a sarcastic tone is in the novel "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger
Step 5. Be aware of the difference between mood and tone in literary works
It is quite difficult to distinguish mood and tone in literature because the two are often interconnected. Atmosphere is different from tone because it better explains the circumstances and atmosphere of the story. Atmosphere is created through the reader's response to the tone of the writing. However, both are shaped by the writer's skill in evoking the emotions of the reader.
For example, if the story takes place in an abandoned cabin in the woods, the atmosphere may be scary or unsettling. Authors can use the narrator or main character to bring out a gloomy or depressing tone to explain the cabin in the forest to the reader
Part 2 of 3: Determining the Tone in Literary Works
Step 1. Pay attention to the choice of words and language
One way to determine the tone of a literary work is to pay attention to the words and language used by the author. Consider why the author used a word or language to describe the scene. Think about why a word is used to describe a character. Pay attention to how these choices create the tone.
- For example, you could study the short story “The School:” “And all the trees have withered. I don't know why, they just died. Either the soil is bad, or maybe the seeds we got from the nursery are not good…. All the kids stare. these chocolate bars with disappointment.”
- In this paragraph, Barthelme creates a serious and gloomy tone with the words “disappointed”, “dead”, “withered”, and “bad.”
Step 2. Look at the sentence structure
Read a few lines in a literary work and pay attention to the sentence structure. You can see that short and long sentences don't vary to create a certain tone. Long sentences that take up several pages can have a meditative or thoughtful tone.
For example, in many horror novels, the sentences are often short and to the point, without a lot of adjectives and adverbs. This helps create a suspenseful and action-packed tone
Step 3. Pay attention to the depiction
Another way to determine the tone of a work is to look at the imagery the author uses to describe a location, scene, or character. Certain depictions will create a tone in the work. A strong description will lead the reader to the tone the author wants.
For example, if someone's face is described as "radiating happiness," the resulting tone is joy. Or, if the cabin in the woods is described as “smeared with the fingerprints of the previous occupants” then the result is a tone of tension
Step 4. Read the text aloud
Reading literature aloud can help you get a feel for written diction. Diction refers to how a series of words sounds to the reader. Diction will be more clearly heard if the writing is read aloud because you hear every word and pay attention to how it creates tone in the work.
For example, try reading the sentence from "The Catcher in the Rye" aloud to set the tone: “Money is cursed. Always hard on you endlessly." The use of the words “cursed” and “relentlessly saddened” gives off a bitter or sarcastic tone with a hint of humor and sadness
Step 5. Recognize that literary works can have more than one tone
Generally, the author uses more than one tone in his work, especially in long literary works such as novels. You can watch the pitch change from chapter to chapter, narrator to narrator, or scene to scene. Authors can do this to get the voice of a character or indicate a change in a character or scene in a literary work.
For example, a novel may begin with a humorous tone and shift to become more serious as the reader dives deeper into the characters' backgrounds or personal relationships
Part 3 of 3: Explaining Tone in Literary Works
Step 1. Use adjectives
To describe the tone of a literary work, use certain adjectives that describe the tone used by the author, such as “gloomy”, “humorous”, or “sarcastic”. Your analysis will be more insightful if the tone can be described more specifically.
- For example, you might write, “This story is solemn and serious. The author chose words, language, diction, and imagery to convey this tone.”
- You can use more than one adjective if it increases the accuracy of your explanation.
Step 2. Provide evidence from writing
After explaining the tone in detail, quote a few sentences from the literary work to strengthen your argument. Choose a quote that describes the tone clearly based on word choice, language, diction, or imagery.
- For example, if you're writing about F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," use the last sentence of the book as an example, "So we're going to continue, boating against the tide, transported back incessantly back in time."
- You can write a depiction of a ship going against the tide and use the words “continue”, “brought back”, and “past” to create a serious and nostalgic tone to the ending.
Step 3. Compare different tones in the same piece
If there is more than one note in a piece, compare these differences in your analysis. Changes in tone often occur in long writings, such as novels or epic poems. Notice when a change in tone occurs in a literary work. Discuss this shift in tone and how it affects readers.
For example, you might write, “The tone of the writing shifted in Chapter 13 from a humorous tone to a more serious tone. This happens when the narrator discusses his mother's illness and death."
Step 4. Connect the tone with the theme, mood, plot, and style
Make sure your tone analysis always relates to other elements such as mood, plot, theme, and style. The tone of a literary work is used to describe a broader theme or create a more real atmosphere. Connect the tone with one of the other elements to sharpen and strengthen your analysis.