Mood & tone to die for:
One of the most pervasive and inescapable themes in literature is death and loss. Several stories are connected through this theme and allow the reader to gain a fuller understanding of how death and, or loss may be for an individual and those around them, the ramifications, and this is made possible through the author’s tone, his attitude towards the given situation, which in turn guides the reader’s mood. Tone and mood are to key elements to the unity of effect. This is significant in that much of one’s existence is based on coping with the idea, concept of death that constantly surrounds us. Tone is used to evoke some degree of sympathy from the reader for the given situation.
Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” is one of my personal favorites because this story initially sparked my interest in short stories. Kafka is able to set the tone by using specific diction, so that he is able to guide the reader’s reactions, or mood, to the desired sympathetic impact. Gregor’s death seemingly comes across as a relief to him and his family, but is nonetheless sad.
Tim O’Brien’s “ The Things They Carried” is dealing with the death of one’s comrades in times of war. This story illustrates how tone can be used to show how mechanical one might become when surrounded by the death of one’s peers. This is commonly associated with the role of the soldier because of the constant exposure to death.
Edwidge Danticat’s “A Wall of Fire Rising” uses tone and foreshadowing to set-up the unity of effect. Danticat shows Guy as being unhappy, struggling, and feeling as though he contributes nothing, which leads him to taking his own life. This tone creates a better understanding for the reader of why and what situations might motivate someone to take his or her own life. Again, the tone seems to be directed towards evoking sympathy from the reader.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” sets an eerie tone to communicate the dangers of tradition and to illustrate some degree of the inhumanity that takes place within societies. There seems to be a sympathetic unity of effect, but the reader’s mood seems to be directed towards disdain for those that follow blindly, which has cost many people their lives.
Frank O’Connor’s “Guest of Nations” sets the tone of war. Many of the people fighting in a war find themselves not necessarily opposed to those that they are fighting against, but rather find themselves in the position of having to fight because they are ordered to. The readers find that the characters must cope with killing those that they have befriended in order to uphold their duties. Sympathy and contempt seem to work their way into O’Connor’s unity of effect.
Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” uses tone to show Granny Weatherall’s dissatisfaction with life and the afterlife. She longs for her lost love even though she had a family with another man, John. The longing that Granny Weatherall experiences evokes sympathy from the reader even though her dissatisfaction comes across as a certain degree of selfishness. The sympathetic tone is maximized when the reader finds that not only had Granny Weatherall lost hope for complete happiness in life, but she also loses hope for a happy afterlife.
Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bingo Game” sets a tone of desperation and excitement. A man is down on his luck and finds himself in a position of hope, and this hope is represented by a button and a wheel. Much to the man’s dismay, he finds that he cannot bring himself to stop the wheel because he is seduced by the power it represents. Eventually he is forcefully removed from his temporary position of power. Death is not in this story, but loss is definitely a theme, and equivocally, death is loss. One must be able to come to terms with loss if one is to make one’s way through life.
Tone guides the reader to the author’s intended unity of effect, and evokes a particular mood from the reader. This is made possible by careful selection of diction throughout the story. Short stories are well known for being carefully crafted so that they are able to extract specific reactions from readers, and that is exactly what these selections do, and they do it beautifully. These are seven “slices of life” that shouldn’t be overlooked.
For those that love reading but do not have the time or effort to put into entire books, consider reading short stories. As their classification indicates, they’re short but have a strong impact. The best collection of short stories that I’ve come across can be found in the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction