Tone gives shape and life to literature, because it is through tone that the attitude and mood of a work are created and presented. Tone gives voice to the characters, both literally and figuratively. Through tone, the reader is able to learn about a character's personality and disposition. However, the tone also shapes the work as a whole, and whether the piece should be read as a serious, funny, dramatic or upsetting.
Tone examples are present everywhere in media and in real life. However, the term "tone" is most frequently associated with literature.
One of the most well known characters in all of literature, Holden Caulfield, has an undeniable tone in Catcher in the Rye. He is sarcastic, tough, and inquisitive. He also makes poignant observations through his rather biting tone. Some quotations from Holden are as follows:
Studying Holden certainly gives a large amount of insight into tone. Holden tends to speak sarcastically; however, he is making satirical statements about the nature of life. That is exactly what J.D. Salinger's purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him. Through the establishment of Holden's tone, Salinger does just that.
Every single piece of literature ever written has a tone, and it would be impossible for anything to claim to be literature if it did not have a tone. The following are only a smattering of examples of the wide uses of tone in literature.
Citing one brief example from Robert Frost's famous "The Road Not Taken" sums up a great deal of information not only about the poem, but also about the effect of tone in general. Let's look at the last stanza:
"I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference."
To an extent, reading literature is a subjective process because different pieces of writing can be interpreted in different ways by the reader. In this example, Frost is commonly interpreted as looking back on his experience with joy. That is true, if he were to speak those lines cheerfully. However, imagine that he actually sighs when he says "sigh" and he appears sullen when he says "And that has made all the difference." The entire meaning of the poem is changed, and Frost is, indeed, not thrilled with the coice he made in the past.
Perhaps the best way to begin to describe tone is through every day examples that everyone is comfortable with. Everyone is familiar with the stressed out mother yelling "Don't you use that tone of voice with me!" to her disobedient, sarcastic, or fresh son or daughter.
The way in which someone voices a statement is exactly the definition of tone.
See how tone is a major manipulator of meaning? How someone says something entirely changes the situation. Therefore, authors use tone to create the type of mood that they want for their piece of literature.
The aforementioned tone examples are in no way comprehensive, because everything always has a tone. Furthermore, as can be seen, particularly by the Frost example, tone is not always easy to decipher. Sometimes different individuals will have varying opinions about what exactly the tone is supposed to be.
Important to remember though, is that in any case, tone absolutely affects the mood of the piece. Mood and tone are two separate qualities and their differences must be known by anyone studying literature; however, they are intrinisically linked because of the effects that they have on one another.
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