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What are some examples of language devices in "Her First Ball" by Katherine Mansfield?

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tenbyenglish | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted October 30, 2012 at 7:34 AM via web

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What are some examples of language devices in "Her First Ball" by Katherine Mansfield?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:52 PM (Answer #1)

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Figurative language devices entail the use of words in a creative way so that the reader can visualize a picture, or a specific and unique effect. As a coming of age story, "Her First Ball" uses figurative language devices to metaphorically convey the message of how Leila sees her life before, during, and after this commemorative event, which is her first society outing as a young lady.

When using figurative language devices in this story, the scenery and setting must be described in a way that mirrors the mentality of an adolescent who is slowly maturing into womanhood. It should also show awe, and overall inexperience in the situation, for which simple and relevant connections are made with similes and metaphors. An example would be the following:

 The road was bright on either side with moving fan-like lights, and on the pavement gay couples seemed to float through the air; little satin shoes chased each other like birds.

While none of these fantastic things are really taking place, they certainly seem to be happening in the mind of our main character.

Another instance of figurative language happens the first time that the "fat man" disappears after adding his name to Leila's dancing list. The story tells us that, as he makes his way back to the main ballroom,

He was tossed away on a great wave of music that came flying over the gleaming floor, breaking the groups up into couples, scattering them, sending them spinning...

All that this is really telling us is that the music permeated the room and it felt powerful, for which the dancers were actively engaged in their dance. This is the way in which figurative language works.

However, the moment when Leila has her epiphany and realizes the realities of life (this is after the dance with the fat man), Mansfield really focuses on using figurative language to express Leila's inner thoughts. Yet, figurative language does not always have to be researched, nor does it have to always sound decorative. In this next example we see the use of metaphor again to remind us that "the ball" represents Leila's life; she thinks that, like the ball, life may always be glittery and beautiful. That, maybe she will be forever young, and forever dancing. This is why Mansfield uses the following sentence:

Was this first ball only the beginning of her last ball, after all? At that the music seemed to change; it sounded sad, sad; it rose upon a great sigh

Once again we see the personification of the music (changing, sounding sad, and sighing), and the indication that Leila feared that this first ball may fearfully be "only the beginning of her last".

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 31, 2012 at 6:36 AM (Answer #2)

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Remember that an excellent student of English Literature will not only be able to identify language devices, but also comment upon them and what in particular they add to the text and the effect they have. So it is really important to try and move beyond recognition towards analysis. Have a look at the following examples to see how this is done.

A simile is used in the very first paragraph of this short story to describe Leila's feelings of pent up excitement and anticipation at the ball she is about to attend:

She sat back in her own little corner of it, and the bolster on which her hand rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man's dress suit; and away they bowled, past waltzing lamp-posts and houses and fences and trees.

We have an insight into her imagination as everything she sees and touches makes her think about the pleasures ahead of her at her first ball. Even resting her hand on the bolster of the cab she is in becomes an act of anticipating the delight of being danced around with a young man, and Leila imagines her surroundings dancing away with her, sharing her excitement.

Note how Mansfield describes the seen when Leila arrives at the ball:

The road was bright on either side with moving fan-like lights, and on the pavement gay couples seemed to float through the air; little satin shoes chased each other like birds.

Leila is so "high" with emotion and excitement that this is something she sees in everybody else too. All the other people arriving at the ball are indirectly compared to birds or floating creatures, and we have the very visual simile of all the "little satin shoes" flying around "like birds." Again, this simile helps to stress the general atmosphere of the ball and, in particular, as we are seeing this story from Leila's eyes, her own sense of excitement and joy at finally reaching her destination.

Hopefully now that two examples have been demonstrated, you can have a go and read through the text, identifying and commenting upon literary features.  

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