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In using figurative language and adopting an entertaining persona, Louisa May Alcott was able to provide a tone that seemed more fictitious than autobiographical in Hospital Sketches. One usually expects autobiographies to be steeped in facts, to be somewhat dry, and perhaps even less entertaining. However, the persona adopted by Alcott is so engaging that it would seem contrived and imaginary. Figurative language is most often used with poetry, fiction and drama—not in factual accounts.
In Alcott's Hospital Sketches, in Chapter One, "Obtaining Supplies," humor is abundant, exploration of the narrator's personal nature is honest, and the list of unbelievable and vexing events related are almost too outrageous to be labeled as anything but fiction.
The narrator's humor is evident when she is accepted as a nurse for the military. She relates how a young man going to sea changes himself in preparation: she does no less—
As boys going to sea immediately become nautical in speech, walk as if they already had their "sea legs" on, and shiver their timbers on all possible occasions, so I turned military at once, called my dinner my rations, saluted all new comers, and ordered a dress parade that very afternoon.
An example of the narrator's objective study of her personal nature is found when she is warned as to what not to do, and then must immediately fight the urge to do exactly the opposite just to see what would happen.
A fat, easy gentleman gave me several bits of paper, with coupons attached, with a warning not to separate them, which instantly inspired me with a yearning to pluck them apart, and see what came of it.
As another example, she describes herself generally as a women's rights supporter, but that this situation has flattened those tendencies:
I'm a woman's rights woman, and if any man had offered help in the morning, I should have condescendingly refused it, sure that I could do everything as well, if not better, myself. My strong-mindedness had rather abated since then, and I was now quite ready to be a 'timid trembler'...
The narrator's impatience with the red-tape of "the big machine" is obvious when she waits for a young man to complete paperwork that will allow her to be on her way to the Union hospital. Rather than complete the work as requested, he dawdles and fools around while the narrator all but gnashes her teeth; anyone can sympathize who has stood in a line waiting while a teller closes or a cashier cleans his/her workspace—while people are waiting for assistance.
This Boy, instead of doing his duty with the diligence so charming in the young, loitered and lounged, in a manner which proved his education to have been sadly neglected in the–"How doth the little busy bee," direction. He stared at me, gaped out of the window, ate peanuts, and gossiped with his neighbors–Boys, like himself, and all penned in a row, like colts at a Cattle Show...Having waited some twenty minutes, it pleased this reprehensible Boy to make various marks and blots on my documents, toss them to a venerable creature of sixteen, who delivered them to me...
With the narrator presented as a humorous, likable volunteer, who is able to subjectively assess herself even in the face of exasperation and unforeseen hurdles amid the male-dominated "business" of the military, the reader comes away feeling as if he/she has read a humorous parody rather than an autobiography, which makes the reading so much more appealing.
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