Give some examples of a sensory details in "The Sojourner" by Carson Mccullers, and explain how these details help convey mood.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Carson McCullers' "The Sojourner," many sensory details are employed. 

A sensory detail is a piece of information that appeals to the senses in an effort to create a more vivid picture of what is being described in a piece of literature. However, while much imagery may only appeal to one's mind, sensory details appeal to one of the five senses. It is noted that human beings first learn about the world on a very basic level through the use of these senses, so...

...writing which incorporates vivid, sensory detail is more likely to engage and effect the reader.

In this short story, the sensory details are often beautiful. The narrator observes many:

  • age-soft stone
  • pastel skyscrapers
  • fine, chestnut hair
  • skin...summer tanned
  • brown eyes flecked with gold and laughing

Each of these descriptions affects the mood by pointing out the beautiful things that surround John, the protagonist. As we read about his life, the death of his father, his sudden awareness of the passing of time, his remorse at losing Elizabeth (his ex-wife) to divorce, and even his own sense of mortality, these descriptions that present such pleasant images are in sharp contrast to the man John has become: missing opportunities, failing to form meaningful relationships, losing touch with old friends, and even becoming distanced from his father, for whom he had at one time felt "filial devotion," as they had "once been extraordinarily close."

Even in that the sensory details are so positive, the descriptions of John's life are quite negative. They show, by stark contrast, John's failures. They serve to create a mood that conveys the protagonist's terror as he anticipates one day being the body in a casket, as his father had just been, and his despair as he realizes that while Elizabeth has invested her life in love of husband and children, he not only has no plans to marry, but also has virtually ignored the one child in his life, Jeannine's young son Valentin.

The clue to the true meaning of the story may be found in an observation John makes while Elizabeth plays the piano for him, a beautiful classical piece by Bach:

The principal melody was woven with two other dominant, again submerged, it had the sublimity of a single thing that does not fear surrender to the whole.

In a way, the two voices may represent John and Elizabeth at one time, and John's failure to commit himself fully to their relationship. Though the mood at the beginning of the story is marginally pleasant, hindered only by John's sense of unaccountable misgiving...

He had the feeling that something unpleasant was awaiting him...

...and the sorrow of his father's death and their emotional distance, it changes dramatically as John experiences insistent and almost debilitating despair for what he has lost in isolating himself from the world: by the end, the mood has changed to one of desperation, almost Dickensian in nature (see A Christmas Carol), where John believes that perhaps he can make something of his life if he changes right then, before another minute passes.