How does Annie Dillard use language to get her message across?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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I am so glad you asked about Annie Dillard because she is best known as a modern day Emerson or Thoreau, a true, living Transcendentalist.  As a result, her works always center around nature and the epiphanies that result from observing it.  I am not sure which Annie Dillard work you are referring to, so I have chosen a fairly large selection from among my favorites: An American Childhood. The following selection nicely sums up the way Annie Dillard uses language to get her Transcendental message across.

What does it feel like to be alive?  Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. ... You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!  It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation's short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.

Annie Dillard uses description, imagery, simile, and even onomatopoeia to comment on how nature is the ultimate experience of life: a true Transcendental statement of Emerson's "Oversoul."  Note the description of the waterfall here; it relies on many interesting action verbs such as "pelt" and "shed" and "pick" and "bang" and "slide" and "break."  Further, water is one of those natural images that encompasses ALL the senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Thus, as you can see, Annie Dillard is definitely a modern day Transcendentalist who uses many literary elements to show her enjoyment of nature.  This selection from my favorite, An American Childhood, showcases her literary and Transcendental prowess.

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