How does the structure (syntax, punctuation, sentence length and sentence variety) in the following passage from The Lord of the Flies contribute to the atmosphere and theme? On the right hand was...

How does the structure (syntax, punctuation, sentence length and sentence variety) in the following passage from The Lord of the Flies contribute to the atmosphere and theme?

On the right hand was the lagoon, troubled by the open sea; and on the left -- Ralph shuddered.  The lagoon had protected them from the Pacific: and for some reason only Jack had gone right down to the water on the other side.  Now he saw the landsman's view of the swell and it seemed like the breathing of some stupendous creature.  Slowly the waters sank among the rocks, revealing pink tables of granite, strange growths of coral, polyp, and weed.  Down, down the waters went, whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest.  There was one flat rock there, spread like a table, and the waters sucking down on the four weedy sides made them seem like cliffs.  Then the sleeping leviathan breathed out, the waters rose, the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar.  There was no sense of the passage of waves; only this minute long fall and rise and fall. 

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before we talk about how to analyze this passage, it's appropriate to briefly discuss the atmosphere of the novel.  Additionally, in order to apply the passage to a theme, we need to discuss a theme that the passage helps illustrate.  

Atmosphere is a literary technique that authors use to give readers particular feelings.  Readers get those feelings from narrative details such as settings, backgrounds, objects, foreshadowing, etc.  While the novel starts out by presenting readers with a fairly idyllic tropical island, that atmosphere of calm paradise does not last long.  As the boys become afraid of the beast and more and more savage, the atmosphere of the novel becomes ominous, threatening, foreboding, and sinister.  

Those words are all fear-centered words, and I feel that fear is a major theme of the novel.  It's fear of the beast that motivates the boys to become obsessed with hunting it down and killing it; however, their fear eventually becomes more dangerous than the mythical beast.  The boys become afraid of each other; they fear standing up to Jack.  Once Simon figures out that the beast is in each of them, he learns to not only fear the other boys but perhaps even himself.  

Let's look at the passage now.  That passage comes from near the end of chapter 6.  Chapter 6 begins with Sam and Eric seeing something that scares them.  

Then as though they had but one terrified mind between them they scrambled away over the rocks and fled.

The two boys report back to Ralph and everybody else that they have seen the beast.  Naturally, Jack's reaction is to want to go hunt it down and kill it. After a bit of discussion, Jack, Ralph, and a few other boys head out to a section of the island called "the castle."  They assume that is where the beast must be.  

Once there, Ralph says that he should be the person to conduct the search for the beast.

Something deep in Ralph spoke for him.

“I’m chief. I’ll go. Don’t argue.”

He turned to the others.

“You. Hide here. Wait for me.”

Ralph heads out and gets to "the neck of land" where he is "surrounded on all sides by chasms of empty air."  This is where the passage in the question picks up.  The passage narrates what Ralph sees from his location.  In terms of narrative detail, the passage fits the book's overall ominous atmosphere and fear theme.  The first sentence tells readers that the lagoon is "troubled" and Jack "shuddered."  Those two words instantly put the reader on alert.  We do not get a happy, relaxed sensation from that opening sentence.  

The passage also describes the water's movement like a "stupendous creature."  Words like "sank," "whispering," "sucking," and "leviathan" all carry a connotation of evil, scary things happening.  The waters surrounding the island seem alive and evil.  They are ready to devour and destroy the island and all that are on it.  That's scary and ominous.

The sentence structure of this section helps to give this passage an overall ominous feel as well.  For the most part, the passage avoids simple sentences in favor of compound or complex sentences.  Normally, that kind of sentence structure lends itself to a smoother, flowing paragraph; however, the sentences in this paragraph are anything but smooth.  The paragraph has an interrupted and stuttering flow to it.  That's caused by the many commas in the paragraph as well as the semicolons and dashes.  Those punctuation marks force readers to pause, hesitate, and even stumble in their reading.  For example:

On the right hand was the lagoon, troubled by the open sea; and on the left—Ralph shuddered.

This sentence doesn't read quickly or smoothly, because the description of the lagoon comes after "lagoon."  It's like saying, "I saw a car, which also happened to be red" instead of just saying, "I saw a red car."  The constant interruption of flow heightens a reader's sense of foreboding because we simply aren't being allowed to easily move past this section.  We are forced to spend time in an ominous atmosphere.  

In another sentence, Golding uses repetition to build a tense atmosphere.  

Down, down, the waters went, whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest.

The repetition of "down" feels like a repeated hammer blow.  Ralph, and readers, get a real sense of the inevitable power of the water.  After trying to hunt down the beast and viewing this scene, it's no wonder that Ralph's palms are bathed in sweat. 

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Lord of the Flies

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