Diction involves describing the types of words the author chooses to tell the story. The prose of this novel reads almost poetically, the...
When analyzing The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, you might discuss an author's writing style by considering his diction, tone, and figures of speech.
Diction involves describing the types of words the author chooses to tell the story. The prose of this novel reads almost poetically, the words reflecting details that compel readers to become emotionally invested in the characters' lives. George and Isabelle's marriage struggles to find its footing, even after their soon returns from a presumed death. This emotional chasm is captured in lines such as these:
Her dress felt tight, the stitching coarse at her backside. She'd been gone for no more than half an hour and already missed her rocking chair on the front porch and the solitude of the cabin, the distance from the world, that space all her own. In this, along with so much else, she and George were alike, even if they weren't always willing to recognize it in each other.
It is within these sensory details, such as the awkward feel of stitching or the comfort of a rocking chair, that Harris creates beauty out of a tumultuous post-Civil War setting.
By contrast, he utilizes colloquial and informal diction to bring depth to these characters. The novel is set in Georgia, and Prentiss has recently been freed from enslavement. The dialogue he uses reflects his unique perspective during the conflict which existed at this moment in American history. When Wade Webler, who holds great societal influence, insults Prentiss's deceased brother, Prentiss proclaims his brother's worth:
His name was Landry . . . He wasn't just any man, but my brother. Best person I've ever known. Best person I ever will know. And there ain't no number of horses that could make up for him being gone.
The dialogue isn't grammatically correct, but it does reflect an authentic Georgian dialect. This sense of authenticity is crucial to Prentiss's character and further develops him as independent and determined.
Harris delivers the story using an objective tone, developing the story through prose that presents the unflinching reality of this setting. When August kills Landry, his methods demonstrate his vile character:
The first blow landed upon Landry's head. The man's cries stopped immediately, and the forest went so quiet that the second blow echoed with a sickening crack . . . .
As Prentiss processes this tremendous loss, the objective tone conveys the reality of grief:
Prentiss had learned from Landry that the language of grief was often nothing more than silence.
The approach within the prose is straightforward, which is often juxtaposed to the characters' pain and loss.
Harris also employs figurative language throughout the novel to bridge the gap between the reader and the characters. Consider the moment when Prentiss spits in Wade's face:
He would have been content knowing that single breath had been his last—indeed, it was so rapturous that he did not think much of what came forth with it: the ball of phlegm that rocketed from his mouth like cannon fodder into Wade's face.
It is the simile at the end of this description that truly conveys the force, both physically and emotionally, of Prentiss's act of retaliation. Also consider the way imagery is used to establish the mood of various scenes, such as this one when Isabelle returns home:
When she walked up the lane, the cabin was cloaked in the shadowy mist of the winter afternoon; the upturned V of the roof was like a flag announcing her safe passage . . . Smoke from the chimney relinquished itself unto the mist, disappearing as it emerged.
The details of the imagery upon Isabelle's return mirrors the sense of peace she has found following a long period of conflict and great loss.
As you continue to examine the author's style, you might consider his sentence structure, point of view, parallelisms, and details.