In the excerpt, examine the use of shifting verb tenses.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The changing of verb tenses helps to accentuate the quality of Miss Amelia's alcohol.  This technique also brings out how the alcohol itself is a transformative element that actually suspends time within the individual's mind. In changing verb tenses, McCullers evokes an almost magical attribute of the alcohol on both the individual who drinks it and the reader who observes what it does.  It triggers a means of connection between the reader and the situational condition of the text and underscores the narrative's thematic statement of the human predicament.

In the excerpt, the verb tense starts off in the past.  McCullers is describing the whiskey that was drank that evening. From this past tense of what once was, McCullers is able to change tense to what amounts to be an "eternal present."  McCullers devotes the remainder of the excerpt to describing Miss Amelia's liquor, and "the quality" it possessed on its own.  The "glows inside" for an extended period of time is a shift in tense to show that the alcohol absorbed does not readily enter the past.  It remains within the individual, almost existing in the present and enabling the person who drinks it to enter into a portal where time is suspended.  It is with this in mind that McCullers talks about how the alcohol is akin to a note where the meaning is obscured, but over time becomes clear. This image itself embodies a shift in verb tense.  It makes sense that the alcohol represents such a change in tense, as well.  

Miss Amelia's liquor enables the individual to escape the temporal condition in which firm distinctions between past and present.  Time is shifting because of the alcohol's intrinsic qualities, and authorial technique helps to underscore this idea:  "Things that have gone unnoticed, thoughts that have been harbored far back, in the dark mind are suddenly recognized."  This description suspends time.  It suspends what is in the past, bringing it out into the present.  For McCullers, human experience is not a timeline where advancement is always in the present and events are pockmarked in the past.  Rather, there is a parallel processing in which the individual is always shifting between past and present, projecting into another dimension.  The alcohol contains this quality. In order to emphasize it, the verb tenses must shift as human experience with time constantly changes.  The alcohol's effect on the individual in which time is reconfigured is a significant aspect of McCullers' themes.  The technique of shifting verb tenses helps to emphasize and illuminate such a complex idea.

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The Ballad of the Sad Café

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