When we think about literature, we can define mood as being the overall emotion created by a work of literature. Normally, the mood of a given work of literature can be described or explained with one or two adjectives, such as mournful, frightening or happy. When we read a work of literature, we can work out the mood by taking into consideration all of the elements of literature, including rhythm, sound effects and word choice. The ultimate question to work out the mood of a piece of literature is to ask ourselves how it made us feel. That will be the key indicator as to what kind of mood is created by the author. Thus a poem such as "The Raven" will have a threatening, terrifying mood, whereas a short story such as "A Christmas Memory" will have a poignant, nostaligic mood.
According to the Glossary of Literary Terms, as provided by the Hunter College Reading and Writing Center, mood is defined as "the atmosphere that pervades a literary work with the intention of evoking a certain emotion or feeling from the audience. In drama, mood may be created by sets and music as well as words; in poetry and prose, mood may be created by a combination of such elements as SETTING, VOICE, TONE and THEME. The moods evoked by the more popular short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, for example, tend to be gloomy, horrific, and desperate". The example that I provide all of my students with is think about movies. Horror movies tend to use music to foreshadow that something is about to happen. For example, when a main character is entering a dark and "spooky" room, the music that accompanies the scene is dark and spooky as well. Another example is the music that you personally listen to. What kind of music do you listen to when you are happy (something upbeat), sad (something slow and emotional), angry (something loud and full of drum beats). Authors do the same thing with the words they use in their texts. Instead of using music to create the mood, authors use descriptive language and imagery. For example, in Walter Dean Myer's Monster, the opening "scene" depicts a fearful protagonist:
The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. That way even if you sniffle a little they won't hear you.
The mood depicted here would be one of fear or fright. Another example of mood depiction can be seen in the poetry of Robert Burns- A Red, Red Rose:
O my luve's like a red, red rose
That's newely sprung in June
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune!
This, like many love poems, evokes the mood of love.
Mood is simply the feeling that the author's words cause to errupt when one is reading the work. For that reason, the mood of any given work can be very different for each reader. To determine the mood of a text, a reader simply must support the reasoning for their own personal interpretation of the text.