illustrated portrait of American writer Truman Capote

Truman Capote

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What mood does the narrator use to set the stage in A Christmas Memory? What elements of the setting create the mood?

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The mood of the story is controlled completely by the words of the narrator (Capote himself, since this is a memoir) who sets the scene for every action. The kitchen is where much of the action takes place, so he begins there, describing a huge black stove, and a fireplace that has "commenced its seasonal roar." He then describes an elderly woman standing in the kitchen with "shorn white hair" wearing a "shapeless grey sweater over a summery calico dress."

He describes this woman (whom he refers to as his cousin and his friend) in loving terms, but also in a way that helps readers imagine what she'd look like if they were to peek in on the scene. She has a craggy face "like Lincoln" that is weathered by wind and sun, and her body shows the effects of a childhood illness. But it is her enthusiastic tone he notices more than anything else, as she announces they have "thirty cakes to bake."

It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat."

This passage makes it clear that the experience he has started to describe is one he has lived through many times, and he will soon add more details to allow the reader to live through it. The emotions she feels seem to echo his own: exhilaration, and a feeling that "fuels the blaze of her heart" (the blaze paralleling the first seasonal fire in the hearth described earlier), which must mean joy and excitement such as many people feel as Christmas approaches. In describing her request for the buggy and hat, we feel the same excitement embarking upon the story's central action as the narrator does in embarking on the day's journeys, to gather pecans, and later to purchase ingredients, with which they will bake fruitcakes for many friends and neighbors.


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