What are the most important literary devices used in "The Lords of Discipline" by Pat Conroy?

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The late Pat Conroy was the author of both fiction and nonfiction works of literature. At least as much as with his nonfiction writing, Conroy’s fictional books are deeply informed by his own experiences growing up in the American South as the son of a hard-driving and physically and emotionally abusive Marine Corps fighter pilot. His novel The Lords of Discipline was influenced by his years as a student at The Citadel, a military school in South Carolina. A bit of an oddity (but not as much as one might expect) at a college steeped in military and Southern history and culture, the author shaped this novel around The Citadel’s traditions of rigid discipline and tradition. Conroy is also an author prone to vivid descriptions of landscapes, structures, and characters that allow for myriad examples of literary devices. Indeed, one need read no further than the opening paragraphs of The Lords of Discipline to find two such examples of literary devices within the same passage. As Conroy’s novel begins, the story’s narrator and protagonist, Will McLean, a student at The Citadel and an English major at an institute more associated with military history, describes the surroundings in which he and his fellow cadets are immersed. In so doing, Conroy employs both foreshadowing and euphemism:

To me, Charleston is a dark city, a melancholy city, whose severe covenants and secrets are as powerful and beguiling as their elements, whose demons dance their alley dances . . . I studied those demons once and they helped kill off the boy in me.

The foreshadowing in this passage is easily identified: “a dark city,” “covenants and secrets,” “demons dance their alley dance.” Just as easily identified is the use of a euphemism: “I studied those demons once and they helped kill off the boy in me.” This sentence suggests a literary as opposed to literal killing of the child in question.

An additional example of a literary device used in the writing of The Lords of Discipline, symbolism, is also provided in the novel’s opening passages. The first sentence in Conroy’s novel reads, “I wear the ring.” The ring in question is The Citadel class ring, the possession of which signifies that the wearer has endured the rigors and possibly even physical brutality that accompanies entry into this institution’s halls of learning. It signifies membership in a unique fraternity. As Will later describes the sensation of being presented with this symbol of brotherhood,

I was moved deeply and profoundly before the ceremony had even begun, before I had actually put on the ring. I was seized by the ineffable power of membership, of finally belonging to something.

The “ring,” in other words, is a symbol—one that must be earned through a harsh regimen to which few college students would subject themselves.

So, right there are three examples of Pat Conroy’s use of literary devices.

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Some literary features that stand out about this novel are the following:

(1) The setting.  Conroy does an beautiful job describing Charleston--its beauty and its flaws.  One description stands out for its vivid description and parallel structure:

If I had to say what I love most about the city of Charleston, I would say that I love the stillness and leisure of its early Sunday afternoons.  There was a timelessness to those Sundays:  a greenness to its parks and private arbors; the quiet hum of well-dressed crowds gathering beneath the columns of is churches; then the sudden bloom of sails and the gestures of a small crew far out in the river . . .

(2) Situational irony:  the surprising fact that Tradd, Will's trusted roommate, is the father of Annie Kate's child and a member of the 10 is revealed at the end of the novel.

(3) Suspense.  Conroy creates suspense by using cliff hangers at the ends of chapters.  Chapter 45, for instance, ends with Mark discovering news about Annie Kate in Commerce St. Croix's journal, but the readers do not find out what that discovery is until Chapter 48.

(4) Symbol.  The ring that Will earns at the end of the novel is mentioned throughout.  In fact the Prologue begins with Will's statement, "I wear the ring."  The ring symbolizes several things throughout the novel:  (1) Will's victory over the establishment, (2) the ideals of the Institute  rather than its reality, (3) loyalty and allegiance to tradition and the cadets.

(5) Structure:  Conroy uses a circular structure to organize the events of the novel.  He begins the novel with the beginning of Will's senior year; the next part describes his first year, or Plebe Year, at the Institute; Parts 3 and 4 continue the story of Will's senior year.



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