Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the purpose of tone? Question is multiple choice A)To express the author's attitude toward the reader or a subject B)To quicken the pace of a plot C)To elaborate on ideas or situations in a literary work D)To use exaggeration to make a point

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Tone is so important to a piece of writing that if the reader does not recognize it correctly, the meaning of the work is either mitigated or lost.  For instance, imagine--as has happened in some high school classrooms--that a reader were to take Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" literally and not recognize the biting satire that is prevalent throughout his work? 

Or, imagine that a reader miss the ironic tone in so many works?  One example is Saki's short story "The Open Window" in which a young girl toys with a nervous visitor and, at the end, when she covers her act by telling her aunt another story, the narrator remarks that "Romance at short notice was her specialty."

There is no question that understanding the tone of a literary work is essential, for this tone conveys the authors' attitudes, and, thus, their purpose for writing the work. (a)


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Tone is an expression of attitude or opinion. Tone is defined as:

Tone in writing refers to the writer's attitude toward the reader and the subject of the message. The overall tone of a written message affects the reader just as one's tone of voice affects the listener in everyday exchanges (Ober 88).

Have you ever heard someone say to you "Don't take that tone of voice with me?" It is the same concept. The tone that a writer uses will lead the reader to gather an impression about the characters and the plot. The writer's tone can be upbeat and happy when the situation warrants, caring and concerned to make you feel sympathy for the characters, dismal and dreary to give you a sense of foreboding, angry or hostile to make you feel anger and hostility toward a character or situation and so on. As a writer, you want your tone to convey your feelings and your moods to a reader in such a way that, if done correctly, the reader will adopt the same tone as the writer toward the characters or situation.


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