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In Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms the tone is set immediately in the very short (two pages) first chapter. Hemingway does not introduce the characters right away. Instead he writes about the movement of troops and weapons and the effect of war on the countryside.
One way that a writer sets tone is by his diction. Diction is a writer’s word choice. There are many different ways to communicate an idea, and the words a writer picks have a tremendous influence on how the reader will perceive the story. The following words and phrases from chapter one are important in communicating the idea that the war is going to have a devastating effect on the lives of the characters.
- The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year
- Afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves
- There was not the feeling of a storm coming [this is irony, because a metaphorical storm—war—is coming].
- In the fall when the rains came the leaves all fell from the chestnut trees and the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain.
- The vineyards were thin and bare-branched
- All the country wet and brown and dead with the autumn.
At the end of the chapter he mentions a cholera outbreak, noting that it wasn’t too bad, as “only seven thousand died of it in the army.” How’s that for tone? How bad can things get if seven thousand deaths aren’t too bad?
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