The Custom of the Country

by Edith Wharton

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How does the language used in chapter 20 of The Custom of the Country impact the reader?

Quick answer:

In chapter 20 of The Custom of the Country, one distinctive feature of Edith Wharton’s language is that it is informative. She deploys language to provide the reader with basic information, like when she notifies the reader that the action in chapter 20 occurs “some six weeks later.” Another distinctive feature of the language is that it is poetic. Some of the language is highly delicate and evocative, like when the narrator describes the summer light.

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One feature of language in chapter 20 of Edith Wharton’s novel The Custom of the Country is that it is informative. At certain points, the language serves a practical objective purpose. One such point occurs right at the start of the chapter. Remember, chapter 20 begins with the narrator stating, “Some six weeks later...” This sentence might not qualify as one of the most creative or insightful sentences in the novel, yet without it, the reader wouldn’t know that a month and a half have gone by. With the first sentence, the reader sees how Wharton uses a distinctive feature of language—its ability to provide basic information—to keep track of time.

At other points, Wharton deploys language in a vivid and poetic way. You might look at the chapter's second paragraph, in which Undine observes Paris from her hotel room. The narrator embarks upon a description of the summer light. They say the summer light “lay like a blush of pleasure.” Here, you might claim that Wharton is capitalizing on the sensual or phonetic features of language. As opposed to the basic, informative language that begins the chapter, this sentence seems to give Wharton the opportunity to show off her creative side. You might think about how "lay" and "blush"—the words themselves and the way they sound when said aloud—tie together to create Undine’s sense of pleasure.

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