Out of Silence into Sound Analysis
Burlingame obviously intends to involve his young readers in his own admiration for Bell’s genius, generosity, and grit. Writing in the first person plural as “us” or “we” (such as “let us go back,” “we shall learn,” and “into our homes”) or ad-dressing readers directly as “you,” Burlingame establishes himself from the beginning as an active, participatory, and sometimes intrusive narrator. He makes frequent use of rhetorical questions (“But why the horn antennas on the ground?”), which he promptly and sometimes simplistically answers. Obiter dicta (such as “for that is the way of war” and “The question ‘Who did it first’ over which so much fuss had been made, is a silly question except in the Patent Office”) occur throughout the narrative; the book ends with the hope that “you, who have read this book,” will tell others about Bell’s work with the deaf.
Although perhaps irritating to adults, Burlingame’s intimate tone should appeal to younger readers, especially those already interested in science. Young readers should also appreciate the author’s careful but simple descriptions of Bell’s discoveries, knowledge, and research, with unfamiliar terms simply defined in the text. Burlingame of necessity covers a broad range of topics: how an electromagnet functions, how electricity works, how the bones in the human ear transmit sound, how electrical pulses can be carried over a wire, how a deaf-mute can be taught to speak, and numerous other scientific or technical processes.
In his attempt to place Bell’s scientific work firmly in a social, historical, and political context, Burlingame often becomes both discursive and didactic in his comments. He frequently leaps from recording Bell’s life to discussing such diverse topics as other inventors, other countries, pure science versus industrial research, the Civil War, westward expansion and the development of railroads, internecine rivalries, and patent pirating. The adult reader could be annoyed by the frequent lectures and tangential discussions; the young adult reader could be either fascinated with the information or confused by the digressions, which definitely interrupt the flow of the narrative.
One appealing technique is Burlingame’s use of excerpts from memoirs, letters, speeches, editorials, news stories, and conversations; they add interest and bring the characters to...
(The entire section is 572 words.)