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Tone Examples

The tone of a literary work is the perspective or attitude that the author adopts with regards to a specific character, place or development. Tone can portray a variety of emotions ranging from solemn, grave, and critical to witty, wry and humorous. Tone helps the reader ascertain the writer's feelings towards a particular topic and this in turn influences the reader's understanding of the story.

Tone vs Mood
Tone and mood are not the same, although variations of the two words may on occasions be interchangeable terms. The tone of a piece of literature is the speaker's or narrator's attitude towards the subject, rather than what the reader feels, as in mood. Mood is the general feeling or atmosphere that a piece of writing creates within the reader. Mood is produced most effectively through the use of setting, theme, voice and tone.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Meaning: In Frosts poem the tone is brought to the reader through the action itself, which is revealed through the poets diction.

- Robert Frost (Poem: Dust of Snow )
Poems Robert Frost
The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl's voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
"Who cooks for you?" and then "Who cooks for you?"
Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

Meaning: In the first stanza the tone is comforting, almost reassuring; even though the owl's voice booms into the "darkened room," the speaker reassures the child (implying the speaker is a parent) that all she is hearing is a "forest bird" talking. The pun on the word "Who" helps to lighten the tone, as the speaker gives reassurance that all the owl asks is "Who cooks for you?" This reassurance is repeated. However, by the second stanza the poem takes on a more ominous tone. Terms such as "terrors, fear, stealthy flight" all help to set up the last two lines. In fact the author implies that when the child goes back to sleep she won't hear the owl's "stealthy flight" nor be there for the death of something small that is eaten raw. In Wilbur's poem the tone obviously shifts from the comforting first stanza to the dark and ominous death of the second.

- Richard Wilbur (Poem: A Barred Owl)
Poems Richard Wilbur
From one thousand mountains the birds' flights are gone;
From ten thousand byways the human track has vanished.
In a single boat, an aged man, straw cloak and hat,
Fishes alone; snow falls, cold in the river.

Meaning: This poem conveys a tone of melancholy: The birds have abandoned the mountains, and the footprints of human beings (which are signs of human presence) have "vanished" from thousands of roads. The old fisherman you see at the end is all alone, and the word "single," used for his boat, conveys loneliness. The last image is wintry indeed, with snow falling all around him. Taken together, all these elements create an atmosphere of melancholy.

Poems Liu Tsung Yuan
People never believe you.
Meaning: Studying Holden certainly gives a large amount of insight into tone. Holden tends to speak sarcastically; however, he is making satirical statements about the nature of life. That is exactly what J.D. Salinger's purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him. Through the establishment of Holden's tone, Salinger does just that.

- J D Salinger (Book: The Catcher in the Rye)
Literary Literature J D Salinger
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.
Meaning: Set at the beginning of the play, this sentence indicates that the story will be a love story but it will be one with a somber or sad note, rather than a happy ending.

- William Shakespeare (Play: Romeo and Juliet)
Literary Literature William Shakespeare
If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late? Nobody.
Meaning: Studying Holden certainly gives a large amount of insight into tone. Holden tends to speak sarcastically; however, he is making satirical statements about the nature of life. That is exactly what J.D. Salinger's purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him. Through the establishment of Holden's tone, Salinger does just that.

- J D Salinger (Book: The Catcher in the Rye)
Literary Literature J D Salinger
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Meaning: In a different context, this quotation could be full of woe and misery. However, although Lysander is making comments about troubles with love, ultimately the reality is that the words are spoken by a comic character highlighting that the play is sure to be full of perplexing yet light trials of love.

- William Shakespeare (Play: A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Literary Literature William Shakespeare
Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.
Meaning: Victor speaks these words at the very beginning of the novel, setting an ominous mood for the rest of the tale.

- Mary Shelley (Book: Frankenstein)
Literary Literature Mary Shelley
Catholics are always trying to find out if you're Catholic.
Meaning: Studying Holden certainly gives a large amount of insight into tone. Holden tends to speak sarcastically; however, he is making satirical statements about the nature of life. That is exactly what J.D. Salinger's purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him. Through the establishment of Holden's tone, Salinger does just that.

- J D Salinger (Book: The Catcher in the Rye)
Literary Literature J D Salinger
Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty.
Meaning: This example shows the naivete of the young narrator, Scout, because she thinks that 50 is extremely old. Again, a coming of age narrative is established.

- Harper Lee (Book: To Kill a Mockingbird)
Literary Literature Harper Lee
All morons hate it when you call them a moron.
Meaning: Studying Holden certainly gives a large amount of insight into tone. Holden tends to speak sarcastically; however, he is making satirical statements about the nature of life. That is exactly what J.D. Salinger's purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him. Through the establishment of Holden's tone, Salinger does just that.
Literary Literature
Goddamn money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.
Meaning: Studying Holden certainly gives a large amount of insight into tone. Holden tends to speak sarcastically; however, he is making satirical statements about the nature of life. That is exactly what J.D. Salinger's purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him. Through the establishment of Holden's tone, Salinger does just that.

- J D Salinger (Book: The Catcher in the Rye)
Literary Literature J D Salinger
Tone Meaning
Tone gives shape and life to literature, because it is through tone that the attitude and mood of a work are created and presented. Tone gives voice to the characters, both literally and figuratively. Through tone, the reader is able to learn about a character's personality and disposition. However, the tone also shapes the work as a whole, and whether the piece should be read as a serious, funny, dramatic or upsetting.
Tone Examples
Some common tones.