All About Style for AP English Language (page 2)
What Is Style?
Ask yourself a question—What is the difference between the comedy of Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy? We would all agree that they are both funny, but we would also say that each man has his own style. What makes Cosby's comedy different from Murphy's? Consider the following:
- Subject matter
- Language (diction)
- Selection of detail
- Presentation—body language
- Attitude toward his material
- Attitude toward his audience
This is what we call style. You do this all the time. You know Jennifer Lopez has a different style than does Barbra Streisand.
If we were to give you two literary passages, you could probably tell which was written by Hemingway and which was written by Dickens. How would you know? Simple, you would use the same principles you considered with the two comedians:
- Subject matter
- Selection of detail
- Point of view
- Figurative language/imagery
See how easy it is? The AP English Language and Composition exam expects you to be able to recognize and to explain how these elements function in a given passage.
How Do I Talk About Style?
You need to understand and to refer to some basic writing terms and devices. These include subject matter, selection of detail, organization, point of view, diction, syntax, language, attitude, and tone.
What follows is a brief review of each of these elements of style. In this review, we define each device, cite examples, and provide practice for you. (In addition, we have incorporated suggested readings and writing for you.)
Subject Matter and Selection of Detail
Since these two are dependent on each other, let's look at them together. Unlike the poor, beleaguered AP Comp student who is assigned a topic, each author makes a conscious decision about what he or she will write. (In most instances, so do you.) It is not hit or miss. The author wants to make a point about his or her subject and makes numerous conscious decisions about which detail to include and which to exclude. Here's an example. Two students are asked to write about hamburgers. One is a vegetarian, and one is a hamburger fanatic. You've already mentally categorized the details each would choose to include in making his or her points about hamburgers. Got it? Selection of detail is part of style.
Note: Many authors become associated with a particular type of subject matter: for example, Mario Puzo with organized crime (The Godfather), Steven King with horror and suspense (The Shining), Upton Sinclair with muckraking (The Jungle). This, then, becomes part of their recognized style.
Think about a couple of your favorite writers, rock groups, singers, comedians, and so on and list their primary subjects and selection of details.
The way in which a writer presents his or her ideas to the reader is termed organization. You do this every day. For example, look at your locker. How are your books, jacket, gym clothes, lunch, and other things arranged in it? If someone else were to open it, what conclusion would that person draw about you? This is your personal organization. The same can apply to a writer and his or her work. Let's review a few favorite patterns of organization.
Writers can organize their thoughts in many different ways, including:
- Specific to general
- General to specific
- Least to most important
- Most important to least
- Flashback or fast-forward
As with your locker, an outside viewer—known here as the reader—responds to the writer's organizational patterns. Keep these approaches in mind when analyzing style. (You might want to make marginal notes on some of your readings as practice.)
Point of View
Point of view is the method the author utilizes to tell the story. It is the vantage point from which the narrative is told. You've had practice with this in both reading and writing.
- First person: The narrator is the story's protagonist. (I went to the store.)
- Third person objective: The narrator is an onlooker reporting the story. (She went to the store.)
- Third person omniscient: The narrator reports the story and provides information that the character(s) is unaware of. (She went to the store unaware that in three minutes she would meet her unknown mother selling apples on the corner.)
- Stream of consciousness: This is a narrative technique that places the reader in the mind and thought process of the narrator, no matter how random and spontaneous that may be (e.g., James Joyce's Ulysses).
- Chorus: Ancient Greek plays employed a chorus as a narrative device. The chorus, as needed, could be a character, an assembly, the playwright's voice, the audience, or an omniscient forecaster.
- Stage manager: This technique utilizes a character who comments omnisciently (e.g., Our Town, The Glass Menagerie).
- Interior monologue: This technique reflects the inner thoughts of the character.
Here is an example from Charles Dickens's The Personal History of David Copperfield.
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.
Here is an example from Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry.
Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk. He leaned against the bar of the Old Home Sample Room, the most gilded and urbane saloon in Cato, Missouri, and requested the bartender to join him in "The Good Old Summer time," the waltz of the day.
Here is an example from Evan S. Connell's Mrs. Bridge.
Her first name was India—she was never able to get used to it. It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of someone else when they named her. Or were they hoping for another sort of daughter? As a child she was often on the point of inquiring, but time passed, and she never did.
Here is an example from William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.
I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows who he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours … And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.
Here is an example from Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin.
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.
Diction, also termed word choice, refers to the conscious selection of words to further the author's purpose. Once again, place yourself in the writer's position. How would you describe your date last weekend to your parents? Your peers? Yourself? We're guessing you used different words (and selection of details) for each audience. And, may we say, "good choice."
That personal note out of the way, a writer searches for the most appropriate, evocative or precise word or phrase to convey his or her intent. The author is sensitive to denotation, connotation, and symbolic aspects of language choices.
For example, let's look at "The evening invaded the street." Here James Joyce chooses a strong verb to express his thought. What do you associate with this word? Does it affect you? What if he had said, "The evening caressed the street?" Diction makes a difference. (By the way, the first example is from "Eveline," which is a story about a character's personal war with herself.)
Diction is placing the right word in the right place. It is a deliberate technique to further the author's purpose or intent. Diction builds throughout a piece so that ideas, tone, or attitude are continually re inforced. You should be able to identify and link examples of specific diction to the ideas, purpose, tone, or intent of the passage.
Let's Try Another
Here is the bare-bones sentence outline of a paragraph.
She heard the story and accepted its significance. She wept in her sister's arms. She went to her room alone.
Here is how Kate Chopin actually wrote her paragraph in "The Story of an Hour":
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment in her sister's arms. When the storm had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
Now, you highlight those changes in words/phrases which transform the whole tone of the passage.
In this brief paragraph that describes Louise's reaction to the news of her husband's death, we can easily see diction at work. The first and last lines use a negative word to establish her separation from other women. The adjective paralyzed is also contrasted with Louise's sudden, wild abandonment. The storm of grief is spent—as are her emotional responses. She is going away to be alone with herself.
See how the diction enriches the paragraph. Here, the reader begins to get a feeling for Louise's unique character.
Figurative Language and Imagery
Imagery is the written creation of sensory experience achieved through the use of figurative language. Figurative language includes the following:
- Sensory description
- Poetic devices, which include:
As an example, here is a passage excerpted from Herman Melville's "Nantucket."
And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their anthill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parceling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having but a right of way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges; armed ones but floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea as highwaymen the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. There is his home; there lies his business, which a Noah's flood would not interrupt, though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie dogs in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as mountain goats climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull, that as sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sail, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.
Can you recognize the different examples of figurative language used in this paragraph? List several now.
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