Tone Examined

I cast my eyes over extracts from the beginnings of the following works:

  • Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children  (2008) – the part where the narrator describes his birth: midnight on the 15th of August 1947; the precise moment of India’s independence.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005) – the part where the narrator explains a little about what it means to be a carer for ‘donors’. I suspect, but don’t know, that donors are people (clones) who give their organs continually until they die.

Both introduce us to a reminiscent first-person narrator. Here are my answers to the following questions:

  • How would you compare their styles?
    SRs style is that of a maximalist; long sentences and lots of hypotaxis where he daisy-chains clause after clause. KI is more in the middle of the Maxi/minimalist scale; he uses some long and some short sentences. Part of this is because of the narrative voice, which is that of a normal woman rather than an intellectual.
  • What are their key characteristics (think about sentence structure, language choice and imagery)?
    KI affects a chatty style in this piece, which means homely imagery based around memories and shared experiences rather than descriptions of people or things and the kind of language that an averagely educated woman in her mid-life would choose. SR’s narrator is more educated and yet looser with his language. There’s lots of stop-start narration and you get the feeling that he is pushed for time and reluctant to speak as if he has somewhere to go and he’s giving an interview to a person he doesn’t particularly like.
  • How would you describe the tone (how close the implied author and/or narrator is to their subject)?
    SR’s narrator is reluctant to speak and so is slightly antagonistic towards his audience. KI’s narrator is trying to be relaxed and to impress her audience with her integrity and poise.
  • What kind of work do these stylistic choices do on behalf of the narrative (how do they shape the subjects of each)?
    Stylistically, the long sentences SR employs give the impression that the narrator is educated and verbose. The sentences KI’s narrator uses are of average length, which gives the impression of a person of average age, interest and education.
  • What kind of relationship do they strike with the reader?
    SR’s relationship with the reader is antagonistic. KI’s narrator is calm, kind and considerate; just like the carer that she is. Starting to repeat stuff due to the inane way these questions are structured.

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