Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Indignant Style

In this essay I will discuss how the narrator, of the passage quoted below, uses style to reveal his attitude toward the people he describes.

            In this short prose essay, the reader discovers the narrator’s respect for the industrious and disdain for the idle. How the narrator addresses his opinions in talking to different groups of people, his syntax, diction, and tone all add to the richness of the essay and help the reader to see the narrator’s attitude toward the different types of people he is describing.
            The narrator shows the reader his viewpoint by directing his comments to two distinctly different audiences, while using imagery to illustrate his points. He begins by explaining some of his own observations (lines 1-11). Then he depicts incidents for the reader to imagine as a bystander to the events (lines 11-18). Next the narrator talks directly to those he calls, "intellectual" and proposes their actions are because of boredom (lines 18-27). By calling them empty headed and saying their hands are idle, he not only personally attacks them, but builds up for the reader that this way of life is not to be preferred. Finally he commends the people who spend their time at work, not play or experimentation, simply because that is what they "must do" to survive (lines 27-33). The narrator presents his argument by explaining his experiences, depicting images in the readers mind, talking to the experimenters and talking to those who have no time for what his writing obviously shows, he views as useless.
            In lines 11-12, the narrator excites, disgusts and grabs the readers attention by saying "you see my young master, or my young mistress, poring over one of the spider's insides with a magnifying-glass;..." By intensifying the scene your imagination has begun depicting, he is able to greater illustrate to the reader his point that this experimentation is nasty and not to be coveted by those who do not have the leisure time to participate in it. Again, his use of syntax to exemplify his message is commendable. In lines 17-18 as he uses repetition to further engrain his ideas, he says "the poor souls must get through the time, you see--they must get through the time." His attitude here is quite obvious. The way he constructed this sentence in woeful pity shows how he assumes that because these "gentlefolks" enjoy experimenting in cruel ways as children do, that it must be because they simply have too much time on their hands and must find something to do with it. Lines 22-27 is a sentence that seems to go on and on. Likewise the narrator thinks these people spend their time in "nasty" activities that also seemingly go on and on.
            The narrator's word choice and how he displays those words also helps the reader to adequately see the his attitude. Gentlefolks is used to describe those in a wealthier status with more time on their hands. In lines 6 and 7, the narrator states several commonly believed viewpoints of society. He then proceeds to contradict these so called facts with his personal opinion. This sequence of stating ridiculous actions and then showing how they are absurd is repeated throughout the essay as he tries to prove the idiocy of the "intellectual type" and how the hard working are superior. The use of, "miserable wretches" in line 10 to describe the poor spiders adds to the narrator's view that the use of pitiful animals for ones own pleasure and discovery is a "miserable" idea. Then he uses "poring over" in line 11, helping the reader to realize the depth of curiosity these interesting people's brains entertain. Next the short sentence, "But there!" grabs your attention. This diction shakes up the whole essay with a bit of dramatic flair demonstrating how dramatic this topic is to the narrator. When the narrator uses "poor souls" in line 17 it demonstrates how he pities those who have a never ceasing search for something to do with their lives and minds. As the narrator changes his focus from the gentlefolk to those of the working class, he uses "forced" to show that they don't choose to live in ceaseless work. It is their lot in life. Yet he believes they should be thankful for this busyness as he concludes in lines 31-33, "thank your stars that your head has got something it must think of, and your hands something they must do."

            Throughout the essay the narrator has a constant air of superiority. The tone that shines through his words is begrudging, yet passionate. He states in lines 20-22, "the secret of it is, that you have got nothing to think of in your poor empty head, and nothing to do with your poor, idle hands." His odd idea is that this richer class of people simply has too much time on their hands. He indignantly compares the study of science to children's experimentation. His tone is despairing as he exclaims, "and so it ends..." and goes on to tell of the so called, awful things these scholarly people do. The overall tone of the essay is that of righteous indignation. The narrator seems to believe that his snide remarks are truly beneficial to the reader. He certainly looks negatively at the wealthy people who have time for such nonsense. On the other hand the narrator seems to be encouraging those who are always working and showing them that their lot is much better than the aimless lot of others.

I have included the prose passage  passage that this essay is written from. It appeared in an essay prompt for a AP test and can be found on

Gentlefolks in general have a very awkward rock ahead in life—the rock ahead of their own idleness. Their lives being, for the most part, passed in looking about them for something to do, it is curious to see—especially when their tastes are of what is called the intellectual sort—how often they drift blindfold into some nasty pursuit. Nine times out of ten they take to torturing something, or to spoiling something—and they firmly believe they are improving their minds, when the plain truth is, they are only making a mess in the house. I have seen them (ladies, I am sorry to say, as well as gentlemen) go out, day after day, for example, with empty pill-boxes, and catch newts, and beetles, and spiders, and frogs, and come home and stick pins through the miserable wretches, or cut them up, without a pang of remorse, into little pieces. You see my young master, or my young mistress, poring over one of the spider's insides with a magnifying-glass; . . . and when you wonder what this cruel nastiness means, you are told that it means a taste in my young master or my young mistress for natural history. Sometimes, again, you see them occupied for hours together in spoiling a pretty flower with pointed instruments, out of a stupid curiosity to know what the flower is made of. Is its colour any prettier, or its scent any sweeter, when you do know? But there! the poor souls must get through the time, you see—they must get through the time. You dabbled in nasty mud, and made pies, when you were a child; and you dabble in nasty science, and dissect spiders, and spoil flowers, when you grow up. In the one case and in the other, the secret of it is, that you have got nothing to think of in your poor empty head, and nothing to do with your poor, idle hands. And so it ends in your spoiling canvas with paints, and making a smell in the house; or in keeping tadpoles in a glass box full of dirty water, and turning everybody's stomach in the house; or in chipping off bits of stone here, there, and everywhere, and dropping grit into all the victuals in the house; or in staining your finger in the pursuit of photography, and doing justice without mercy on everybody's face in the house. It often falls heavy enough, no doubt, on people who are really obliged to get their living, to be forced to work for the clothes that cover them, the roof that shelters them, and the food that keeps them going. But compare the hardest day's work you ever did with the idleness that splits flowers and pokes its way into spiders' stomachs, and thank your stars that your head has got something it must think of, and your hands something that they must do.