Exploring Literary Atmosphere

Atmosphere is a literary technique that evokes a particular feeling in readers through elements such as setting, background, objects, and foreshadowing. It can be established using mood and plays a significant role in literary works by conveying emotions and sentiments. Atmosphere can vary throughout a narrative, enriching the reader's experience.

Distinguishing Atmosphere from Mood

While many people use the terms interchangeably, literature distinguishes between atmosphere and mood:

Atmosphere: A broader term that encompasses the emotional tone of a specific place or venue, such as a theater.

Mood: A more specific and narrow term that relates to the emotions of individuals or a group. It does not encompass the emotions radiating throughout a location. Mood contributes to building the overall atmosphere of a narrative and focuses on internal feelings.

Examples of Atmosphere in Literature

Example #1: "An Unspoken Hunger" by Terry Tempest Williams

“It is an unspoken hunger we deflect with knives – one avocado between us, cut neatly in half, twisted then separated from the large wooden pit. With the green fleshy boats in hand, we slice vertical strips from one end to the other. Vegetable planks. We smother the avocado with salsa, hot chiles at noon in the desert. We look at each other and smile, eating avocados with sharp silver blades, risking the blood of our tongues repeatedly.”

In this passage, Terry Tempest Williams creates a tense atmosphere through the use of objects (knives and avocados), highlighting the hidden dangers within seemingly innocuous actions. The presence of two characters adds a sexually charged atmosphere.

Example #2: "The Vision" by Dean Koontz

“The woman raised her hands and stared at them; stared through them.
Her voice was soft but tense. ‘Blood on his hands.’ Her own hands were clean and pale.”

These lines evoke an emotional response, immediately capturing the reader's attention and creating an atmospheric sense of tension and unease.

Example #3: "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door –
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.”

Edgar Allan Poe's use of assonance and consonance creates a suspenseful and exciting atmosphere, as readers anticipate impending horror within the narrative.

Example #4: "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens

In "A Tale of Two Cities," Charles Dickens masterfully manipulates atmosphere to suit pivotal events in the plot. For instance, he establishes a ghostly mood when a messenger arrives via Dover mail, foreshadowing future events. Dickens crafts various atmospheres through character actions within Dr. Manette's room, each hinting at different outcomes. The courtroom scene towards the end exudes an atmosphere of anticipation and impending doom, perfectly aligning with the theme of death.

Function of Atmosphere

The primary function of establishing atmosphere is to create an emotional impact on readers. It breathes life into literary works, making them captivating and engaging by immersing the audience in the narrative's emotional landscape. Atmosphere appeals to the reader's senses, making the story more vivid and comprehensible. It allows writers to convey intense emotions with subtlety, as readers experience the feelings indirectly. Writers can control the prevailing atmosphere by altering descriptions of settings and objects, manipulating the story's impact.

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