Mammoth Memory

Tone – atmosphere and feeling of the writing

A useful way to understand what tone means is to think of the passage of writing as a song. Ask yourself: If this writing was set to music, what sort of music would it be?

Tone is the feeling of writing

He needed to tone (tone) up before every performance so he could get the right music out of his huge instrument.


Example 1

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by.

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken


Frost tells us about the past with a sigh, so the music would be “UNHAPPY”.

Tone of this = UNHAPPY.


Example 2

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


Here there are secrets and mystery – it is ominous and evil.

The music would be scary, horror music.




Example 3

By a curious coincidence, "None at all" is exactly how much suspicion the ape-descendant Arthur Dent had that one of his closest friends was not descended from an ape, but was in fact from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Guildford as he usually claimed. 

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


The article shows humour and warmth.

The music would be fun, bouncy and warm.


Tone = WARM and FUN.


Example 4

Yet the sound increased – and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath – and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly – more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men – but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! What could I do? I foamed – I raved – I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder --louder --louder!

Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-tale Heart


It sounds like the storyteller is going insane – nervousness, guilt, anger, and a manic obsession with a noise that only he can hear.

The music would be manic, screechy, obsessive, repetitive and increasingly overbearing.


Tone = manic, repetitive and screechy, increasing in intensity.

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