Stylistics Used In Literary And Verbal Language

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'Stylistics, is the study of style used in literary and verbal language and the effect writer or speaker wishes to communicate to the reader or hearer' (Musuem of learning 2010). The openings of short stories and novels are often chosen for stylistic analysis. My chosen piece of text is an extract from Ernest Hemingway's short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The text displays a number of elements that through careful analysis, can reveal the situation and environment in which the characters are placed and reveal aspects of the characters personalities. Hemingway's well documented, misogynist attitude towards women tends to transcend through his male characters and is particularly evident in this text. Featuring prominently, will be noun phrases and personal pronouns alongside other stylistic features. In contrast those not apparent within the text will be discussed also.

Firstly a brief description of the text:

'The Snows of Kilimanjaro contains powerful images of death. Indeed, the very opening introductory paragraph of the story tells the reader about a carcass of a leopard and Hemingways creates a trio of images that are present throughout the short story: snow - God - death.  The story deals with an extreme life situation - the experience of being close to death and the experience  of dying. Death is omnipresent in the short story, it is present in the main plot of the story as well as in the parts depicting the remembrances from the protaganist's life. Decay, destruction and death are the main themes of this short story. His style is characterized by crispness, laconic dialogue, and emotional understatement which is apparent within the extract'.

Wright & Hope state: 'Noun phrases consist of one head noun, which must always be present, and a number of further elements, all of which are optional'. 'These optional elements fit into four predetermined slots in the noun phrase' (wright 1996:2).

determiner (e.g. her, a , the)

pre-head modification (bright, shiny, closed)

head noun

post-head modification (whatever post- modifies the head noun)

'Noun phrases can therefore consist of only one, or very many, words. If only one word is present, it will usually be either a proper noun or a pronoun' (Wright & Hope 1996:2). ' The noun phrase is one of the most crucial elements of a text. Almost all sentences contain noun phrases whether as a subject, an object, a complement or a modifier. Thus, the occurrence of the noun phrases plays an important role in building up the text. Moreover, the effective usage of noun phrases helps authors to make a story flow.' (The structure of the noun phrase 2010)

To discuss with reference to the text, there is not a significant amount of pre-head modification. Dialogue between the characters dominates the text and they talk only of their situation and themselves. When two people engage in conversation in this manner there is not necessarily a need for either party to talk descriptively as they can both see, here and know the same things at a particular given time and situation. As a pre-head modifier is notably, but not exclusively an adjective, we can understand and see why it is not prevalent throughout the dialogue. Examples of this are shown:

'I wish you wouldn't

'I'm only talking'

'Look at them'

'You might think about someone else'

However, there is some pre-modification which is demonstrated by the narrator. Only twelve sentences within the discussed extract is exclusive to the narrator, therefore, the pre-modification is rich and vivid. This gives the reader insight to the surroundings of the characters from a more visual point of view. Examples of this are shown:

The big birds squatted obscenely

Making quick-making shadows as they passed

White against the green of the bush

This was a pleasant camp

The sentences without pre-modification demonstrate usage of personal pronouns. 'The personal pronouns occur more frequently, and have more special characteristics than any other type of pronoun. They are called 'personal' because they refer to the people involved in the act of communication' (Crystal 1996:152). Personal pronouns can create a sense of suspense, intrigue and ambiguity. This is especially evident in this text as the naming of characters has been omitted. They are fundamentally concerned with identity in that they replace a person. The personal pronouns, I ( subject, first person singular) and you (subject, second person singular) are apparent in the text because there are only two characters. A pronoun must have a referent noun which is already understood (this noun is called the pronoun's antecedent) or its meaning will be unclear or ambiguous (Glossary of linguistic terms 2010). This is particularly evident within the discussed text. The names of the characters are not stated at any point. Only the pronouns he and she are stipulated. We do not know who he and she are. We know their sex and perhaps they are married as there is no reference of husband and wife although the dialogue suggests otherwise.

We infer this from the sentences 'We quarrel and that makes the time pass.' 'We don't quarrel. I never want to quarrel. Let's not quarrel anymore'. Here we can clearly see that this style of communication is reserved for husband and wife or at least long term partners. As such I will refer to the characters as husband and wife.

Another way of creating interesting stylistic effects or to create a style suited to a particular context or audience is through semantics.

A Semantic field is a set of words related in meaning. Linguist Adrienne Lehrer has defined semantic field more specifically as 'a set of lexemes which cover a certain conceptual domain and which bear certain specifiable relations to one another' ( 2010). 'To a large extent the register of a text is determined by a writer consistently selecting words from the same area of different semantic fields' (Wright et al 1996: 209). The words squatted, sailed, planed, waddle, quick-legged and passed all refer to the movement of what we believe to be vultures. We surmise this as the narrator states 'He looked over to where the huge, filthy birds sat, their naked heads sunk in the hunched feathers'. He apologises to his wife about the 'odour'. Scent and odour are linked as the husband is causing the odour through an infection in his leg and he asks 'Now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?' Vultures are renowned for circling prey and this story as aforementioned is centred around death and decay. The vultures are a symbol which highlight the male character's impending death.

Aware of his impending death the husband adopts a strange almost indifferent attitude to his wife and fate. Even in his time of need he doesn't feel drawn to his wife suggesting a not very happy marriage-this mirrors Hemingway's own experiences given his multiple marriages and eccentric views of women. Given the circumstances most people would display love, affection and fear. Not he. As weak as he is, he still retains the typical dominant male attitude shown in this piece of dialogue

'Please tell me what I can do. There must be something I can do'. 'You can take the leg off and that might stop it, though I doubt it. Or you can shoot me. You're a good shot now. I taught you to shoot didn't I?'

He reaffirms that his wife can shoot because of him through the negative tag question didn't I? Both he and she know the question is not open to argument. His comments regarding the vultures are almost comical suggesting acceptance. He talks of the gangrene being 'marvellous' because it is painless demonstrating an extreme negative turned into a positive. Given the circumstances most people would display love, affection and fear. Not he.

In conclusion, we know that stylistics is about making choices and that it can 'contribute to a better understanding of the bases for the valuing of texts and of the process of literary evaluation more generally' (van Peer 2008; 117). We can see that by making those choices we can elaborate in great detail in any given text. We can create a myriad of atmospheres, thoughts and points of view, whether it be to the characters themselves, the scene or the author in question. However, it must be noted that without relevant 'linguistic knowledge' all of this would not be possible.

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