Tone definition in literature: Tone is the speaker’s attitude toward his subject.
What is Tone in Literature?
What does tone mean in literature? Tone is the speaker’s attitude toward his subject.
In fiction, this is the narrator’s attitude toward the text. In non-fiction, this is the writer/speaker’s attitude toward his subject.
Tone describes an attitude. Therefore, adjectives are used to describe tone.
Some examples of tone words include:
- withdrawn, amiable, ambivalent, compassionate
Tone is detected through diction and style. The reader is responsible for accurately “reading” the tone. The writer is responsible for using a clear tone.
Tone may also shift throughout a piece. A writer shifts tone for emphasis.
Tone vs. Mood: What is the Difference?
What is mood in writing? Mood—also known as atmosphere—is the overall feeling for the audience an author creates in his writing. When you read a text and you have a particular feeling that you associate with the descriptive language, you are experiencing mood.
What is tone in writing? Tone is different from mood in that it is the speaker’s attitude—not the audience’s—toward a subject. How the audience feels has nothing to do with tone.
For example, an author may have a straightforward tone but the mood is amusing.
Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay A Modest Proposal provides this example. The speaker in this piece directly and matter-of-factly presents a solution to the Irish famine. The subject matter, however, is comical (if the audience reads the piece correctly).
The Function of Tone
What is the purpose of tone? Every piece of writing ever created has tone.
Tone is one of the many method’s a writer uses to communicate his argument. This is why tone needs to be purposeful and consistent.
If one sentence presents an exclamation but the next sentence does not match the tone, the reader will be confused.
A writer needs to carefully select his word choice to match his tone throughout his piece. And, if the writer creates a tonal shift, he must be mindful that he is doing so. Even a tonal shift should support the argumentative purpose.
Examples of Tone in Literature
Tone examples in literature: United States President John F. Kennedy, Jr. presented an Inaugural Address in 1961. In the thick of the Cold War and civil unrest, JFK needed to join his citizens toward one purpose.
With that in mind, the President needed to write a speech that matched his intention and vision. Using a unifying and patriotic tone, JFK accomplished just that.
This is the origin of the famous line:
“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
JFK’s intention was to unite the country (and the world, for that matter) toward a common goal. In order to convince his audience that he was the man to do this, the President’s attitude toward his subject needed to match his purpose.
Summary: Tone Literary Definition
Define tone in literature: The definition of tone in literature is the speaker’s attitude toward a subject.
Tone is described with adjectives and it is detected through the writer’s word choice and style. Tone must match purpose in order for an argument to be successful.