Famous Example of Connotation in Literature
I came across this story the other day. Here’s the beginning:
“True! uneasy, very, very strangely uneasy I had been and am; but why will you say that I am lacking stability? The ailment had honed my senses, not consumed, not lessened their strength. Above all was the sense of hearing really good. I heard everything in the air and in the ground. I heard many things in the underworld. How then am I lacking stability? Listen and observe how wonderfully, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.”
Does the above story beginning sound familiar? Does something seem not quite right?
How about this story beginning?
“True! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.”
The second passage is the opening to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart." The first passage is a modified opening to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” If you were to look up each changed word in the modified passage, you would notice that according to the dictionary, both passages mean the same thing. If you have any literary sense, however, you notice that the second passage is superior. Why?
You inherently recognize the difference in the denotative meaning of a word and its connotative meaning, even if you can’t verbalize it. The original words to Poe’s short story carry with it a sense of dread. The modified passage does so to a much lesser extent (Poe’s short, direct sentences also contribute to the story’s mood). This is just one example of connotation in literature and its effect on story meaning and mood.
Stories that Use Connotation and Denotation
Following are examples of connotation in literature. These selections that use connotation and denotation effectively are frequently taught in high school or middle school. I’ve listed the story with connotatively charged words worth examining.
- The opening passage to “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs - parlour, radical changes, sharp and unnecessary perils, provoked, white haired old lady, fatal mistake, grimly
- The ending of “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst - peered, downpour, huddled, toppled, stained, pounding storm, fallen
- The ending of “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell - beast, hoarse, deepest, furnish, repast
- The opening paragraphs of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men - twinkling, golden foothill slopes, strong and rocky, willows fresh, leaf junctures, skittering, recumbent, arch
- The opening to chapter 6 of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men - still, rosy, mottled, shade, glided smoothly, twisting, periscope head, motionless heron, shallows, silent, beak lanced down and plucked it, frantically
An examination of these stories that use connotation and denotation should give you a firm grasp on author’s purpose and word choice. An examination of any literary work and author’s word choice will enhance your study of literature. Here’s a look at a couple of famous speeches from American History where word choice provides a specific enhancement of the speaker’s message:
- Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech - demonstration for freedom, momentous decree, beacon of light, searing flames of withering injustice, the manacles of segregation
- Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” - four score, fathers, nation, liberty, equal, dedicate, consecrate, hallow, freedom
As your vocabulary increases, you will be able to speak and write more clearly and convey exactly what you want to communicate.
- Public domain image from Americanrhetoric.com.
This post is part of the series: Connotation and Denotation
Understanding the concept of connotation and denotation is an important aspect of language acquisition.