The definition of Tone seems to be entirely based on author's intent. But I remember reading that modern Literary Analysis heavily discourages relying on author's intent when Analyzing a passage. Why then, do we still analyze tone?

  • 3
    What do you mean by "tone"? The way I see it, the tone of a passage (its atmosphere, diction, feelings evoked, and so on) is independent of authorial intent, so there's no issue here. – Rand al'Thor May 31 '17 at 14:44
  • The first google result says "Tone, in written composition, is an attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience. Tone is generally conveyed through the choice of words or the viewpoint of a writer on a particular subject." – Chris Slojkowski May 31 '17 at 14:47
  • 3
    "But I remember reading that modern Literary Analysis heavily discourages relying on author's intent when Analyzing a passage. Why then, do we still analyze tone?" It's not that using authorial intent is discouraged, what's discouraged is using authorial intent as a word of god (i.e. it's always correct and overrides everything else), rather than using it as one of many sources and interpreting it in the wider context of what was actually written. – user111 May 31 '17 at 16:57
  • @Christopher The definitions given by Google don't always reflect all the nuances of meaning which a term has in a specialist context. In this case, a lot of casual readers might think that authorial intent should be the be-all and end-all, while experts in literature take a more nuanced view which Google's definition doesn't reflect. – Rand al'Thor May 31 '17 at 21:46

When people talk about tone, they're typically​ not talking about the tone the author intended, but rather, the tone the audience perceives. Tone isn't an absolute monolith intrinsic to a piece of writing - it's wholly a part of the way an individual perceives it. That makes it relevant to a great number of lenses.

To clarify the dictionary definition that you found in comments, there are a couple points worth noting. First, a lot of the definitions a surface search on Google will tell you are colloquial meanings, not literary ones. It's important to be skeptical of a surface-level definition of a complex topic. Especially because, when those definitions are correct, they often rely on words that have different literary and colloquial meanings, and so it's very easy to think a simple definition suffices when in reality it may have just confused you further. (Look up the definition of "text" for a clear example - even Wikipedia arguably gets this wrong.)

Second, in this case, it's actually a reasonable definition - but the writer is a rhetorical writer, not the actual writer. While some tonal information is encoded in what the reader knows about the writer, most of it is encoded in the word choice independent of intent, which is the "writer" the reader perceives.

(It's also important to note, as Hamlet mentions, that trying to discern what the author meant isn't universally a bad thing - it's just not the complete picture, and we need to be very careful not to over-broadly apply that kind of thinking to questions where it's not relevant.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.