Using Tone, Attitude, and Biographical Information to Find Author’s Purpose

Let’s talk for a moment about a writer’s attitude. A writer’s attitude can tell you a lot about his or her purpose. This attitude is the tone of the writing. It is more difficult to understand a writer's attitude in writing than a person’s attitude when you hear the person talking, but a good writer can use words to express an attitude. If Crane’s words express a pleasant or enthusiastic tone, we guess that he wants his readers to believe war is glorious. If, on the other hand, he seems angry or accusatory, we assume that he wants readers to believe war is evil.

Let’s look at some words that describe tone.

admiring
accusatory
bitter
celebratory
compassionate
condescending
confused
conciliatory

cynical
detached
enthusiastic
friendly
humorous
ironic
lighthearted
nostalgic
objective

optimistic
pleasant
reassuring
sarcastic
somber
soothing
sympathetic
witty

Using your notes, write some of the words that describe Crane’s tone or attitude. When you are finished, check your understanding.

 

Check Your Understanding Sample Responses:

bitter
detached
ironic
somber
sarcastic
condescending
cynical

Did you pick more than one word? An author’s tone can be expressed in a number of ways. Also, the tone can change throughout a work or send variant messages to different audiences. Crane’s tone is generally described as sarcastic, bitter, or cynical, but in some parts of the poem, he is also condescending.

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Using your notes, write your answers to the questions that follow. When you are finished, check your understanding below.

  1. Where in Crane’s poem do you see a shift in tone?
  2. Why does Crane shift his tone in these places?
  3. How does Crane’s tone help you identify his purpose?
Check Your Understanding Sample Responses:

  1. Crane’s tone shifts between the second and fourth stanzas.
  2. He is showing the experience of war from those who grieve as well as from those who suggest that war is glorious.
  3. Crane’s tone helps readers understand the irony between his words and his ideas.
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Analyzing an author’s tone and attitude can help you identify the author’s purpose. Looking at the historical and biographical background is another important strategy for finding the author’s purpose. Read the following author biography to learn more about Stephen Crane and his times.

Stephen Crane (1871–1900) was born into a large family in New Jersey. He began writing when he was a child and became a journalist after dropping out of college. His most famous novel, The Red Badge of Courage, tells of the Civil War from the point of view of a soldier. While Crane never served in the armed forces, his descriptions of war in The Red Badge of Courage convinced many people that he had been a soldier himself. Crane became a war correspondent covering the Spanish-American War and the Greco-Turkish War. In an article about refugees, Crane discussed the suffering in war, commenting, “There is more of this sort of thing in war than glory and heroic death, flags, banners, shouting, and victory.”

Photograph of poet, Stephen Crane.

Source: Engraving of poet Stephen Crane, Wikipedia

Using your notes, write your answers to the questions that follow. When you are finished, check your understanding below.

  1. What does Crane’s biography tell you about his beliefs about war?
  2. What do you think is his implicit purpose for the poem?
Check Your Understanding
Sample Responses:

  1. It confirms that he believes war is not so heroic and glorious but is brutal.
  2. To argue that war is tragic, brutal, and meritless rather than glorious and honorable
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