You have learned how diction can create tone. You have also learned how irony can be used to help you understand tone. Now, you are ready to examine a longer passage.

As you do a close reading of the next passage, ask yourself the following questions again:

The following excerpt is taken from the chapter “Retreat to Reality” in The Opposite of Fate, Amy Tan’s book about her writing life. You may be familiar with other books Tan has written, such as The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. Take a minute to think about the title of this chapter, “Retreat to Reality.” Do you see anything ironic in this title? Perhaps you’re thinking that people usually retreat from reality rather than to reality. If so, you’re right!

Read the passage, but as you read, click on words that help create tone. Try to find 19 words or phrases. If you choose correctly, the words will highlight. You might choose some words that don’t highlight. That’s OK because answers might vary slightly, but the main thing is to identify tone through close reading.

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A photograph of a small cabin in the woods near the edge of a pond

Source: Cabin in the Woods, mbloore, Flickr

This passage by Amy Tan contains a shift in tone. In other words, she begins writing with one attitude but changes to another attitude.

To see how well you understand tone and diction, click on one answer for each question that follows.

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1. Where in the passage does the writer’s tone shift?

a. In the first paragraph
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b. After the second paragraph
Correct! The tone shifts after the second paragraph. When Tan begins describing the inside of the cabin, her attitude about it changes.
c. After the third paragraph
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d. In the last sentence of the passage
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2. Look at the diction you highlighted in paragraphs 1 and 2. Based on those words, how would you describe Amy Tan’s tone?

a. Controlling
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b. Bitter
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c. Sorrowful
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d. Fanciful
Correct! She uses words like “storybook” to describe the cabin and “dreamy” to describe the scene. This, to her, is the ideal location.

3. Now, look at the highlighted words in paragraph 3. Based on those words, how would you describe Amy Tan’s tone?

a. Sorrowful
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b. Disgusted
Correct! When Tan uses words and details such as “unwashed clothes” and “crusted toilets,” we can tell that she feels disgust as she looks at the interior of the cabin.
c. Terrified
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d. Fanciful
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take notes icon This passage by Amy Tan also contains irony. Using your notes, describe what is ironic about this cabin.
Check Your Understanding
Sample Response:

Amy Tan thinks she and her husband have found the cabin of their dreams. It is in an ideal setting—one that she thinks would be the perfect romantic spot for her husband and her. The cabin is even for sale. However, when they look inside the cabin, they don’t see a lovely, peaceful hideaway, but a dirty, disgusting place that is inhabited by a group of messy guys. Even though this might deter some people, Tan realizes that the guys have left the cabin in this shabby condition so that no one will buy it, ensuring that they will not have to move. Amy and Lou are not tricked by this plan. They decide to buy the cabin anyway.

Photo of messy room: clothes strewn, paper and projects all across floor, stacked boxes, and other stuff

Source: messy apartment, ryochiji, Flickr

Now that you have practiced reading for diction and use of irony to decode a writer’s tone, you are ready to use these close reading skills when you read any text. Pay attention to the words and details, and you should be able to decipher a writer’s attitude toward a subject. Just for fun, look at the diction in the previous sentence in this paragraph. Can you detect the sentence’s tone? Yes, “Pay attention” and “should be able” are words that indicate a tone of “direction” and “encouragement.” You can do it!