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Each person experiences certain things, even the most simplest and innocent, that enlighten him or her or bring about a revelation. At one point in each of our lives we will or already have had one such meaningful incident. In Annie Dillard’s short essay “Dumbstruck,” she recounts an experience just like that. Dillard’s experience jolts her, bringing to life an awareness of the harshness and inevitability that things happen, things are not permanent in this life. We first learn of her love to scare frogs, and as her short essay continues we swiftly learn that one specific experience goes awry. Dillard successfully submerges us into her story and we can begin to see her different feelings and tones. As her mood shifts from carefree and excited, to bewildered, to a more informative tone, we follow along breathlessly, as Dillard relates, in a brief, three-paragraph essay, her harrowing experience with the unpredictability of life.

Right off the bat Dillard begins her short essay with a quote that instantaneously brings to our attention the tone of her first paragraph, that she is carefree. She informs us of why she is there that day and what she is doing. The reason is to scare frogs, and is why she was on the edge of that island that summer day. From the very first sentence where she says, “A couple of summers ago I was walking along the edge of the island to see what I could see in the water, and mainly to scare frogs” (Dillard) we quickly get a sense of her tone. The use of the word ‘summer’ automatically makes us feel light-hearted and happy. Summer is a time where everyone is relaxed and easy-going, because for the most part there are no responsibilities that need to be taken care of. Summer evokes a feeling of being carefree. Even just the flow of her opening sentence makes your voice sound upbeat and bounce up and down. The word ‘summer’ also evokes a sense of excitement, not just being carefree. And that word alone sets the foundation of her first paragraph tone. Continuing with her story, Dillard asserts that “as [she] walked along the grassy edge of the island, [she] got better and better at seeing frogs both in and out of the water.” Here she ingeniously uses the word ‘edge’ for one single purpose. First of all, the opening paragraph actually represents order in Dillard’s world. Choosing to use ‘edge’ over any other word suggests that things are right on the brink of toppling over. They are not quite there, but almost. At this point in her first-person narrative essay we don’t know what is going to happen, but Dillard is alluding to the fact that something is going to happen by telling us she was on the “edge of the island” (Dillard). Dillard uses language that elicits certain images in our minds, and arranges sentences that tell us exactly what she is thinking and feeling. For example in that same quote “As I walked along the grassy edge of the island…” the single word ‘grassy’ brings to mind a feeling of being carefree further proving what the overall tone is of the paragraph. The way Dillard constructs her sentences and her choice of words in the first half of the first paragraph eloquently showcases her tone without obviously stating it. Then in the very last sentence of the first paragraph, we see the shift in her mood. By starting off with “he was exactly half in and half out of the water, looking like a schematic diagram of an amphibian [...]” (Dillard) she is explaining how it just looks like a diagram or symbol of an amphibian, but not actually one. Then Dillard finishes the sentence rather abruptly with “and he didn’t jump.” Dillard could have elected to put this phrase at the beginning of her final sentence initially revealing the frog didn’t jump. However, putting it at the end of the sentence, at the close of the first paragraph gives it a feel of that she was confused. She was confused as to why the frog didn’t jump. This is the shift we can all see from the first...
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