Mood

Definition of Mood

As a literary device, mood refers to the emotional response that the writer wishes to evoke in the reader through a story. This response can range anywhere from feelings of calm, fear, anger, or joy depending on the literary work. In general, short stories and poems feature a consistent mood due to their length. Novels can feature more than one mood, although readers will typically identify an overall emotional response to the work as a whole. Mood allows a writer to create a memorable and meaningful story with which the reader can connect. In addition, writers reveal their artistic use of language and creative skills when establishing the mood of a literary work.

For example, in her novel about the relationships between mothers and daughters, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club utilizes mood as a literary device to evoke emotions in the reader as a parallel for the way the mother characters attempt to emotionally connect with their daughters.

It’s not that we had no heart or eyes for pain. We were all afraid. We all had our miseries. But to despair was to wish for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable…What was worse, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces? Or to choose our own happiness?

In this passage, though the subject matter centers around pain, despair, and loss, the mood of the narrative is hopeful. Tan intentionally establishes this mood to evoke hope in readers in the same way that the mothers in the novel wish to inspire and evoke hope in their daughters.

Common Examples of Adjectives to Describe Mood

As a literary device, mood represents the emotional quality of a story that is created through the writer’s use of language. Mood can be evoked through description of events in a story, its setting, reactions among characters, and even through the story’s outcome or resolution of the conflict.

Here are some common examples of adjectives to describe mood:

  • joyful
  • nervous
  • peaceful
  • melancholy
  • panicked
  • pensive
  • resentful
  • angry
  • hopeful
  • lonely
  • nostalgic
  • anxious
  • calm
  • sentimental
  • cheerful
  • uneasy
  • hopeless
  • stressed
  • sorrowful
  • optimistic

Examples of How Writers Establish Mood

Mood is an essential literary device to bring cohesion to a story and create an emotional response in readers. This response allows readers to experience emotion and connection within a story, making the literary work more meaningful and memorable. When writers establish mood, it should be consistent with the literary work so that the mood is not disjointed from the story yet remains emotionally accessible and resonant for readers. Though it may seem difficult to achieve mood in a story without being too overt or too subtle for readers, writers can rely on four techniques to craft this literary device.

Here are some examples of how writers establish mood:

Setting

A story’s setting refers to its “physical” location and time frame in which it takes place. Setting can have a distinct impact on the mood of a story. For example, if a story is set in an idyllic pasture on a sunny day, readers will be inclined to expect a happy mood. In turn, if a story is set in a futuristic dystopia, readers may expect a mood of tension or hopelessness.

Tone

Though tone and mood appear similar, they are distinct. Mood indicates the emotions evoked in the reader by the story. Tone refers to the narrator’s attitude toward the events taking place in the story, which can also evoke emotion in a reader. The tone of a narrator can contribute to a story’s mood by enhancing the reader’s emotional response.

Choice of Words

Word choice in a story is key to establishing its mood. This includes the way words “sound” to a reader, perhaps harsh or loving, and the use of connotative meanings of words. For example, if a writer states that a family returned to their house, the implied meaning is that the family has come back to the structure in which they live. If, instead, a writer states that a family has returned to their home, the implied meaning is that the family has come back to a place of comfort and belonging. A writer’s choice of words is significant in establishing a story’s mood by evoking emotional responses in readers.

Subject Matter

The subject matter of a story can also help establish its mood. For example, a story about war is likely to feature a sad mood, whereas a story about romantic love is likely to feature a happy mood.

Difference Between Mood and Atmosphere

Though mood and atmosphere can seem interchangeable as literary devices, they are distinguishable. Essentially, mood is a literary device that is created directly by the writer to evoke an emotion in the reader. Atmosphere is a general feeling or sensation generated by the environment of a scene in a literary work. Atmosphere is a feeling imposed on the reader rather than an emotion evoked in a reader. For example, the atmosphere of a very dramatic scene in literature may be described as restrictive. However, “restrictive” is not applicable in describing the mood and emotion of the reader in response to the scene. Instead, restrictive applies to the atmospheric feeling of the environment created in the scene, not the mood.

Examples of Mood in Literature

Establishing mood in a story, poem, novel, or other fictional work is an essential literary device. Mood engages the reader with the narrative and helps them understand many aspects of a story on an emotional level. This allows the reader to make further connections with the literary work as the writer is able to express deeper meaning.

Here are some examples of mood in well-known literature:

Example 1: Eurydice (H.D.)

So you have swept me back,
I who could have walked with the live souls
above the earth,
I who could have slept among the live flowers
at last;
so for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
i am swept back
where dead lichens drip
dead cinders upon moss of ash;
so for your arrogance
i am broken at last,
I who had lived unconscious,
who was almost forgot;
In her poem, H.D. gives Eurydice (a nymph in Greek mythology, daughter of Apollo, and wife of Orpheus) a voice to express her anger and resentment at her fate. Orpheus has the chance to rescue Eurydice from the Underworld and bring her back to life on Earth, under the condition that he not look back at her until both of them are touched by daylight. Unfortunately, Orpheus looks back at Eurydice as soon as he reaches the surface, not waiting for her to do the same, and she is banished once again to the Underworld forever.
The mood of the poem that H.D. establishes for the reader on the part of Eurydice is anger and resentment at Orpheus for his actions in determining her fate. This is clear through her choice of words such as “arrogance,” “ruthlessness,” and “broken.” However, there is an overarching mood of anguish in the poem as well that evokes the same feeling for readers. This anguish is a result of the “promise” of being brought back to life on Earth and all its beauty for Eurydice. She is in as much pain for the reawakening of hope in her at the thought of being among the living, and the anguished mood of the poem evokes these emotions in the reader as well.

Example 2: And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)

The oth­ers went up­stairs, a slow unwilling pro­ces­sion. If this had been an old house, with creak­ing wood, and dark shad­ows, and heav­ily pan­elled walls, there might have been an eerie feel­ing. But this house was the essence of moder­ni­ty. There were no dark corners – ​no pos­si­ble slid­ing pan­els – it was flood­ed with elec­tric light – every­thing was new and bright and shining. There was noth­ing hid­den in this house, noth­ing con­cealed. It had no at­mo­sphere about it. Some­how, that was the most fright­en­ing thing of all. They ex­changed good-​nights on the up­per land­ing. Each of them went in­to his or her own room, and each of them automatical­ly, al­most with­out con­scious thought, locked the door….

In her well-known novel, Christie makes an interesting and clear delineation between mood and atmosphere in a narrative. The atmosphere of the house where the group is staying is modern, new, and open, and therefore emanates what should be a non-threatening feeling to the characters and readers as well. However, in describing the behavior of the characters in this “non-threatening” setting, the mood of the story becomes ominous and foreboding. Therefore, Christie utilizes mood as a literary device to evoke feelings in the reader of nervousness and fear even though the atmosphere of the setting does not appear frightening. This makes for an engaging and memorable reading experience.

Example 3: The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)

He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching ahead and the strange undulation of the calm. The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.

In his well-known novel, Hemingway portrays a character (the old man) who lives much of his life in isolation and often suffers from loneliness. However, as demonstrated in this passage, the overall mood of the story reflects the comforting presence of nature, which eases the man’s feelings of loneliness and those of the reader as well. Hemingway establishes this mood through the peaceful and comforting tone of the narrator towards the old man and the setting, which influences the reader’s emotions.