Atmosphere

Definition of Atmosphere

A literary technique, atmosphere is a type of feelings that readers get from a narrative based on details such as settings, background, objects and foreshadowing, etc. A mood can serve as a vehicle for establishing atmosphere. In literary works, atmosphere refers to emotions or feelings an author conveys to his readers through description of objects and settings, such as J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter tales, spins a whimsical and enthralling atmosphere. Bear in mind that atmosphere may vary throughout a literary piece.

Difference between Atmosphere and Mood

Many people use both terms interchangeably, as there is no concrete difference between them. However, in literature we find a mild difference, because atmosphere is a broader term that may prevail in an entire venue such as we can refer emotions filled in a particular vicinity such as in theater. However, mood is more specific and narrow term, concerning emotions of a certain individual or group of individuals, and it does not incorporate the emotions or feelings radiating throughout a venue. Simply, mood is about internal feelings, while atmosphere exists at a particular spot. Besides, a mood contributes for building up the entire atmosphere of a narrative.

Atmosphere Examples from Literature

Example 1

It is an unspoken hunger we deflect with knives – one avocado between us, cut neatly in half, twisted then separated from the large wooden pit. With the green fleshy boats in hand, we slice vertical strips from one end to the other. Vegetable planks. We smother the avocado with salsa, hot chiles at noon in the desert. We look at each other and smile, eating avocados with sharp silver blades, risking the blood of our tongues repeatedly.

(An Unspoken Hunger by Terry Tempest Williams)

Here Terry creates a dangerous atmosphere where hazardous atmosphere is created as she presents knives and avocados. In fact, when an author tries to establish atmosphere by using objects, these objects represent unspoken reality. Besides, appearance of two characters also adds to a sexually charged atmosphere.

Example 2

The woman raised her hands and stared at them; stared through them.
Her voice was soft but tense. “Blood on his hands.” Her own hands were clean and pale.

(The Vision by Dean Koontz)

When we read these lines, they immediately bring to our mind an emotional response and draw our attention. This is what exactly an atmosphere does in a literary work.

Example 3

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door –
“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.”

(The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe)

In this excerpt, the experience of readers is suspenseful and exciting while anticipating horror due to feelings within the narrative. As we see a character hears tapping on the door and when opens it, he finds nobody there except darkness; making the atmosphere fearful.

Example 4

Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities creates an important atmosphere whenever a major event occurs in a plot, such as we see ghostly mood of messenger’s entrance in Dover mail indicates the things of future. Then, Dickens builds up an atmosphere through actions of his characters in the room of Dr. Manetas. Within this, author gives attributes to these places with different concepts and ideas. For instance, when Jerry goes to find out Dover mail to convey Mr. Lorry a message, Dickens creates gloomy and mysterious atmosphere alluding to the darker end. Another type of atmosphere we see in courtroom towards the end. During the scene, you would notice public is searching and buzzing for victim after victim. Thus Dickens links atmosphere of this place with death.

Function of Atmosphere

The purpose of establishing atmosphere is to create emotional effects. It makes a literary work lively, fascinating and interesting by keeping them more engaged to the story. It appeals to the readers’ senses by making the description more real to make them to comprehend the idea easily. Since atmosphere makes the audience feel in an indirect way, writers can convey harsh feelings with less severity. Writers control the impact of prevailing atmosphere by changing the description of settings and objects.

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