Definition of Inference

Inference, as a word, means a conclusion that a person reaches after having a piece of evidence to support it. It is mostly used as a noun for the process of inferring some results. As a literary term, it means either the readers, or the authors use clues to understand what is going to happen in a narrative or a storyline.

Types of Inference

There are mainly two types of inferences. The first one is deductive which means to make a reason before inferring a conclusion. The second is inductive which means infer some conclusion before reasoning and then finding an evidence to support it.

Examples of Inference in Literature

Example #1

Animal Farm by George Orwell

This single farm of ours would support a dozen horses, twenty cows, hundreds of sheep-and all of them living in a comfort and a dignity that are now almost beyond our imagining. Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings. There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word-Man. Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever.

This passage occurs in the speech of Old Major, the old boar of Animal Farm who delivers a speech to make the animals understand that their life is miserable and that they need to revolt against this injustice. Orwell has used the deductive method and reasoned, calling the animals comrades that the answer to all of their problems lies in removing man from the scene. He calls it a “single word-Man,” capitalizing the initial letter, M.

Example #2

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

This passage shows that the narrator of A Farewell to Arms making a deductive reasoning after every thought. He sees the road, the leaves and trees and concludes that the road has turned dry and white due to either soldiers’ march or autumn seasons. This reasoning shows his inference. Hemingway himself has used this strategy implicitly to force readers to make reasoning on their own.

Example #3

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Oscar Wilde

His evenings were his own; and he pored over a ragged translation of The Count of Monte Cristo. The figure of that dark avenger stood forth in his mind for whatever he had heard or divined in childhood of the strange and terrible. At night he built upon the parlour table an image of the wonderful island cave out of transfers and paper flowers and coloured tissue paper and strips of the silver and golden paper in which chocolate is wrapped. When he had broken up this scenery, weary of its tinsel, there would come to his mind the bright picture of Marseille, of sunny trellises, and of Mercedes.

This passage shows that the person whom the narrator is referring to is a well-read person who can read and understand. It is clear from the title of the book what he reads and it is also clear from the deductive reason that Wilde makes that he would think about Marseille and Mercedes as a result of this reading. Therefore, it is a good example of deductive inference.

Example #4

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more barbarian than the rest, with their big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. They wore high boots, with their trousers tucked into them, and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches. They are very picturesque, but do not look prepossessing. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands. They are, however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion.

Although the first line shows the narrator describing the Slovaks, the last two sentences show his reasoning and conclusion though it is based on the information that he gets from some other people. This is an example of an indirect inference.

Functions of Inference

Inference has various functions. It helps the writers make their readers think critically about their narratives and understand their messages. It also helps writers write a good narrative that tests and checks the readers’ abilities. Sometimes writers understand inferencing from characters and sometimes from the authors. In both cases, readers learn how to infer and become good critical thinkers.

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