Figurative language and theme development in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremonyand Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreamsare both novels of the American Southwest that explore themes of shame, alienation, psychological trauma, recovery and people’s relationship to their natural environment. Silko’s novel is written in a style that emphasises the importance of storytelling in the traditions of Pueblo Indian people, while Kingsolver’s dual mode of narration highlights Codi’s traumatised and unreliable memory. Figurative language is used by both authors to establish symbolic links of meaning between natural imagery and the psychological trauma and journey to recovery faced by their protagonists.

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Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West

He had given his readers many stones; so many, in fact, that he had only one left—the stone that had formed in his gut.

Suddenly tired, he sat down on a bench. If he could only throw the stone. He searched the sky for a target. But the gray sky looked as if it had been rubbed with a soiled eraser. It held no angels, flaming crosses, olive-bearing doves, wheels within wheels. Only a newspaper struggled in the air like a kite with a broken spine. He got up and started again for the speakeasy.

The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West

Nathanael West on the contrasting natural beauty and fakery of LA:

“The edges of the trees burned with a pale violet light and their centers gradually turned from deep purple to black. The same violet piping, like a Neon tube, outlined the tops of the ugly, hump-backed hills and they were almost beautiful.

But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses. Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the steep slopes of the canyon.”

American Women in Europe: the morality, psychology and sexuality of Daisy Miller and Tender is the Night

The narrative fiction of the late 19th and early 20th century demonstrated a marked shift from traditional plot-driven social realism towards a more nuanced form of psychological realism. This global trend was clearly present in the American literature of the period, and also coincided with an influx of freshly wealthy American citizens holidaying and living in Europe with their new money and attitudes. Although occurring before the modern feminism of the mid-20th century, this period also represented a marked shift from the restrictions of Victorian England and European codes of behaviour towards increased economic and sexual freedom for women, particularly in America. Both Daisy Miller and Tender is the Night are works which, though written by men and preoccupied with their male protagonists, also use the subtle techniques of psychological realism to portray the complex moral and sexual challenges faced by American women abroad in Europe.

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