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Hospital lights are bright and alert—just like their workers should be. Movie theatre lighting is soft, dim, and relaxed—just as its attendants should feel. The lighting sets the mood. In a similar vein, authors use mood in literature to have a desired effect on their readers.

Even with these analogies, you might still be asking: What is mood in literature? What does mood mean in literature?

Keep reading to better understand the way authors set the mood—and how you can do the same.

What is Mood in Literature?

The definition of mood in literature can best be understood as the emotion the author strives to evoke in the reader. Mood in literature embodies the overall feeling or atmosphere of the work. 

Authors can generate a story’s mood through different techniques—all of which are done through the use of language, of course. Setting, imagery, character reactions, and conflict outcomes can all affect the mood of a story.  

Examples of Mood in Literature

Now that we’ve answered what mood in literature means, some examples might help solidify your understanding. Poets and novelists alike craft their works through the power of language, eliciting the desired emotional response from their readers. 

Here are two such powerful mood examples in literature:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Carroll sculpts the mood of his famous book through whimsical settings and fantastical imagery. The mood he attempts to elicit in his readers is light-hearted and dreamy. From unicorns to talking flowers to tea parties and magical cats, Caroll’s novel submerges the reader in a dream-like world of fantasy and awe. 

Verity by Colleen Hoover

From the opening, blood-spattered scene to the large, ominous house protagonist Lowen Ashleigh finds herself residing in, readers are immersed in a dark, eerie world of unknown threats. Hoover creates a mood so frighteningly enticing readers have a hard time putting this book down. 

What Does Tone in Literature Mean?

While mood is the atmosphere and emotion the author wants the reader to feel, tone in literature is the author’s or specific character’s attitude toward a particular subject matter. 

Through language, word choice, and sentence structure, an author can express their opinion about something within their own work. An author might choose to channel this expression through the viewpoint of a certain character or narrator. 

The tone in literature brings the reader a little closer to the author or character whose viewpoints are being expressed. The tone lets the reader in on the author or character’s disposition and personality. 

Examples of Tone in Literature

Examples of tone in literature lend themselves to revisiting iconic characters that people have studied for many years. Some of the best authors use tone to really capture the good and the bad of their characters. 

Here are a few examples:

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

“And I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I’d probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up,” says the main character, Holden Caulfield. Holden’s tone is almost always snarky, sarcastic, and curious. The intonation of his narration and dialogue lets the reader know his personality and disposition. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The third-person narrator takes on the opinions and views of the enslaved character Paul D. when talking about the American landscape: “And in all those escapes he could not help being astonished by the beauty of this land that was not his. He hid in its breast, fingered its earth for food, clung to its banks to lap water and tried not to love it.” Through the romantic language and lush imagery, it is clear to readers that Paul D. loves this land despite what he has been through. The tone implies his true feelings.  

Tone vs. Mood in Literature

Ultimately, mood and tone can be understood as the emotion the author wants their audience to feel and the emotion they feel. Mood in literature is the overall emotion and atmosphere the author intends the reader to feel while reading the book. Tone is the author’s own opinion or a specific character’s opinion of a subject matter seeping through the language.

Both mood and tone in literature are excellent literary devices to strengthen your writing and enhance the reader’s experience!

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