How to analyse language

To analyse language you need to:

  • choose an extract from the text and then select a quotation from it which illustrates the point you want to make
  • ask yourself how your quotation illustrates character/theme and look in close detail at specific words or phrases to see what effect they have
  • comment on how effective you think the writer’s choice of language is

Look at the following extract from Heroes. This part is set when Francis describes the opening of the old Grenier Hall and how it becomes the Wreck Centre.

...Grenier’s Hall was given a reprieve and began a new existence. I was in the seventh grade, the year that Nicole Renard came into my life, when the hall’s transformation began. People rushed to the site one Saturday morning as word spread through the streets that carpenters and painters were attacking the building in a frenzy of activity. I rushed to the scene and watched in amazement as trucks and vans, emblazoned with City of Monument, disgorged teams of workmen who, we learned, had been hired under a new municipal programme. In the next few days the men worked frantically, scraping and painting, replacing doors and windows, tarring the roof. But the work was haphazard. Workers dropped hammers, spilled paint, stumbled over each other and occasionally pulled brown paper bags from their pockets and took quick gulps from hidden bottles.

Question

Analyse the language used in this extract. How does Cormier use language to create a lively scene?

Cormier has used a range of techniques in this extract which contribute to the creation of a lively scene. First of all, the reference to a new existence reflects the way that Francis must live a different life to the one he lived before the war. He uses the word “transformation” which could be seen as foreshadowing the way that Larry is transformed from a hero to a menace later in the novel. There are two very long sentences which describe how the work on the hall started, and they contain military-style vocabulary, such as attacking, which soldiers do, and “the site”, which reminds the reader of a bomb site. The phrase frenzy of activity could be compared to the way ants work, and this is an effective metaphor for the amount of work going on.

The second long sentence contains five phrases, and the way that they each follow on from the last echoes the way that the workmen are beginning their job, carrying out a variety of different tasks on the building site. The following sentence is made up of a series of short phrases, which list the various activities, such as scraping and painting and replacing doors and windows. Cormier then allows the reader to see that, in Francis’ opinion, the work was haphazard. The delivery of the information in such differently spaced sentences adds to this feeling of haphazardness.

There is some dark humour in the description of the men concealing their bottles of alcohol in brown paper bags which could explain the haphazard work, such as when they dropped hammers or spilled paint. There is some irony in the contrast between the workers’ eagerness to complete the work and their drinking of alcohol which can only slow them down.

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