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Suspense is a compositional device which consists in arranging the matter of a communication in such a way that the less important, descriptive, subordinate parts are amassed at the beginning, the main idea being withheld till the end of the sentence. Thus the reader's attention is held and his interest kept up, for example:

"Mankind, says a Chinese manuscript, which my friend M. was obliging enough to read and explain to me, for the first seventy thousand ages ate their meat raw." (Charles Lamb)

Sentences of this type are called periodic sentences, or periods. Their function is to create suspense, to keep the reader in a state of uncertainty and expectation.

Here is a good example of the piling up of details so as to create a slate of suspense in the listeners:

"But suppose it1 passed; suppose one of these men, as I have seen them,—meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life which your Lordships are perhaps about to value at something less than the price of a stocking-frame:—suppose this man surrounded by the children for whom he is unable to procure bread at the hazard of his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault that he can no longer so support;—suppose this man, and there are ten thousand such from whom you may select your victims, dragged into court, to be tried for this new offence, by this new law; still there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him; and these are, in my opinion,—twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jeffreys for a judged (Byron)

Here the subject of the subordinate clause of concession ('one of these men') is repeated twice ('this man', 'this man'), each time followed by a number of subordinate parts, before the predicate ('dragged') is reached. All this is drawn together in the principal clause ('there are two things wanting...'), which was expected and prepared for by the logically incomplete preceding statements. But the suspense is not yet broken: what these two things are, is still withheld until the orator comes to the words 'and these are, in my opinion.'

Suspense and climax sometimes go together. In this case all the information contained in the series of statement-clauses preceding the solution-statement are arranged in the order of gradation, as in the example above from Byron's maiden speech in the House of Lords.

The device of suspense is especially favoured by orators. This is apparently due to the strong influence of intonation which helps to create the desired atmosphere of expectation and emotional tension which goes with it.

A proposed law permitting the death penalty for breaking machines (at the time of the Luddite movement).

Suspense always requires long stretches of speech or writing. Sometimes the whole of a poem is built on this stylistic device, as is the case with Kipling's poem "If" where all the eight stanzas consist of i/-clauses and only the last two lines constitute the principal clause.

"If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

/f you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

And make allowance for their doubting too,

// you can dream and not make dreams your master, // you can think and not make thoughts your aim,

Yours is the earth and everything that's in it,... And which is more, you'll be a Man, my son." This device is effective in more than one way, but the main purpose is to prepare the reader for the only logical conclusion of the utterance. It is a psychological effect that is aimed at in particular.

A series of parallel question-sentences containing subordinate parts is another structural pattern based on the principle of suspense, for the answer is withheld for a time, as in Byron's "The Bride of Abydos": "Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle... Know ye the land of the cedar and vine...

'Tis the clime of the East — 'tis the land of the Sun." The end of an utterance is a specially emphatic part of it. Therefore if we keep the secret of a communication until we reach the end, it will lead to concentration of the reader's or listener's attention, and this is

the effect sought.

One more example to show how suspense can be maintained:

"Proud of his "Hear him!" proud, too, of his vote, And lost virginity of oratory, Proud of his learning (just enough to quote) He revel I'd in his Ciceronian glory." (Byron) It must be noted that suspense, due to its partly psychological nature (it arouses a feeling of expectation), is framed in one sentence, for there must not be any break in the intonation pattern. Separate sentences would violate the principle of constant emotional tension which is characteristic of this device.

Climax (Gradation)

C I i ma x is an arrangement of sentences (or of the homogeneous parts of the sentence) which secures a gradual increase in significance, importance, or emotional tension in the utterance, as in:

"It was a lovely city, a beautiful city, a fair city, a veritable gem of a city." or in:

"Ne barrier wall, ne river deep and wide, Ne horrid crags, nor mountains dark and tall Rise like the rocks that part Hispania's land from Gaul." (Byron)

Gradual increase in emotional evaluation in the first illustration and in significance in the second is realized by the distribution of the corresponding lexical items. Each successive unit is perceived as stronger than the preceding one. Of course, there are no objective linguistic criteria to estimate the degree of importance or significance of each constituent. It is only the formal homogeneity of these component parts and the test of synonymy in the words 'lovely', 'beautiful', 'fair,' 'veritable gem, in the first example and the relative inaccessibility of the barriers 'wall', 'river', 'crags', 'mountains' together with the epithets 'deep and wide" 'horrid', 'dark and tall' that make us feel the increase in importance of each.

A gradual increase in significance may be maintained in three ways: logical, emotional and quantitative.

Logical climax is based on the relative importance of the component parts looked" at from the point of view of the concepts embodied in them. This relative importance may be evaluated both objectively and subjectively, the author's attitude towards the objects or phenomena in question being disclosed. Thus, the following paragraph from Dickens's "Christmas Carol" shows the relative importance in the author's mind of the things and phenomena described:

"Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, 'My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock', no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him, and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails, as though they said, 'No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'"

The order of the statements shows what the author considers the culmination of the climax. The passage by Dickens should be considered "subjective", because there is no general recognition of the relative significance of the statements in the paragraph. The climax in the lines from Byron's "Ne barrier..." may be considered "objective" because such things as 'wall', 'river', 'crags', 'mountains' are objectively ranked according to their accessibility.

Emotional climax is based on the relative emotional tension "produced by words with emotive meaning, as in the first example with the words ‘lovely’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘fair’.

Of course, emotional climax based on synonymous strings of words with emotive meaning will inevitably cause certain semantic differences in these words — such is the linguistic nature of stylistic synonyms —, but emotive meaning will be the prevailing one.

Emotional climax is mainly found in sentences, more rarely in longer syntactical units. This is natural. Emotional charge cannot hold long. As becomes obvious from the analysis of the above examples of climatic order, the arrangement of the component parts call for parallel construction which, being a kind of syntactical repetition, is frequently accompanied by lexical repetition. Here is another example of emotional climax built on this pattern:

"He was pleased when the child began to adventure across floors on hands and knees; he was gratified, when she managed the trick of balancing herself on two legs; he was delighted when she first said 'ta-ta'; and he was rejoiced when she recognized him and smile at him." (Alan Paton)

Finally, we come to quantitative climax. This is an evident increase in the volume of the corresponding concepts, as in:

"They looked at hundreds of houses; they climbed thousands of stairs; they inspected innumerable kitchens." (Maugham) Here the climax is achieved by simple numerical increase. In the following example climax is materialized by setting side by side concepts of measure and time:

"Little by little, bit by bit, and day by day, and year by year the baron got the worst of some disputed question." (Uiclons) What then are the indispensable constituents of climax? They are:

a) the distributional constituent: close proximity of the component parts arranged in increasing order of importance or significance;

b) the syntactical pattern: parallel constructions with possible lexical repetition;

c) the connotative constituent: the explanatory context which helps the reader to grasp the gradation, as no... ever once in all his life, nobody ever, nobody, No bsggars (Dickens); deep and wide, horrid, dark and tall (Byron); veritable (gem of a city).


Climax, like many other stylistic devices, is a means by which the author discloses his world outlook, his evaluation of objective facts and phenomena. The concrete stylistic function of this device is to show the relative importance of things as seen by the author (especially in emotional climax), or to impress upon the reader the significance of the things described by suggested comparison, or to depict phenomena dynamically.1

1 Note: There is a device which is called a n t i c I i m a x.

The ideas expressed may be arranged in ascending order of significance, or they may be poetical or elevated, but the final one, which the reader expects to be the culminating one, as in climax, is trifling or farcical. There is a sudden drop from the lofty or serious to the ridiculous. A typical example is Aesop's fable "The Mountain in Labour".

"In days of yore, a mighty rumbling was hoard in a Mountain. It was said to be in labour, and multitudes flocked together, from far and near, to sec what it would produce. After long expectation and many wise conjectures from the bystanders — out popped, a Mouse!"

Here we have deliberate anticlimax, which is a recognized form of humour. Anticlimax is frequently used by humorists like Mark Twain and Jerome K. Jerome.

In "Three Men in a Boat", for example, a poetical passage is invariably followed by ludicrous scene. For example, the author expands on the beauties of the sunset on the river and concludes:

"But we didn't sail into the world of golden sunset: we went slap into that old punt where the gentlemen were fishing." Another example is:

"This war-like speech, received with many a cheer, Had filled them with desire of fame, and beer." (Byron)


In order to characterize a thing or phenomenon from a specific point of view, it may be necessary not to find points of resemblance or association between it and some other thing or phenomenon, but to find points of sharp contrast, that is, to set one against the other, for example: "A saint abroad, and a devil at home.'" (Bunyan) "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.''1 (Milton)

A line of demarcation must be drawn between logical opposition and stylistic opposition. Any opposition will be based on the contrasting features of two objects. These contrasting features are represented in pairs of words which we call antonyms, provided that all the-properties of the two objects in question may be set one against another, as 'saint'— 'devil', 'reign' — 'serve', 'hell' — 'heaven'.

Many word-combinations are built up by means of contrasting pairs, as up and down, inside and out, from top to bottom and the like.

Stylistic opposition, which is given a special name, the term antithesis is of a different linguistic nature: it is based on relative" 'opposition which arises out of the context through the expansion of objectively contrasting pairs, as in:

"Youth is lovely, age is lonely, Youth is fiery, age is frosty" (Longfellow)

Here the objectively contrasted pair is 'youth' and 'age', 'Lovely' and 'lonely' cannot be regarded as objectively opposite concepts, but being drawn into the scheme contrasting 'youth' and 'age', they display certain features which may be counted as antonymical. This is strengthened also by the next line where not only 'youth' and 'age' but also 'fiery' and 'frosty' are objective antonyms.

It is not only the semantic aspect which explains the linguistic nature of antithesis, the structural pattern also plays an important role. Antithesis is generally moulded in parallel construction. The antagonistic features of the two objects or phenomena are more easily perceived when they stand out in similar structures. This is particularly advantageous when the antagonistic features are not inherent in the objects in question but imposed on them. The structural design of antithesis is so important that unless it is conspicuously marked in the utterance, the effect might be lost.

It must be remembered, however, that so strong is the impact of the various stylistic devices, that they draw into their orbit stylistic elements not specified as integral parts of the device. As we have pointed out, this is often the case with the epithet. The same concerns antithesis. Sometimes it is difficult to single out the elements which distinguish it from logical opposition.

Thus in Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" the first paragraph is practically built on opposing pairs.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, if was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we are all going direct the other way..." (Dickens)

The structural pattern of the utterance, the pairs of objective antonyms as well as of those on which antonymical meanings are imposed by the force of analogy makes the whole paragraph stylistically significant, and the general device which makes it so is antithesis.

This device is often signalled by the introductory connective but, as in:

"The cold in clime are cold in blood

Their love can scarce deserve the name;

But mine was like a lava flood.

That boils in Etna's breast of flame." (Byron)

When but is used as a signal of antithesis, the other structural signal, the parallel arrangement, may not be evident. It may be unnecessary, as in the example above.

Antithesis is a device bordering between stylistics and logic. The extremes are easily discernible but most of the cases are intermediate. However, it is essential to distinguish between antithesis and what is termed contrast. Contrast is a literary (not a linguistic) device based on logical opposition between the phenomena set one against another. Here is a good example of contrast.

Date: 2014-12-29; view: 4762

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