Tone in Afterward

Tone Examples in Afterward:

I 3

"Mary was too well-versed in the code of the spectral world not to know that one could not talk about the ghosts one saw: to do so was almost as great a breach of good-breeding as to name a lady in a club...."   (I)

Here Wharton introduces a theme of society and class relating to associated expectations and rules of appropriateness. This theme is rendered in a comical fashion here, as Mary is described as “well-versed in the code of the spectral world.” Comparing speaking of a ghost to naming of a “lady in a club” associates an otherworldly phenomenon with a social faux pas. Consequently, the association of a supernatural force with something so mundane as the politeness of social class produces a rather farcical effect.

"“Not till long, long afterward.”..."   (I)

The repetition of this refrain creates an ominous, foreboding tone, as readers and characters alike are kept in the dark as to the true nature of the ghost. The line is also deliberately confusing, because it seems impossible to “know” something only long after seeing it. This confusion increases the tension of the plot, as readers long to unravel the mystery.

"“Oh, there is one, of course, but you’ll never know it.”..."   (I)

By beginning the narrative in the middle of a sentence, Wharton immediately plunges readers into the thick of the action. As we are unaware what is meant by the “one,” of which is referred, we are drawn in by mystery and the desire to know more. Wharton’s choice to begin the story this way immediately creates a tone of mystery and intrigue.

"seemed suddenly to grow less round and rosy, as though eclipsed by the same creeping shade of apprehension...."   (III)

Trimmle, who has been a fairly amusing and sarcastic character until this moment, is also depicted as physically affected by Mary’s dread. The characters’ apprehension increases, as they wonder if something terrible has happened to Ned.

"she stood alone in the long, silent, shadowy room, her dread seemed to take shape and sound, to be there audibly breathing and lurking among the shadows...."   (III)

In contrast to her earlier delightful descriptions of the house, her husband’s failure to return home incites a much more unpleasant characterization of the library. Now, her new home seems foreboding and full of horrible creatures, her fear practically personified in the lamp’s shadows.

"Lyng was not one of the garrulous old houses that betray the secrets intrusted to them...."   (IV)

The adjective “garrulous” means excessively talkative. Again, Lyng is portrayed as a character in its own right, more of a silent observer than a participant in the action. Mary is convinced that the house could tell her what happened to Ned if she could only find a way to force it to reveal its secrets. The mystery of Ned’s disappearance deepens, and readers begin to wonder if they will ever find out what happened to him.

"Sphinx-like guardian of abysmal mysteries, staring back into his wife’s anguished eyes as if with the malicious joy of knowing something they would never know!..."   (IV)

The Sphinx is a mythical creature made up of the body of a lion and the head of a human (sometimes also including the wings of a bird). Greek mythology based its own version of the Sphinx on that of the Egyptians’. While the Egyptian Sphinx was largely benevolent, the Greek version was known for asking difficult riddles. To answer wrongly was to die, and the Sphinx gave no hints to the correct answer. To compare England to the Sphinx suggests that Mary views it as a malicious secret-keeper that may be responsible for Ned’s potentially terrible fate.

"It leaped out at her suddenly, like a grin out of the dark, that they had often called England so little—“such a confoundedly hard place to get lost in.”..."   (IV)

The purpose of this sentence is twofold: it acts as an introduction to the section, which focuses on the investigation of Ned’s disappearance and the mystery of his continued absence, and also continues to further the eeriness established in the previous section. Since England is so small (in comparison to the USA), Mary reasons that Ned should be fairly easy to find—the question then becomes why no one has found him yet. The opening simile—“leaped like a grin out of the dark”—suggests a lurking danger, hiding unseen from its prey, contributing to the story’s foreboding tone.

"“You won’t know till afterward,” it said. “You won’t know till long, long afterward.”..."   (V)

The phrase which has been continuously repeated finally reaches its fully significance, taking on a resonance due to its repetition. Mary encountered a ghost months before, but she did not recognize him for what he was. Now she and readers realize with horror that the tale of the Lyng ghost was true all along.