Literature, Language, and Life

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Showing and Telling in Kurt Vonnegut’s Short Stories

Showing and telling is a technique used by writers to give their readers the ability to either directly know the situation and atmosphere or to be able to create their own imagery through the writing. Showing is when an author gives an in depth description of the atmosphere, surroundings, and gives the reader the ability to feel like using their own senses such as smelling, hearing, seeing, and touch through the characters. When an author tells something it is more straightforward and lacks much depth in meaning. Telling may be merely a line to tell the reader where they are or what is happening without much detail or explanation. Vonnegut uses this method in his stories to give a background of his characters and their feelings at different parts of his stories. In Vonnegut’s story “Long Walk to Forever” he uses telling to start his story giving a simple statement of the setting “They had grown up next door to each other, on the fringe of a city” He gives no detail of the city specifically but just gives the reader the basic information of where the story would be taking place. He then uses telling once again to introduce his character but gives no features except their names “His name is Newt. Her name was Catherine.” Vonnegut uses showing to describe his characters and their personalities, “He was a shy person, even with Catherine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away.” By this description, the reader can reach out to the character as a person and with their own imagination think of a person who would match the characteristics described by Vonnegut. In “Adam” Vonnegut once again uses telling to give a simple description of the setting, “It was midnight in a Chicago lying-in hospital.” He gives no specific detail of the area or the hospital but enough to give a sense of place to his reader. He then uses showing to describe his character but not only his characteristics but also his features, “His face was long and big nosed and thin lipped.” Vonnegut continues with this type of showing as well as giving instances of how the character was feeling during the situation by this method.

Vonnegut and Twain share similarity in their way of showing as they use it to give a description of their character’s personality and characteristics as seen in Twains story “The Good little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” and Vonnegut’s story “Long Walk to Forever” both authors gave more descriptions then features to introduce their characters. Though Vonnegut did use showing to give the features of his characters he used telling to give a sense of understanding for the setting but not specifically. Twain used telling in a similar fashion but used more showing in some of his writings to give a sense of place as seen in “Adams Diary”.


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