Thomas Carlyle's "Signs of the Times" attempts to galvanize its audience. Using the techniques of a preacher, Carlyle draws in readers by creating a sense of shared understanding, and his short, powerful, imagery-laden sentences add force to his arguments. He assumes his audience shares his views of contemporary affairs, and Carlyle builds upon this common understanding to create his arguments. He begins the paragraph with the phrase "all men" to address this audience:
All men are aware that the present is a crisis of this sort ; and why it has become so. The repeal of the Test Acts, and then of the Catholic disabilities, has struck many of their admirers with an indescribable astonishment. Those things seemed fixed and immovable ; deep as the foundations of the world ; and lo, in a moment they have vanished, and their place knows them no more ! our worthy friends mistook the slumbering Leviathan for an island ; often as they had been assumed, that Intolerance was, and could be nothing but a Monster ; and so, mooring under the lee, they had anchored comfortably in his scaly rind, thinking to take good cheer ; as for some space they did. But now their Leviathan has suddenly dived under; and they can no longer be fastened in the stream of time; but must drift forward on it, even like the rest of the world: no very appalling fate, we think, could they but understand it; which, however, they will not yet, for a season. Their little island is gone; sunk deep amid confused eddies; and what is left worth caring for in a universe? What is it to them that the great continents of the earth are still standing; and the polestar and all our loadstars in the heavens, still shining and eternal? Their cherished little haven is gone, and they will not be comforted. And therefore, day after day, in all manner of periodical or perennial publications, the most lugubrious predictions are sent forth. The King has virtually abdicated; the Church is a widow, without jointure; public principle is gone; private honesty is going; society, in short, is fast falling in pieces; and a time of unmixed evil is come on us.
Carlyle is not vague in his attack on society, criticizing the way the repeal of the Test Acts and "Catholic disabilities" has disoriented his contempraries, and his writing is structured in a way which maximizes the urgency of this "crisis." In the last sentence, Carlyle uses terse sentences connected only by semi-colons to create a rhythm of urgency. This writing is comparable to a speech, where the speaker uses bullet points to highlight items of importance. The effect of this structure is a greater inclusion of the audience in Carlyle's writing.
1. Does Carlyle's use of capitalization of certain words emphasize certain aspects of his argument (ie. Capitalizing both the words "Intolerance" and "Monster" in the same sentence)?
2. Carlyle shifts his pronoun use from "all men... our" as the pargraph progresses until the sentence "our worthy friends... as they had been assumed..." What has happened in this shift? Is he removing himself from this argument for a reason?
3. Is Carlyle's reference to Leviathan a Biblical or religious reference? Why is it assumed that this reference is a clear one to his audience? How does this reference further his argument?
4. Carlyle uses a lot of punctuation, especially semi-colons and colons to break up his sentences into fragments. What effect does that have on his writing, and how does it affect the reader?
Last modified 9 October 2007