Annie Dillard's Jumping Genres

Katie Reynolds '06, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard successfully moves between many styles. She is a keen observer of the world around her, thus there is much nature writing. Her observations of the natural world often send her spinning into philosophical discussions on humanity and the vastness of the cosmos. Other times her writing is quite scientific, providing reasoning for what she sees happening around her. At still other times, her writing is more informal and sounds like a musing interior monologue. In the following passage, on page 43, Dillard moves from description of the natural world to scientific writing and finally to relaxed interior though.

It snowed. It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, though the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud. The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl. The snow looks light and the sky dark, but in fact the sky is lighter than the snow. Obviously the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than its illuminator. The classical demonstration of this point involves simply laying a mirror flat on the snow so that it reflects in its surface the sky, and comparing by sight this value to that of the snow. This is all very well, even conclusive, but the illusion persists. The dark is overhead and the light at my feet; I'm walking upside-down in the sky.

1. In one paragraph Dillard has incorporated at least three different genres of writing, what techniques does she use to make this successful? Why do we not feel jolted as readers?

2. Why does Dillard repeat "It snowed. It snowed all yesterday"? What effect does this have at the beginning of a new section?

3. What effect does "I'm walking upside-down in the sky" have? Why does Dillard end the paragraph with this? How would it be changed if she were to put it in the beginning?


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Last modified 24 November 2003