Thursday, February 2, 2017

First Impressions are so Important

in life as well as in literature. An author has only so much space to really grab a reader's attention and those first lines are prime real estate. In today's blog I wanted to spend some time discussing the first lines from notable classical novels. Many of these I teach in my AP Lit class and have taught for years--true classics.

The Sound and the Fury 
by William Faulkner
"Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."
So, we'll start off with a novel that I don't actually teach, but this is what inspired me to do this particular blog post.  As far as first lines go this one is pretty good. Faulkner is a master with these sorts of things. We can see in this line one of his traits as an author, the lack of names. He starts us off with the pronoun "I" and then leaves us to figure out who that "I" is later on in the first chapter. In this case, it is answered pretty quickly, but sometimes author's can leave us hanging for quite a while. I'm looking at your Octavia Butler!

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind every since."
I have to be honest with this one, I am not the biggest fan of the opening line of Gatsby. I think the first little bit of this book is pretty rough too. It isn't until we get to the part about Gatsby being alright in the end that I feel that this novel really starts to be interesting. The opening of this novel is all Nick's reflection and doesn't really make sense to the reader until after they have finished with the book. I doubt many readers go back and re-read that section when they finish The Great Gatsby either.

Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
"The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was a rest."
My students complain about Heart of Darkness every single year and I can see where they are coming from. It is an extremely difficult text and Conrad's prose is dense. You really have to concentrate on what he is saying in those long, drawn out sentences. But if you look at Conrad from a structure point of view, his prose is near perfection. The dude knows his stuff. Even though this is not the longest first sentence we will be discussing, there is a lot going on. We have the appositive phrase, "a cruising yawl," helping the reader to understand what the Nellie is. The yawl then swings her anchor; the action of swinging is interesting because it isn't a human that is performing the action, it is as if the boat itself is doing it. And Conrad doesn't call the boat in it either, he uses the proper pronoun "her" to identify the ship. All boats are girls, don't you know. 

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