Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More First Lines from Classic Novels

I really enjoyed analyzing those first lines last time, so I decided to do it again. Perhaps we will make it a regular thing. Maybe we will look at first lines from books that are terrible. Who knows.

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
"Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond."
This is not my favorite first line. It establishes the main character of Okonkwo and shows the reader how important he is, but that is pretty much it. It isn't flashy; it gets the job done. But that was how I felt about the whole of Things Fall Apart. It was simply okay, an average novel. There are some interesting things to discuss, but we aren't going to spend a lot of time looking at Achebe's writing. I wouldn't be able to find a good place in that novel to conduct a close reading exercise. Ultimately forgettable as a first line. 

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte
"There was not the possibility of taking a walk that day."
I love Jane Eyre and I love teaching Jane Eyre to my AP Lit student, but this first line isn't terribly interesting either. It is better than Things Fall Apart, but just a bit. The language is different here. The phrasing and the use of the word "possibility" show us that this writer is from a different time period, different country, and different caste than your normal joe writer these days. There is an elegance to the phrasing "There was not the possibility..." They could have easily have said that it was raining out, or the weather was bad. But Bronte doesn't do that.

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him."
Ah, good old Cormac. Getting us back on track. Now, this is a first line. Lots of details in this sentence. "In the woods," "in the dark and the cold," "of the night." He could have added in those details later or in a different way, but McCarthy has that famous style. He likes to say a lot in one sentence. 

As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
"Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file."
No fair, you can't do another Faulkner novel! I certainly can! Whose blog is this anyway? And this is a good one. From this first line, we get our first taste of the dialect. Daryl is speaking and the reader can already tell the region of the country that we are dealing with; the type of people we are dealing with. The other thing that I think is really special in this line is the second half of it, "following the path in single file." That part is interesting because it is curious. The reader begins to wonder and then, you can see, Faulkner already has you hooked. People don't normally walk in single file unless you have been instructed to. The fact that they are walking this way actually becomes very important in the next sentence or two. This establishes Daryl and Jewel's relationship, which isn't the best. But Faulkner does that all without telling us. This is pure showing and it is marvelous.

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