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A Close Textual Analysis of Chapter Eighteen of ‘Notes From a Small Island’ by Bill Bryson Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

Bryson immediately establishes an informal and comic register: he does this through his use of colloquial speech, noun phrases and condensed writing style. He creates comedy by drawing on British people’s general and cultural assumptions. An example of this is Bryson’s stereotyping of American and Chinese races. Colloquial phrases are interwoven throughout the text, such as: ‘well into’ and ‘getting on for’. These are also dialectical features of many regions in Britain. Early on in the text, Bryson states that he ’emerged from Piccadilly Station’. This suggests that he has been drowned by the scenery that he previously described, which carries the connotation of emerging from water.

When describing his corporal journey through Manchester, Bryson uses rather negative noun-phrases such as ‘boundless sprawl’. This is then followed by a post-modified prepositional noun phrase: ‘streets filled with slow-moving traffic’. This further contributes to his negativity, working together with the compound adjective ‘slow-moving’ in order to create full impact. Contrary to this, his experiences once in Manchester are positive.

The sentence structure throughout the text is predominantly complex, with several clauses joined by sub- and co-ordinating conjunctions: ‘I joined…but when…and within…and a perfunctory…but they…and done…’ (Page 226). Many sentences are upto five lines long, often with comments in parenthesis. These comments are essentially aimed at the reader, which contributes to the informal register. Many of the sentences are rhetorical questions, which provoke thought within the reader. An example of this is in parenthesis on page 222: ‘Is it me or are these things totally counter-productive?’. Also within this sentence is a deictic reference to the trouser press. Bill Bryson describes this as ‘counter-productive’, which, in coalition with the derogatory connation ‘these’ carries, supplements his comic tone. Clich�s are also a tool that Bill Bryson uses to enable his audience to relate to what he is saying. Comparatives such as ‘bigger’ and ‘better-looking’ are examples of how he enables the readers to relate. The presence of the non-finite verb within this compound adjective highlights the fact that the restaurant is superior when it works together with the comparative.

Non-finite verbs influence Bryson’s work greatly: ‘…issued throngs of families, everyone looking happy and good natured.’. The finite verb in this extract sugges

ts that the ‘throngs of families’ may still be happy now, as it does not provide us with

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a tense: it is an unfinished action in the past. On the other hand, it suggests that the families may look happy, however essentially they may not be. The use of the noun ‘throngs’, however, suggests that they are happy, as this is the connotation that the word brings with it. The use of the indefinite pronoun ‘everyone’ has a rather euphemistic effect upon the text.

Following this, Bryson describes the restaurant he dines at as ‘some upstairs place’. The use of the determiner ‘some’ is incredibly derogatory. It is a very flippant comment, which contributes to the tone: ‘the d�cor was tatty, the food barely OK and the service totally indifferent’. The repetition of the definite article ‘the’ stresses to the reader just how bad his visit was and emphasises the listing, along with the ellipsis: ‘the food (was) barely OK’. This, in coalition with the adverb ‘barely’, almost ridicules the quality of the restaurant.

Lauren Wood

As I have previously mentioned, Bryson draws on national stereotypes as a source of humour. This is evident through Bryson’s phonetical spelling of a Cantonese accent. His response to her comment is slightly archaic: ‘ Then why, pray,’ Her response to this comment is described using a compound adjective of five words, which is colloquial and may be interpreted as humourous by some readers. When the Cantonese waitress speaks, it is notably evident that she missed out vital articles and a preposition. These are typical features of English spoken by those who are not fluent: Bryson has not failed to highlight these in a derogatory manner.

Although Bryson, at times, may speak slightly archaically the elision that frequently occurs

counteracts his antiquated style. Examples of this are present throughout the narrative, such as: ‘can’t’ and ‘what’s’. Another feature that counteracts his style is his rather colloquial way of choosing words with the derivational morpheme ‘-ness’ on the end, particularly adjectives: ’25 acres of deadness’. This is a complete contrast to other descriptions he uses, such as ‘curiously indistinguishable’. His style is hindered through the presence of such features, which are further underlined with ‘Eventually I ended up’ starting two paragraphs in quick succession.

Anaphoric references are made throughout the text, which enables it to read uninterrupted by reinstating the phrase: ‘…that very purpose’. The rhythm of some sentences also adds to the text in this way: ‘From Workington Darlington, Middlesbrough, Donacaster, Wakefield’. Note that each of these words has three syllables apart from the last one. This allows them to be read efficiently and may simulate his journey. However, the final word only having two syllables brings a very abrupt ending to the list. Although these features allow the text to be read without interruption, the presence of contradictory noun phrases such as ‘a vast urban nowhere’ may confuse the reader. On the other hand, it may be seen as humourous should some readers be able to relate to his description. The use of the personal pronoun ‘you’ within this paragraph re-establishes the informal register. Should he have wished to uphold his slightly archaic style, he may have chosen to use ‘one’ instead.

In conclusion Bryson’s text is very descriptive and amusing as a result of his use of noun phrases. In addition, his colloquial and condensed writing style further provides comedy and something for the readers to relate to. In contrast to this, his slightly archaic approach introduces a serious tone whilst maintaining the informality and humour.

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