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Tone of James Stephen’s “A Glass of Beer”

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f Beer8221Some readers may define the tone as anger in James Stephen’s “A Glass of Beer.” Others may even say that it leaves an unpleasant tone. By studying the choice of words that Stephen uses to convey the tone of his scene, I will demonstrate that beneath the seemingly outraged situation of the poem lies something funnier. The true tone of “A Glass of Beer” is a sardonic one. Examining each stanza of the poem offers numerous examples where the tone of the poem is sustained by the choice of words.

The first few lines, “The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there / Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer“ (695), conjures up an unpleasant feeling for most readers. These lines set up the reader to believe that the speaker is outraged. The choice of “lanky hank” was purposefully used to convey an intended image. The definition of “lanky”, as found in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, include “awkwardly tall and lean or long and slender.

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Obviously the speaker saw those qualities in her looks, and is trying to express his feeling to the reader through imagery.

Moving further into the poem, the reader might interpret the tone as funny and not angry. These lines, for instance, a reader might interpret as sardonic: “May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may / The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange” (678). The direction of the tone has changed after the first few lines to more of a sarcastic, playful tone. Further evidence of this tone is brought to mind when reading: “That parboiled ape, with the toughest jaw you will see” (678). By choosing certain words the author conveys a playful undertone that highlights an otherwise dark poem. At this point, a reader might think that the lady has a strong, unkind attitude towards the speaker.

The tone continues as the speaker says, “If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day” (678). This word choice produces a sarcastic imagery. To the speaker, the lady is so unkind that even her master would give him “a cask a day” but not thy lady. This is an excellent way for the speaker to interpret his tone. On the other hand, a reader could interpret the tone differently if not examined carefully, because of line three: “May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair” (678). This passage might lead the reader to believe that the speaker is angry, but by examining each line, the story’s tone is finalized to more of a sarcastic, playful tone. Even today, comedians use an angry tone when giving a show. Most audiences, perceives this tone as funny.

It can also be argued that the poem’s rollicking rhythm contributes to a sense of angriness, and in truth, the poem can be read in that fashion. On the other hand, the joyful, rollicking rhythm can be seen as ironic. Combining both anger and humor creates this ironic situation. The speaker produces copious amounts of sarcasm throughout the poem, even though; some might interpret it as an avoidable situation. When reading a poem, one must understand the complexity of each word, in order to understand the tone. The word choice of “A Glass of Beer” has been stragetically placed in order to convey a certain tone to the reader.

While the tone of “A Glass of Beer” can be interpreted as angry, by examining Stephen’s choice of words closely to interpret the meaning of their images and sounds, it is also plausible to hear an entirely different tone. I believe “A Glass of Beer” employs the voice of an old, sardonic Irishman talking about a bar scene in which he is interpreting his point of view, of the lady, to the reader. The speaker uses an angry tone in order to be comical at the same time. Bibliography:

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Tone of James Stephen’s “A Glass of Beer”. (2019, Jan 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/tone-of-james-stephens-a-glass-of-beer/

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