Task: “Non fiction is seldom objective. Often it sways your feelings or influences your thoughts.” By referring closely to a work of non-fiction, show how the writer does more than simply convey information.
Often non fiction tries to convey emotion and thought rather than simply providing information in order to move the reader. A piece of non fiction which has had a lasting impression on me is “Letter to Daniel” by the Irish foreign correspondent, Fergal Keane. This piece of writing is written in the form of a letter in which Keane has put across moving reflections about his first child’s birth. To show the strong and great effect his son has brought upon himself and his wife, Keane uses certain techniques such as rich imagery, sentence structure, tone, theme and a personal style of writing to convey his thoughts and feelings.
Firstly, Keane immediately makes it clear to me that he is writing in the form of a letter when he begins writing with the phrase “My dear son”. He then describes to his son how his birth has altered and changed his lifestyle;
“I’m learning the art of one handed typing”
This shows that since Daniel was born, Keane has been learning to cope with new things. However by describing the task as an “art” the writer shows that he doesn’t mind this new way of living. He further describes the idea that Daniel has changed the way he lives by explaining that;
“Since you’ve arrived, days have melted into night and back again
and we are learning a new grammar, a long sentence whose punctuation marks are feeding and winding and nappy changing and these occasional moments of quiet.”
This extended metaphor caught my attention because it compares the birth of his son to a long sentence and there is also irony in the metaphor as this sentence is long. It relates to his sons birth as a stage of development in his life and shows that time has lost its differenciated routine. The word choice of “melted” conveys a feeling of warmth and gentleness which shows that Keane is in no way angry because of this new routine and is enjoying it. Keane also shows the change in his way of living when he explains that his mother is asleep. It is six o’clock in the morning which is one of the most peaceful times of the day. It is the beginning of a new day and I think this relates to the beginning of Keane’s family. The birth of Daniel has also resulted in Keane seeing his job differently;
“Your coming has turned me upside down and inside out…I have
lived a life that, on occasion, has veered close to the edge: war
zones, natural disasters, darkness in all its shapes and forms”
The word choice of “coming” gives me the idea that he has waited and wanted for him, and now that he has finally arrived his whole world has been turned upside down. He looks on things differently now and Daniel has caused him to re-evaluate the risks he has taken as a reporter. I feel that the writer’s use of imagery to convey information helps me to understand his thoughts and emotions throughout the letter.
The writer also helps to convey emotion and feelings throughout the letter by using an appropriate tone. I can see that Keane uses a personal tone at first as he uses words such as “you” and “I” repeatedly. This emphasises the sincerity of his letter and helps to convey his thoughts and emotions. However his tone changes to a more formal one when he begins to describe the disasters and darkness that he has faced as a reporter. He contrasts his child’s actions with these disasters and I can see this through the writer’s wordchoice. He describes his son with gentle and innocent images such as “sleeping face” “sigh” “gurgle” “glory” “prizes” and “praise”.
He then shows the difference between his child’s innocence and the suffering that he has seen by using the words “haunted” “too much to bear” and “flooding”. This suggests that his change from a personal tone to a more formal tone is because the memories of suffering and the disastrous images are too much for the writer to bear. Therefore he resorts to listing his experiences and becomes less intimate. He changes his tone because he wants to report it in order to detatch himself from the memories. He describes the last story as being a very personal one, however when he goes on to tell it, is tone is still very formal. The story is anonymous and Keane does not reveal until near the end of the story that it was about his own family;
“in a big city on a january morning with snow on the ground and
The repetition of the word “a” makes me realise that the writer is being very vague in the story and is distancing himself from emotion. The fact that he tells the story anonymously seemed to have a much bigger impact on me when I realised it was about his own mother and about his own father being an alcoholic. However he shows no anger towards his father as he knows it was not his fault;
“The cancer of alcoholism”
He describes his fathers condition as “cancer”, in other words he sees it as a disease and knows that it could not be helped. This metaphor shows no sense of blame towards his father and also shows that it is killing him. The phrase “it just was” also gives me a sense of his acceptance of his fathers condition. He loved his family, but he was “living and dying for the bottle” and the love he had did not save him. He understands what it would have been like for his father to be separated from his family, as he now has one of his own. I think that this is why he decided to reveal that it was his father at the end of the letter. He personalised it because he now understood. He was not just “a man” anymore, he is “your grandfather”. The clever way in which the writer has used this tone makes me realise what emotions he feels.
Lastly, throughout the letter the writer relates to a particular theme. This theme first becomes apparent to me when the writer uses the phrase;
“Naturally your mother and I were only too happy to believe that.”
His wordchoice of “naturally” gives me the idea that it is normal for a parent to believe that their child is the best thing to come into their life. It conveys the universally acknowledged theme of the love bond between parent and child. This idea is revisited throughout the letter, for example in one of the cases he describes;
“I found a mother and her three young children huddled
together where they’d been beaten to death. The children
had died holding on to their mother… cling to until we die”
The wordchoice of “huddled together”, “holding” and “cling” shows the sacred image between mother and child. He also conveys this idea when he is writing about his mother;
“she gives birth to a baby boy and, just as you are to me,
he is the best thing she has ever seen”
The parenthesis here is also useful in conveying this universal theme of love. It also acts as a link in the story because I can see that he is beginning to realise the joy his mother felt when he was born. However, one quotation I feel shows this boundless parental love that transcends all borders is;
“That instinct we all learn from birth and in one way or
another cling to until we die.”
This I feel is one of the most moving sentences in the story and helps me to recognise Keane’s universal message of the love bond between parent and child. Daniel has given Keane an understanding of his own father, and at the very end of the letter he describes his son as “the sound of hope” and uses wordchoice such has “innoncence” and “freshness” to show the stark contrast between his child’s innocence and the darkness that he previously described. I feel that Keane’s choice of theme throughout the letter is very important in conveying his emotions at this time as it shows how important his son is to him.
In conclusion, “Letter to Daniel” by Fergal Keane is one of the most touching and moving short stories I have ever read. The writer’s use of rich imagery, sentence structure, tone and theme all comes together and helps to convey the writer’s thoughts and emotions. He provides the necessary information and also paints vivid pictures of his emotions and if Keane had not used such strong ideas and techniques throughout the letter I am not sure it would have had the same enduring effect on me.