Tag Archives: repetition

Use of repetitions : a stylistic pattern from the modernist era

In Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, “he could not feel” (86), “he could not feel” (87), “he could not feel” (87), “but he could not taste, he could not feel” (88), “he could not feel” (88), “he felt nothing” (90).

In Gertrude Stein, Melanctha, “Rose Johnson was a real black (…) negress. She laughed when she was happy” (47), “Rose Johnson was a real black negress” (47), “Rose laughed when she was happy” (47).

In William Faulkner, As I lay dying, “It wont balance. If you want it to tote and ride on a balance, we will have” (96), “it wont tote and it wont ride on a balance unless” (96), “it wont balance. If they want it to tote and ride on a balance, they will have” (96).

In Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time, “the burned-over country” (133), “burned off the ground” (133), “at the burned-over stretch of hillside” (133), “watched the trout” (133), “he watched them” (133), “Nick watched them” (133), “He watched them” (133), “as he watched” (133).

In these four works Three Lives, (1909), In Our Time (1924), Mrs Dalloway (1925), As I lay dying (1930), the authors use a common pattern of repetition. The examples chosen above are representative of this stylistic use so typical of modernist writers. It seems to reflect obsessions that characters embody, whether it be the absence of feeling for Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs Dalloway, the negro race identity in Melanctha, the coffin and its technical features for Cash in As I lay dying or the sense of sight for Nick and the destroyed land after the war in In Our Time. We can notice that Gertrude Stein was using this repetitive device in 1909, that is to say before WWI and that Faulkner, in a very modernist perspective, kept using it in 1930, in the interwar period. This stylistic pattern allows the reader to enter the character’s mind and to share his/her obsessions and fears.

Repetition Strikes Again

“And so it was because I could not help it. It was then, and then I saw Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words, and I knew he knew because if he has said he knew with the words I would not have believed that he had been there and saw us. But he said he did know and I said ‘Are you going to tell pa are you going to kill him?’ without the words I said it and he said ‘Why?’ without  the words, And that’s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows” (27).

Faulkner , William . As I Lay Dying. Random House Inc., print.

Notes: Repetition seems to be a real trend, but here it seems  to reflect the repetition in everyday speech and less so for irony’s sake. Although colloquial, the way each character talks is continued even when not in dialogue form and furthermore, it is interesting to see it used so because the novel is written in first person.


The Secret Shade

“We picked on down the row, the woods getting closer and closer and the secret shade, picking on into the secret shade with my sack and Lafe’s sack. Because I said will I or wont I when the sack was half full because I said if the sack is full when we got to the woods it wont be me. I said if it dont mean for me to do it the sack will not be full and I will turn up the next row but if the sack is full, I cannot help it. And we picked on toward the secret shade and our eyes would drown together touching on his hands and my hands and I didn’t say anything” (Faulkner 27).

Notes: Within the passage there are a plethora of repeated words. The phrase “picked on” appears again in the same sentence but in a different tense and becomes, “picking on.” “Secret shade” also appears thrice in the passage. Words like woods, closer, sack, and full are also repeated. Aside from reinforcing the setting and the actions, the repeated words and phrases force the reader to pay closer attention to the paragraph. Also, the character’s personality and thought process is further highlighted by the fact that there isn’t much of a variation in the words used.

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1990.

In Our Time

“The Greeks were nice chaps too. When they evacuated they had all their baggage animals they couldn’t take off with them so they just broke their forelegs and dumped them into the shallow water. All those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water. It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business” (Hemingway 12).

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Notes: This is a terrible end to a terrible story. Terrible as in content wise because it is obviously well written. Dark humor is pretty terrible. Wondering now if repetition serves, as it did with Joyce, for ironic purposes.


Whose Body

“Not a bit of it. He tips a glossy wink to yours truly and yours truly reads the the truth” (Sayers 12).

Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?, (New York: Boni and Liveright, 2009), 12.

Notes: It’s interesting to see after Stein and Joyce that Sayers continues this theme of repetition that’s been so central throughout the course. Sayer’s too continues repetition, not only in stand alone sentences like the one above, but in these lyrical verses that are also found throughout, again, very much like Stein and Joyce.

Blue Melanctha and Stein’s repetitive style

“Sometimes the thought of how all her world was made, filled the complex, desiring Melanctha with despair. She wondered, often, how she could go on living when she was so blue.” (p48)

“Melanctha wondered often how it was she did not kill herself when she was so blue. Often she thought this would be really the best way for her to do.” (p50)

Gertrude Stein, Melanctha, in Three Lives, Dover Thrift Editions, 1994

The story is told by a third-person omniscient narrator, so the reader gets suggestive descriptions of the characters’ personalities and thoughts. From the very beginning, Stein uses repetition as a significant feature of the language in Melanctha, whether it be in the narrative parts or in the dialogues. She establishes a detailed description of the characters and especially of Melanctha’s, using repetition, as if she was trying to build a specific image of each of the characters, in the reader’s conscience.