In literature, attitude refers to the tone or perspective a writer takes on whatever they are writing. The attitude comes through in the way that the writer expresses a character’s intentions, histories, emotions, and actions. The design of the story, the language, and the mood/atmosphere all play into how the writer’s attitude is interpreted by the reader.
Like many aspects of literature and art, the attitude is subjective. One reader might experience a work differently than another. This only becomes more obvious the more complicated a piece of work becomes.
By using a specific attitude the writer is able to create a real feeling, and deep characters that have genuine personalities. The writer’s attitude towards those characters comes out in how they behave. The attitude of a writer might be humorous, lighthearted, serious, or critical. All of these, and more, are common within prose and verse writing.
Writers, depending on their own personal desires and beliefs about certain themes or events, approach writing differently. One writer might not have the same attitude towards love stories that another does. While one love story might come across as genuine, another might feel more sarcastic or critical, encourages a reader to analyze love the same way.
Purpose of Attitude in Literature
The attitude of a piece of literature gives it depth and form. It encourages a reader to consider events in a specific way and leave the work with a new or different perspective on a theme or topic. It provides the characters with life and allows readers to dig deep into their personalities and come to conclusions about who they are, and even what the writer thought of them as they were writing.
Examples of Attitude in Poetry
Example #1 I Want a Girl Who Reads by Mark Grist
In ‘I Want a Girl Who Reads’ Grist makes use of a humorous and witty attitude to outline what one speaker wants from a partner. When he considers the kind of woman that he’s interested in, the most important feature is reading. The lane used in this poem is colloquial and common. It resembles that exchanged between friends at a bar much more so than a serious, introspective look at one’s ideal partner.
The poem begins with the speaker asking a question. His friend wants to know what he finds most attractive in a girl. After some hesitation, the speaker replies, reading. He finds a girl who reads to be more attractive than a girl with big “tits” or a big “ass.” Take a look at these lines from the middle of the poem:
She’ll sit addicted at breakfast,
soaking up the back of the cornflakes box
and the info she gets from what she reads makes her a total fox.
Because she’s interesting and she’s unique
and her theories make me go weak at the knees.
I want a girl who reads.
Using words like “total fox” and “weak that the knees” help give this poem its particular tone and attitude. The speaker is being honest, trying to convey to his young male friends what it is about reading that’s so attractive to him. There are several times in the poem where he concedes that he knows his friends won’t understand, but he’s going to try to explain anyway.
Example #2 In Memory of Major Robert Gregory by WB Yeats
This is a moving and complicated poem told from the poet’s own perspective. The personal nature of this piece of verse makes the attitude come through clearer. It also makes that attitude all the more important. The poem speaks on a loss the poet has suffered, specifically the death of Major Robert Gregory, the son of a close friend. He was someone the speaker did not think he would ever see die, or even grow old. Yeats also speaks about three other friends in this poem before he even turns to Gregory. This makes the loss feel more poignant but also more common at the same time. Take a look at the ninth stanza of this twelve stanza poem:
We dreamed that a great painter had been born
To cold Clare rock and Galway rock and thorn,
To that stern colour and that delicate line
That are our secret discipline
Wherein the gazing heart doubles her might.
Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
And yet he had the intensity
To have published all to be a world’s delight.
These lines confront the reader with the depth of the poet and his companions’ repair over the death of the young man. It outlines some of the many dreams they had for his future and how all those things are now lost. They thought he might be a “great painter” or a “Soldier, scholar, horseman”. These were all traits the young man showed, and now through a weary and depressed attitude, Yeats declares them lost.