by Roald Dahl
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
This isn't a calm book. It's as outrageous in its tone as its characters are in their actions. It makes sense, in a way, doesn't it? Some of the things that the Trunchbull does are so preposterous that they seem unbelievable or impossible—how could any of them really happen? If they were presented in a dry or factual way, they might not make any sense at all.
Instead, the narrator describes each event with gory detail and gusto. The war between the Trunchbull and the Crunchem kiddos, for example, is described as an all out war, with all the extremes that go with:
"You're darn right it's like a war," Hortensia cried. "And the casualties are terrific. We are the crusaders, the gallant army fighting for our lives with hardly any weapons at all and the Trunchbull is the Prince of Darkness, the Foul Serpent, the Fiery Dragon with all the weapons at her command. It's a tough life. We all try to support each other." (10.35)
And if we're going to talk about things that are this awful, the narrator seems to indicate, we might as well have a little fun with it. Check out the humor here. Hortensia starts out very seriously, talking about the casualties and crusaders of her gallant army before moving into a very grown-up analysis of the Trunchbull that compares the headmistress to none other than Satan himself. Then she makes a casual crack that it's a tough life. How can you not crack up?
In this brave speech, Hortensia also shows she's just as good at making fancy-sounding statements as the Trunchbull is. Her rhythmic comparison of the Trunchbull to Satan: "'the Trunchbull is the Prince of Darkness, the Foul Serpent, the Fiery Dragon'" sounds a lot like the way the Trunchbull talks about Bruce Bogtrotter: "'a disgusting criminal, a denizen of the underworld, a member of the Mafia!'" (11.23). Both of these—and, actually, lots of other sentences—rely on hyperbole. The whole book relies on hyperbole, actually: hyperbole and exaggeration. Check out our "Writing Style" section, and see what else you can add to the list.