Study Guide

A Northern Light Writing Style

By Jennifer Donnelly

Writing Style

Lyrical and Down to Earth

Okay, bear with us. Lyric literature traditionally refers to a short poem that expresses intensely personal thoughts, emotions, or experiences. There's also a musical lilt to the poetry; in fact, some lyric poetry was set to music. So even though A Northern Light far exceeds the length of a short poem, it is pretty lyrical in style. Read the following passage aloud, and we think you'll see what we mean:

If spring has a taste, it tastes like fiddleheads. Green and crisp and new. Mineralish, like the dirt that made them. Bright, like the sun that called them forth. (3.abecedarian.1)

In fact, Mattie's description of the natural world throughout the novel can even be ode-like, in that it glorifies and praises nature emotionally and intellectually. But smashed up against this lyrical and refined style is a down-to-earthiness that is the voice of the rural community. For your consideration, Shmoopsters:

I'd always thought him inarticulate, but maybe he had a different sort of eloquence. Maybe he appreciated things other than words—the dark beauty of the lake, for example, or the awesome majesty of the forest. Maybe his quietness masked a great and boiling soul.

It was a quaint notion and one he soon dispelled.

"Skunk et all my chicks last night," he said. "Guts and feathers all over the yard." (21.auger.31-33)

These short paragraphs are the entire novel in a heartbeat: eloquent (on the part of Mattie) and plain-spoken (on the part of Royal). But even Mattie's not exempt from the gritty voice:

Especially when one was a girl and craved something sweet but couldn't say why, and had to wait till no one was looking to wash a bucket of bloody rags, and had to say she was "under the weather" when really she had cramps that could knock a moose over, and had to listen to herself be called "moody" and "weepy" and "difficult" when really she was just fed up with sore bosoms and stained drawers and the fact that she couldn't just live life in the open. (17.furtive.5)

It's important to recognize that Mattie is both lyrical and down-to-earth: she can wax eloquent about her world but she also never loses sight of the reality that tethers her to who she is.

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