Study Guide

The White Darkness Writing Style

By Geraldine McCaughrean

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Writing Style

Intricate, Sensitive, Ambiguous

In The White Darkness, author Geraldine McCaughrean juggles a lot of concepts that overlap in interesting ways. She ties Sym's emotional development to the external landscape of Antarctica, finding a profound connection between Sym's inner life and her external environment. McCaughrean also imagines part of Sym's personality as a historical figure from the early 20th century. The intricacy and nuance in the text helps successfully keep all those balls in the air. As Sym says, "It's a lot to take in. A place with my name. The entrance to a hollow planet. Worlds within worlds" (8.25-8.28). Sing it, sister.

McCaughrean also shows sensitivity and empathy toward her characters. There is Sym, of course, who is a sensitive girl. But the novel isn't just sympathetic toward Sym; it also spares a kind thought for the bad guys. When Sym and Sigurd realize that Manfred doesn't have gloves ("suddenly the lack of gloves made Bruch real again—flesh-and-blood real, not a character in a play" (15.22)), he transforms from a con man who got his comeuppance to a victim who should be pitied. And when Sym says that Victor destroyed her, Titus suggests that even he deserves pity. "But do you think he meant to? Do you think it was done with malice?" (21.7)

The last characteristic, ambiguity, is—by definition—a bit more difficult to pin down. Suffice to say McCaughrean leaves room for doubt, or multiple interpretations. One example is the way in which she suggests that Titus "came to life" toward the end of the book when he rescues Sym. Is he just a figment of her imagination the whole time? Or is there some supernatural element in play? "How could he possibly have told me something I truly didn't know?" Sym wonders. "Oh, Titus! Tell me what it means! Tell me what to make of it! Tell me what to think?" (23.51) But on this point, at least, Titus (and by extension, the author) refuses to clarify.

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