Mood and tone in 'The Buried Giant'
Mood is the atmosphere of the story, and tone is the attitude or style in which the author relays the information. The mood and tone of an author’s writing influences how the reader perceives and understands the work. In Kazuo Ishiguro’s fantasy novel, The Buried Giant, the mood is dreamy, and the tone is flat and even. This is both frustrating and fascinating while describing fantastical adventures, as it leaves the reader wanting for the excitement of the situations and more emotional reactions from the characters. This is especially evident in the dialog and inner monologue of the characters and action sequences. However, the pensive mood and dullness of the tone are directly connected to the message of memory loss (possibly old age, Alzheimer’s, or dementia), numbness (and apathy) of grief, and the depression that saturates this adult fairytale.
The Buried Giant takes place in post-Arthurian Britain while the Saxons and Britons recover from war and are sieged upon by magical creatures, such as ogres and dragons. This setting is host to Axl and Beatrice, an elderly British couple who journey from their small village in search of their son who they cannot remember the name of. During their journey, they met Saxon warrior, Wistan; a Saxon boy, Edwin; and an elderly knight, Sir Gawain. These three characters are racing to reach the dragon whose breath creates a mist of forgetfulness, draining the memories of all the people across the land. The story is propelled forward by the suspense of Axl and Beatrice’s search for their son. The reader roots for the family’s reunion while Axl and Beatrice journey through a perilous countryside and encounter enemies and obstacles. However, the mood and tone keep the ever-present heaviness and detachment of the novel’s message.
Since the characters are affected by a memory blanking mist, it is appropriate that they seem to be in a dazed, dream-like state. While the characters do their best to stay cognizant of their present thoughts and feelings, it is a losing battle. “‘I don’t recall his face now at all,’ Axl said. ‘It must all be the work of the mist. Many things I’ll happily let go to it, but it’s cruel when we can’t remember a precious thing like that.’” (Ishiguro 30) This use of mood and tone creates heartbreak on every page. Most adventure-driven fairytales are exciting and riveting, but The Buried Giant is sullen, sad, melancholic—lending to the themes of grief, depression, and memory loss.
The characters in The Buried Giant, especially Axl and Beatrice, are forthcoming with their emotions. They say what they think and feel instead of Ishiguro giving a description or hinting at what the characters are thinking and feeling. Beatrice says to Axl: “‘I’m wondering if without our memories, there’s nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.’” (Ishiguro 45) Yet the characters still seem to have a difficult time reaching each other. As if, no matter how they try, the fog—or depression or grief and forgetfulness—is too great a barrier. This is achieved by the flatter more even tone and sober mood, not despite it.
Characters also outwardly describe themselves, instead of the narrator painting the picture. “‘I’m a knight and a Briton too. Armed, it’s true, but come closer and you’ll see I’m just a whiskery old fool. This sword and armour I carry only out of duty to my king, the great and beloved Arthur, now many years in heaven, and it’s almost as long surely since I drew in anger.’” (Ishiguro 104) This has the same affect as the above example, creating a world where people struggle to communicate with each other and themselves. While the characters are blatant about their emotions and thoughts, it is the mood and tone that hints at the themes buried deep beneath any description of character, emotion, setting, or action.
In world of forgetfulness, moving forward with everyday endeavors—let alone a harrowing journey—is a slow, melancholy, and sometimes suffocating. Ishiguro masterfully uses mood and tone to create a superb allegory for memory loss, of grief, and of depression—the fog that consumes the mind. Axl and Beatrice are wandering and lost, losing connection with each other and eventually themselves. The dreamy mood and numb tone of The Buried Giant highlight the themes in the story, creating a strange and new way to identify with adventure fairytales: the painful and uncontrollable way we all eventually lose ourselves in old age, disease, sorrow, or loneliness.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.