Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz” is a short essay that explores the relationship between birds, bird-watching, and jazz music. Ellison argues that all three share a common spirit of freedom and improvisation. He also discusses how the popularity of bird-watching in the United States has declined in recent years, due to a lack of understanding of the birdwatcher’s passion for the hobby.
In “On Bird, Bird-Watching and Jazz,” by Ralph Ellison, there are several instances of lexicon and syntax. I came across inquiries such as why the author used the term virtuosi, and if any metaphors were given. The passage “Mimic thrushes, which include the catbird and brown thrasher, along with the mockingbird, are not only great virtuoses but also tricksters and con men of the bird world,” provides both answers.
Ellison uses the dictionary definition of virtuoso, “a person who has acquired great technical skill in music or another art,” to describe the thrushes. In addition, Ellison also uses a metaphor in order to describe how the thrushes can fool people. He states that the thrushes can mimic other birds so well that they can even fool other birds. This sentence provides an example of both diction and syntax.
Another element of Ellison’s writing is his use of similes and metaphors. In the sentence, “The catbird’s call…has been variously described as sounding like a rusty hinge, a car brake suddenly applied, or a squeaky door opening in an empty house,” Ellison uses a simile to describe the sound of the catbird. He also uses a metaphor in the sentence, “The brown thrasher…has been known to mimic the song of at least thirty other birds, and sometimes two or three songs in succession.” In this sentence, Ellison uses the metaphor of mimicry to describe how the brown thrasher can imitate other birds.
Ellison also employs personification in his writing. In the sentence, “The mockingbird…will sing its own beautiful song, and then without pausing, launch into the songs of other birds, one right after the other, as if determined to outdo them all,” Ellison gives the mockingbird human characteristics by ascribing motivation to its actions. He also uses personification in the sentence, “The bobwhite…will suddenly break into its characteristic call: ‘Bob-bob-White!’ which seems to sound a note of triumph.” In this sentence, Ellison gives the bobwhite the human emotion of triumph.
The final element of Ellison’s writing that I will discuss is his use of imagery. In the sentence, “When I was a child growing up in Oklahoma, I can remember hearing the sound of a catbird in the early morning as it perched atop a tall cottonwood tree and called out its distinctive mating call,” Ellison uses imagery to describe the sound of the catbird. He also uses imagery in the sentence, “The sight of a brown thrasher running along the ground in search of insects is a familiar one in many parts of the country.” In this sentence, Ellison uses imagery to describe the appearance of the brown thrasher.
Furthermore, the term virtuosi is defined as a person who is musical expert, and the bird is described as this human quality, illustrating personification on the part of the author. Ellison utilizes metaphor in his description of such birds, referring to them as “con men,” which is not expressly stated yet nevertheless strongly suggested.
This specific type of bird is known to be very good at fooling other animals, and by calling them con men, Ellison is saying that they are tricksters. Another literary device that Ralph Ellison uses in “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz” is simile.
For example, he writes “The virtuosi among them can make a living without ever leaving their roosts.” In this sentence, Ellison is comparing the birds to musicians. He is saying that just like some musicians can make a living without ever leaving their homes, some birds can do the same thing. This comparison gives the reader a better understanding of how talented these birds really are.
One of the most important things to understand about Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz” is the fact that it is heavily laden with literary devices. By understanding the different devices Ellison uses, readers can better appreciate the intricate ways in which he weaves his thoughts and observations together.
Throughout the essay, there were examples of a compound, cumulative, and periodic sentence, but he mostly utilized long complicated sentences. The following is an example of a compound sentence: “Indeed, on summer evenings in the south, when the moon hangs low and mockingbirds sing as though determined to heat every drop of romance in the sleeping adolescent’s heart to fever pitch,” (Ellison, Ralph).
(Ellison, Ralph) In this sentence, Ellison is saying that on summer nights in the south, when the moon is out, the mockingbirds sing very loudly and it sounds like they are trying to make the young adults fall in love. This is a compound sentence because there are two independent clauses that are joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction.
Another example of a sentence used by Ellison is, “ Bird was one of those musicians who were not only great artists but heroic figures as well.” (Ellison, Ralph) In this sentence, Ellison is saying that Bird was a musician who was not only great at his art, but he was also a heroic figure. This is an example of a cumulative sentence because it has several adjectives that are describing Bird.
The last example of a sentence used by Ellison is, “And yet there was something in his playing that always made me think of the open spaces, of rolling hills and plains.” (Ellison, Ralph) In this sentence, Ellison is saying that when Bird played it always made him think of nature. This is an example of a periodic sentence because the main clause is at the end of the sentence.
Throughout Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching, and Jazz”, he uses various types of sentences to build up suspense and keep the reader engaged. He starts off with shorter sentences and then gradually builds up to longer, more complex sentences. By using different types of sentences, Ellison is able to keep the reader’s attention and paint a detailed picture of what he is trying to convey.
In conclusion, Ralph Ellison’s “On Bird, Bird-Watching and Jazz” is a well-written piece that employs many literary devices. These devices include diction, syntax, similes, metaphors, personification, and imagery. Ellison uses these devices to create a vivid picture of the birds he is describing. His use of language brings the birds to life for the reader.