Literary Analysis of Olive Again, by Elizabeth Strout | Teen Ink

Literary Analysis of Olive Again, by Elizabeth Strout

October 2, 2021
By eshap GOLD, San Ramon, California
eshap GOLD, San Ramon, California
10 articles 1 photo 0 comments

In Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Again, Strout describes Jack’s complex character as a man who has lost all purpose in life. Strout uses despondent and peaceful tones, pleasant and detached imagery, and wistful diction to provide insight to Jack’s hopeless mindset and the loneliness he experiences after his many broken relationships. 

                Strout opens the passage by using pleasant visual imagery to demonstrate how Jack compensates for his lack of relationships. Strout describes a scene on a dock, including a “blue” sky with “people” all speaking with one other. Strout paints a picture of a nice summer day in which families are enjoying themselves, something that should spark joy. Yet, the unpleasant tone which she uses to describe Jack does not fit this picture; Jack views himself as “old” and “sloppy”, and “not worth” anyone’s attention. In contrast to the pleasant imagery, Strout intentionally uses these displeasing words to demonstrate Jack’s discontent with himself. The contrasting tones between the beautiful summer day and Jack’s unsightly presentation display the juxtaposition of Jack’s demeanor and outlook on his life in his present state.

Additionally, Strout paints an image of how Jack has an odd sense of peace about him, which correlates to the surrounding scenery but is very different from how he views himself. When he strolled along a beach with an “almost-calmness” about him, the tone portrayed is undisturbed and calm, and it seems as if he prefers to be by himself. 

Interrupting the imagery of a calm, joyful summer’s day, Jack “glanced” at his phone and “wished” he could speak to his daughter.  Strout’s use of forlorn diction illustrates that Jack’s thoughts are being stirred. It also displays a detail to the reader, that he struggles to uphold his relationship with his daughter. Though Jack appears to act calm and indifferent, it is apparent that he is lonely and regrets many of his life decisions, as he finds himself trying to piece his life together. Jack struggles to understand how someone of his caliber, a Harvard graduate with “two PhD’s”, could be in a situation such as this. There is a reflective yet dreary tone here, illustrating the shielded misery Jack has about being alone. 

Strout continues to use a despondent tone to demonstrate Jack’s newfound awareness as to the events that have occurred to leave him in a broken place. Jack is “surprised” when his daughter answers his phone call. Strout uses a pensive tone here to indicate that the two don’t usually interact with each other. Strout mentions the word “silence” twice during their conversation. This use of auditory imagery paints an image of two people, struggling to communicate their acceptance of each other. Strout emphasizes her use of auditory imagery by mentioning that Jack hears his daughter “sigh” after their conversation to convey the idea that Cassie attributes the frustration and sadness of their relationship to her father. Jack feels “fear” at one point in their conversation. Strout employs an apprehensive tone here to instill the idea that since only Jack felt worried during their conversation, he is to blame for the rift in his relationship with his daughter. After their conversation ends, it is obvious that Jack is distraught and “wanted to howl”. Strout uses auditory imagery once again to illustrate that Jack’s takeaway from the conversation is mournful and he needs an emotional release. By mentioning what Jack “understood” and felt that he “deserved”, Strout applies a reflective yet remorseful tone to demonstrate how Jack comes to realize the effects of his actions and takes responsibility for them. He faces an inner turmoil with himself over his broken relationships, because accepting blame for his loneliness would break him. The melancholy tone that comes with the words “not living”, serves to emphasize that Jack’s life is void of meaning and purpose. 

Strout's use of despondent and peaceful tone, pleasant and detached imagery, and wistful diction demonstrate the loss and regretful longing Jack feels about his failed relationships. 

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