Attitude (ADD-ih-tood) is the way someone thinks or feels about something, which is usually apparent in their behavior. In literature, attitude refers to the way an author or character thinks or feels about the subject. It’s expressed through the author’s word choice, chosen point of view, tone, voice, and sentence structure.
Different Types of Attitude
Most forms of attitude fall into two categories: objective and subjective.
Objective attitude focuses on facts instead of emotions. An objective text will usually consist of longer sentences, higher-level vocabulary, fewer descriptive words, and statistics or evidence to back the claim. They’re often written in third-person point of view, which distances the writer from the subject.
Subjective attitude focuses on emotions. The text is more personal, and there’s more descriptive language. Its tone is more casual, so pieces with subjective attitudes often employ vernacular, colloquialisms, and slang. These works are more likely to be written in first person.
Consider these short passages:
- “Disneyland is one of the most popular theme park destinations in the world. Thousands of customers purchase annual passes, which saves them money and allows them to visit the park frequently and enjoy the attractions.”
- “I think Disneyland is overdone. Yeah, lots of people like it, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. Practically everyone I know has an annual pass, but I think it’s a waste of time to go there every week just to go on the same rides.”
The second example has a subjective attitude about Disneyland, evident through the first-person point of view, descriptive words, and casual tone. Readers can clearly tell what the writer thinks about the subject, whereas the first example states facts without providing an opinion on the theme park.
Attitude vs. Perspective
Perspective is how characters feel and understand what’s happening in the story based on their unique experiences. A work’s perspective helps determine its attitude. For example, if a single mom was being fired from her job, the perspective on the event would depend on who’s telling it—the mom or her boss. If the mom is the narrator, her perspective will be based on elements like how many children she has, how quickly she can find another job, and whether she has a strong support system to help her in the interim. As such, her attitude will likely be subjective and colored with shock or worry. The boss, on the other hand, may have a more objective attitude on the matter; if his decision comes from the company’s need to lay off a certain number of employees, his perspective is focused on the company’s well-being, not the employees’.
Why Writers Use Attitude
Every piece of writing has an attitude. A textbook or scientific research paper will most likely have objective attitudes because they’re communicating facts and data. This gives the reader confidence that they’re getting reliable, unbiased information.
In fiction, attitude has a different purpose. It helps the reader understand how the author or characters feel. Without attitude, the reader would be lost and unable to determine the significance of the story’s events. Because of this, attitude is similar to tone, as both help the reader figure out how they should feel about the story.
Examples of Attitude in Literature
1. Maya Angelou, Still I Rise
This poem, in the final section of Angelou’s book, And Still I Rise, is a testament to the African American life experience and the need to rise above tragedy:
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Words like broken, teardrops, soulful cries, cut, and kill suggest sorrow and defeat, but the final line, “But still, like air, I’ll rise” changes the poem’s whole attitude. By saying that, in spite of all the hardship, she will rise above it all, Angelou gives the poem a positive attitude built on confidence and optimism.
2. Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
A young girl names Mary Russell happens upon the retired Sherlock Holmes on a hillside. To showcase her wit and perspective, Mary tells him her opinion on bees:
From what I know of them they are mindless creatures, little more than a tool for putting fruit on trees. The females do all the work; the males do…well, they do little. […] Bees are great workers, it is true, but does not the production of each bee’s total lifetime amount to a single dessert-spoonful of honey? Each hive puts up with having hundreds of thousands of bees stolen regularly, to be spread on toast and formed into candles, instead of declaring war or going on strike as any sensible, self-respecting race would do. A bit too close to the human race for my taste.
Though this passage has signs of an objective attitude, like the complex syntax and factual data, Mary clearly gives her opinion with words like mindless and self-respecting. Readers learn that she’s intelligent, a feminist, and believes the human race is malleable and overall unintelligent. So, ultimately, her attitude is subjective, conveyed by her disgusted, haughty tone.
Further Resources on Attitude
Story in Literary Fiction provides questions authors must ask themselves to determine their attitude (as well as the characters’ attitudes) about the story.
Daniel Droba’s “The Nature of Attitude” explores the sociological and psychological implications of attitude.