The language of “The School” by Donald Barthelme is mostly simple and easy to follow — Standard American English. The tone is very casual, marked by direct address and ellipsis as if the narrator is orally accounting his story to an interlocutor (such as the reader):
Well, we had all these children out planting trees, see, because we figured that ... that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the root systems ... and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being individually responsible. You know what I mean.
The choice of words reflects the environment of the school – both social and physical – with references to lesson plans, teachers’ strikes, classrooms, etc.
What marks a change in the language is the children’s use of a very elevated, almost philosophical vocabulary: “Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of – ”
Though the language mixes narrative-descriptive passages with dialogue, the dialogue is not marked by any quotation signs, which is one of the features of Postmodernism:
I said, yes, maybe.
They said, we don’t like it.
I said, that’s sound.
They said, it’s a bloody shame!
I said, it is.
Apart from these general features, we encourage you to also pay attention to specific figures of speech used by the author, some of which we outline below:
Imagery can be broadly defined as the use of descriptive words which...