So I’m doing my best to understand the differentiation between Tone and Mood, and I think I’m failing pretty hard—but let’s try this with “Salsa Nocturna” by Daniel José Older.
Tone: The way I see it, tone is the attitude the author has toward the writing and the reader. If that’s the case, I would describe Older’s tone as conversational, flippant, and humorous.
· Conversational: We get this conversational tone throughout, but as early as the third sentence, when Older writes “Mosta my main night spots…” (29). Words like “gonna” and “wanna” and “mosta” are often acceptable only in texting lingo—in writing—but we say them out loud all the time. If you listen closely enough, you’ll realize that people say, “Imuna” instead of “I am going to” in speech. Anyway, Older does this over and over.
· Flippant: Our protagonist, Gordo, is flippant insofar as he frequently writes/says wild, unbelievable, borderline taboo things alongside the everyday. For example, he writes, “There’s two kinds of people that really are drawn to me: Kids and dead people” (30). It’s just such a regular sentence until you hit the last two words. Gordo’s weaving of the normal and the paranormal in his speech tells us that he realizes it’s kinda crazy, but it’s his life and he’s used to it.
· Humor: Almost as though in an effort to bring levity to something so morose, Gordo employs humor—all the time. For example, he says, “I always take my high blood pressure pills with a side of bacon or sausage, you know, for balance” (29). Here, you’ve got the I know I’m too fat and unhealthy and on the brink of death mixed with But at least I’m gonna live this life to its fullest. This juxtaposition of humor and death, to me, screams of a coping mechanism: I envision Gordo having an incredibly challenging childhood that led him to find humor in everything as a manner of making life livable, endurable.
Mood: As I see it, mood is literally the palpable emotional energy of a piece. It’s more of an environment than a mindset. So there are two sort of moods in this piece:
· Light/Fanciful: Gordo’s view of the world helps with this element of the mood. We see Gordo doing “gigs” like a DJ, and he tells us about the kids that wrap themselves around him at playgrounds and family events and holidays. Most notably, the Muertos could’ve just been eating Marco’s guts out…but they’re not. Instead, they’re listening to his sad Mambo—music. They’re drawn to music. There is something light and lovely in this.
· Heavy/Dark/Mysterious/Gothic: But that loveliness is counterbalanced by the heavy Gothic throughout. Think about the fact that this children’s home was in an “old gothic number” (31). Consider how the silence of the missing muertos “made me shiver” (33). Even the music couldn’t just be a Mambo. It had to be “the saddest melody I’ve ever heard—some unholy union of Mozart, Coltrane, and Perez Prado that seemed to speak of many drunken nights and whispered promises. It tore into me, devoured me and pieced me back together a brand new man” (36). All this darkness and Gordo’s comfort within it, to me, teaches a universal: life is death and death is life. We cannot exist in one without the other—and we must learn that fact, and we must learn how to cope with that fact, because it is heavy.