Little Things Make Big Things Happen: Using Details in My Old Man

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Vanderbilt University
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Details are important in every sphere of human knowledge, including such distant and different disciplines as physics and literature. Details are the small gearwheels that get the whole mechanism working. Sometimes one or two details can help the writer create a true and almost tangible portrait of a character without telling the whole life story. In my sketch, I used various details when writing about the characters appearance, habits and the narrators memories about him. These details helped me make the portrait look more rounded and alive, rather a 3-D hologram made with words than a quick sketch.

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The description of the old mans appearance is being created from small details throughout the sketch. In the very first paragraph, he is described sitting in an old chair, propping his heavy head with a big rough hand. This fragment includes two important details which represent the grandfather simultaneously as a thinker with a heavy head and as a person with big rough hands who is no stranger to manual labor. In the next passage, the old mans skin and hair are described in an unusual setting: his face wrinkled like a bark of an old pine tree. Stars shined in the black dazzling light, and the bright moonlight illuminated his gray hair. Here the signs of the grandfathers aging (wrinkles and gray hair) are set against a background of pine trees, stars and moonlight which makes the whole process of getting older look more natural, a part of the way the whole universe lives and evolves. If one compares the life of a human being to a day and night cycle, then the night would certainly be associated with the old age. But stars and moonlight, mentioned in the grandfathers description, symbolize the sense of life that he has found, his ability to see the beauty of this world in its daily incarnations. Later on, in the fifth paragraph, the old man is shown as someone with two bushy eyebrows, thick and black, as they are smiling to me, so charming. In this description, the bushy eyebrows are, to a certain extent, a tribute to an archetypal grandfather. But this detail also helps add a humorous touch thick and black eyebrows, that usually would look strict and stern, are smiling to the narrator. The characters eyes are described as a pair of bright black eyes, that are hidden under his two eyebrows. Such eyes are supposed to indicate shrewdness. This metaphoric link is intensified through a simile just like two black crystal balls where crystal balls can be easily associated with a magic attribute used to divine future. The old mans long nose can be seen as a symbol of his self-sufficiency and dignity, while his lips that look like a red carpet, thin and ruddy speak of the characters good health and lively spirit. The portrait created with the help of these details represents a dignified man whose old age is a sign of maturity and wisdom, as well as ability to enjoy life and be kind to the people he loves.

The details used in the description of the old mans habits are no less important as they allow the reader to see the character in his own element. One of the key details here is the squeaky wooden chair in which the grandfather is so fond of sitting. This chair is mentioned several times throughout the sketch which makes it all the more important. It has two main functions. First, it symbolizes the stability and consistency of the old mans life the chair is the same every time the narrator comes to visit, moreover, everything in the house looks exactly the same as last year. Secondly, the chair is an attribute of the old mans philosophical meditations on the porch where he sits gazing at stars in the night sky while drinking a cup of hot tea like he was trying to solve a math problem. Another detail, closely connected with the characters representation as a thinker is a cigarette which you can never see him without. The old man cannot give up smoking even though he coughs a lot: He told me many times that he tried to quit smoking, but it didnt work well. So, cigarettes are a part of his life now. This detail represents the character as a human being prone to common human faults and weaknesses, here it adds a realistic touch. One more thing to pay attention to is the grandfathers gesticulation. Gestures can say a lot about an individual. Active gesticulation may indicate a passionate and enthusiastic personality. Thus, though the character does not speak much, he does not seem to the reader to be too reserved and cold either. The way he gesticulates in the air, like writing or painting something, reveals the creative and excitable side of his nature.

One of the most lyrical parts of the sketch is the description of the day trips on which the narrator would go with his old man. This description is not at all abstract, it rather gives a lot of minute details of what the narrator as a little boy saw in the vast meadow near the river where the two men used to picnic: there were earthworms in dirt trying to drill into ground, beetles pushing dung balls, ants working together to transport food, as well as caterpillars twisting their charming waists. Such attention to detail eloquently speaks of the narrators worldview that he has inherited from his grandfather his ability to see the beauty and the wisdom of nature and all the little things that surround us. The old man has also taught the narrator to overcome hardships with dignity. Of all parts of human body, chin is the one most often associated with cheering up and staying positive (as reflected, for example, in set phrases like take things on the chin and keep one's chin up). This is why the faint scar on the narrators chin is a detail that symbolizes this life lesson.

All in all, the details mentioned above do not only help create a more credible and convincing character, they are the little treats that make the process of writing all the more enjoyable.

Works Cited

Details Quotes. BrainyQuote, Xplore, Accessed 16 Mar. 2017..

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