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    #1

    Tense switches in The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

    Hi, there, I'm reading The Gilded Age by Mark Twain, I have a question about the use of tense. To be specific, I have to quote some paragraphs from the original text:

    The capital of the Great Republic was a new world to country-bred Washington Hawkins. St. Louis was a greater city, but its floating. population did not hail from great distances, and so it had the general family aspect of the permanent population; but Washington gathered its people from the four winds of heaven, and so the manners, the faces and the fashions there, presented a variety that was infinite. Washington had never been in "society" in St. Louis, and he knew nothing of the ways of its wealthier citizens and had never inspected one of their dwellings. Consequently, everything in the nature of modern fashion and grandeur was a new and wonderful revelation to him.

    Washington is an interesting city to any of us. It seems to become more and more interesting the oftener we visit it. Perhaps the reader has never been there? Very well. You arrive either at night, rather too late to do anything or see anything until morning, or you arrive so early in the morning that you consider it best to go to your hotel and sleep an hour or two while the sun bothers along over the Atlantic. You cannot well arrive at a pleasant intermediate hour, because the railway corporation that keeps the keys of the only door that leads into the town or out of it take care of that. You arrive in tolerably good spirits, because it is only thirty-eight miles from Baltimore to the capital, and so you have only been insulted three times (provided you are not in a sleeping car--the average is higher there): once when you renewed your ticket after stopping over in Baltimore, once when you were about to enter the "ladies' car" without knowing it was a lady's car, and once When you asked the conductor at what hour you would reach Washington.

    You are assailed by a long rank of hackmen who shake their whips in your face as you step out upon the sidewalk; you enter what they regard as a "carriage," in the capital, and you wonder why they do not take it out of service and put it in the museum: we have few enough antiquities, and it is little to our credit that we make scarcely any effort to preserve the few we have. You reach your hotel, presently--and here let us draw the curtain of charity--because of course you have gone to the wrong one. You being a stranger, how could you do otherwise? There are a hundred and eighteen bad hotels, and only one good one. The most renowned and popular hotel of them all is perhaps the worst one known to history.

    It is winter, and night. When you arrived, it was snowing. When you reached the hotel, it was sleeting. When you went to bed, it was raining. During the night it froze hard, and the wind blew some chimneys down. When you got up in the morning, it was foggy. When you finished your breakfast at ten o'clock and went out, the sunshine was brilliant, the weather balmy and delicious, and the mud and slush deep and all-pervading. You will like the climate when you get used to it.

    (The Gilded Age. Chapter 24)

    My question is:
    In the first paragraph, the author uses past tense, then the tense is switched to present tense in the following two paragraphs, and to past tense again in the most part of the fourth paragraph. Why? Is there any special meaning indicated by this sort of the switch of tense? Especially, in the fourth paragraph, the author begins his narration with present tense ("is"), then switches to past tense ("arrived"), and back to present tense again in the last sentence ("will"). I don't understand this seemingly inconsistant use of tense, (same use happens in the second paragraph) could you help me, please? Thank you for reading me post.

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    #2

    Re: Tense switches in The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

    In the first paragraph, the author was writing about the personal experience of Mr. Hawkins, so past tense is appropriate.

    The next two paragraphs are more general in that they deal with ongoing or more or less permanent situations- impressions that would be shared by everyone, so the switch to present tense is typical.

    It's the same as saying:
    1. 'Last week I went shopping.'
    2. 'I go shopping every week.'

    Sentence #1 tells about a specific activity at a specific time, while #2 is a general statement about something that always (or regularly) happens.

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    #3

    Re: Tense switches in The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

    Hi, J&K, Thank you very much for your kind and excellent reply. I have one more question: Does the past tense in the last paragraph describe a specific situation? In my opinion, it seems also a desribtion of a general situation, but the author switches to past tense, and then back to present tense in the last sentence. Could you tell me more about it? Thank you and have a nice day.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 15-Aug-2016 at 12:53. Reason: Deleting quote.

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    #4

    Re: Tense switches in The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

    He begins that paragraph in the present, and then looks into the immediate past of the (hypothetical) reader. His purpose is to draw the reader in- to make the reader feel a more direct experience of the place.

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    #5

    Re: Tense switches in The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

    Hi, J&K, thank you very much. I tried many times but the button "thank" and "like" do not work on my web browser, so I write to thank you and tell you I like your answer very much. Have a nice day.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 16-Aug-2016 at 08:09. Reason: Deleting unnecessary quote.

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    #6

    Re: Tense switches in The Gilded Age by Mark Twain

    Guzhao67, please write a post in the Support Area, about the lack of Thank and Like buttons. Let the editor know what device you are using, the software version, which browser and whether you are able to see/use the buttons on any other device/browser.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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