Definition of Digression
Digression is referred to a departure from the main subject or narrative in a piece of writing. It is used to introduce the new topic, story or information that interrupts the logical thought or the line of the argument. After a digression, the writer immediately returns to the original subject and continues as before.
Why Authors Use Digressions?
Author uses digressions intentionally as a literary technique to provide background information, make comparisons, give examples, insert humor and wit, build suspense and to reveal aspects of the personality of a character outside the main story line. The proper placing of the digression enriches a text and offers the audience a mental break before returning with renewed interest to the primary theme. However, it is to ensure that digressions do not lose the audience completely or become true distractions. They temporarily divert attention while retaining an underlying connection to the core subject matter.
Examples of Digression in literature
“As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner
“My eyes were sharp-staring and my heart beat fast. But they were averting their eyes from me just enough, I saw. They wouldn’t see me watching them, or I would have gone then. But I couldn’t hear them from here. I pressed my forehead against the cold glass and closed my eyes. I knew what they were saying. I knew because I knew. I knew it was not about Mother; it never was.”
There is a notable instance of digression that occurs in Chapter 5. The character ‘Dewey Dell’ is reflecting on her own desires and emotions rather than adhering to the plotline involving the death and burial of her mother. Faulkner employs a rhetorical strategy called prosopopoeia where an author gives a speech or expression to an object, person or group as if it were a living thing. Here, Dewey Dell’s inner thoughts are given voice as if they were a character speaking.
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
“He was now in an agony of impatience for the arrival of the letter and was too much oppressed by his feelings to be able to give the relief of his feelings by speaking to the other.”
The afore-stated passage provides insight into the inner thoughts of the character of Mr. Darcy. It for the time being diverts from the main narrative following the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. It sheds light on the behaviour and motivations of Mr. Darcy, such as, his impulsiveness and heightened emotional state.
As the narrator interrupts the flow of the story to reveal the inner turmoil of Mr. Darcy, the passage contributes to the understanding of the readers and appreciation of the character. It is closely related to the character’s development of Mr. Darcy.
‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf
“For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well, not even to think. To be silent…to forget all the people who deserved to be forgotten; and infallibly to come, as now, on the one thing that was necessary.”
Here the story pauses to go into the character’s inner experience. She feels that right now she doesn’t need to think about anyone else. What she often longs for is solitude – not even active thinking, but simply silence. She wants to forget certain people and arrive at the one essential thing, which seems to be self-reflection. This digression from the main narrative spotlights the character’s desire for inner contemplation without outside distractions. Stepping into her private mental space allows readers to better understand her and what she finds centrally important at the moment. So it’s a meaningful break that provides insight by shifting the focus inward.
‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck
“The land seemed to go on forever. Brown, flat, and unbroken except for the occasional clump of brush, it seemed to run down to the horizon without a single rise to make darkness and light. The wind was up. The sun appeared dimly through a pall of dust that swung in the sky like the haze over a city.”
The passage is about the migration of Joad’s family from Oklahoma to California, during the Dust Bowl. It further describes the monotonous landscape they are passing through and adds to the mood and atmosphere of the scene. The digression serves mainly to provide a detailed description of the scenery. It is not directly related to the journey of Joad or any action and dialogue in the story.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
“I’m twelve now, I’ve started on myads and that means some day you’re going to be a man my age. And all your life my age is going to mean prunes and prune juice and changing for gym and the golf course and Friday night clearances and doubletalk and cars to keep and mufflers— Oh, boo-oo-oo.”
Here, the writer employs the digression to describe the complex relationships between the characters. The digression of Scout serves to highlight her young and naive perspective on adulthood. It shows her deep affection and companionship with Jem. This allows the reader to develop a deeper understanding of Scout’s character and relationships, which makes her seem more genuine and true to life.
“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens
“‘Why,’ said Nancy, laughing, ‘how came you to be at the gallows? Do you know anything about it?’
Nancy, a character in Dickens’ novel reveals a personal detail about her life during a conversation with the protagonist. This digression offers insight into Nancy’s past and her motivations as a character. The question was so suddenly started that Oliver was much taken aback. But he recollected, in time, that he had been once, long ago, to witness an execution and that there had been a great crowd about the place: so he said he thought he knew something about it. Nancy seemed a little startled but she quickly recovered herself. ‘I used to know the man,’ she said, ‘and I used to live with him too.’ She paused as if hesitating, opened her bonnet and drew a miniature from beneath the lacing.
Digression Examples in Pop-Culture
“Ben’s Office Party”
The main character Michael Scott starts a tangent about his colleague Kelly Kapoor’s repeated use of the phrase “whatever,” saying,
“She says ‘whatever’ a lot. Like, yeah, we know that’s what you say. Do you really mean ‘whatever’? Do you mean ‘I’m not interested in continuing this conversation’, because that’s what it sounds like to me.”
Here the speaker calls attention to and analyzes a verbal tic of the character named Kelly – her frequent use of the word “whatever.” This comedic digression points out how often Kelly says this, then explores what she might actually mean when she says it. The speaker wonders if she is conveying indifference and disinterest in continuing the talk. So this humorous detour focuses closely on a specific quirk of Kelly’s speech and guesses at the deeper meaning behind her flippant catchphrase.
In the second-season episode ‘M morty’ of the animated TV series ‘Rick and Morty’, the characters Rick and Morty begin a digression about a formula that will enable them to enter a parallel universe, saying,
“We need to figure out how to get into these infinite universes. In order to do that, we need to calculate the Schrödinger’s wave function of every possible outcome in every universe. Oh, you call that ‘life’?”
This digression adds a comedic and meta layer to the episode’s central conflict and showcases the series’ self-referential humor.
Related Terms with digression
This literary device involves a short departure from the main story in order to interject extra details, background or opinion. Though not moving the central action forward, these parenthetical additions are set off with punctuation to highlight useful tangents. So while separate from the primary narrative, they enrich understanding and interpretation without dominant focus on plot progression.
This refers to a lengthier detour that veers off from the core subject matter. Unlike a quick aside, these drawn-out departures lack clear ties to the main storyline, potentially appearing random or unimportant. While they might captivate or educate readers during the divergence, extended tangents also run the risk of puzzling or distracting if overused. So balance becomes key for when a complete narrative shift temporarily takes the reins.
- Literary Devices That Start with D
- Dramatic Irony