Julia Griffin

Lia Greenwell
Introduction to Creative Writing
02/24/16
An Unnatural Natural Phenomenon:
Paradox, Distortion, and Dissonance in “Total Eclipse”
In her essay “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard uses distorted, nonsensical, and impossible images
to describe the experience of witnessing a solar eclipse. Rather than describing the eclipse itself,
she focuses on the surreal and terrifying experience, using metaphor after metaphor, attempting
to understand her emotional reaction to the event. Dillard describes the eclipse using paradoxical,
impossible, and illogical comparisons to recreate the surreality she experienced in her own mind
for the reader.
This distortion can be seen when Dillard writes,
“The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were
finespun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a
movie

filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing

in a

movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages.”

This quote shows the incredible dissonance between reality and Dillard’s experience. Her
descriptions of grass as “finespun metal”, and her hands as “silver” transform the organic to the
inorganic, showing how unnatural the eclipse feels. Additionally, her use of the metaphor “a
movie filmed in the middle ages” elucidates the unreality of time in her mind, and signals the
beginning of distorted time within the piece.

the glaciers slid down the valleys and overlapped the towns. The sentence “If there had ever been people on earth. distorted and impossible images create a feeling of disorientation and encourage readers to suspend their disbelief: the description of Dillard’s experiences bares little connection to the scientific comprehension with which readers are likely . and in the context of the piece. the ground froze. nobody knew it. The paradox embedded within that language further demonstrates the feeling of impossibility that runs throughout the eclipse scenes in the piece.” Her choice to say “sky” rather than moon is a poignant one.Another example of surreal and impossible imagery is Dillard’s description of the moment wherein the moon completely covers the sun. nobody knew it. further demonstrating the dissonance between the logical and emotional experience of the eclipse. The hatch in the brain slammed. but are extremely out of place when used to describe an astronomical phenomenon. departing from basic scientific knowledge to show the failure of logic in this moment. is believable. but it demonstrates the end of logical thought.” This description projects an ice age onto the modern landscape. In the context of the essay as a whole. She writes. “At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The objects she describes—a lid and a lens cap—are relatively commonplace. and she herself must exist to write it. demonstrating the perception of the eclipse as outside of time and natural laws. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. in a description reminiscent of a time-lapsed scientific projection. and then the orchard trees withered. “Oh. “The hatch in the brain” does not exist. Dillard writes.” is itself a paradox: there must be people for “nobody” to know or not know. The image starts small with a stand of trees and moves into the destruction of humanity. If there had ever been any people on earth.

. The dissonance between the official narrative and the personal experience is recreated on a micro level in the diction of the piece. The piece would be neither interesting nor aesthetically enjoyable without this cognitive progression and change: the mundanity of objective and distant scientific description is avoided by Dillard’s distorted descriptions of her surprising emotional reaction. replacing an external narrative arc.familiar. They illustrate an internal experience rather than a two minute phenomenon.