Mood in Literature

What is mood in literature?

Mood is an indispensable literary device that authors employ to create an emotional landscape within their work. This landscape serves to envelop the reader, influencing how they perceive and engage with the text. Often nebulous yet strikingly impactful, the mood shapes the reader’s emotional response and can play a significant role in their understanding and interpretation of a narrative.

Elements that Influence Mood


The setting of a story includes not only its geographical location but also the time period, weather conditions, and even social circumstances. Each of these components can greatly influence the mood of a work.

For example, a story set in a bustling city might create a mood of excitement or anxiety, while one set in a secluded mountain cabin could evoke feelings of solitude or peacefulness. Likewise, a narrative that takes place in a war-torn country will almost certainly have a dark, oppressive mood.


While tone and mood are separate elements, they are closely connected. Tone refers to the author’s or narrator’s attitude towards the subject, which can include irony, disdain, sincerity, or any number of other attitudes. The tone can serve as a guidepost to the intended mood. For instance, a sarcastic tone might set a mood of irreverence or defiance, while a somber tone might establish a mood of melancholy or despair.


Diction involves the choice and arrangement of words, and it can have a profound impact on mood. Simple words can create a straightforward and uncluttered mood, while more complex or archaic vocabulary can contribute to a mood of sophistication or intricacy. Word choice can also carry emotional weight; words like “melancholy,” “effervescent,” or “gloomy” can immediately set a specific mood.


Descriptive language, including similes, metaphors, and vivid imagery, can significantly influence the mood. For instance, describing a setting as “a garden brimming with fragrant roses, where the sun always seems to shine” sets an entirely different mood than describing it as “a deserted wasteland, where the wind howls through the skeletal remains of long-dead trees.”

Subjectivity of Mood

Mood is not universal; what one reader finds uplifting, another might find banal. The same text can evoke different moods depending on the reader’s personal experiences, emotional state, or cultural background. Authors may intend a certain mood, but there’s always room for individual interpretation, adding a layer of complexity and richness to literary works.

Importance of Matching Mood to Intention

Crafting the right mood is not just an aesthetic choice but also a functional one. The mood must serve the author’s broader aims, whether to elicit a specific emotional response, highlight a theme, or underscore a character’s experience. An inappropriate or inconsistent mood can disrupt narrative cohesion, while a well-chosen mood can deeply enhance the reader’s engagement and understanding.

Descriptive Words for Mood

Moods can be described in countless ways, but here are some common adjectives to consider:

  • Cheerful
  • Ominous
  • Melancholic
  • Mysterious
  • Tense
  • Calm
  • Romantic
  • Frenetic

Examples in literature

In stories, the way words are used can affect how we feel. For example, in “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, words like “nervous” and “dark” make the story feel tense and scary. On the other hand, in “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, clever and fancy language makes the story feel light and smart.

Descriptions also play a big role in setting the mood of a story. In “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, intense and beautiful descriptions make the story feel sad and haunting, focusing on the emotional pain caused by slavery. In contrast, in “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, detailed descriptions of cozy hobbit homes and dangerous forests make the story feel exciting and adventurous.

It’s interesting to note that different people can feel different moods from the same story. In “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville, some people might find the story heavy and obsessed because of the constant search for the white whale. However, others might see it as thoughtful and philosophical, focusing on the small details and themes presented. It just goes to show that stories can evoke different emotions in different people.