Total Eclipse' by Annie Dillard: Book Summary

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The setting is in the hotel room in which the narrator sees different things like the picture of a clown, which she said: “It was a print of a detailed and lifelike painting of a smiling clown’s head, made out of vegetables” (Dillard 10). The power of perception came to mind when she said, “It was a painting of the sort which you do not intend to look at, and which, alas, you never forget. Some tasteless fate presses it upon you; it becomes part of the complex interior junk you carry with you wherever you go” (10). It says here that even a small detail like that can never be removed in our memories because we have perceived something different in the environment. Amazingly, the narrator remembers every single detail of the clown’s feature from top to bottom of the face with an accurate description. Another setting is a hill which is 500ft tall from the ground, and the Yakima valley can be observable from what she describes it as “a distant dream of a valley, a Shangri-La. All its hundreds of low, golden slopes bore orchards” (13). Seeing this view is just remarkable and worth it. It gives the best setting to view something awesome, like a total eclipse.

The character in this story is the narrator itself and us; she says, “all of us rugged individualists wearing knit caps and blue nylon parkas” (13). It shows that we are all the same; we humans are uniform in a way we never knew. It is the narrator’s way of telling us that when the eclipse happens, we are all looking the same, which is we are all dead. The narrator says, “It looked as though we had all gathered on hilltops to pray for the world on its last day. It looked as though we had all crawled out of spaceships and were preparing to assault the valley below” (14). The people gather together to see a beautiful yet terrifying of the total eclipse. She sees that it looks like the end of the world, and all of the people are witnessing it.

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In the story, the conflict is about person vs. nature, wherein it reveals what is happening in the environment. The narrator experiences the change of surroundings while watching the eclipse and view it as contrasting as what she knew it was. “The sun was going, and the world was wrong” (16). The narrator thinks that the world seems so different when the sun is covered; it is like someone just turned off the light in a room. She perceives that there is a color that has never seen on Earth before; her mind is interpreting things and lost in the way.

The narrator uses different imagery in this story; the significant imagery used in the story are pinpoint at the beginning of the story. “Dillard’s essay is a woven masterwork in which images, themes, and memories overlap and intertwine. She circles back to the same perceptions, and even words, over and over again.” (Laurenzi). It is to emphasize and prepare to understand what is the feeling and experience the whole truth about the total eclipse. The clown painting, caged bird, and child’s bucket and shovel appear as actual material objects in the hotel. For example, the bucket and shovel become metaphors for mining gold and then, as grammar and lexicon, tools for mining remembered experience. “These central metaphors are determine within the course of the essay: the narrator matches each object absolutely with certain aspects of experience. She writes that watching the end of the eclipse was ‘like seeing a mushroom cloud,’ and that there is no use speaking of such a vision for, as she puts it, ‘no people, no significance. This is all I have to tell you’” (Bartkevicius). The narrator merely seeing death and end of the world, grieving in the loss of the Earth and also human life: as she said in her story that she sees are all dead, and everything seems so wrong.

Symbolism of the gold miner and also the color gold or yellow are mention a few times in the story. The narrator remembers an article to which says that “In South Africa, in India, and South Dakota, the gold mines extend deeply into earth’s crust that they are hot…when the miners return to the surface, their faces are deathly pale” (Dillard 12). It is saying that in the deepest and darkest place is where we can see the gold. “The ‘golden slopes’ are soon overhung by yellow clouds where ‘hillside orchards had lighted up.’ The fact that the orchards make things golden could easily suggest Yeats’ ‘golden apples of the sun’ The Sun is a symbol of divine perfection; it corresponds with gold and is, after all, the central interest of the speaker’s journey to Washington” (Wilde). The sun symbolizes the gold in which the narrator significantly connects it, and when the total eclipse happens, it became dark like the place where the gold miners are. The symbolism and imagery that mentioned in the story are all leading to the experience of the total eclipse.

The narrator perceives that observing a total eclipse is like dying. Grass is life and death; organic, complex as nature. Color is interpretation and perception that people often use to understand things. The author’s story has various powerful and repeating images and that are made with significant style and develops a confined unclear sublime of experience itself, it shows a small grip of the intense universe that is inaccurately believed to know so well. The narrator develops the images of “winter-killed…dead grasses” (Dillard 18), the avalanche, the vegetable clown painting, and the eclipse itself, and the darkness it shows is organic-the natural world itself. The world is death itself; a part of life is a structure of experience that is colorless and can only perceive by an individual’s eyes. The color is a perception of reality; it is a painting or a photograph. We become aware that as the color fades, it will vanish in time, with memory, like a print in a photograph.

We can see that how we perceive things can build a solid ground on what we believe and gives us an understanding of what is happening around us. The story teaches us how deep the perception of an event may change everything we know. When we set this imagery and symbols together, we consider its appearance of perception and sense the narrator’s view of experience. Sometimes, we are unobservant that everything we see is only a perception, an analysis of reality, we find ourselves working as a camera when colors contrasting to each other and our minds are infrequently experiencing change, we came across what can be expressed in our bucket of lexicon, our spectrum of colors that change the further in-depth we discover ourselves, only to be colorless as we emerge and the black lens cap on the sun appears. There are only to things to perceive when watching a total eclipse; it is either you die or save yourself by grabbing that lifesaver.

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Total Eclipse’ by Annie Dillard: Book Summary. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
“Total Eclipse’ by Annie Dillard: Book Summary.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
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