1. In Annie Dillard’s “The Chase,” from the memoir “An American Childhood,” Dillard describes a fond memory from her childhood in which she felt enthralled with the thrill of a chase and her childish regard for the world. The incident comes into play when Dillard and her friends were pelting snowballs at cars, one man got out and chased them with incredible patience and for a great distance. The main idea of Dillard’s essay, “The Chase,” is not exactly obviated throughout the entire essay. Dillard hints at the meaning but does not completely unmask it until the end. The incident stayed throughout her life because it illustrates how the experience influenced her, from her description of her mysterious pursuer to the strange occurrence which was in it of itself the chase. This is accomplished through her use of sophisticated language and technique to highlight her main focus; the impact the chase had on her life. Through her use of writing strategies, Dillard describes the chase because of how much the chase meant to her, expressing this lasting effect on her life through her use of imagery, syntax, and pacing, inscribing within the reader that same adrenaline and attachment to the chase which she herself feels in recalling it.
2. Contrary to what the reader expects, Annie Dillard’s “The Chase” doesn’t start with the actual excitement of a typical chase. Rather, Dillard’s strategy is to give a description of her interests and focuses as a child, an example of her use of pacing. She uses her childhood interests such as football, a “fine sport” not only to provide a context to the chase but also to further depict just how the chase influenced her and made her feel–placing the reader in her shoes. Her use of diction in the form of action words such as “kicked,” or “flung” builds up excitement and suspense in the reader, effectively leading the reader to the crescendo of the memoir, the chase. Through her use of pacing, in her first two paragraphs, she effectively describes to the reader how the recollection impacted her. It brings a sense of what she was going through because as she builds up excitement and attachment to the chase, she further incorporates the reader into her own memories.
3. Her use of pacing is further emphasized through her structure in the chase. Similarly, to the crescendo of a composition, she builds up her pace gradually, building up harmonious enthrallment in herself and the reader. Dillard starts off her story with “On one weekday morning after Christmas…” (para 3) and does not end the story for another thirteen paragraphs or so. She takes time to explain the sequential events of the story, like how she “started making an iceball” (para 6), then throwing the snowballs and hitting the car (para 6-7), and finally the man getting out of his car and running toward them (para 9-10). Dillard goes on to explain the chase and getting caught (para 10-19). She does this through her use of syntax and diction, varying sentence length, structure, and composition of action verbs to illustrate to the reader how she felt on the day of the chase. The structure fluctuates, giving the reader an idea of how Dillard felt as she was going through the chase; a good example of this is in (paragraph 11), where the chase is first discussed in detail. Dillard emphasizes how she feels through syntax, with abruptly short sentences such as “Wordless, we split up,” which demonstrate her tone of excitement and adrenaline as she finds herself vividly back in the chase, matching her tone to her perspective all those years ago. Later in the text and especially in (paragraphs 12-13), Dillard’s syntax switches again, elongating to adjust for her change in tone. Sentences in (paragraph 12) such as “He chased us silently over picket fences through thorny hedges, between houses, around garbage cans, and across streets” (lines 1-2) don’t just lead up to the climax of the text, but also illustrate how Dillard is writing the text for herself. As she writes and describes the chase, she herself returns to it. Dillard’s use of diction also corroborates with her incorporation of the reader into her experience, with extensive use of action words such as “chased,” as well as “breathless,” or “choking” or “smashed.” These action words bring the reader closer into Dillard’s experience, as her descriptions bring her back to her past, and the reader into it.
4. A secondary aspect of Dillard’s structure is her chronological decision making. As mentioned prior, she begins with a description of her childhood interests, leading into the day of the chase. Her organization shifts through her use of syntax and diction, illustrating how she felt. But more specifically, what Dillard accomplishes is a portrayal of reflex. As she goes through the chase, she demonstrates the passage of time as being different through different stages of the chase. The concept is complex, but she realizes it in such a way that it slips under the radar of the reader, leading the chase to be analyzed on multiple levels in the reader’s’ mind, and further demonstrating the effect the chase had on Dillard while carrying the impact onto the reader. This passage of time is evident through her descriptions of her surroundings, in syntax and diction. In (paragraph 9), the initiation of the chase, Dillard’s syntax slows down. Short sentences such as “He didn’t even close the door,” (line 2) or “Its wide black door opened; a man got out of it, running” (line 2) demonstrate basic human reflexes such as fight or flight kicking in. Documentation of the chase begins to dissipate in Dillard’s mind as adrenaline takes over, and Dillard recalls how “wordless, we split up.” (paragraph 11, line 1) It’s a good example of the impact the chase had on Dillard at the moment and her use of shifts in perception of time to further bring the reader into the story.
5. Dillard’s chase is initiated in (paragraph 9), in which she describes the mysterious man exiting his car and leaving his door open. The event was exciting and new to Dillard, especially as most of the group’s targets wouldn’t ordinarily react to the hail of snow. It was surprising, because of this dramatic shift in regularity. People don’t ordinarily drop work, responsibilities, and the safety of a now-open Buick for just a couple of pesky children who messed around with an iceball. To her, it was an extraordinary occurrence, and she expresses this herself in (paragraph 10), where she describes “He was in city clothes: a suit and a tie, street shoes. Any normal adult would have quit, having to spring us into flight and made his point.”
6. This excitement is further refined through her aforementioned use of syntax, demonstrating her excitement and thrill through short and serious sentences such as in the final line of (paragraph 10), “All of a sudden, we were running for our lives.” In addition, Dillard increases her use of specific methods of diction, in the form of action words which highlight her tone. Good examples such as “running,” or “gaining” or “vanished,” all express her surprise and excitement at the occurrence which developed into the chase.
7. This surprise and excitement are carried over into her actual depiction of the chase, in which her rhetorical strategy of enumeratio conveys her excitement. Through her elaborate depiction of her surroundings, she illustrates to her audience the tone of the chase, describing her excitement, intensity, and adrenaline-infused observation of her surroundings. This is most evident in her descriptions of the chase in (paragraphs 12 and 13), in which Dillard most uses the rhetorical strategy of enumeratio. She describes in (paragraph 13) how “he chased Mikey and me . . . under a low tree, up a bank, through a hedge, down some snowy steps, and across the grocery store’s delivery driveway. We smashed through a gap in another hedge, entered a scruffy backyard and ran around its back porch and tight between houses to Edgerton Avenue.” This elaborate depiction of the chase is an example of the enumeration rhetoric–making a point with specific details.
8. Furthermore, Dillard connects the chase to her introduction regarding her interests. In her (paragraph 13th), Dillard describes how “this ordinary adult evidently knew what I thought only children who trained at football knew: that you have to fling yourself at what you’re doing, you have to point yourself, forget yourself, aim, dive,” and this directly references the tactics she discusses learning from playing football in her introduction, highlighting not only the excitement and intensity of the chase but how much it meant to her.
9. After Dillard’s crescendo in her chase, the tone and general excitement of the chase decrease exponentially. The chase came to climax when Dillard describes how the man caught them, with a profound sentence which illustrates her opinion regarding their adversary, “he had released our jackets, our pursuer, our captor, our hero.” This sentence is important, because it demonstrates Dillard’s literary proficiency with her use of an antanagoge, or the use of a negative description, immediately contradicted by a positive connotation. It demonstrates what Dillard was expecting from the chase, a conclusion fitting of such an occurrence. It’s Dillard’s clever method of demonstrating how the chase’s excitement and intensity collapsed into a state of disappointment.
10. The chase stayed with Dillard and was so important to her because of how profound and strange the incident was. It was so out of the ordinary for Dillard to be chased by a mysterious man clothed in city garb. And that’s why it stuck with her, that excitement, confusion, and intensity which was so unparalleled by other occurrences in her life such as football. The experience also reflected aspects of her life. Being more of a tomboy, the chase was a method of expressing herself in a form different from sports, and her enjoyment of sports carried over into her enjoyment and preservation of the chase. It was a profound impact on her life, as her writing describes, and it’s evident that she also learned from the experience. It shaped who she was to become, while demonstrating that ‘wonder’ as C.S. Lewis (English writer) describes, is a concept that can be wildly enjoyed, even after childhood.