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Katie Ella Field

Professor Johnston

Assignment 1

11 September 2010

The Inheritance of Tools

At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning, when ice

coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer. Naturally, I swore at

the hammer, the reckless thing, and in the moment of swearing I thought of what my father

would say: “If you’d try hitting the nail it would go in a whole lot faster. Don’t you know

your thumb’s not as hard as that hammer (1)?”

Scott Russell Sanders, author of the non-fiction essay “The Inheritance of Tools”, was born in

Memphis, Tennessee on October 26th, 1945. He spent his early childhood in Tennessee and his school

years in Ohio. After graduating from high school, Sanders pursued his undergraduate degree in English

and physics at Brown University and then continued school at Cambridge University with the aid of a

Marshall Scholarship, where he graduated in 1971 with a doctoral degree in English (Ashland 1).

“The Inheritance of Tools” is a story of life, love and loss that takes the reader on a journey of

Sanders’ memories that he has of his father and grandfather growing up. Throughout the essay, Sanders

uses carpentry to represent an unspoken love that has been passed on to each generation of men in his

family. In the following paragraphs, I will analyze the author’s use of figurative language, structural

organization and imagery throughout the essay and how each was used to develop and tie together the

themes of life lessons, unconditional love and carpentry.

At the beginning of the essay, I noticed the use of a two similes right away. The first example

was actually in the first sentence of the essay: “ February morning when ice coated the windows

like cataracts...”(Tools 1). The use of this simile tells the author’s audience that the story is taking place

during the dead of winter. The second example of a simile can be found in the second paragraph of the

essay: “...scratched and pockmarked, like an old plow-share that has been working rocky fields (Tools

1)”. Through this description, the author allows the audience to form an image of the central theme, the

inherited tools, in their mind’s eye. The use of figurative language throughout allows the essay to

immediately gain literary merit

Secondly, the author’s use of framing in his organizational structure also gives the essay great

literary merit. He begins the essay with the story of the day that he found out his father had died. After

injuring his thumb working on a wall for his daughter’s bedroom, the author’s wife calls to him and

informs him of the bad news. The knowledge of his death pushes the pain from the author’s sore thumb

to the back of his mind and seems to spark all of the memories he had growing up, learning carpentry

from his father, who had learned it all from the author’s grandfather.

The author then takes his audience on a journey of love, life and lessons learned, and ties it all

together by once again mentioning the soreness of the injury he’d gotten earlier. Anger rises up inside

him, not only because of this new injury, but also because of the death of his father, but after a few

moments, the author calms himself and goes back to his work, keeping the memory of his father and

grandfather alive through the use of the lessons he learned from them.

And finally, throughout the entire essay, the author also uses the image of the inherited tools to

show the bond that the author had with his father, as well as the bond that he and his father had with the

author’s grandfather. Through carpentry, which entailed hard work and dedication, three generations

shared many experiences that brought them closer together, their love for each other often not verbally
spoken, but instead shown through lessons that each man learned from their predecessor. Each

generation taught their muse hard-work, dedication and precision as they learned to master the art of

carpentry together.

In my opinion, “The Inheritance of Tools” had the most literary merit out of the four non-fiction

essays. The essay was beautifully written, not only stylistically, but organizationally as well. The essay

was very relatable as well, seeing as everyone must deal with the loss of a loved one at some point in

their lives. The three main things that gave the essay literary merit, however, were the author’s use

figurative language, structural organization and imagery throughout the essay.

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