Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Diagramming Pangloss: All is for the Best in the Best of All Possible Worlds

In Candide, Voltaire presents one of the most famous lines in literature, putting it in the mouth of the one of the most famous philosphers in literature, Dr. Pangloss.

"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds," Pangloss says.  "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles."

However, as easy as it is to find explanations of this philosophy in English or in French, your choice, it is not as easy to find grammatical analyses of the line.  This line's analysis requires the analyzer take a long, hard look at each of the three prepositional phrases and determine their best possible locations.  That is not to say, of course, that Voltaire did not place them in their best of all possible locations in the best of all possible lines, just that the analysis can lead to a better understanding.

Subject and Verb: "Tout est"

The subject and verb, "Tout est," is easy to determine.  The sentence has only one verb, "est," and "Tout" is the only noun that precedes the verb.  The subject sits to the left of the base line, and the verb sits to the right, divided by a perpendicular line that slightly crosses the base line. 

First Prepositional Phrase: "pour le mieux"

The first prepositional phrase, "pour le mieux," acts as a subject compliment in this sentence.  The subject and this first prepositional phrase are joined by the linking verb, "est." In other words "Tout" equals "pour le mieux."    In order to diagram the subject compliment, add a back-slanting line after the verb and diagram the prepositional phrase above the base line.  Connect the prepositional phrase element to the base line with a perpendicular line and legs.


Second Prepositional Phrase: "dans le meilleur"

The second prepositional phrase, "dans le meilleur," requires some interpretive sleuthing.  A prepositional phrase is a modifying phrase.  It behaves like an adjective or an adverb.  To determine its placement in a diagram, one must determine what the prepositional phrase is modifying.  In this case, it could describe what "is in the world," what "est dans le meilleur," or it could be telling us Dr. Pangloss means to tell us about "all in the world" (or "everything in the world"), "tout dans le meilleur."  Lastly, he could mean all is for the "best in the world," which would really emphasize the level of best, or "mieux."  As the interpreter of this sentence, I have chosen the second interpretation, "Tout dans le meilleur" as the subject, which emphasizes he really means everything. The phrase has been diagrammed under the subject.


Third Prepositional Phrase: "des mondes possibles"

The final prepositional phrase, "des mondes possibles," modifies the object of the preposition, "meilleur," which translates to "the best of all," or colloquially, "the absolute best." When analyzed grammatically, a reader can see that with the use of the two superlatives, "mieux" and "meilleur," the last prepositional phrase is really unnecessary.  However, when analyzed for interpretation or meaning, this last prepositional phrase adds to Dr. Pangloss's character development and echoes the philosophies of Liebniz - all for the effect of the novel's satire. 

Final Diagram: "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles."

The final diagram for Dr. Pangloss's philosophical sound byte looks to be a rearrangement of the original that does, indeed, assist with understanding, whether that understanding aligns with accepted meanings or semantically stands apart from accepted meanings: "All in the best of all possible worlds is for the best," or "Tout dans le meilleur des mondes possibles est pour le mieux."

Want to read more about analyzing literature?  Try

Diagramming a Poem by Mina Loy
Writing about Unctuous Characters
Using Existentialism as Literary Analysis

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Diagramming Possessive and Plural Nouns

Do you want to write about one butterfly or many butterflies?

Nouns: Possessives and Plurals 

As a general rule, a noun ends in "s" when a writer is referring to more than one of the given noun. For example, the writer might write about seeing one butterfly or several butterflies.  The writer might mention encountering  a ghost or multiple ghosts.

When a writer means to say that something belongs to the noun, however, he or she uses an apostrophe before adding the "s."  The writer could refer to the butterfly's wings or the ghost's intentions.

When a writer wants to tell his or her readers that something belongs to more than one of the given noun, the writer must use the plural form of the noun and the possessive apostrophe.  In this case, the writer would tell us about butterflies' wings or ghosts' intentions.

How to Diagram Plural, Possessive, and Possessive Plural Nouns

Before diagramming these nouns, the form of the noun must be carefully considered.  Plural nouns are diagrammed on horizontal lines, either on a base line or horizontally as the object of a preposition.  Possessive nouns, however, have an entirely different purpose, and they are diagrammed as modifiers underneath the nouns they modify.

To diagram a plural noun as a direct object, simply place it on the horizontal base line in the third segment of that base line.  In this instance, the writer is referring to more than one butterfly.

To diagram the singular possessive form of a noun, place the possessive noun under the word it modifies on the diagonal line.  In this example, the direct object is "wings."  The possessive noun, "butterfly's" tells us more about the kind of wings Kate admired. 

In this final diagram, Kate admired the wings of multiple butterflies.  Although "butterflies'" is plural, it is also possessive, and it is therefore a modifier.  It remains underneath the word it modifies, just like any other adjective.

In diagramming, just as in writer, the form of a noun must be carefully considered before it is written. Plural nouns are placed just as singular nouns are placed, but possessive nouns are diagrammed like adjectives.