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Ms. Regan
AP Language and Composition
18 April 2013

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America

Think of every description ever stated about a river; descriptive, informative, declarative,
figurative, florid, and scientific alike. Now imagine this: each of these categories fulfilled in one
coherent article. Seem impossible? John M. Barry doesnt seem to think so. Throughout the
article Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, he
utilizes all forms of writing and statement; not yielding to the usual unspoken rules of writing,
Barry describes the river from the standpoint of a novelist, a journalist, and a researcher all
wrapped into one to establish the magnificence and wonder he finds in it. Paragraphs one and
two detail the river from a more mathematic, technical standpoint; paragraph three from an
observant and fascinated; and paragraphs four and five from the point of view of a novelist
viewing the 1-D visual spectacle. Using each of these different perspectives, Barry recounts the
river in a unified and sound manner, and conveys his sense of wonder completely and cogently.
The diction and tonal devices Barry uses in the first two paragraphs are very homologous
to something a researcher or graduate student would write. Writing more about the scientific
history and aspects of the river, he establishes with the reader why others find such fascination
within it. This is exemplified strongly in the quote given by Werner Heisenberg; the fact that
God may have an answer to the first question (regarding relativity over turbulence) shows that
something as complex as relatively makes more scientific sense than the concept of turbulence
and chaos, a notion of more visual and practical sense but little metaphysical. He shows that,
therefore, aspects of the river are very difficult to understand: that only divine knowledge can
explain it fully. In the second paragraph, Barrys word choices in radically and internal
dynamics over something more simple like completely and inner energy again suggest a
more scientific standpoint at this point in the article and further detail the intricate mechanics
behind it, leaving little for the reader to question about its complexity. These two paragraphs are
essential to Barrys later claims about the river, because they give the reader a feeling of the
general background of the river to justify his later recounts of wonder and fascination in its
visual perplexity.
Barrys third paragraph is the buffer between the more arid fourth and fifth and the more
structured first and second. In it, he gives examples in how the Mississippi River defies
principles similar rivers follow. This furthers his journey into fascination even more and
visualizes his own confusion; the reader can almost audibly hear him ask the question how?
after every sentence he writes, and it transposes to their emotions as well. The reader himself is
provoked with questions like why the Po and Rhine are affected by theories denied by the
Mississippi, and why the Missouri River couldnt hold the strain as the Mississippi. In one of the
most powerful statements in the article, Not only is it acted upon; it acts, Barry gives a glimpse
of feeling and figurativeness to the reader. This particular sentence shows that the river
seemingly behaves on its own, suggesting something more than just science belongs in the
Mississippi, and that it is in a category of its own in the wonder of the world.
In the fourth and fifth paragraphs, Barry finally begins to display his own feelings of
absolute awe and admiration of the wonder that is the Mississippi River. His language
completely shifts from words like hydraulics and friction to spiraling and sucking; he
continues the trend of human qualities the river possesses, and details them to a T. He truly
begins to illustrate the visual captivity the river gives, and personifies in it what he cannot see in
anything else. Instead of running, as rivers usually do, it snaps like a whip and tries to
devour itself. This odd yet appropriate description details just that about the river: it is odd and
wonderful, but exists in the ongoing world with little notice beyond its transporting capabilities.
Even though Barry still retains some of his previous structured vocabulary choices (such as
sinuosity and unpredictable), his overall style changes truly convey his sense of amazement at
the sight of the river. The short sentence structure at the beginning of the fourth paragraph, the
snakes that make it up, the alliterative tremendous turbulence and the simile in uncoiling
rope all display a digression from the scientific to the whimsical, and serve to show just how
awe-inspiring something like the Mississippi River can be.
Describing something as perceivably linear as a river in a florid and illustrative manner,
and making it believable to the audience, is a skill that only the most talented of authors possess.
John M. Barry qualifies as one of these authors; using both scientific and descriptive language,
he expresses he deep wonder and fascination felt by the pulse of the Mississippi River. Barry
displays literary genius by both logically and visually grasping the audience to understand the
rivers complexity, and by establishing a firm balance between structure and whimsy in his
diction, figurative language, and sentence structure. In this way, he mesmerizes the reader and
truly shows him that a river can defy just as many laws as a human can.