The Freight Train Style

Several kinds of sentences do what the segregating style does not is, combine ideas. The simplest of these is the freight-train style, so called because it couples short, independent clauses to make longer sequential statements. It is a development of the compound sentence (see page and has an old and honored history:

And the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon the house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

Matthew, 7:27

The freight-train sentence has several virtues. It is useful when you wish to link a series of events, ideas, impressions, feelings, or perceptions as immediately as possible, without judging their relative value or imposing a logical structure upon them. Children often experience reality in this immediate, accepting way, and authors writing for children or trying to suggest a childlike vision may employ the style:

And I'll look out for you, and you'll sing out as soon as you see me. And we'll go down the street arm in arm, and into all the shops, and then I'll choose my house, and you'll choose your house, and we'll live there like princes and good fellows. Kenneth Grahame

Even in writing that expresses more adult attitudes, the same desire to convey mental experience directly may lead a writer to select the style. In the following passage from Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms the hero forgets the dull routine of army by a romantic adventure with the heroine:

Maybe she would pretend that I was her boy that was killed and we would go in the front door [of a small hotel] and the porter would take off his cap and I would stop at the concierge's desk and ask for the key and she would stand by the elevator and then we would get in the elevator and it would go up very slowly clicking at all the floors and then our floor and the boy would open the door and stand there and she would step out and I would step out and we would walk down the hall and I would put the key in the door and open it and go in and then take down the telephone and ask them to send a bottle of capri bianca in a silver bucket full of ice and you would hear the ice against the pail coming down the corridor and the boy would knock and I would say leave it outside the door please.

Both Grahame and Hemingway use the freight-train sentence to describe an experience taking place within the mind. The style suggests the continuous flow of dreaming, for we fantasize in a stream of loosely connected feelings and ideas and images, not in neatly packaged sentences of intricately related clauses and phrases tied together by if, but, yet, therefore, consequently, on the other hand. Indeed, we sometimes fantasize not in words at all but in imagined perceptions, as Hemingway implies ("and you would hear the ice against the pail"). Hemingway also goes further than Gra-hame in imitating the mental state of fantasy: his one sentence is much longer and its flow unimpeded by punctuation. This technique is a variety of what is called "stream of consciousness," a way of writing that suggests a mind feeling, dreaming, thinking in a loose associational manner.

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Responses

  • Richard
    How do you write a freight train sentence?
    5 years ago
  • uwe
    Why might an author use freight train style?
    2 months ago

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