The song Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel contains many literary devices. These devices allow the song to reach a deeper level within our understanding of ourselves, but of humanity as a whole. In writing these lyrics, Paul Simon used literary devices such as alliteration, allusion, symbolism, simile and oxymoron to convey a message of utter dismay at the total lack of communication and a real emotional connection between people and people’s lackadaisical approach to a mundane existence.
The words “sounds of silence” create an alliteration that almost leads the reader to imagery. There is actually no possible way to be in a place where there are no sounds. If a person enters a completely quiet chamber, they would still hear the sounds of electricity in the brain, a high pitched ringing sound, and the “whoosh” of blood as it is pumped throughout the body. Paul Simon uses this phrase to say that the only way to reach utter silence is to be dead. He uses this fact to stress to the listener that the lack of communication between people results in dead conversations where nothing is discussed, nothing is learned, and no words have really been spoken.
In the Book of Mormon, the Lord says that He will “hiss” unto all the nations. After listening to the phrase “sounds of silence”, I found that the phrase created a hissing noise. The word “hiss” that is used in the Book of Mormon refers to a warning. While Simon probably wasn’t alluding to the Book of Mormon, I do believe that there is a connection between what he wrote and what the scriptures say. As I have already stated, this song describes a lack of communication and an apathy towards a mundane existence. I believe that Simon was using his “hiss” as a warning to the rest of us to try and get rid of such negative qualities.
Another allusion that this song refers to is Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. The man in the story is like the man from Plato’s allegory who finally gets out of the cave. In Plato’s allegory, the man discovers all of the wonderful things that had previously only been seen as shadows. He runs back to the cave where his friends are still looking at the shadows being cast on the back of the cave. He tries to tempt them out of their cave of ignorance and look beyond the surface of things, but to his dismay, they refuse. Simon is referring to a frustration with people in general. Just like the man in Plato’s allegory, Simon writes that he had a revelation from the shadows of Plato’s cave. He leaves his superficial world and gains incredible insight. It seems that most people are unwilling or disinterested in anyone or anything. They are very much content to “hear without listening”. They will not go beyond the surface. They will simply accept the mundane around them because no one “dares disturb the sounds of silence”.
Symbolism also brings a deeper meaning to this song. The “neon god” that the people make refers to the technological advancements that are continually making our lives more convenient. But this convenience comes at a cost. In a world of instant messaging, emails and texting, people are “talking without speaking”. Of course ideas are being shared, information is being passed, but any emotion has been sucked out of such communication. The days where people would visit their friends seems to be fading. It is much simpler to just text your best friend and ask them how they’re doing. Although this is convenient, there is no deep exploration of how their friend is really doing through a text. Such a connection can only be enjoyed in person.
Later on in the song Simon writes, “take my arms that I might reach you”. I believe that Simon is symbolically acting as the role of the Savior. In Simon’s mind, it doesn’t make sense that people would wander around, accepting the mundane. Simon wants to reach out and save them from themselves! Like the Savior, Simon tries to warn the people, using a simile, that such silence is like a cancer that will grow and destroy them. And, just like in the Scriptures, the people reject the message and “like silent raindrops”, his words fall into the “wells of silence”. And like the Savior who taught us to continually serve others and find the lost sheep, we should also be reaching out to others. Simon also makes another interesting point when he says “take my arms”. We have to be willing to take the hands that are extended to us. There are times when I believe that I can make it on my own, but then I remember that I need help. I have to then humble myself and be willing to grab hold of the Savior’s arm, or even the helping hand of a friend.
Simon’s clever use of oxymorons draws attention to the fact that what the people are doing just doesn’t make sense. Simon points out that there is an incongruity between people “talking without speaking”, and people “hearing without listening”. After all, it makes sense that if the people wanted to talk, they would speak, and if they wanted to hear, they would listen. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The people are not expressing what needs to be expressed. The world is becoming ever more mundane as people push aside their emotions as a hindrance to their productivity. Thus, things are still being accomplished, but there is no emotional connection between anything. It reminds me of the idea that people are always after money because they believe once they have it, they will begin to enjoy life. However, this is usually not the case. The individuals who seek such incredible wealth, push aside real emotional connections such as friends, family, and religion to seek something common. Once they have what they wanted, the connections they once had are gone, and there is no point in them seeking so much money since now, they have no one to share it with.
Finally, I believe that the entire song is a symbol for loneliness. What I have previously described is a devastating blow to humanity. We are gaining in apathy, and losing in emotion. And while this song was most likely designed to help us see our flaws, I believe it was also designed to reach out to the one lonely soul. Can there be a more devastating event in a person’s life than to realize that no one can hear their cries for help? Simon shows that he, if no one else, understands how they are feeling. He already described how alone he felt when he tried to save humanity from their silence, so at least he can understand the lonely individuals and let them know that they are not alone.