Tone: The attitude of the author toward the reader, audience, or subject matter of a literary work. An author’s tone may be serious, playful, mocking, and so forth. The term is now often used to mean “tone of voice,” a difficult-to-determine characteristic of discourse through which writers (and each of us in our daily conversations) reveal a range of attitudes toward various subjects.
Although the terms tone and atmosphere may both be equated with mood, their meanings differ. Unlike tone, which refers to the author’s attitude, atmosphere refers to the general feeling created for the reader or audience by a work at a given point. Tone is sometimes also equated with voice, particularly in the sense of a creative authorial voice that pervades and underlies a literary work.