English Literature


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Understanding the Art of Essay Writing

According to Aldous Huxley, "The essay is a literary device for expressing almost everything about almost anything." This statement may seem vague, but it captures the essence of what makes essays so captivating. They are a complete package - a fusion of wisdom and eloquence.

Defining and Exploring Essay Writing

An essay is a written piece that explores a specific theme, provides information on a subject, or attempts to persuade the reader. While the structure of an essay may vary depending on its type, all essays essentially consist of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A thorough analysis of an essay involves examining its tone, voice, and style.

The Voice of an Essay

The voice of an essay refers to the way vocabulary, point-of-view, and syntax are used together.

  • Vocabulary: The author's choice of words plays a critical role in the essay. Are technical terms or figurative language employed? Who is the intended audience for the essay?
  • Point-of-View: Essays can be written in first-person (using "I"), second-person (using "you"), or third-person (using "he/she/they").
  • Syntax: The arrangement of words in a sentence. Essays can be composed of simple, compound, or complex sentences.

The Tone of an Essay

The tone of an essay is comparable to the tone of voice used in a conversation.

  • Neutral: Objective, with no opinion on the subject.
  • Emotional: Some essays aim to evoke emotions in the reader - happiness, sadness, anger, etc.
  • Authoritative: Does the author appear to have a thorough understanding of the subject?
  • Informal: Conversational, resembling a casual conversation between the author and the audience.
  • Formal: Essays written in a professional or academic manner.

The Style of an Essay

The style of an essay depends on its type.

  • Narrative: Narratives use storytelling to explore a theme.
  • Expository: Expository essays provide information and explanations on a subject in a logical and analytical manner.
  • Persuasive: These essays use facts and emotional appeals to convince the reader of a particular viewpoint.
  • Descriptive: Descriptive essays use imagery to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

Key Components of an Essay

  • Theme: The central idea or thesis of an essay, usually related to the human experience.
  • Setting: The time and place in which the story takes place, providing context for the essay's theme.
  • Plot: The events that unfold in the story, effectively linking the theme with the narrative.
  • Conflict: The challenges or struggles faced by the characters, leading to a lesson related to the essay's theme.

Distinguishing Narrative Essays from Short Stories

While narrative essays and short stories share similarities, they differ in certain aspects. While narratives are based on real-life individuals and events, short stories are works of fiction.

The Structure of an Expository Essay

An expository essay aims at educating the reader about a subject. These essays use a logical and analytical approach to provide an in-depth examination of the topic. The language used is neutral and informative, avoiding emotional or biased language. An expository essay typically follows one of the following formats:

  • Cause and Effect: Examining the impact of an action or idea on a particular outcome.
  • Explaining: Writing in chronological order to explain how something works.
  • Defining and Exploring: Providing a detailed analysis and history of a subject.
  • Comparing and Contrasting: Discussing similarities and differences between two subjects.

The Persuasive Essay Format

Persuasive essays aim to sway the reader's opinion on a particular subject. Along with facts and logical arguments, they also use emotional appeals to persuade the audience.

The claim or thesis of a persuasive essay is crucial as it sets the tone and structure of the entire piece.

Exploring the Different Types of Essays

The style and structure of an essay can vary depending on the type of claim the author is making. Different types of essays include:

  • Definitional: Argues whether something "is" or "is not".
  • Factual: Argues whether something is true or false.
  • Policy: Defines an issue and presents the best solution.
  • Passive agreement: Seeks audience agreement without expecting them to take action.
  • Immediate action: Seeks audience agreement and expects them to take action.
  • Value: Judges whether something is ethical or unethical.

It is crucial for the author to determine the purpose of their essay beforehand. Are they defending a position with supporting evidence, challenging a claim to prove its invalidity, or presenting both valid and invalid points to qualify a claim?

The Power of Descriptive Essays

Descriptive essays utilize sensory and figurative language to create a vivid and detailed image for the audience. Though similar to narrative essays, descriptive essays have a unique focus on thoroughly describing an object, place, or concept rather than exploring a theme. They can take on different forms, such as:

  • Personal essays that recount an event that impacted the author's life.
  • Formal descriptions that provide an impersonal and precise report of the subject's characteristics.
  • Impressionistic definitions that aim to evoke an emotional response from the reader with descriptive language.

An example of a narrative essay is "Goodbye to All That" by Joan Didion, published in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968). Didion uses a personal story to explore the theme of reality versus illusion. Through dialogue between her and her friend, she highlights their differences in personality. The setting of the essay, with twinkling Christmas lights and falling snow, reflects her youthful idealism. However, the temporary nature of these elements foreshadows the conflict of the essay as Didion's focus on idealism suggests a disconnection from reality.

In "Consider the Lobster," reprinted in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2005), David Foster Wallace questions the ethical implications of boiling lobsters alive for consumption. In this excerpt, Wallace provides a scientific description of lobsters and their culinary history. While most of us have a general understanding of what a lobster is, there is much more to learn about this creature. Lobsters are benthic carnivores, acting as both hunters and scavengers. They have distinct features, such as stalked eyes, gills on their legs, and antennae. The name "lobster" is derived from the Old English word loppestre, which originated from the Latin word for locust and Old English word for spider. Despite their scientific nature, lobsters are also highly valued as food. However, this raises the ethical question of whether it is morally acceptable to kill and eat them.

The Changing Attitudes Towards Lobster

In the 1800s, lobster was considered a low-class food, consumed only by the poor and institutionalized. It was even prohibited in some early American colonies to feed lobster to inmates more than once a week, as it was seen as cruel and comparable to forcing people to eat rats. Lobster was abundant in old New England, with accounts of Plymouth Pilgrims easily collecting them by hand and the shores of early Boston being littered with lobsters after storms. However, they were often treated as a smelly nuisance and used as fertilizer. Another factor contributing to their low status was the way they were prepared – cooked and preserved before being shipped to distant places like California. Lobster was cheap and high in protein, primarily used as a source of sustenance rather than a delicacy.

However, opinions on consuming lobsters have changed over time, prompting the question of whether it is time to reconsider how we view and prepare this crustacean. This is explored in "A Modest Proposal" (1729), a satirical essay by Jonathan Swift that criticizes the British Parliament's treatment of the poor. Swift suggests that poor children should be treated as livestock and used as a source of food to address the issue of poverty and starvation. This extreme solution serves as a commentary on societal attitudes towards the poor, highlighting the need for a more compassionate and sensible approach.

Viewing Lobsters from a Neutral Perspective

Wallace, in his essay, "Consider the Lobster," presents a neutral and scientific study of lobsters, providing readers with a deeper understanding of what they really are. Despite their scientific nature, lobsters are also highly valued as food. However, this raises the ethical question of whether it is morally acceptable to kill and eat them. By exploring different perspectives and attitudes towards lobsters, we can gain a more complex understanding of this creature and how it fits into our society. It is important to consider how our actions affect the world around us, even when it comes to something as seemingly simple as consuming food.

The Evolution of Lobster Perception in Society Through the Power of Essays

In today's society, lobsters are often seen as luxurious delicacies, but this was not always the case. Through the use of essays, writers have been able to explore and challenge society's perception of this crustacean, causing a shift in its status from a low-class food to a highly coveted dish. In particular, writers such as David Foster Wallace and E.B. White have used their unique writing styles to shed light on the true nature of lobsters and invite readers to reconsider their preconceived notions.

David Foster Wallace takes a scientific approach in his essay "Consider the Lobster," avoiding any emotional involvement and instead providing thorough information for readers to draw their own conclusions. By delving into the issue and using satire to point out the absurdity of society's attitudes towards lobsters, Wallace challenges readers to question their beliefs and potentially spark a change in perception.

Similarly, E.B. White's essay "Once More to the Lake" is a prime example of a personal essay that effectively captures the reader's attention through vivid descriptions and personal reflections. Through his detailed account of a fishing trip, White allows readers to fully immerse themselves in the experience and relate to it on a personal level.

One particular moment during the fishing trip, when a fly lands on the water, causes White to reflect on the illusion of time. As he gazes at the familiar surroundings of his childhood, he is transported back in time and everything feels unchanged. The vivid descriptions of the boat, the fishing rod, and the dragonflies add to the surreal feeling, blurring the lines between past and present. This experience is beautifully captured in White's essay, as he reflects on the significance of the place and how it has impacted his life.

The Power of Essays in Shaping Perception

The use of satire, neutrality, and descriptive language in various essays and writings invites readers to reconsider their perceptions of lobsters. Essays come in various forms, each with a different purpose, such as using a story to explore a universal theme or educating the audience on a subject. By utilizing sensory details and personal reflections, essays have the power to transport readers and evoke emotions.

To fully analyze an essay, it is important to pay attention to its tone, voice, and style, as they provide insight into the author's perspective and intentions. Additionally, a well-crafted thesis statement guides the reader and sets the tone for the rest of the essay. Most essays follow a standard format with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction grabs the reader's attention and presents the topic and thesis, while the body paragraphs provide evidence and analysis. The conclusion ties together the main points and leaves a lasting impact on the reader.

In Conclusion

Through the power of essays, society's perception of lobsters has evolved over time, from a low-class food to a delicacy. Whether it's through a scientific approach like David Foster Wallace's essay or a personal reflection like E.B. White's, essays have the ability to challenge and shape societal beliefs. As readers are invited to reconsider their preconceived notions about lobsters, it is evident that the use of satire, neutrality, and vivid descriptions have the power to evoke change and offer a new perspective on this crustacean.

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