Two Troubling Tales And The Power Of Personal Experience

1215 words - 5 pages

The essay, both art form and bane of English students worldwide, originated in France around 1570. Born from the reflections of one man, ultimately inspired by personal reflection, the essay is now a staple of the literary world. As a work of nonfiction, grounded in truth, yet embellished with literary trappings, the essay serves a myriad of purposes. Whether written to inform, persuade, or tell a story, the essay is a form embraced the world over as the original form of non-fiction writing. Long before biographies and creative non-fiction stories, essays dominated the literary non-fiction landscape. In Judith Cofer’s The Myth of the Latin Woman and James Weldon Johnson’s Outcasts in Salt Lake City, we find tales of minorities dealing with the difficulties of growing up in a country not entirely prepared for their existence. Each essay deals with this paradigm in its own way, telling a story of minority difficulties in a unique light. While both prove effective, Johnson’s Outcasts in Salt Lake City more effectively demonstrates the difficulties of growing up different in a society that refuses to accept diversity. Though both essays highlight these difficulties, Johnson more effectively employs the available literary devices in his outstanding work.
In this comparison, both essays tell a story through narrative, imagining again, in story, actual events as remembered by the author. When comparing two narratives, one should consider certain aspects in evaluation of each tale’s effectiveness. Firstly, how true does each story read? Can the reader effectively imagine the scene provided? Second, how powerful is the essay’s overall effect? Does the essay move the reader emotionally? Finally, how effectively does the writer employ the elements of literature in the essay? One must consider each of these questions in evaluation of the effectiveness of the works. In this case, both Cofer’s The Myth of the Latin Woman, and Johnson’s Outcasts in Salt Lake City prove themselves effective employments of the essay. However, Johnson’s Outcasts more effectively utilizes the available literary elements.
Perhaps most effective in both pieces is the intimate voice each author employs in the telling of their story. Both Johnson and Cofer allow the reader into a world they are likely not accustomed to seeing. In both cases here, the author transports white Americans into their world, revealing a darker side of the American subculture not seen by most. To do so, our two authors here range freely through the literary landscape. As T.W. Adorno notes in his work The Essay as Form, “The essay, however, does not permit its domain to be prescribed. Instead of achieving something scientifically, or creating something artistically, the effort of the essay reflects a childlike freedom that catches fire, without scruple, on what others have already done (Adorno, 152).” Both of the essays explored here realize the idea expressed by Adorno above with surprising...

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