The Personal Essay

The Personal Essay , Dance of Language textbook Everyone loves a story, even a snippet of a story. Furthermore, the advantage of reading a story about a real person, whether living or not, is that the authenticity of it gives the reader a stronger connection to his own life. In the personal essay, perhaps the reader may not emulate the actions of the subject of such a story, but she most likely will subconsciously compare and contrast her life to the person writing or being written about. It’s human nature. We connect to human behaviors we read about in the context of our own behaviors. John Donne summed it up succinctly in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

So it is, no matter what age you live in, and thus we readers are drawn to writing about what interests us—real stories about real people, especially the personal narrative essay.

Writing a personal essay does not mean sharing every detail from birth to the present. This piece of writing focuses on a remembered incident or aspect of a person, describing details that not only make the subject of the piece seem real but also disclose the writer’s voice, a personality that seeps through the pages and gives the writing character. The same is true for a personal statement, often a requirement for a preparatory school, university, or job application.

The Personal Essay, Chapter 5, Dance of Language textbook Whether the theme of the essay is an observation of someone who made the world a better place, or humor expressed whimsically about the writer herself, it is the quality of being human, along the entire continuum of humanity, that connects us to each other’s joy and sorrow.