What effect does this have?

Published by Jeannie R. Ferrell

Nov 17, 2022


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What to do:
When we talk about our creative nonfiction, one of the things we can discuss is the position of the “I” in the essay. In other words, when you write about yourself, where are you in the essay? Are you in the middle of the narrative? Are you completely on the outside watching the action or giving information? Are you somewhere in between these two? The answer to this question will depend on the writing choices you make for a particular piece.
On page 216 of your text, we read these bits:
…in their book, Writing True, Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz map out possible positions for the authorial “I” by drawing a diagram the consists of four circles. In the first circle, the “I” is in the center; in the second, the “I” shares the space with others; in the third, the “I” is near the edge; and in the fourth, the “I” is outside the circle altogether. “Wherever the ‘I’ stands,” they argue “its voice must be right for the part.”
Being right for the part usually means that the author’s voice is appealing and distinctive without being overwhelming. Sedaris is part of the action of his essay, but he does not dominate it. Granted, we see the chaos of the beginning French class from his entertaining perspective, and he does contribute some funny one-liners, but the real start of the show is the outspoken Moroccan woman, and Sedaris’s classmates and teacher play just as important a role in the essay as he does himself.
McClanahan’s “I” is much closer to the center of her essay’s circle. She writes about her life and emotions in some detail, yet we never have the sense that she is conceited in any way. Partly that’s because she sees herself with such a cynical eye.
For this discussion, I want you to choose one of the essay (I provided on the next page labeled FIRST LOVE By Gary Soto) of your text and describe where the “I” is for that essay. In other words, does the writer put themself in the middle of the circle? (Another way to think of this is in the middle of the essay like McClanahan.) Is the writer in the essay but not alone? (In the circle with others but not dominating like Sedaris?) Or is the writer near the edge or on the outside of the circle looking in, not involved in the action like Doyle? What effect does this have? Do you feel yourself being drawn to one type of essay over another in this regard?


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