Elements of the Personal Essay

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1. Conversational in tone: It tends to use more casual language and almost takes the reader into the author's confidence.
2. Self-revelatory: The author makes an attempt, however unsuccessful, at psychological honesty.  The personal essay lends itself to vulnerability and the removal of illusions.
3. "The Contractions and Expansions of the Self." The personal essayist tends to cycle between self-deflation, which paradoxically leads to an internal stress on the author's complex personality.  As such, the author is subject to egotism, especially in letting her voice dominate the subject matter.
4. Often Confrontational: The essayist wants to defy the majority opinion.   Perhaps he is irreverent or ironic.
5. "The Idler Figure." Authors tend to picture themselves as retired from the world or on the edges of the literary market. 
6. A Fascination with Perception and Detail: The author tends to spend lovingly time and care on descriptions of matters often overlooked.
7. The Melancholy of Unrealized Dreams: The author reaches a realization that one must make due with who one is.
8. Digressive: free association in form; experimental in its attempts.  And the subject tends to be tentative in its conclusions.
9. Carefully Focused Prose: The author knows how to "narrow in on an emotional target" and how to flesh out her ideas with literary language, such as metaphor, simile, imagery, and allusion.
10. A Display of Learning: It often to give a sense of the author's education, culture, or intelligence.  The quotation has often been a form of this kind of display, especially pre-20th century.

adapted from Phillip Lopate's introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay. NY Doubleday, 1995.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding