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Reasons For Writing
Jean Paul Sartre wrote in “WhyWrite?”, “Why Write? Each one has his reasons. For one, art is flight; foranother, a means of conquering. But one can flee into a hermitage, intomadness, into death. Why does it have to be writing, why does one have tomanage his escapes and conquests by writing? Because, behind the various aimsof authors, there is a deeper and more immediate choice which is common to allof us. Writing is a way of wanting freedom.” The author answers his ownquestion, in that the purpose of writing could be to gain freedom. An authorcan use writing as a tool to express his ideas, as well as to send a messageto the reader. The message could be in the form of sending information, askinga question that encourages the reader to pursue the topic by expanding on it orby taking further actions. How can writing be used effectively to send amessage?
During the past semester, the threereadings that had the affected me the most were: “I Have A Dream”, by MartinLuther King, Jr., “The Ballot or the Bullet”, by Malcolm X, and “Among theCondemned”, by Charles Dickens. There are two main reasons for the affect theyhad on me. The first reason is the specific language that each author used inhis work. The second reason is how the authors presented the sense of strugglein the content of their message.
When I began reading “I Have ADream”, the opening paragraph sparked my interest for two reasons. I was veryimpressed with the language and the rhetoric he used in his speech. MartinLuther King Jr. said, ”Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to thesunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from thequicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is thetime to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” His description ofthe present status of Afro-Americans is characterized in the words: “dark”,“desolate”, and “quicksands of racial justice”. On the other hand, the future,as he sees it, is summarized in the words: “sunlit path of racial justice” and“solid rock of brotherhood”. This gives me a clear message as to his viewpointon racial inequality. Even a hundred years before this speech took place,Abraham Lincoln sent the same message. Abraham Lincoln, in his Annual Messageto Congress, December 1, 1862, said, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escapehistory… No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another ofus. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honour ordishonour to the last generation.”
The second reason, my interest wassparked, was by the level of motivation that I felt in his words. The wordsthat affected me the most were stated by Martin Luther King Jr. as, “Go back toMississippi, and go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back toGeorgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of ourNorthern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.” The motivational part of MartinLuther King, Jr.’s quote that influenced me was the idea of transporting hismessage around the country through his speech.
In “The Ballot or the Bullet”, byMalcolm X, the same purpose was directed by each author, except in a totallydifferent way. Malcolm X, just like Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted toidentify and specify the racial problem that Afro-Americans face in Americansociety. His rhetorical style was not as rich and did not have as muchsophistication in his choice of words as that of Martin Luther King Jr.. Malcolm X said, “It’s the year when all of the white politicians will be backin the so-called Negro community jiving you and me for some votes.” The word“jiving”, which he used, showed that he addressed his speech to a specific kindof audience. Throughout his speech, I felt as though anger was prevalent. Hesaid, “So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot,or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver-no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of thisAmerican system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’tsee any American dream; I see an American nightmare…” From this quote, he usedwords like “victim” and “nightmare”, which showed the anger that he hoped wouldbe shared by his listeners. In both oral presentations, “I Have A Dream” and“The Ballot or the Bullet”, the primary message of seeking immediate change wascharacterized. However, the method, of reaching racial equality that eachauthor offered, was very different. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s method wasthrough peaceful means and Malcolm X’s method was to change society throughviolence, if necessary.
The essay, “Among the Condemned”, byCharles Dickens, captured my attention for two reasons. The primary reason wasthe prison situation that was described in the passage. The second reason wasthe dramatic narrative style that the author used. By showing the situation inwhich the prisoner had less and less time to live, and by knowing the exacttime of his execution, the author kept my interest throughout the story. WhileI was reading the essay, I put myself in the situation of the prisoner. Bydoing this, I realized the feelings and emotions that a prisoner has to dealwith in the waning hours of his life. This is illustrated when Charles Dickenssaid, “It cannot be two yet. Hark! Two quarters have struck; the third-thefourth. It is! Six hours left.” The use of the narrative style in “Among theCondemned”, also helped me to get a clearer picture of the environment whichsurrounded the prisoner. Dickens said, “An iron candlestick was fixed into thewall at the side; and a small high window in the back admitted as much air andlight as could struggle in between a double row of heavy, crossed iron bars.” All the detailed descriptions that were used by the author had an emotional andspiritual effect on me.
Struggle is the common content in allthree pieces of literature. In the first two works, we can see the struggle ofAfro-Americans for their equality in society. The essay, “Among theCondemned”, also showed the struggle that a prisoner goes through. Anothercommon idea, that was exhibited in these three works, was the desire forfreedom. In the first two speeches, both speakers talked about social freedomand in the essay, the prisoner was seeking freedom from the prison cell.
The differences between the threeworks were in their purpose and in their writing style. The purpose of the twofreedom speeches was to motivate and encourage the listeners to respond to thespeech. On the other hand, the essay created a situation which encouraged thereader feel sympathetic towards the prisoner. Due to the motivational purposeof the speeches, the speakers used rhetoric to emphasize their messages. Sincethe essay’s purpose and the situation were different from the speeches, Dickenschose to use the narrative style for his writing.
The question “Why write?” can havemany answers. Some of the reasons for writing are: to motivate, to inform, toeducate, to influence, or to express one’s ideas. In these three readings, Ifound motivation, information, education, and the expression of ideas to be thereasons that these authors used. According to the Bible, Revelation, Chap. 21,verse 4, the answer to the question, “Why write?”, is, “And God shall wipeaway all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neithersorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former thingsare passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make allthings new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true andfaithful.” No matter what the reasons are for writing, it will remain aneffective means of expression and communication. Can you imagine how differentthe world would be if no one had ever found a purpose for writing?