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Reasons For Writing
Jean Paul Sartre wrote in “Why Write?”, “Why Write? Each one has his reasons. For one, art is flight; for another, a means of conquering. But one can flee into a hermitage, into madness, into death. Why does it have to be writing, why does one have to manage his escapes and conquests by writing? Because, behind the various aims of authors, there is a deeper and more immediate choice which is common to all of us. Writing is a way of wanting freedom.” The author answers his own question, in that the purpose of writing could be to gain freedom. An author can use writing as a tool to express his ideas, as well as to send a message to the reader. The message could be in the form of sending information, asking a question that encourages the reader to pursue the topic by expanding on it or by taking further actions. How can writing be used effectively to send a message?
During the past semester, the three readings that had the affected me the most were: “I Have A Dream”, by Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Ballot or the Bullet”, by Malcolm X, and “Among the Condemned”, by Charles Dickens. There are two main reasons for the affect they had on me. The first reason is the specific language that each author used in his work. The second reason is how the authors presented the sense of struggle in the content of their message.
When I began reading “I Have A Dream”, the opening paragraph sparked my interest for two reasons. I was very impressed with the language and the rhetoric he used in his speech. Martin Luther 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 the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” His description of the 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 viewpoint on racial inequality. Even a hundred years before this speech took place, Abraham Lincoln sent the same message. Abraham Lincoln, in his Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862, said, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history… No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honour or dishonour to the last generation.”
The second reason, my interest was sparked, was by the level of motivation that I felt in his words. The words that affected me the most were stated by Martin Luther King Jr. as, “Go back to Mississippi, and go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.” The motivational part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote that influenced me was the idea of transporting his message around the country through his speech.
In “The Ballot or the Bullet”, by Malcolm X, the same purpose was directed by each author, except in a totally different way. Malcolm X, just like Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted to identify and specify the racial problem that Afro-Americans face in American society. His rhetorical style was not as rich and did not have as much sophistication 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 back in 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 kind of audience. Throughout his speech, I felt as though anger was prevalent. He said, “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 this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare…” From this quote, he used words like “victim” and “nightmare”, which showed the anger that he hoped would be 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 was characterized. However, the method, of reaching racial equality that each author offered, was very different. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s method was through peaceful means and Malcolm X’s method was to change society through violence, if necessary.
The essay, “Among the Condemned”, by Charles Dickens, captured my attention for two reasons. The primary reason was the prison situation that was described in the passage. The second reason was the dramatic narrative style that the author used. By showing the situation in which the prisoner had less and less time to live, and by knowing the exact time of his execution, the author kept my interest throughout the story. While I was reading the essay, I put myself in the situation of the prisoner. By doing this, I realized the feelings and emotions that a prisoner has to deal with in the waning hours of his life. This is illustrated when Charles Dickens said, “It cannot be two yet. Hark! Two quarters have struck; the third-the fourth. It is! Six hours left.” The use of the narrative style in “Among the Condemned”, also helped me to get a clearer picture of the environment which surrounded the prisoner. Dickens said, “An iron candlestick was fixed into the wall at the side; and a small high window in the back admitted as much air and light 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 and spiritual effect on me.
Struggle is the common content in all three pieces of literature. In the first two works, we can see the struggle of Afro-Americans for their equality in society. The essay, “Among the Condemned”, also showed the struggle that a prisoner goes through. Another common idea, that was exhibited in these three works, was the desire for freedom. In the first two speeches, both speakers talked about social freedom and in the essay, the prisoner was seeking freedom from the prison cell.
The differences between the three works were in their purpose and in their writing style. The purpose of the two freedom speeches was to motivate and encourage the listeners to respond to the speech. On the other hand, the essay created a situation which encouraged the reader feel sympathetic towards the prisoner. Due to the motivational purpose of the speeches, the speakers used rhetoric to emphasize their messages. Since the essay’s purpose and the situation were different from the speeches, Dickens chose to use the narrative style for his writing.
The question “Why write?” can have many answers. Some of the reasons for writing are: to motivate, to inform, to educate, to influence, or to express one’s ideas. In these three readings, I found motivation, information, education, and the expression of ideas to be the reasons that these authors used. According to the Bible, Revelation, Chap. 21, verse 4, the answer to the question, “Why write?”, is, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” No matter what the reasons are for writing, it will remain an effective means of expression and communication. Can you imagine how different the world would be if no one had ever found a purpose for writing?