Definition of Essay
Essay is derived from a French word essayer, which means to attempt, or to try. An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives personal opinion of an author. A famous English essayist Aldous Huxley defines essays as, “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.” Oxford Dictionary describes it as “a short piece of writing on a particular subject.” In simple words, we can define it as a scholarly work in writing that provides the author’s personal argument.
Types of Essay
There are two forms of essays; literary and non-literary. Literary essays are of four types:
- Expository Essay – In an expository essay, the writers give explanation of an idea, theme or issue to the audience by giving their personal opinions. This essay is presented through examples, definitions, comparison, and contrast.
- Descriptive Essay – As it sounds like, it gives description about a particular topic or describes the traits and characteristics of something or a person in details. It allows artistic freedom and creates images in the minds of readers through the use of five senses.
- Narrative Essay – Narrative essay is non-fiction, but describes a story with sensory descriptions. The writers not only tell story, but also make a point by giving reasons.
- Persuasive Essay – In this type of essay, a writer tries to convince his readers to adopt his position on a point of view or issue after he provides them solid reasoning in this connection. It requires a lot of research to claim and defend an idea. It is also called an argumentative essay.
Non-literary essays could also be of the same types but they could be written in any format.
Examples of Essay in Literature
“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice. A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae’d stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”
(From “The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo” by Jeffrey Tayler)
This is an example of a descriptive essay, as the author has used descriptive language to paint a dramatic picture for his readers of an encounter with a stranger.
“It is impossible to love, and be wise … Love is a child of folly. … Love is ever rewarded either with the reciprocal, or with an inward and secret contempt. You may observe that amongst all the great and worthy persons…there is not one that hath been transported to the mad degree of love: which shows that great spirits and great business do keep out this weak passion…That he had preferred Helena, quitted the gifts of Juno and Pallas. For whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitted both riches and wisdom.”
(Of Love by Francis Bacon)
In this excerpt, Bacon attempts to persuade the readers that people, who want to be successful in this world, they must never fall in love. By giving an example of famous people like Paris, who chose Helen as his beloved but lost his wealth and wisdom, the author attempts to convince the audience that they can lose their mental balance by falling in love.
“I am afraid I do not attract attention, and yet there is not a single home in which I could done without. I am only a small, black kettle but I have much to interest me, for something new happens to me every day. The kitchen is not always a cheerful place in which to live, but still I find plenty of excitement there, and I am quite happy and contented with my lot…”
(The Autobiography of a Kettle by John Russell)
In the following example, the author is telling an autobiography of a kettle and describes the whole story in chronological order. The author has described kettle as a human being, and allows the readers to feel, as he has felt.
Function of Essay
The function of an essay depends upon the subject matter, whether the writer wants to inform, persuade, explain or entertain. In fact, the essay increases the analytical and intellectual abilities of the writers as well as readers. It evaluates and tests the writing skills of a writer and organizes his/her thinking to respond personally or critically to an issue. Through an essay, the writers present their arguments in a more sophisticated manner. In addition, it encourages the students to develop concepts and skills such as analysis, comparison and contrast, clarity, exposition, conciseness, and persuasion.