Composing a compelling essay or speech, which immediately hooks its audience, can be a difficult task. It is vital to understand who will be reading or listening to the text, personalizing the content and delivery style accordingly. In their essays, “Mother Tongue” and “Reading to Write” Amy Tan and Stephen King respectively do a marvelous job addressing the audience, creating a conversational tone that captivates the reader. While both the contents and the writing approaches differ for the two writers, the texts are equally engaging and moving. Both authors use the first and second-person pronouns, personal anecdotes, and word choices to engage the readers. Most importantly, through their writing, Tan and King convey their passion for literary art, inspiring their audience, even though they use very different approaches.
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First, it is important to note that the “Mother Tongue” was initially presented as a speech, while “Reading to Write” is an extract from Stephen King’s book. This vital difference can be observed in the way the two authors use conversational first and second-person pronouns throughout their pieces. In “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan relates her experiences and anecdotes in first-person but scarcely addresses the audience directly, understandably not singling out individuals. Tan only uses “you” a couple of times in the entire piece, the two surrounding the example of her mother’s speech (171). On the other hand, King uses the second-person pronoun throughout his essay, starting with a direct address to the audience. The first sentence, beginning with “If you want to be a writer…” immediately sets the tone of the essay as conversational and prepares the reader to receive wisdom from the famous writer (King 178). The continuous use of the second-person pronoun by King differentiates his essay from “Mother Tongue” by creating a more personal relationship between the reader and the written piece.
Secondly, the two authors seem to have different agendas: King advocates the importance of reading for writers, while Tan discusses her mother’s language influences. As mentioned previously, the tones of the two essays, while both conversational, still differ. Since King strives to share his wisdom with, potentially, other aspiring writers on a specific topic, the language he uses throughout his piece is assertive, such as “you must” (178). King makes confident statements and shamelessly puts facts in front of the readers, such as the concluding summarizing sentiment that “the more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself” (182). Tan, on the contrary, uses descriptive language in her speech, relating her and her mother’s experiences rather than trying to convince the audience of something. Unlike King, the primary purpose of her paper is to narrate a story with the use of various anecdotes, which can be seen in the use of “recently,” “just last week,” “lately,” and other temporal expressions throughout (Tan 170-172). This creates a storytelling tone, which contrasts the King’s persuasive manner.
Thirdly, the advice and experiences King offers are relatively general, while Tan talks about specifically what she has encountered in her life. King seems to generalize most of his statements, extending his own experiences to a general rule. This is evident in his use of first-plural pronouns, such as “we read to experience,” which is a generalized statement (179). Hence, this has an encompassing effect that adds to the readers’ perception of King as wise, as he creates a knowledgeable persona for himself. On the other hand, Tan speaks of her “personal opinions” and only relating them to the general question of Asian-American writers in a couple of sentences in her paper (170). Although she talks about “surveys” about “Asian students,” it is only a tiny portion of her narrative, highlighting that her speech’s priority is sharing her particular stories rather than representing a group (174). This can also be seen in the prevalence of first-person pronouns over second and third in Tan’s essay, contrasting King’s use of the pronouns. Overall, the natures of the two pieces are pretty distinct, which comes from the different objectives the authors hold in writing.
Furthermore, Stephen King, unlike Amy Tan, makes use of rhetorical questions to engage the audience further. Throughout the essay, King inquires the audience, “can I be blunt on the subject?” which helps the audience feel included in the conversation and makes the piece more personal. King makes use of his already established authority by letting the audience believe that they have the author’s respect. On the other hand, Tan does not use rhetorical questions, allowing the audience to relax and listen to the narrative instead of mentally participating in it. These differences in the styles of the two authors are important, as they highlight the abovementioned stylistic discrepancies between King’s personal and Tan’s less personal ones.
Lastly, the authors’ passion for writing is evident throughout the two essays, with the expressed motivations for it determining some of the differences. From Tan’s piece, we get the sense of struggle that has motivated her to become the writer she is today. She uses the anecdotes about her childhood and the lengthy example of her mother’s manner of speech to convey the difficulties she encountered on her writing path. She uses humor in her narrative, talking about her boss once calling writing her “worst skill” and yet pursuing her passion nevertheless (174). Her motivation for becoming an author stems from the uniqueness of her mother’s English and expressions, which she relates with childhood anecdotes. On the other hand, King talks little about his childhood experience as motivation for his writing career. Instead, he, once again, appeals to something many more people can relate to – reading and judging other people’s writing. He compares the feeling of knowing he wanted to become an author with “losing his or her virginity,” but not all of his anecdotes are writing-related. King and Tan differ in their portrayal of passion for writing, but equally effective.
In conclusion, although different at first glance, both of the essays offer excellent examples of conversational writing that invigorates the audience to follow their own passions. Comparing the two pieces allows one to appreciate the beauty of language and the many ways it can be manipulated to convey thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The fact that both Stephen King and Amy Tan employ the same literary methods but use them in unique ways displays the complexity of writing as an art. The authors have different goals in relating their narratives and writing their essays, which comes through in the stylistic differences of the pieces. Their similarities and differences, seen in the language choices, contextual choices for the anecdotes, as well as the clever use of the pronouns, engages the audience in different ways. Both pieces leave the readers thinking about what they have just read or listened to, which serves as a great sign of a successfully written work.
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King, Stephen. Reading to Write. PDF file.
Tan, Amy. Mother Tongue. PDF file.