Referencing Confusion

Referencing Confusion


Why do people write? In her essay “Writing to Connect,” Mary Pipher strives to answer this question, and find the true reason behind people’s writing. She also uses this question and explanation to persuade people to write more often. Pipher breaks her essay down into sections. In her first section, after her introductory paragraphs and her anecdote about how The Diary of Anne Frank affected her writing, Pipher explains how writing that is meant to bring about change does not need to be great literature (Pipher 203). Although some pieces of writing would be a lot stronger if they were truly works of art, writers can simply convey their points through propaganda and other techniques. In her second section, entitled “Moral Writing,” Pipher really gets to the meat of the question. Through many studies of writers and their works, she figures out why these writers write about certain issues, and what techniques they use to do this. In this section, she also persuades the reader to write more often. She does this by telling the reader why he or she should write, and how their writing can change the world. Throughout this essay, Mary Pipher uses countless references to other authors and their various pieces of writing. And while a few of these references are effective, some of them take away from the overall purpose of her essay and confuse the reader.

One of the most obvious rhetorical elements in Mary Pipher’s essay “Writing to Connect” is the numerous quotes and references that she makes. She references writings that she classifies as art, writings that are strictly informative and or persuasive pieces, writings that changed her personal views and beliefs, successful writings, unsuccessful writings, and writings that make examples for her. Some of these references are successful and affect the reader in a positive way, such as her introductory anecdote of how The Diary of Anne Frank changed the world through her eyes. This specific reference not only draws the reader in, but also shows how writing never dies and continues to change peoples’ views long after the writer is dead.

The reason this story is so effective is because Pipher uses another rhetorical device: imagery. She uses imagery in her introductory reference (The Diary of Anne Frank reference) along with a few others. Here, it is strong and very successful, as it also is in the few other references that she uses it in. She really paints a picture in the reader’s mind of what is happening. Another example of this strong imagery is conveyed in Mary Pipher’s final story. Although this is more of a personal story than a reference to a text, this is one of her strongest parts directly because of the imagery. Pipher describes,

“Old women with no teeth sat behind piles of peppers or rice. Listless children with dead eyes lay on ragged blankets behind their parents’ stalls or sat watching shoppers walk by. A skinny teenager was apprehended by soldiers, beaten, and thrown into the back of a black van, his mother running after him, screaming, pulling her hair” (207).

After reading this, I really feel like I am standing right there at the Burmese market with her. I can see in my mind exactly what’s happening. Its examples and anecdotes like these, with imagery, which draw the reader into the essay; make them want to read more, to understand the anecdotes, and to understand the writer’s overall point.

Without the imagery that Pipher uses in her first and last references, her essay would lack the emotional bond that is created by these stories. By telling these stories, Pipher lets the reader into her life a little bit, and shares her experiences, and her emotional reactions to these experiences. Without the imagery, she would just be telling another story; which would probably end up sounding like a summary. The reader wouldn’t get the emotional part of the story. Without this emotional connection, readers might as well just drop the essay and stop reading it because it would be dry and boring. Because this imagery is here, she creates the emotional connection with her reader’s that makes them want to continue to read the essay.

However, at some areas of Pipher’s essay, I found myself losing concentration more and more at each reference. I think that during the “Moral Writing” section of her essay, Pipher uses too many references. The sheer number of these references is just overwhelming, and as a reader, my mind began to drift farther and farther from the essay. (My count of authors or books and essays that she references is 32. This does not include her personal stories.) Almost every paragraph was about a new reference. At some points during this final section, I found myself lost and had to ask, “What does this have to do with the rest of the paper?” in order to get back on track. Had Pipher gotten rid of a few of these references and shortened her essay up a little, I think I would have found myself much more concentrated on the reading and the meaning, and it would have been a much easier essay to read and understand.

The points that I was most lost during this section were the points that Pipher quickly referenced and only gave a short one or two-sentence summary of what she was referencing. In some places this quick summary was not enough, “…Novello’s fictional protagonist wrote to real government officials, real heads of universities, and real CEO’s. Alongside Lazlo’s Silly letters were the actual replies he received. Most of the responses clearly showed that Lazlo’s letters had not carefully been read” (206). This is just one of these insufficient summaries. These two sentences do not help me to understand why Pipher is referencing these letters at all. She only loosely connects this reference to her question “Who am I to write?” (206). Many other references by Pipher come with no summary at all. She simply makes the reference and explains what effect it had. “President John Kennedy was so moved by Michael Harrington’s The Other America that he launched the War on Poverty…” (204) Pipher claims. Although this reference is intended to be short and sweet, the number of times she does this is confusing and overwhelming. If she had had just a few references like this, her paper would have been more effective. When this is paired with all the quick-summary references, it seems as though Pipher is skipping around a lot.

These short summaries also use no imagery. The reader can’t really paint a picture of what is happening in his or her mind, and can only think of the one or two sentences given. This lack of imagery fails to connect to the reader’s heart, and causes the reader to loose the emotional connection that he or she has during the beginning and ending anecdotes. Without this connection, the reader begins to sidetrack from the main purpose of the essay and starts to lose focus. Now they are just reading the words on the page, instead of reading the purpose beneath these words.

Another large reason for all of my confusion was because many of the writings that Pipher references, I had never heard of before. If I had known these references, I suppose it would have been a little less confusing. So this begs the question, “for whom might Pipher’s essay be most effective?” If Pipher’s essay were aimed at fairly experienced writers who are discouraged from writing, then her essay would probably be a success. These writers will most likely have heard of, if not read, many of the different references made. If Pipher’s essay were aimed at young, inexperienced writers who are discouraged from beginning there writing careers, then it would be less of a success. These young writers will probably not have heard of or be acquainted with many of the references made, and therefore it will only be confusing. Being the latter, I had to read this essay multiple times and am still somewhat confused as to her references.

Overall, the effectiveness of Pipher’s strong use of references, and her selective use of imagery is determined by the audience of her paper; a rhetorical aspect that could be a little bit clearer in this case. The introductory anecdote draws the reader in because it is something that almost everyone can relate to. The Diary of Anne Frank is something that many people have read and many more have heard of and understand what its about. The Holocaust Museum is something else that everyone can relate to that is also present in this story. Although not everyone has been to the museum, most everyone knows what its about. By using these simple relations, a sense of connectivity with the writer is given to the reader. The following references that Pipher uses can either pull the reader closer, or push them away. Had Pipher found the happy medium between her references and use of imagery, she could have written an essay that was effective to an audience of almost all writers; instead, the audience must be more select in order for her paper to be effective.

Works Cited

Pipher, Mary. “Writing to Connect.” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 200-208. Print.

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