Between the earlier literature and the work of the eighteenth century it is clear that the letter and the sermon are two distinct genres of early American writing. The letter establishes an intimacy between the writer and the reader, while the sermon (and we can view Thomas Paine’s work as a sermon, of a sort, and certainly the work of David Walker) is meant to bring a large population into a shared communal experience.
Consider the pieces included in “Letters between John and Abigail Adams” and then the sermon-like works of Paine and Walker. Find specific phrases the authors are using to establish trust with their intended audience. How do these passages help establish a connection?
Next, it is recognized in the introduction to Benjamin Franklin’s work that he “is, on the one hand, the embodiment of the Age of Reason, and yet, on the other hand, he is decidedly modern, a masterfully agile performer of parts who (in the words of one critic) ‘envisaged the process of what might be called self-creation as the conscious playing of a series of calculated roles’” (293). The Autobiography is also widely recognized as the first great American prose narrative.
One of the elements of the work’s greatness is exemplified by specific storytelling techniques. Of these techniques, we see Franklin organizes his writing partially in the letter-form. Consider the tone of The Autobiography and the thoughts in “Benjamin Franklin Slept Here.” What does omission of certain details do to the story itself? Does it make it less true? Why or why not?
Finally, in your opinion, which of the three forms studied in this discussion post (letters, sermons, autobiographical narratives) is the most effective and why?