The History of Essay and Its Importance in John Jeremiah Sullivan's The Ill-Defined Plot

Categories: Writing

In the essay “The III-Defined Plot” the author John Jeremiah Sullivan explores the history of the word essay and explains the importance of it as he argues that the definition for the word essay has been debated for over 400 years, this is because there’s a big confusion for what the essay truly means. In the reading Sullivan argues that because the word ‘essayist showed up in English before it did in French and in France the essay turns into something less intimate, more opaque, a question raises regarding what does it mean if the essayist are English but the essay is French.

“The essay is between high/low, finished/unfinished, literature/journalism and Oakham/Eyquem” (Sullivan, xxxiii). Next, the essays are held to mark the introduction of the essay as formal concept in the English writing and the essay has different meanings such as attempts, stab, something new, new to english and finally as a great masterpiece. The purpose of Sullivan for writing this essay is to make awareness about what is behind the word ‘essay’ and for people to be able to understand the value of the meaning of this word and lastly the importance of reading and writing essays as a collaboration to our history in humanity.

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Today, the essay can have different meanings for different people depending on the experiences they have lived when learning about how to write an essay, they can develop their writing skills in different styles and its opinion of relevance depends on each individual and their experience with writing.

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In my personal experience writing essays has always been hard for me, mostly in the beginning. This is because being raise in a different country very far away from the English language is different from learning english as a first language in America or being born with it. High school students in Chile don’t tend to have a lot of self motivation on learning a second language, so as it’s already hard enough to learn how to properly write in your own language it’s a bit more difficult to learn how to write remarkable essays in different language. In my high school they taught me how to write essay in a very strict way, we had to follow the rules and in my opinion it wasn’t a very fun way to learn so I wasn’t able to engage that much with the information that they were giving us about how to write an essay in English.

Next, there was always a confusion for me regarding the very different structure and meaning from the Spanish Essay to an English essay, the Spanish essay is a very informal writing so the mixture of this two learning process and rules always got in the way with writing in English. This definitely created a confusion and made it more hard sometimes for me to write properly in English. But, regardless of my lack of self motivation to learn how to write essays in a different language, as I kept growing and learning a few different things about life, I was able to understand that english is a very important element to our life these days and being able to speak it and even writing in it was going to open many different doors that were definitely going to help me as a survivor of this world.

Having that extra motivation for learning about the English language definitely made it easily to understand how to write and read essays, I was able to apply to a school in the United States and now I’m taking a class about english and writing an essay. Even though is still a challenge for me to write essays, it has definitely been helpful to have motivation which has help me learn many different things about the language and feel more confident and comfortable about my writing. I’m still working on having a personal style added to my writing, this is because coming from different cultures has definitely make it more hard for me to identify myself as a single style. Lastly, in my experience english courses have not only help me become a better writer but have also taught me a lot about the history of writing and also many things outside the class that are helpful not only as a student but also in my career plan and in my personal life.

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader- not the fact that is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon” (E.L. Doctorow). As Doctorow states, writing is all about expressing your opinion or creating an argument. I think that essays are still relevant today because they are a historic way of humans to express themselves that is use to target different audiences with different purposes. Even though the media is developing way too fast and everything is improving, it is still very necessary for authors of any kind to start with an base and in this case is the essay. The essay in my opinion can be seen as a way of advertising ideologies in which is not necessary to show it to the world but it definitely helps as a way of exploring your soul and mind, this is because writing teaches us and help us to express ourselves in a more logical and direct way which definitely creates a future with more confidence in creative speaking or writing, writing essays help develop a style in writing which then helps to develop a style in our speaking and thinking which are major key to our communication these days.

Humans over history have a tendency of making everything possible to speak their opinions or ideologies, it is consider a natural asset for humans to want to express their emotions through some work, either by speaking, writing or other actions like different arts. In the past, people weren’t required to write or read essays, but that didn’t stop them to be intrigue and reading them anyways. This is because as stated before, humans feel the need to speak their opinions or ideas and we feed up of other people’s ideas to develop our own and make a certain style for ourselves and also to know what we believe in. Writing and reading is a way to speak our minds, it is basically what we believe in, it doesn’t matter if its topics regarding politics, celebrity gossips, stories, etc. It is what we believe on, we need it in order to communicate with each other. I do believe essays are relevant and that people would read essays if they were not required to write them in school, and I believe that we will always consider the essay as relevant form because is the base for many things in our communication.

As Sullivan said, the word essay can have many meanings. But, masterpiece is definitely the word that I would use to described it, this is because it is amazing how it’s use is helpful for humans regarding communication. The essay is something so minimal but something so special that can have so many ideologies and opinions that can affect how people think throughout the years. Essays are a very relevant form and they will always have a place in history and intrigue people to be read, that’s why as Sullivan intention was in his essay, it is important to know the meaning of the word essay and it’s value in our society.

Works Cited

  1. Doctorow, E.L. “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader- not the fact that is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon”.
  2. Sullivan, John Jeremiah. The III-Defined Plot. “The essay is between high/low, finished/unfinished, literature/journalism and Oakham/Eyquem”. Best American Essays 2014.

Cite this page

The History of Essay and Its Importance in John Jeremiah Sullivan's The Ill-Defined Plot. (2021, Sep 13). Retrieved from

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