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Descriptive essays are a genre of observation papers that use details to provide its audience with a vivid experience of a pace, event, or object. Kelly Schmitt’s “The Old Man Isn’t There Anymore” is an excellent example of this type of essay. Within her article, Schmitt notes the differing cultures of China and America through her own personal experience involving the funeral of a neighbor. Her writing can be considered an observation essay for many reasons.
Writing about the Chinese traditions that are associated with a funeral provided great material for her observation.
Observing traditional events that require the participation of the author typically make it easier for the reader to connect with the text and experience the tradition through the essay. Particular aspects of tradition, like how white is “the color associated with death in China” (109), really adds to the reader’s understanding of the author’s emotions when she feels embarrassed for bringing red roses. In addition to this, adding the minute detail of how the funeral-goers “sipped sugar water, a symbol of heavenly bliss” (111).
The little tidbits of information that Schmitt includes bring life and believability to the experience. By doing this, she is able to effectively captivate her audience and convince them that they are experiencing the same event she did. Furthermore, Schmitt managed to apply many vivid sensory details throughout her observation. She used multiple senses in order to make her topic come alive. Multiple senses are used, especially in the description of the flower arrangements.
For instance, the sight of the red roses against the multitude of white flowers and the recognizable scent of lilies (109) allows readers to experience the scene themselves. Vivid details help build observations and allow the subject to become memorable for the reader. Last, Schmitt’s direct language when describing objects helped her paper become an observation. Instead of vagueness, she was able to describe objects vividly. For example, instead of simply stating the word “cat”, she gave the animal depth by writing, “lazy white cat who liked to sleep all day in the nook beneath the bannister” (109). This aided the reader by providing a strong mental picture and allowed the writing to come alive. Schmitt’s use of precise language clarifies and makes her thought process more accessible to readers.
Kelly Schmitt’s article is considered an observational essay because she provided close attention to detail and applied many instances of sensory information. She chose a topic that she witnessed with her own eyes, which helped drive her paper. She used many vivid sensory details. She also used precise language to write about objects, rather than being vague. She was able to effectively examine and observe a tradition in Chinese culture, and her article allowed readers to experience it with her.
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