Lopate’s introduction explains the qualities of successful personal essay. What most resonates with me is self-knowledge and sincere humbleness. If an author is genuinely humble when writing the personal essay, intimacy–“the hallmark of the personal essay”–is created. No reader wants to hear (or read) someone they do not even know ramble on and on self-righteously and arrogantly about personal details of his/her life. humbleness is critical for the personal essayist because it is the mother of companionship between the reader and writer. This intimacy opens doors to the other important qualities, like self-discovery.
Self-belittlement in personal writing is endearing for a reader. Not only because the reader’s trust in the writer comes form learning their own faults and uncertainties, but also because it leads to self-knowledge. It might seem like this lovable, sincere, self-deprecation lessens an author’s power, but it is quite the contrary. By confessing his/her own faults, and “[submitting] voluntarily to the reader’s censuring handcuffs,” the author can then assert his/her power and metaphorically”[slip] them off with malicious ease.”
An author can speak with moral conviction and still avoid avoid seeming self-righteous and arrogant if only s/he reveals “a frank, shaded account of [his/her] own feelings.” By this Lopate means that the personal essayist should provide a bit of background and reason for what s/he preaches. An example is author George Orwell presenting himself as somewhat of a fascist even though he stands for worker’s rights and equality. This humble self-knowledge serves to get the personal essayist off the pedestal, bringing him/her to the same level as the reader–making the author more relate-able and thus likable. The author is no longer a paternal, righteous entity but an ordinary person no grander than the reader.