What do the literary essay and the short story have in common?
Both the literary essay and the short story have a singleness of purpose that is developed through an adherence to a certain form. Not to be confused with the literary analysis, a literary essay delivers a clear message upon a real topic as it focuses upon personal experiences. These essays can be formal--on a serious subject, carefully organized, and intellectual--or informal--lighter and less structured. While short stories do not always focus upon personal experiences, certainly, their themes relate to the insights and ideas of their authors in the telling of the human experience.
One example of a literary essay is "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell; in this essay Orwell describes an incident of his personal experience as a British colonial policeman in Burma. In the introduction of his essay, he informs his audience on the injustices of colonization and the perplexing situations that evolve between the ruler and the ruled. Then, as the essay continues, Orwell describes one day in his career as policeman in which he was called upon to handle a situation involving an elephant who had gone rogue and killed a coolie. As he continues, Orwell describes his struggles between his moral conscience and the concept of imperialism. As he faces the elephant, who has become symbolic of the English dominion in Burma, Orwell realizes that the idea of empire cannot be reconciled with one's morality. However, he succumbs to the pressure of representing the British Raj, and shoots the elephant "solely to avoid looking a fool." His thesis is stated after his introduction:
...the real motives for which despotic governments act," and "the futility of the white man's dominion in the East.
While the short story is fictional and its structured plot more defined, it, too, has a single idea upon which it is built and a certain theme or themes that it develops through conflicts and characterization and/or setting, Unlike the literary essay, however, the short story is rarely, if ever, developed in the inverted pyramid structure as is Orwell's, for example. Often, too, the short story depicts a character's attitude and perspective, while the literary essay focuses upon the writer's perspective.
The short story is a short prose which depicts a single event. Literary analysis encourages a student to think about how and why a piece of literature was written. A literary analysis is an essay which can analyze the author's development of theme in a short story.