What sort of essay is "Families," by Jane Howard?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In her 2000 essay "Families," Jane Howard offers her rubric for what constitutes a "good" family, and why. Her reasoning is based on personal opinion, bolstered with anecdotes and examples from her own life.

The style of the essay is that of a 10-point lecture, each point introduced in the first sentence and then backed up. In the sense that it is meant to persuade the reader of her opinion, the essay can be called a "persuasive essay," which intends to introduce a topic and then convince the reader of its veracity. Since Howard has ten points to cover, she cannot devote a great deal of space to any one, instead using a basic technique of "topic, example," throughout. For example:

(2) Good families have a switchboard operator – someone like my mother who cannot help but keep track of what all the others are up to, who plays Houston Mission Control to everyone else’s Apollo. This role, like the foregoing one, is assumed rather than assigned. Someone always volunteers for it. That person often also has the instincts of an archivist, and feels driven to keep scrapbooks and photograph albums up to date, so that the clan can see proof of its own continuity.
(Howard, "Families," cyc-net.org)

Here we see the importance of a "switchboard operator" to monitor and direct all the myriad family issues throughout the day, and some examples of how this works. The Houston allegory shows how the central figure must be aware of dozens of factors. While she is not concerned with statistics, Howard's informal style is one that can resonate personally with people.

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