The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Henry Box Brown (b. 1816) was born in Louisa County, Virginia, and was a slave for thirty-three years before escaping to Philadelphia in a three-by-two-foot box. His life as a slave was relatively free from physical abuse by his slaveholders. His first owner was John Barret, a former Richmond mayor. Upon Barret's death, Brown was enslaved by William Barret, John's son. Brown was fed, clothed, and given spending money, much to the amazement of slaves on neighboring plantations. However, despite this relatively liberal treatment, he suffered many trials and much heartache as a slave. In his narrative, Brown explains that the horrors of slavery were not limited to physical abuse alone. The pains he suffered were tortures of the heart and soul, as illustrated by the sale of his wife and children. This act of cruelty drove Brown to escape. Assisted by friends, and trusting in divine providence to deliver him safely, Brown arrived in Philadelphia jarred, but in one piece. After his escape, he traveled across New England delivering antislavery lectures, and he also showcased a moving panorama called "Henry Box Brown's Mirror of Slavery" in 1850. He moved to England later that year in fear of the Fugitive Slave Act, which was passed soon after. He exhibited the panorama in Liverpool, Manchester, Lancashire, and Yorkshire through the spring of 1851 and continued to lecture. Brown returned to the United States from England in 1875 with his new wife and daughter Annie, and he performed as a magician. The date and location of his death are unknown. Charles L. Stearns (1809-1867), a wealthy merchant and abolitionist, was Brown's biographer. Stearns earned a fortune early in his career as a shy, conservative Massachusetts businessman. He organized the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee in 1856, and when the Civil War began, he used his money to work for emancipation and then civil rights. After the Emancipation Proclamation, he began organizing the Freedman's Bureau. He also created organizations to lobby for the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution. Recognized by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and given a commission as a major, he became the Assistant Adjutant General for the Recruitment of Colored Troops in 1863. Stearns had many famous and influential friends, including the Emersons, the Alcotts, William Lloyd Garrison, and Andrew Johnson. The begins with a preface explaining that readers should not expect "to hear and see some new thing" to amuse and entertain in its pages but that readers will "be made acquainted with the horrid sufferings" of slavery and Brown's triumphant escape (p. ). Just as Lazarus astonished people in New Testament times when he emerged from the grave, overcoming death, Brown's emergence from his escape box evoked a similar response in its symbolic denunciation of slavery. Brown also includes an original hymn of thanksgiving in the preface, setting a tone of praise and deliverance fully articulated at the 's conclusion. Brown explains that there are two sides of slavery: that of disturbing violence and abuse and that of "comparative freedom" (p. ). His narrative presents the so-called "beautiful side of the picture of slavery" because of "partial kindness" on the part of his master, John Barret (p. ). Brown was never whipped, and he never went naked or hungry. He explains that "It was not for fear of the lash's dreaded infliction, that I endured that fearful imprisonment," but rather "those inner pangs which rend the heart of fond affection" (p. 12). Perhaps the best illustration of Brown's relatively humane treatment while enslaved is the description of his travels to a granary in a neighboring county. While he and his brother were there delivering grain to the mill, a number of resident slaves "turned and gazed earnestly" upon Brown and his brother. The slaves in Yansinville county were amazed to see them dressed in shoes, vests, and hats, and said they had "never seen negroes dressed that way before" (p. ). When their first master was dying, the Brown brothers were summoned to his bedside. The young boys were excited, as they "expected to be set free when he died" (p. ). However, he simply commanded that they be obedient to his son, William, who would inherit them as his own. Brown was thirteen years old at the time. Brown spent the next several years in the Richmond, Virginia, tobacco plant owned by William Barret. Slaves there worked fourteen hours a day in the summer and sixteen in the winter. Brown exerted himself "to the utmost to please Barret who rewarded him with a new suit of clothing, spending money, and a continued immunity to the whip (p. ). In 1836, when Brown reached his twenties, he fell in love with Nancy, a woman enslaved by a Mr. Lee, who worked for the local bank. Brown explains that their "friendship ripened into mutual love," and they soon after asked for permission to be married (p. ). Brown was able to pay his wife's new slaveholder fifty dollars a year to persuade him to keep her in his ownership, as well as seventy-two dollars to rent a house for their family, which grew to include three children. In August of 1848, as usual, Brown left his wife and three children at home, where Nancy worked washing the clothes of her slaveholder's family. But when he returned, he learned that they had been sold to another slaveholder, a Methodist minister from North Carolina. Brown went to his master and begged for help in retrieving his family members but was told only that "you can get another wife" (p. ). Extremely distressed by this betrayal, Brown resolved to escape. He burned his finger with vitriol oil and claimed that he was too injured to work in order to excuse himself from work and buy time to plan his escape. In 1849, he heard in his mind these words: "Go and get a box, and put yourself in it" (p. ). Stearns includes a footnote with his confidence in the truth of this account, writing, "Reader, smile not at the above idea, for if there is a God of love, we must believe that he suggests steps to those who apply to him in times of trouble" (p. 59). Brown hired a carpenter to build a box and enlisted his friends Samuel Smith, a white Massachusetts native, and James C. Smith, a free African-American dentist and merchant, to help him make his escape. The Smiths put him in the box and shipped it to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia. The journey was physically exhausting and dangerous, as Brown spent much of it on his head, upside down, despite the "this side up with care" memo on top of the box. Brown did not bring any food or water besides a water bladder to "bathe [his] neck with, in case of too great heat" (p. ). After several hours of "terrible pain" in which death seemed an "inevitable fate," Brown arrived at his destination (p. ). After a short time in Pennsylvania, Brown proceeded to Massachusetts, where he spoke at an anti-slavery rally in Boston. There he won the moniker "Henry 'Box' Brown". Brown continued to fight for abolition by publishing his narrative and touring New England to promote it with antislavery lectures in the fall of 1849. He did the same in England the following year. The concludes with an endorsement of an essay written by Stearns that follows. Brown admits that Stearns's subject matter "may not be as interesting as the account of my sufferings," but proposes that any reader with the pure intentions of helping his "brethren in bondage" will "not be unwilling to hear what he may say to you" (p. ). : Blackett, R.J.M., , Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1983, 25; Brooks, Daphne, Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2006; Emerson, Ralph W., "Tribute to George L. Stearns" in , by Frank Preston Stearns, 115-7, Teddington: Echo Library, 2006; Encyclopedia Virginia. "," accessed Nov. 18, 2011.; Heller, Charles E, , Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996; Switala, William J., , Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2001; Wolff, Cynthia Griffin, "Passing Beyond the Middle Passage: Henry ‘Box' Brown's Translations of Slavery," 37.1, 1996.
A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.
When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.
It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays often times manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.
What is left out is what the book or article is about -- the underlying concepts, assumptions, arguments, or point of view that the book or article expresses. A narrative report leaves aside a discussion that puts the events of the text into the context of what the text is about. Is the text about love? Life in the fast lane? Society? Wealth and power? Poverty? In other words, narrative reports often overlook the authors purpose or point of view expressed through the book or article.
The purpose of a narrative report is to describe something. Many students write narrative reports thinking that these are college essays or papers. While the information in these reports is basic to other forms of writing, narrative reports lack the "higher order thinking" that essays require. Thus narrative reports do not, as a rule, yield high grades for many college courses. A basic example of a narrative report is a "book report" that outlines a book; it includes the characters, their actions, possibly the plot, and, perhaps, some scenes. That is, it is a description of "what happens in the book." But this leaves out an awful lot.
Do not forget that the business of the essay is to make a point. In his essay, Orwell succeeds in portraying the horrors of an imperialist state, showing how the relationship between the oppressed Burmese and the British oppressor is dehumanizing to both. When writing a narrative, it is easy to get caught up in the telling of the story and forget that, eventually, our reader is going to ask So What? and there had better be an answer.
Since a narrative relies on personal experiences, it often is in the form of a story. When the writer uses this technique, he or she must be sure to include all the conventions of storytelling: plot, character, setting, climax, and ending. It is usually filled with details that are carefully selected to explain, support, or embellish the story. All of the details relate to the main point the writer is attempting to make.
Effective narrative essays allow readers to visualize everything that's happening, in their minds. One way to make sure that this occurs is to use concrete, rather than abstract, details.
Summary: The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
When you write a narrative essay, you are telling a story. Narrative essays are told from a defined point of view, often the author's, so there is feeling as well as specific and often sensory details provided to get the reader involved in the elements and sequence of the story. The verbs are vivid and precise. The narrative essay makes a point and that point is often defined in the opening sentence, but can also be found as the last sentence in the opening paragraph.