Powerful Paragraphs

Powerful Paragraph #3

Imagine that the streets are dead quiet, and you lived on those dead quiet streets, and there is nothing left of anything you once owned. Those rare survivors who are still present on the scene, working in those skeletal byways, are dressed in blue disposable jumpsuits and wearing face masks to avoid being burned by the black mold that is everywhere in their homes, climbing up the walls, forming slippery abstract figures underfoot. While this is going on and you are wondering whether you will find remains of anything that you every loved, tourists are passing by in an air-conditioned bus snapping images of your personal destruction. There is something affirming, I can see, in the acknowledgement by the tourists of the horrendous destructive act, but it still might feel like invasion. And anyway, I do not believe the tour buses ever made it to the street where I grew up.

from The Yellow House by Sarah M Broom

In this paragraph, Sarah M Broom describes the cleanup process in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This is from her memoir about her own family’s experiences in New Orleans, and it is powerful because it is raw and real and because it establishes tension between the rough reality of loss faced by the locals and the gawking curiosity of tourists. Notice the use of 2nd person in this paragraph. Writing in 2nd person (you, your, you’re) is often discouraged, especially in student writing, but Broom uses it effectively here to draw the reader into the experience. She invites the reader to image being the position so many experienced by so many in New Orleans after the devastating losses of Katrina. The you referred to then is both the reader and the lives of New Orleans residents that the reader is being asked to project into for the sake of experiencing empathy. Ending the paragraph with a 1st person reference after writing using 2nd person for several sentences is even more powerful. It reminds us that the author is someone who was there, someone who went through the loss she is describing.