The term epistle refers to a letter. An epistolary is a type of writing where the author uses letters or journal entries to tell a story. While the writing may seem more disjointed than a typical narrative, there are advantages to using this form. Letters are first-hand accounts of events, and they allow the reader a glimpse into a character's innermost thoughts and feelings. Through letters, an author is able to highlight the experiences that matter the most to characters on an emotional level.
The Diary of Anne Frank has become a popular first-hand account of the events of the holocaust. Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who hid with her family from Nazis. She was eventually captured and taken to a concentration camp, where she died. The diary that she kept while in hiding was discovered, and it tells of the holocaust from Anne's eyes. In the end of her writings, just days before she was captured, she mused that in spite of all that had happened to her and her family, she believed that people were "good at heart."
The Color Purple by Alice Walker is another example of epistolary. Celie, a poor African American girl, tells a story through letters to God and to her sister. By using letters, Walker gives Celie voice and agency, when in her reality, she has little of both.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is also an example of epistolary. The story of Frankenstein is reveled through letters of Robert Walton and of Victor Frankenstein. The "monster" also has a voice in the novel as well.
Flowers for Algernon can also be considered an epistolary. The first human subject for a research experiment, Charlie Gordon, tells a story through his lab reports. The reader is able to see the horrible effects of the experiment through Charlie's reports.
Literary Terms Examples