The topic in Siri Hustvedt’s essay “Living With Strangers” from 2002 is social behavior in big cities, more specifically how city dwellers quickly learn to ignore each other because it is impossible to relate to the hundreds of strangers we meet in the public sphere every day. Particularly the homeless or mentally ill are ignored. The writer explores the pros and cons of this attitude to urban living.
The writer, Siri Hustvedt, is an American author and has been living in New York since 1978, so she is very experienced with this particular topic. She wrote her essay in 2002, but the essay does not reflect its historical context or circumstances that much - except that increasing urbanization was and is a relevant issue. Because the topic is so universal, the potential readers is large. Most people can relate to living in a big city where the social code of conduct differs from life in rural areas.
Hustvedt’s intention is never absolutely clear, which may have to do with the essay genre: She focuses on reflection rather than clear conclusions and thus she mostly seems to want to inspire the readers to reflect on the way they behave around other people themselves.
The text makes use of various rhetorical devices and forms of appeal, and because it belongs to the essay genre it even borrows literary devices normally associated with fiction texts. These devices are evident in the language of the essay.
You can read a detailed analysis and discussion of Hustvedt’s essay in the following.
Do you want additional help with analysis of non-fiction? See our general guide to non-fiction analysis.