The form of letters forces relationships research Note

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in April 2018

200 words / 1 min.
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The form of letters imposes obligations, emphasizes authority, and exerts certain kinds of authority.

“Because letters make their address to audience explicit,” writes Elizabeth Hewitt, “they emphasize reciprocity:”

indeed, the letter’s address works to make reciprocity all but ineluctable. For example, the conventional superscription to a letter that qualifies the reader as “dear” asserts an intimacy between reader and writer that the reader is goven almost no space to resist.1

David M. Stewart adds to Hewitt’s point:

The same is true for the debt incurred by receiving a letter, which had to be answered or risk injuring the sender. Character aside, salutatory endearments and the debts incurred by receiving letters projected family authority directly beyond the home.2