There are many similarities between Jia Tolentino’s “Always Be Optimizing” and “I Thee Dread,” man of which connect the pieces, showing that they had been written by the same author to a reader who had never read Tolentino.
In terms of theme, the essays share that of feminism through the lense of a young modern woman. Both reflect the gender roles of women in society that Tolentino is trying to break out of. “Always be Optimizing” establishes the idea of the “ideal woman,” showing a preconceived notion of perfection that Tolentino argues is unattainable and unfair to be held to. Another standard women are supposed to be held to is their desire for a large wedding, family, and a domestic life – something she opposes in “I Thee Dread.”
The unique marks of Tolentino are recognizable in both pieces. They are written with a lax tone, looking more like a blog or casual journal than a novel. Both pieces also contain the plentiful use of dashes to insert thoughts in the middle of other thoughts rather than traditional syntax. Neither shy away from using explicit language. This comes across as Tolentino’s attempt at bringing a human element to her work, accentuating her feelings with emphatic swearing – the use of swears to convey how ones emotions matter more than their social conduct, thus proving the importance of her points. It also shows her confidence as she does not tip toe around the conventions of literature, she just says what wants to say.
Tolentino also marks her work with references to her life, allowing readers to know it is her and not just someone who writes like her. She mentions people in her life, such as her boyfriend or her friends, who would not be in anyone else’s story. Both essays mention Tolentino’s time in the Peace Corps and what she did afterwards, clearly an important time in her life.