HomeDiscussion ForumWould this suffice as a reasonable college admissions essay?

Would this suffice as a reasonable college admissions essay?

The essay question was to select one artifact of our species to send into space that was most telling of our identity. This is what I considered saying:
What one thing stands as most representative of humanity? It seems almost absurd to ask when human experience is so varied and when each of us has, to a greater or lesser extent, a different set of experiences that informs us. The problem is only compounded when we realize that the world we inhabit is not the world of our forebears, at least in its outward manifestations. If we wished to choose one thing that sufficed to convey our essence, it would have to be timeless although it was perhaps the product of one time and place; it would have to point inward to the unchanging core of human experience rather than outward to the ephemera of our daily lives; it would have to convey the complex interwoven tapestry of reason and emotion that is our species.
If I were pressed to select one thing that could suffice as our “message in a bottle,” it would be Shakespeare’s great tragedy King Lear. A cosmic wayfarer who found it washed up on the beach of some distant exoplanet would immediately know that we possessed a simple system of communicating and preserving our thoughts that used relatively few symbols. He would probably observe that certain groupings of symbols were repeated more often than others ”• information, perhaps ”• and the work of translation would begin. When that work was completed, he might recognize a physical world not unlike his own, a place of sun and storm, day and night. But he would know about more than our climate and topography, and he would be able to draw inferences beyond the commonplace that we must have a stratified society, not only because the play overtly represents it but because a civilization that records its history has moved beyond the level of raw subsistence, hunting and gathering.
He would begin to understand that this remarkable document is also an internal history of our species, set in a physical world as feral and threatening as the world of consciousness it mirrors. He would know that the family unit is a central organizer in human experience, a source both of joy and pain. He would know that we are duplicitous but have the potential for honesty, for growth, for self-recognition. He would know that pride precedes abasement as surely as night follows day, that the wise are sometimes fools and the fools wise, that we have a great capacity for cruelty and ignorance (but also for rising above it), that we are mortal (and suffering it strive to be immortal regardless), and that we are aware of all of these things and yet that knowledge, whether in the hands of sages, madmen, or fools, utterly lacks the power to alter our estate.
In short, he would know that our lives are riddles, that we are composites of reason and emotion, that the tissue separating love and hatred is sheer indeed. He might intuit, based upon the mere existence of such a document, that we value reflecting on such things, perversely perhaps, because they constitute a most extraordinary Gordian knot that will not be sundered by any Alexandrian solution. He would understand how important sight was in our sensory world, and that sight was also a metaphor embracing something we prize highly but few have, that those who possess the sense of sight are, in some more significant way, sometimes blind, whereas the blind can, in the same way, “see.” He would understand that our station in life confers on us nothing extraordinary other than the power and trust inherent in our office, that we are each and every one “forked creatures” who are mysteries to each other and, more tragically, to ourselves. He would know that this was the essence of who we were, that we had the wisdom to recognize it because we selected the play, but not the power to alter it, perhaps that our lives are run through with such ironies. He would know what it means to be abandoned as well as found, that all of our lives are struggles for legitimacy and intimacy, and that both are fleeting. He would know that our lives are a tragedy, as surely as we do . . .
I am less than totally sold on concision as a superordinate goal, and consequently have kept phatic utterances to a minimum. What I have done is perhaps to use anaphora almost as a bludgeon, and I could have used a lighter touch. However, the seriation and repetition is meant to effect persuasion, and in that regard it is successful. I would not cut too much because to do so would be to communicate intangibles less effectively.
What do you mean? “Duplicitous” and “abasement” are commonplaces in the realm of silver-plated sesquipedalians, are they not? LOL I certainly knew them and used them in my high-school writing.
I would like to suggest that if our only goal were to record and transmit information in the simplest way possible, essentially see the world as if we were little more than security cameras, then writing would not be the glorious activity that it is. Writing is an act of self-revelation and -explanation, of sharing our mind.
It is obfuscation only for the person who reads little and writes less. I was not asked to summarize Shakespeare’s play; I’ve reasoned that literate folks will have already read it and will understand my references to its elements.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I thank you for your reading of Lear: I have such a mixed view of that play, there is much here I think I can take away. Speaking personally, I would send cheese; this way too, he would know we have culture.

  2. Your essay is very good. You answered the prompt by suggesting Shakespeare’s King Lear would fulfill the criterion of representing our identify to an unknown alien species. Not only that, you gave insightful evidence suggesting that King Lear has the unique ability to represent many facets of human civilization. Furthermore, your choice of words was tactful and wise, normally I would advise against using words at a post graduate level such as “duplicitous” or “abasement”, but considering the context of the essay and your audience I think it enhances rather than detracts from your essay’s point.
    The only criticism I am able to generate is in regards to your first paragraph. I understand your goal in the first paragraph is to present your own opinion that human history isn’t in a vacuum or static ( an opinion I agree with I might add). The problem with doing this is that you leave the introductory paragraph more ambiguous and less confident than you should in an ideal essay. I suggest maintaining the general content of the introductory paragraph, while adding something along the lines of your first sentence in paragraph 2 to the first paragraph. By doing so, you will firmly establish your view on King Lear.
    I hope this helps.

  3. It’s well-written, yet I’m seeing an awful lot of visible padding. If I see it, so will Admissions. It could quite literally be cut by one quarter of its total word count, becoming leaner and more tightly written without losing any content.
    Play ‘Freshman English’ with it. What is the purpose of each paragraph? Is there a statement expressing that purpose, and all the other sentences supporting it? If not, revise it until it does. That’s step one of essay-writing.
    Step two is winnowing out all that does not directly support its paragraph’s thesis statement. This is both boring and difficult. Take it slow and easy, one paragraph at a time, one sentence, one phrase. Find words which can be deleted. (I think the adverbs are raising their hands.) Find a single word which can replace two or three. Find phrases or clauses which are well-written but do not contribute to the purpose.
    A sample of what I mean: You wrote
    He would begin to understand that this remarkable document is also an internal history of our species, set in a physical world as feral and threatening as the world of consciousness it mirrors. He would know that the family unit is a central organizer in human experience, a source both of joy and pain. He would know that we are duplicitous but have the potential for honesty, for growth, for self-recognition. He would know that pride precedes abasement as surely as night follows day, that the wise are sometimes fools and the fools wise, that we have a great capacity for cruelty and ignorance (but also for rising above it), that we are mortal (and suffering it strive to be immortal regardless), and that we are aware of all of these things and yet that knowledge, whether in the hands of sages, madmen, or fools, utterly lacks the power to alter our estate. (153 words)
    A one-pass revision:
    He would understand this remarkable document an internal history of our species, its physical world as feral and threatening as the consciousness it mirrors. He would know the family is central to human experience, a source both of joy and pain. He would see we are duplicitous yet have potential for honesty, growth, self-recognition. He would know our pride precedes abasement, the wise are sometimes fools and the fools wise, we have a great capacity for cruelty and ignorance and for rising above it, we are mortal yet strive to be immortal, and yet our knowledge of these truths, whether in the hands of sages, madmen, or fools, we utterly lack the power to alter our estate. (117 words)

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