2: Assignment, sample red
essays, blue and green
Write an interesting, tightly-built, well-proven argument about Susan
Douglass "Narcissism as Liberation". You will be proving
a thesis about the Douglas essay, but bring in the Percy essay as contrasting
Choose from one of the following approaches:
- Attack the essay. Prove that Douglas makes a move in her argument that
ends up undermining her credibility in some fundamental way. You might
focus on the concept of narcissism as its defined in
the essay, or on Douglass hypocritical embrace of some specific
kind of advertising technique, or on her treatment of other women in the
the possibilities are endless. Make sure to include in your
attack at least one contrast to a specific and appropriate passage in
the Percy essay.
-Defend the essay. Prove that what seems like weakness or self-contradiction
is actually a surprising or subtle strength of "Narcissism as Liberation".
Hone in on any of the topics listed above ("narcissism," ad
technique, sisterhood), or come up with another topic that has particular
power to sway someone who might have doubts about Douglass message.
Make sure to include in your defense at least one specific contrast to
a passage in the Percy essay.
-Build your own argument. Feel free to draw on any work that youve
already done in the Douglas responsesas long as it serves to feed
a clearly articulated thesis that is proven, in a step-by-step fashion,
over the course of five pages. Make sure to include in this step-by-step
proof at least one specific comparison to a passage in the Percy essay.
Susan Douglass essay is the thigh and buttock she advocates for.
Not the "perfectly sculpted, dimple-free upper thigh and buttock,"
(119) but the "rump [that] bore...the marks of age, responsibility,
work, or motherhood," (129) in other words, the signs of experience.
These marks are shown through Douglass use of emotion, and her incorporation
of quotes from advertisements she has seen. Narcissism as Liberation is
its topic, it is designed to be the thigh and butt that has seen it all,
that isnt "flawless," (128) but rather is knowledgeable
in the way capitalism has controlled feminism.
The "ideal rump" (129) is not welcome in Douglass essay.
Instead she prefers the constant use of commas as "character lines,"
(122) always adding additional details that could be considered excess
but rather add to the depth of Douglass analysis. Take for example
the sentence structure found in the following example on page 125: "Sunny,
it turned out, didnt like those little commas at the
corners of her mouth, her crows feet, or the lines on her forehead."
Notice the excess use of those little commas that Sunny didnt
like, but that Douglas found a home for, because she values imperfections.
To Douglas these "are now my friends," (132) and they help mold
her essay into a symbol of experience.
When Douglas quotes examples she is further proving to the reader her
awareness of the situation. There is a formula that Douglas uses when
incorporating quotes from ads. First, she introduces the product; then,
explaines what the product does, or gives its slogan, using a quoted example
from the ad; and finally, she gives a witty response about what the slogan
is really doing. The formula can best be seen on page 117: ...Virginia
Slims (the product) "Youve come a long way, baby" (the
slogan) campaign, which equated liberation with the freedom to give yourself
lung cancer (the witty analysis). Through the use of a large variety of
ads and topics Douglas is saying to the reader that this butt and
thigh essay was written by someone who has seen a lot.
This experience factor is very important when it comes to credibility.
Whereas Walker Percy lived in a land of make believe and tried to convey
his message through the use of fictional characters and storylines, Douglas
is giving real quoted facts as evidence to support her claims. This contrast
is like reading a Dr. Seuss book and a dissertation and deciding which
is more factual. Of course the dissertation will be taken more seriously
because it incorporated empirical evidence-legitimate observations, which
is exactly what Douglas does, not Percy.
This factual evidence showing experience can also be seen contrasting
Percy and Douglass generalizations. Percy prefers to act all knowing
in his essay when he uses terms like "every explorer," (565)
and includes everyone in one word, "sightseer" (566). However,
Douglas limits her statements, only saying things based on what she has
experienced and observed. Her best generalization is, "every woman
I know," (117) because it is powerful but not based on an assumption.
Speaking of that little phrase "I know" it is also used by Douglas
to demonstrate her level of experience. She says assertively on page 121,
"I know that in 1987 the FDA had cracked down on cosmetics ads...,"
and "I know that putting collagen on your skin does nothing."
She uses these thoughts in her essay to convey her knowledge to the reader.
Another way Douglas conveys her intelligence to the reader is through
the use of politics. Most people dont care too much about politics
but Douglas is saying that politics is one of the problems. Her references
to Reagans policies show how they encouraged narcissism among women.
"...women in the age of Reagan [saw] elitism and narcissism merge
in a perfect appeal to forget the political already, and get back to the
personal..." (118). Since women couldnt do anything to change
politics, because it was secretly undermining the feminist movement, they
might as well take care of themselves.
Since this essay is Douglass attempt to become the ideal rump she
decides that to show maturity it should include mature references. She
takes this essay up from being rated PG with her references to "the
crotch rot in the can," (117) and "pubic hair" (129). Doing
this makes her essay exemplify "the marks of age," (129) one
of the characteristics necessary for Douglass ideal rump. Another
characteristic is "work" (129). To accomplish this Douglass
essay is a few pages longer than the average essay. This length shows
the paper took more time to write, and therefore exemplifies work, after
all, the pages dont write themselves.
More and more Douglass essay seems to become the rump she intended
it to be, exhibiting characteristics she defines in her essay to be that
of the normal woman, not of some "teenage beach bunnies" (130).
Although it may seem strange that Douglas would purposely create her essay
to be just like its main topic, the thigh and buttocks, shes not
alone. Walker Percys essay too is written to be just like one of
its topics, the "preformed complex" (566). By using little tidbits
of information and sectioning them off we receive each scenario in Percys
essay as an individual, preformed experience. The reader never starts
a new situation in Percys essay without first finishing the old
one. His essay is preformed just like the topic he describes. So is it
a bad thing to write an essay based around the criteria of the main topic?
The answer is no, because in doing so one can gain a new understanding
of what is meant to be gained from an essay. Based on this new knowledge
of the similarity between the structure of these two essays, wouldnt
it make sense that if Douglas goes about her essay the same as Percy,
but uses quoted examples and is easier to understand, she deserves an
enormous amount of credibility? Much more than Percys make believe
fairy tale. If you still have a problem with the idea of an essay being
written following the criteria of one of its topics than I leave you with
one final question: If you are what you eat, than why cant an essay
be its topic?
Whos the Narcissist?
cleverly adopts multiple tones throughout her essay "Narcissism as
Liberation," in such a way that is effective and appealing to the
reader. It may seem that this approach displays some of Douglass
own narcissistic personality because her tones fluctuate constantly, as
though shes searching for "approval or acclaim"(p.119);
but in actuality, her style is quite effective because her different voices
throughout the essay keep the reader interested, and help relate to more
of a universal crowd. Walker Percy, on the other hand, uses one tone consistently
in "The Loss of the Creature" that either bores or intimidates
the reader, conveying his point in a negative manner.
Douglas begins her essay by quoting Cybill Shepard from a well known t.v.
commercial thats been running for years. Right off the bat, the
reader either recognizes the actress or the ad and can visually picture
them in his/her head. It is easy to feel on Douglass level because
her choice of familiar examples creates a sense of in-formalness, as though
you are friends chatting over coffee. She continues to use pop culture
throughout her essay: "It was beautiful, rich, and successful Sunny
Griffin, versus the rest of us"(125), because these concrete examples
allow for a communication between author and reader that Walker Percy
Percy begins his essay with a gut wrenching sense of authority. In the
very first sentence he uses the word "Formosa"(p.565) to describe
what every explorer names his island. Most likely this word confuses rather
than helps the reader to feel acquainted with his thesis. He/she feels
like Percys preaching to them with a pedantic tone, rather than
conveying a meaningful idea. His continuance to refer to elite people
and places, like "Sarah Lawrence College"(576), and "Garcia
Lopez de Cardenas"(p.565), makes him come across like a pretentious
snob. The remaining characters he sketches are drab and undetailed, like,
"A young man in France"(p.571). This makes it more difficult
for the reader to find fault with these fictitious characters like Percy
does, because they are mere stick figures of his imagination.
Speaking of imagination, many times Douglas uses hers to incorporate a
sarcastic tone in her writing. It may seem that shes "measuring
herself against others", and hoping someone will "laugh at one
of her jokes"(p.119); but in reality her sense of satire really helps
point out how ridiculous ads about woman can be. For example, on page
122, after describing an ad for Lutece Bath, she says, "Woman like
this are passive, inactive, supine. Yet make no mistake about it, these
woman are in complete control: they are dependent on no one, their time
is their own, they are beyond the cares of the world, they long for nothing
they dont already have". This is humorous because she is pointing
out how silly it is to assume that bath mud could make any female look
gorgeous, and all she had to do was just relax. This light hearted tone
is very effective for Douglas because it makes her essay an easier, more
pleasant read. If Percy incorporated sarcasm at all, which is hard to
tell, then it was directed less at the media, and more as an offense to
the common Joe. The reader is more likely to abandon his essay out of
anger, than one they can laugh to.
Not only is Douglas funny, she's raw and uncut. Unlike Percy, she presents
herself with all her flaws. She is angry at the media because even though
she knows better than to get sucked into their stereotypes, at times she
still feels the need to improve her appearance based on their standards.
"Now before I get on my high horse about cures for what the fashion
magazines call orange peel skin and subdermal rehydrating
systems, let me be perfectly honest about my own vulnerability to these
preposterous ploys"(p.121). It is impossible to be consistently unaffected
by these ads that are always being shoved in your face. I think that for
Douglas not to admit to this would be narcissistic, because she would
be searching for her female readers to "envy"(p..119) her for
being above the medias ploys. This is a trait of Walker Percy, for
he speaks to us like he is totally flawless. He talks as though the media
has never gotten the best of him and thwarted his view of "it"(p.565).
His inferiority complex creates distance, and makes him harder to believe.
Another effective trick in "Narcissism as Liberation," is Douglass
use of hyperbole. It appears that her need to go way over the top to prove
her point is because she is "consumed by self-doubt"(p.119),
and isnt sure she has a valid point. In actuality, her listing of
similar adjectives like on page 117: "self-indulgent, self-centered,
private, hedonistic," helps drive her point home because it creates
a vivid picture for the reader, and relates to a wider range of people.
Percys use of hyperbole is less effective and tends to bore his
reader. When he describes the "American couple in Mexico," he
gives us a lot of added information to help illustrate the point; but
in actuality, it distracts and loses the reader.
Susan Douglas and Walker Percy both have great points to be made about
how the media uses propaganda to manipulate us into having pre-formulated
ideas about a person or place. Douglas however, attacks them in a real
concrete manner, using familiar, relevant evidence. Her ability to get
on a level with her reader makes her message easier to digest. Her reader
is her friend and she is just trying to alert them to the corruption they
come in contact with everyday. In contrast, Percy speaks as though he
is condemning his reader for not being perfect like he and a few select
others. It is clear Douglas is no narcissist, but one could speculate
that Percy's downfalls in his writing techniques are due to his own narcissistic
personality. "Narcissists had a strong belief in their right to be
gratified and were constantly searching for heightened emotional experiences,
for instant gratification, to stave off the fear that life is unreal,
artificial, and meaningless"(119). I found this quote really exemplifies
the "it" that Percy based his entire essay on. It is clear he
has not discovered this farce which he describes, but since he's "skilled
at managing impressions"(p.119), he convinces his reader he has all
the answers. In reality, his "need for admiration"(p.119), is
what causes him to adopt the authoritative tone in his writing.