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Essay (for Rhetoric class)

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Tue Nov 10, 2009 5:04 am
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eddykins says...

I'm really uncomfortable with the points I'm making - and this is due tomorrow. Can you evaluate this a bit? I want to make somewhere in the B+ range. Thanks!

The prompt is to either compare or contrast the two works based on the themes: sight vs. imagination and group vs. individual perception. I was recommended toward talking about the author's intentions.

In “Crazy Horse” and “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” Frazier and Garcia Marquez both discuss supposedly beautiful people and how others perceive them. Crazy Horse and Esteban are both admired by the people that “know” them. They have opinions formed of them based on perceptions – for Esteban, he is praised and given a glorious backstory because of his appearance as this enormous, gorgeous, lone man washed adrift, and for Crazy Horse, he is loved as a resilient, prideful battler and dressed up by his enthusiasts. Frazier admires Crazy Horse for actions based on prior knowledge and fleshes Crazy Horse out as this supposedly beautiful man who in real life looked so common. Esteban is unbelievably beautiful, so the village makes up his story because they know nothing else, his appearance so mind-blowing that they must rationalize it. In each case, the writer presents the character in question by detailing their greatness and building upon that, thus creating a paradox between who they are imagined to be and who they really are.

Crazy Horse is admired for his deeds and while, historically, there is evidence of who he was, there is no picture to match the image. Frazier handles his description of Crazy Horse carefully in that he only describes Crazy Horse’s actions and allows the reader to build up their own opinion of the man’s appearance before giving it away. Frazier claims to “love” Crazy Horse because of this, despite his physical plainness, because his deeds outweigh his looks. In the beginning, he claims, “I love Crazy Horse because … he remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died; knew exactly where he wanted to live, and never left; may have surrendered, but was never defeated…” (237.) From this point on, he tallies off a descriptive laundry list of Crazy Horse’s actions, each one increasingly heroic in succession; and this is what influences the reader.

As the reader continues with Frazier’s descriptions, it seems as if he is expected to form an image in their mind – and this is natural. Readers hear of this man who “belongs to a category of phenomena which … had no photograph or painting or even sketch of him [existing]” (238.) and form a mental image, because they expect brave, heroic people to look a certain way. In childhood stories, the hero is always a very beautiful person, and the villain is always monstrous and depersonified, certainly less than human. When the reader finds out Crazy Horse’s true appearance: “a slim man of medium height with brown hair hanging below his waist and a scar above his lip…” (238.) it contradicts with their personal image. And Frazier seems to expect it to, because “in the mind of each person who imagines him, he looks different.”(238.)

Esteban, however, really is not even known as a person; he simply washes up on the beach one day, nameless, bloated, and covered with gunk, and once he’s cleaned the people are so awed by his beauty that they have to create a backstory to justify his existence. The women of the village immediately note that “not only was he the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man they had ever seen, but even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination.” (1.) From here, it is obvious that they have never seen a man of Esteban’s caliber; he is mind-blowing. Everyone who sees him has to make him real because his appearance is such an outlandish thing. “They thought he would have had so much authority that he could have drawn fish out of the sea simply by calling their names,” the village women suppose, and “they secretly compared him to their own men, thinking that for all their lives theirs were incapable of doing what he could do in one night.” (1.) Essentially they build him up from a homeless, wafting corpse into a real somebody, one of their own, going so far as to claim, “‘Praise the Lord,’ they sighed, ‘he’s ours!’” (2.) He ends up being elevated as some sort of god, some entity that occupies the entire village, when in reality, he may have been ordinary or even the scum of the earth.

But why? While this is a sweet-natured and well-meaning manner of sending off a stranger, it is also peculiar. Garcia Marquez seems to be explaining the other side of human impressions. Psychologically, people tend to think highly of others who are attractive, that they are richer, happier, and generally more successful. In real life, tall, handsome men even receive slightly higher salaries. Similarly, this could be applied to Esteban in an extreme, as an entire village is so enamored with his physical appearance that they weave him into something glorious. The village turns into “Esteban’s village” (3.) where there is “a promontory of roses on the horizon.” (3.) It is essentially a total inversion of Frazier’s storytelling, because actions do not judge appearance; appearance judges hypothetical action. He describes Esteban through the point of view of the village as a whole and the reader, in turn, comes to believe that the dead man could be deserving, that he is really as greatly handsome as the villagers think. Just as we associate great actions with beautiful people, we associate beautiful people with great actions; this is just as human.

It is almost as if Frazier’s and Garcia Marquez’s messages correlate without meaning to. Frazier’s essay means to build the reader up with romanticized historical accuracies about Crazy Horse, only to finally reveal that physically he is not nearly as idealistic; and yet he expects us to construct our own image. Garcia Marquez inverts this by presenting a beautiful person that a backstory is created for, suggesting that we also expect beautiful people to have done beautiful things – something Esteban, through death, effectively does by inspiring the people that bury him to revamp themselves as a whole.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
— William Shakespeare