We Think Too Much And Feel Too Little Essays

Savannah Boothe

Professor Lori Bedell

CAS 137H

10 October 2012

Let Us All Unite!

            In his first speaking role, Charlie Chaplin makes one of the most moving and thought-provoking speeches in history. The Great Dictator, a movie written, produced, directed, and starring Charlie Chaplin, premiered on October 15, 1940, while the United States was still promoting appeasement with Nazi Germany. The film was originally meant to satirize Adolph Hitler and condemn the Nazi party and it’s values. The plot circles around two characters, both played by Chaplin. One is a dictator and the other is an amnesic Jewish barber who is a doppelganger for the dictator. The dictator, Adenoid Hynkel, believes in a purely Aryan state and wants nothing more than to be emperor of the world. That power lust lays a merciless grip on the country, which includes sending the Jews to concentration camps and invading a neighboring country, much like Hitler’s strategy leading up to World War II. Schultz, a traitorous commander under the dictator, who was saved previously by the barber, escapes from being sent to the concentration camps with the barber in tow. Ultimately, the barber is mixed up with the dictator himself. The crux of the film is when the barber is given the opportunity to speak to the people of the two warring countries as the dictator. However, the speech is more directed toward the viewers outside of the film than to the dictator’s audience within the movie, an audience appalled by the policies of Hitler, yet supporting a country stance on appeasement to avoid another conflict like World War I. Taking advantage of a great kariotic moment as the United States stood on the brink of entry into World War II, Charlie Chaplin uses the medium of film and, more specifically, The Great Dictator speech, to lament the pessimism, violence and greed that had overtaken the “free and beautiful” way of life that is inherent in human nature. Chaplin’s use of power and passion in delivery and reflection on the loss of a responsible humanity dedicated to bettering life for all makes for a convincing pathetic appeal that the audience has the ability to reinvigorate the righteous and reasonable life everyone deserves.

Chaplin’s delivery of the speech seamlessly maintains the mockery of Hitler, as Chaplin directly mirrors the common pattern Hitler used in addresses, yet the humane charge Chaplin promotes juxtaposes the barbaric content in Hitler’s speeches, making for an immediate connection to the audience. Hitler had a very specific strategy to his speeches; he would begin calmly and quietly, and as the speech progressed he became increasingly impassioned. Although the content was often controversial and cruel, Hitler’s rhetorical ability was outstanding. Chaplin mimics this skill perfectly.

Chaplin, posing as the dictator begins his speech rather unobtrusively, speaking simply and softly. However, as the speech progresses, he becomes more and more emotionally involved and passionate about what he is saying. His voice level rises, he begins gesticulating wildly, and everything he is saying becomes more relatable because of his delivery. Before the audience even takes into account what is being said, they are intrigued by the simple fact that the presenter is so enamored with his subject. The audience is immediately more attuned to the speaker because of his intensity. They are captured by his delivery, and thus are exhilarated about the subject, more inclined to truly listen and understand the plea that Chaplin is making to better humanity.

Once Chaplin ensnares his audience by his delivery tactic, he is in prime position to provoke his listeners, those sitting in the theater watching his film, to react to his appeal. Chaplin creates a very provocative emotional appeal. He claims that humanity has sacrificed the responsibility to provide a quality life to all people and replaced that responsibility with greed, hate, pessimism, and violence. He uses intensely charged words that cut straight to the core of human emotion. One of the most electrifying statements he makes is that “We think too much and feel too little: more than machinery, we need humanity; more that cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost”. Humanity is immediately criticized, but the critique is warranted.  Chaplin’s use of pathos to call his audience to action is outstanding. He uses phrases such as “We think too much and feel to little” to conjure up feelings of remorse and conviction regarding the current state of affairs in the human population. When the audience is faced with this judgment and experiences these emotions, it immediately begins looking for ways to reverse the opinion.

Because the audience is now seeking a path to follow that will allow for the reversal of the current despair surrounding life, they are even more likely to react to Chaplin’s declaration “Do not despair”. His claim that “the very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all” supplies hope to the population that all is not lost and that life can be made rewarding for all humans once again. He provides optimism to an increasingly cynical society. “The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators will die and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die now liberty will never perish” supplied the perfect pathos at that moment in time. At a moment when the dictator Hitler was forcing his hate all around his region, the future looked bleak. However, Chaplin provides the perfect channel to those listening to realize they can become stewards of the beautiful and free life. This channel is fully opened when he pronounces that “the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let’s use that power, let us all unite.” Chaplin’s emotionally saturated statements instill a series of feelings in his audience, beginning with penance, leading to hope, and then finishing with elation and motivation to create a better world where all people are granted liberty and happiness.

At a time when the world seemed to be crumbling, Charlie Chaplin provided a call to action to revive the state of humanity. By accessing a powerful delivery and a very stimulating emotional proposal, he effectively conjures up the deterioration of liberty and energizes his world audience to “fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance”. He fully evokes his audience to stand against injustice and to unite together against the “unnatural men”, mainly the great dictator Hitler. He provides the world with a reason and avenue to better life for all.

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Correction appended, November 14.

Parents: sit down before you read this. Kids: deep breaths. You know that beautifully crafted, deeply felt, highly unusual college application essay you’ve been polishing? It might not make a difference for your college admission chances.

Stanford sociologist Mitchell Stevens spent 18 months embedded with admissions officers at an unnamed top-tier liberal arts college and found that, even in cases where students were within the admissible range in terms of scores and grades, officers rarely looked to the personal essays as a deciding factor. He wrote about his experience for The New Republic, and here’s the most interesting part:

The good news? Three former admissions officers I spoke to told me that, contrary to Steven’s observations, officers read every essay that comes across their desks. “We definitely read the essays,” says Joie Jager-Hyman, president of College Prep 360 and former admissions officer at Dartmouth College. “You don’t do that job unless you enjoy reading the essays. They’re kind of fun.” Elizabeth Heaton, senior director of educational counseling at admissions-consulting firm College Coach, and former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, says she took notes on every single piece of writing a student submitted, whether she advocated for them or not.

The bad news? No matter how gorgeous your prose is, you can’t get into college based on the strength of your essay alone. “No-one ever gets into college because you write a great essay,” Heaton says. “You can not get in because you write a really bad one.”

And even Joan Didion herself wouldn’t get into college on her writing skills if she had lackluster grades or scores. The officers told me they did sometimes look to the essays to explain weaknesses in the application (like if there was a year of bad grades that coincided with an illness,) but they said that kind information was usually best kept in the “additional information” section of the application.

Some officers recalled moments when they were so moved by an essay that they advocated for the student to be admitted despite other weaknesses on the application, but none had ever recalled a time where that strategy had worked. “There were a couple of incidents were I really wanted to admit a student and recommended that they move forward because their writing and personal qualities were so interesting, but I was not successful,” says Shoshana Krieger, a counselor for Expert Admissions who formerly worked in the admissions office at the University of Chicago and at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. “There are certain cases where if a student is simply too far off academically, it’s then just not going to make a difference.”

“I never saw a phenomenal essay suddenly make up for everything” Heaton agreed. “These days, there’s just so little wiggle room to be able to make that call.” She also noted that it looks suspicious when a kid with mediocre grades and scores submits a spectacular essay, and raises doubts that the student might not have written it herself.

Later in his piece, Steven notes that the college essay may be more of a psychological outlet than a practical asset in the college application process, since it’s one of the only things that’s still in the applicant’s control during the fall of their senior year (most of their transcript and scores are already behind them.) Joie Jager-Hyman said she agreed with that assessment. “There’s so much anxiety right now in the air,” she said. “It’s the thing they feel like they have power over.” She also noted that focus on the essay could help kids become better writers in the long-run, even if it might not necessarily make or break their college admissions chances, and “that’s not totally a bad thing.”

So even if all the revising and nitpicking on the college essay may not help your kid get into college, it will almost certainly make him or her a better writer. So don’t put away that red pen yet.

Correction: The original version of this post misstated the location of Trinity University in Texas. It is in San Antonio.

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