SAT Sample Essay (page 761)
College Board Blue Book
Do We Need Other People in Order to Understand Ourselves?
In a modern, post-Enlightenment world, much emphasis is placed on individuality. During the eighteenth century, the individual slowly arose and began to develop as an antithesis of the collective agrarian societies prevalent in centuries past. Ever since, the idea that everyone is unique and holds the capacity for self-determination has prevailed – no longer was a person considered merely part of a herd. This is particularly relevant in the United States, with the concept of “rugged individualism” being a trait that has long defined many of the figures Americans most admire. However, an important thing to consider is that without a community to compare and contrast themselves against, what real means does an individual have in truly understanding him or herself. Indeed, other people are integral in providing a means of defining oneself, a notion which is a central theme in the novels “Brave New World,” and “Nickel and Dimed.” Both novels provided the protagonist with the concrete means of figuring out who they truly
Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” illustrates how one can only truly recognize the virtue and worth of one’s own culture and tradition when placed in an utterly conflicting setting. It tells the story of John, a boy who grows up alienated from the rest of his traditional Native American community, dreaming of living life in the outside, “better” world that his mother had always told him about. However, the rest of the world is a highly technologized dystopia, devoid of any of the values that John holds dear. When he visits and sees life outside of his Reservation, he becomes appalled at just how horrifying and inhumane its society is, and tries to share his beliefs with others, but soon realizes that they are a lost case and standing firm in his convictions, isolates himself from their influence. Had John not visited this society and been put in an extreme, new environment, he might have never been able to realize the worth of his principles or identify who he truly was as a person.
In “Nickel and Dimed,” a journalist goes undercover in order to experience first-hand how “the other half lives,” – to witness the reality of the minimum-wage lifestyle. As she comes across scores of people forced to endure harsh, tiring labor and complete tasks that require more of a mental and physical strain than those in more elite fields just to survive, all her preconceived notions about the working class are shattered; no longer does she view those worse off than she as lazy and uneducated. Just like John, she finds herself in an extreme, new environment that she had no way of expecting, and this in turn leads her to the discovery of several vital aspects of her character that she had previously never known she possessed. Her difficulty in persevering in her new role in society alongside several others who have been working in the bottom-rungs of America for years brought her not only a new understanding and appreciation of the hardships of the working class, but a new understanding of herself.
Despite a prevalent admiration of individuality in society, it is undeniable that ultimately, people define themselves in terms of others. Characteristics like intelligence, beauty, courage, and wit are all determined on a basis of comparison to others. Even the nonconformists of the world have to have a foundation from which to veer off of, an original community or group that they actively decide to act differently from. In “Brave New World,” and “Nickel and Dimed” we are handed two examples of protagonists who define themselves against the backdrops of the societies they find themselves in, exemplifying the degree to which individuality without others there to aid you in the pursuit of understanding just what makes you, you.