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The Wanting Child - character in fiction, historical figure - Common App Essay

irenesue 3 / 8  
Oct 23, 2011   #1
Prompt: Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

The Wanting Child by Irene Jo-Hsuan Sue

There is a particular hedgehog-shaped soap that I will never use in my life. Once in a while I would take it out, hold it to my nose, and remind myself of its scent, wondering what it would have meant if He hadn't gone away so early in my life. I wouldn't call the feeling I have about this subject remorse or regret, but honestly speaking, if He was still here, perhaps I would be able to understand these children's stories a lot better.

Among the many sections I like to visit every time I step into a bookstore, the area that contained the most picture books has never been rid of my curiosity. I often step into that haven, especially furnished to make it as cozy and safe as possible, filled with books after books that contained talking-whales and ladybugs. Several days ago I came across a short story, "The Sunrise," written by W.E. Fishbaugh. The author tells a story about a boy, Paul, who witnesses the sunrise for the first time, and his awestruck and inexplicable reaction to this new experience.

I don't quite understand why Paul is amazed by sunrise. It's understood that Paul is young ― young enough to have known and seen the sunset but not the opposite ―, that it was his first time seeing sunrise. It's also understood that sunrises are very pretty ― mesmerizing, even, as the narrator observes:

The sunrise had [Paul]. Something about it had him. While he looked he didn't matter anymore. He was gone from himself. And he looked at it for such a long time without speaking that his father began to get tired.

Paul seems entranced. That morning Paul's mother asks her little one to explain what he thinks about what he has just seen. He cannot; he only knows that it was a sunrise, and it has suddenly gained him a "new understanding."

I can genuinely say that I have never experienced this kind of reaction ― a reaction so strong, yet so peculiar and indescribable. Now I want to be as amazed as this boy, yet I wonder if I will be able to. Paul is young, perhaps just a preschooler; I am a high school student, eagerly awaiting the long-anticipated college life. Paul has a blessed gift: his innocence; mine is long gone. Paul has his Dad to share all these "first-times"; lung cancer took mine away five years ago. Paul seems to be fully equipped for this fascinating quest for new "first-times." But am I?

I don't know. But at least I know what I want.

I want something so enigmatic, electrifying, and irrevocably beautiful to happen. I want that implausible, overwhelming, and wonderfully bizarre "first time." I want the irrational, the unimaginable, and the intangible. I want Paul's sunrise. And perhaps one day, when I look at the hedgehog-shaped soap my Father had given me, I will look around my dream library, filled with every book I have ever loved, along with the children's books I have collected for my children, knowing that I have finally come round to comprehend and appreciate the simple felicity that each talking animals and insects, once so secretively, has.

Danny154 2 / 1  
Oct 26, 2011   #2
Hi Irene

Sometimes it's to good to keep the reader in suspense, keeping some information concealed, with only a few clues, until later the picture finally becomes clear. It seems that that is what you went for, talking in the first paragraph about someone you knew and have lost, and revealing only later that that someone is your father. However, suspending too much information can be confusing for the reader. The first paragraph leaves the reader with two questions, which I think is already too much: 1) Who is the lost person? 2) What children stories? (you wrote "these stories" but the reader doesn't know yet what "these" refers too, and it takes too much until he finds out). And maybe less significant but is also on our minds: why does the soap remind you of that person?

In other words, your train of thought becomes sensible really only near the end. Until then the reader has to keep in mind a bar of soap, a lost person, and children stories without knowing how those connect - this is too much to expect of the reader, who will probably just lose you.

I believe you need to better connect the different parts, to make the train of thought more consistent and clear. The following are just suggestions (this is of course a matter of opinion and taste):

1) Clarify from earlier on that your talking about your father.
2) Tell us why the that particular soap reminds you of your father.
3) Better connect "these children's stories" with the rest of the essay. For instance:

"...If He was still here, perhaps I would be able to better understand my fascination with children's books.

The children's books section in a bookstore is, to me, the most curious of them all. I often step into that haven..."

By the way, establishing Paul's sunrise as a symbol to which you later refer, is very good.

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