In-Class Bluebook Essay Prompt
Explain how being an X Person (from the chapter "The X Way Out") helps save us from the misery of class status.
Paul Fussell’s Class Anxieties Lesson 4: Language, Speech, and “The X Way Out”
Four Writing Options
One. In a 4-page typed essay, support or refute the argument that your matriculation through college, and the major you have chosen (or not), is inextricably entwined with the class status anxieties analyzed in Paul Fussell’s Class. In other words, argue for or against the idea that fear of falling short of America’s status system—a code system that is much more complicated than income level alone—is a significant driving force in your college studies. What evidence is there, or not, that you are beholden to class status codes? What evidence is there, or not, that you have rejected America’s class status script and have carved your own path, so that you love learning for its own sake? Are you an aspiring bourgeois consumer? Are you an “X person”? Explain. Successful essays will show a clear and accurate reading comprehension of Paul Fussell's Class by integrating the book's major principles into your essay. You must have a Works Cited page referring to Class, and two other sources.
Two. In a 4-page essay, defend, refute, or complicate Fussell’s assertion that class is not as mobile as the American Dream purports it to be; rather, social class is more fixed like a caste system. Successful essays will show a clear and accurate reading comprehension of Paul Fussell's Class by integrating the book's major principles into your essay. You must have a Works Cited page referring to Class, and two other sources.
Three. Using bell hooks' essay "Learning in the Shadow of Race and Class" (Acting Out Culture, pages 287-295), develop a cause and effect analysis thesis that supports Fussell's contention that ascending the class ladder results in colossal psychological upheaval and speaks to the hyper-competition that defines the American Dream.
Four. Develop an analytical thesis about the way class is perceived in the African American community or another ethnic group. How do race, culture, and history contribute to the unique attitudes minorities attach to the codes of social class?
Class Definition Summarized
Where you live, what degree of education you have, what kind of job you have, how you dress, and entertain yourself, and how you speak all are part of the class code by which our fellow Americans judge and rank us according to the hierarchy system.
Let us be clear: Your class can even determine your happiness and life expectancy, as we read in "All Hollowed Out," an article that would make a good resource.
Also consult "America's self-destructive whites."
And consult "Why Are White Death Rates Rising?"
Study Questions 151-187
One. What social class is most guilty, according to Fussell, of using pretentious, self-regarding language?
The middle class is fond of advertising how “educated” and “classy” they are by using elevated terms when a more plain term will do quite nicely.
They’ll use the following:
Cocktails instead of drinks
Individuals instead of people
Position instead of job
Albeit instead of although
Roadway instead of road
Purchase instead of buy
Affluent instead of rich
Subsequently instead of later
Proceed instead of go
At the local level instead of locally
Academia instead of college
Matriculating through college instead of going through college
Predicated on instead of based on
Utilize instead of use
Terminate instead of end
Tres chic instead of very chic or very cool
Mindful instead of thoughtful
My journey instead of my life
Élan or moxie instead of energy or spunk
Vis-a-vi instead of regarding
Montage instead of mix
Voila! instead of wow!
Gauche instead of tacky
Entrée instead of dinner or main dish
Fin de siècle instead of end of century
Sobriquet instead of nickname or pet name
Coquettish instead of flirtatious
C’est la vie instead of “it is what is is.”
Joie de vivre instead of lust for life
Denouement instead of conclusion
Chanteuse instead of singer
Circumferentially challenged instead of fat
I work as a garbologist instead of I work as a garbage man.
Two. Fussell is clearly disgusted with the vanity and pretentiousness of the middle class. He says the way out of this nonsense is to become an X person. What are the X person’s distinguishing characteristics?
You belong more to a category than a class because you do not identify with a class. A class is a label that society tries to impose on you. It is a label that insecure people aspire to embrace because they lack the core identity to define themselves in ways that are beyond class status.
You are born into a class, but you earn X status through hard work, curiosity, and rejection of society’s consumer scripts and clichés.
Entering category X often results in ostracism from family, friends, and the “tribe” that dictates your class because your rejection of their “lifestyle” and values is implicit condemnation of them.
Entering the creative class—through the pursuit of art, music, and writing—often makes one a member of category X.
Being a member of category X requires artistic talent and originality.
X people are independent and have arch disregard for the status yearned for by the middle class. In fact X people have contempt for middle-class aspirations. As a result, they are sometimes referred to as bohemians.
X people avoid brand clothing because they prefer to dress comfortably and to “dress down.”
A lot of X people clothing choices are explained in David Brooks’ masterpiece Bobos in Paradise. X people wear “earth shoes” and earth colors and coats made from the fur of alpaca and llamas. X People dress according to form and function more than to show.
X people are drawn to Subaru cars, which evidence oneness with nature.
X people’s priority for living location is based on proximity to delicious, cheap restaurants than social status or living in “the right place.”
X people are not dependent on their job, job title, career choice, or income level for their self-identity.
X people live in the present rather than waiting for some future where their lives will be “full of grand moments and riches.”
They prefer old house to new tract home. And they never manicure their lawns. During drought, they are the first to let all the grass and shrubbery die.
They keep their cars for over 15 years and rarely wash them. Nor do they touch up dents and scratches as these imperfections give their cars “character.”
X people never eat turkey on Thanksgiving, but prefer more off-the-track dishes such as Thai Curry, Vindaloo, Spanish paella, Russian borscht, Ethiopian Doro Wat and Injera, and Nigerian fufu.
X people avoid all chain restaurants like Appleybee’s, Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, and Cheesecake Factory as these restaurants are condemned as soulless and corporate owned, designed to make food based on focus groups and “market research.”
X people are good cooks and can make delicious meals with a few good ingredients.
X people are voracious readers.
X people are masters of geography and can look at a blank globe and point to the city of Karachi, Nairobi, or Vallejo with great ease.
X people are critical thinkers, and they never “drink the Kool-Aid” of one camp of thought as they prefer to balance one type of thinking with its counterpoints in order to have a better informed opinion.
X people avoid euphemisms and other forms of phony, pretentious language.
X people avoid ostentation at all times.
X people never advertise that they are X people. Content with their identity, they feel no need to be evangelists for the X Way of Life.
Unlike the rest of America, X people do not suffer from class anxieties.
Perhaps most importantly, X People value critical thinking, the craft of developing informed opinions, more than consumerism. If we had to boil down the difference between X People and the rest of Americans it would be this: A life of ideas or a life of buying things.
Applying Paul Fussell's Chapter "The X Way Out" to Essay Prompt #1
In a 4-page typed essay, support or refute the argument that your matriculation through college, and the major you have chosen (or not), is inextricably entwined with the class status anxieties analyzed in Paul Fussell’s Class. In other words, argue for or against the idea that fear of falling short of America’s status system—a code system that is much more complicated than income level alone—is a significant driving force in your college studies. What evidence is there, or not, that you are beholden to class status codes? What evidence is there, or not, that you have rejected America’s class status script and have carved your own path, so that you love learning for its own sake? Are you an aspiring bourgeois consumer? Are you an “X person”? Explain. Successful essays will show a clear and accurate reading comprehension of Paul Fussell's Class by integrating the book's major principles into your essay. You must have a Works Cited page referring to Class, and two other sources.
Sample Thesis Response
Paul Fussell convincingly shows that the idea of social class in America is a mental disease, either a lowly condition of learned helplessness in the lower classes, a neurotic and fearful need to conform in the middle or a lofty position of obnoxious pride in the upper. Our "only way out" is, to follow Fussell's pointing to the Exit Sign is to be a X Person. An X Person rejects the learned helplessness of the lower classes, the pathetic groveling of the middle classes, and the disgusting smugness of the uppers. The X Person is characterized by having a sense of irony, a sense of the cosmopolitan world traveler, a love for knowledge for its own sake, a curiosity for all things, a disdain for class status, a love of critical thinking that makes her reject society's soulless scripts for living, and an appreciation for culture and the arts. While I am too young to have fully fleshed out my X Person aspirations, my Aunt Ciara is a bona fide X Person, as defined by Fussell, evidenced by __________________, __________________, ____________________, and _____________________.
McMahon's championing of Paul Fussell's X Person Archetype is bogus. A close examination of the X Person reveals a vain human being, not all free from social status, but just as imprisoned by image as his upper- and middle-class counterparts. The X Person's imprisonment is evidenced by _________________, ________________, __________________, and ___________________.
While I will concede that X People can be vain, I am not claiming that X People are perfect. What's compelling in Fussell's book is that Americans tend to be enslaved by a social class category due to a lack of critical thinking skills that renders them consumer philistines. In contrast, X People demonstrate a more desirable existence evidenced by __________________, ______________________, _________________________, and ________________________.
While X People begin their critical thinking journey with noble motivations, their bohemian or hipster lifestyle eventually gets co-opted or appropriated by big industry so that the trappings of X People--clothes, cars, hairstyles, to name a few examples--become part of a consumer script that is just as lame and superficial as any other class designation.
Even if, for the sake of argument, my opponent is correct and that X People cultural mores become appropriated by Big Industry, that doesn't make the X Person lifestyle "lame" or superficial." One can embrace an authentic movement or one can simply want that movement's class status. It's a matter of depth of character, motivation, and having a deep knowledge of the X Person lifestyle.
Types of Arguments
(I've adapted these ideas from Chapter 3 of How to Write Anything by John J. Ruszkiewicz.)
Know what kind of argument you are writing:
Argument to advance a thesis:
You argue for a thesis as you champion an idea or a cause.
For example, you might argue for eating steamed vegetables three times a day and provide the many benefits of employing such a practice.
Another example would be a writer who argues that the Paleo diet is the most effective way to maintain lean muscle mass.
Another example would be for a writer to argue for water rationing and triple water bills for homeowners who go over their water threshold.
You refute an already existing argument or practice, showing point by point why the argument is weak, precarious, or even fallacious (fallacy-laden).
For example, you might refute Civil War reenactments on the grounds that they are white male fantasies based on the infantile hunger for nostalgia, the toxic Kool-Aid of White Supremacy, and the denial of moral accountability for the evils of slavery.
In your refutation, you paint Civil War reenactments as a grotesque pageantry akin to a racist Disneyworld where are all the actors are white and black history has been erased because "it would be too disturbing" to the bogus, idealized world inhabited by the emotionally-arrested aspirants of "the good old Confederate days" and their other shameless displays of morally-bankrupt tomfoolery.
Once you decide on your argument or claim, you must consider finding compelling reasons to support your claim.
Support Your Claim
Without support consisting of data, statistics, reasoning, logic, and refutations to counterarguments, your opinion exists in an abyss or a vacuum. You must develop a considered or educated opinion, which is the result of fearlessly studying the pros and cons of your subject in which you try to minimize your prejudices, biases, and other emotional baggage that might blind you from the truth.
Understand Opposing Claims and Points of View
You don't have an educated or considered opinion until you have been tested by your opponents' strongest arguments. If you can refute those arguments, then you can continue with your claim.
You will also gain credibility with your readers for showing your understanding of your opponents' views.
You will gain even more credibility when you can refute your opponents with assured insouciance rather than infantile hostility. Also choose polite insouciance over hostility as the former is a sign of intellectual superiority; the latter is a sign of juvenile fear and inexperience.
Give Appropriate Sartorial (Clothing Style) Splendor (Writing Style) to Your Arguments
Your argument is the "body" of the essay. Your writing style is the fashion or sartorial choice you make in order to "dress up" your argument and give it power, moxie, and elan (passion).
Here is the same claim dressed up differently in the following two thesis statements:
Civil War reenactments are racist gibberish that need to go once and for all.
More Dressed Up
Our moral offense to civil war reenactments rests on our understanding that the participants are engaging in nostalgia for the days when the toxic religion of white supremacy ruled the day, that the participants gleefully and childishly erase black history to the detriment of truth, and that on a larger scale, they engage in the mythical revisionism of the Confederacy narratives, hiding its barbaric practices by esteeming racist thugs as if they were innocent and venerable Disney heroes. Their sham is so morally egregious and spiritually bankrupt that to examine its folly in all its shameless variations compels us to abolish the sordid practice without equivocation.
We need to stop blaming the poor for their poverty.
More Dressed Up
The idea that the rich are wealthy because of their superior moral character and that the poor live in poverty because of their inferior moral character is a glaring absurdity rooted in willful ignorance, the blind worship of money, and an irrational fear of poverty as if it were some kind of contagious disease.
Qualify Your Thesis to Make It More Persuasive and Reasonable
Qualifiers such as the following will make your thesis more bullet-proof from your opponents:
under certain conditions
Under most conditions, narcotics should be legalized in order to decrease crime, increase rehabilitation, and decrease unnecessary incarceration.
Examine Your Core Assumptions
Assumptions are the principles and values upon which we base our beliefs and actions.
Under most conditions, narcotics should be legalized in order to decrease crime, increase rehabilitation, and decrease unnecessary incarceration.
Treating drug use as a medical problem that requires rehabilitation is morally superior to relying on incarceration. Some may disagree with this assumption, so the writer will have to defend her assumption at some point in her essay.
Here's a link (with grammar errors) for writing counterarguments and refutations in your essay.
Notice the link, which is from a community college, is riddled with grammar errors. We all make mistakes from time to time, especially on the Internet, but a pattern of errors is disturbing indeed.
McMahon Grammar Lesson: Comma Rules (based in part by Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers)
Commas are designed to help writers avoid confusing sentences and to clarify the logic of their sentences.
If you cook Jeff will clean the dishes. (Will you cook Jeff?)
While we were eating a rattlesnake approached us. (Were we eating a rattlesnake?)
Comma Rule 1: Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) joining two independent clauses.
Rattlesnakes are high in protein, but I’d rather eat a peanut butter sandwich.
Rattlesnakes are dangerous, and the desert species are even more so.
We are a proud people, for our ancestors passed down these famous delicacies over a period of five thousand years.
The exception to rule 1 is when the two independent clauses are short:
The plane took off and we were on our way.
Comma Rule 2: Use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase.
When Jeff Henderson was in prison, he developed an appetite for reading.
In the nearby room, the TV is blaring full blast.
Tanning in the hot Hermosa Beach sun for over two hours, I realized I had better call it a day.
The exception is when the short adverb clause or phrase is short and doesn’t create the possibility of a misreading:
In no time we were at 2,800 feet.
Comma Rule 3: Use a comma between all items in a series.
Jeff Henderson found redemption through hard work, self-reinvention, and social altruism.
Finding his passion, mastering his craft, and giving back to the community were all part of Jeff Henderson’s self-reinvention.
Comma Rule 4: Use a comma between coordinate adjectives not joined with “and.” Do not use a comma between cumulative adjectives.
The adjectives below are called coordinate because they modify the noun separately:
Jeff Henderson is a passionate, articulate, wise speaker.
The adjectives above are coordinate because they can be joined with “and.” Jeff Henderson is passionate and articulate and wise.
Adjectives that do not modify the noun separately are cumulative.
Three large gray shapes moved slowly toward us.
Chocolate fudge peanut butter swirl coconut cake is divine.
Comma Rule 5: Use commas to set off nonrestrictive (nonessential) elements.
Restrictive or essential information doesn’t have a comma:
For school the students need notebooks that are college-ruled.
Jeff’s cat that just had kittens became very aggressive.
For school the students need college-ruled notebooks, which are on sale at the bookstore.
Jeff Henderson’s mansion, which is located in Las Vegas, has a state-of-the-art kitchen.
My youngest sister, who plays left wing on the soccer team, now lives at The Sands, a beach house near Los Angeles.