Composition/Analyzing a Cartoon
Choose one of the following topics. Write about 200 to 250 words.
- Following in your parents’ footsteps – a good idea? Discuss.
- “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer” (W. Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965; writer). Comment on this statement.
- A turning point in a person’s life: write a review for an English edition of your school magazine, describing a turning point in a literary work by an English-speaking author and how it affects a character’s life.
- Describe, interpret and comment on the following cartoon.
Following in your parents’ footsteps – can be a good idea. Being led by role models and having the chance to learn a business (for example, taking over your parents’ company) or a way of life (for example, living in the wilderness and being a self-sufficient farmer) from early age on provides a lot of advantages: You can always ask your parents for advice, and they will be able to give it. Your parents will always be able to understand your struggles and empathize with you. You can uphold the traditions that your family has developed, and even pass them on to your own offspring one day. Thus, you might contribute to preserving traditions or achievements that your family or your country is proud of.
At the same time, this is a life-changing decision, and should always be made with your own wishes and dreams and your own capacities and abilities in mind. You do not only have to be willing to follow in your parents’ footsteps, you have to be able to do so and vice versa. There are numerous examples of parents and children being exceedingly unhappy with each other, or deeply disappointed in the other when this expectation cannot be fulfilled. Among these you find lawyers whose sons or daughters do not have the ability to reach the academic degree required to take over the parent’s law firm, or parents who are unable to understand their children’s decision not to have children themselves.
It is a crucial situation in each family when the ideas and plans of parents and children differ from each other. And it is a question of open communication, mutual respect and acceptance of the other person’s opinion in establishing an understanding of whether or not the children will, by their own free will, follow in their parents’ footsteps.
“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer” (W. Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965; writer) is a quote that rings true, even in our time. What immediately comes to mind is today’s dichotomy between trying to maintain tradition and being open to change at the same time, and the question of how to maintain the balance. This can be applied to many different areas of life, and I would like to concentrate on one aspect:
In our world, we are striving to keep up with the technological progress that permeates almost every area of life. We have computing devices which enable us to communicate 24/7 with everybody, anywhere on the planet, and to have access to a nearly unlimited pool of knowledge. This provides a sense of freedom that has never been available to mankind before.
But, as always, with this new freedom comes a new responsibility, and a new form of self-reliance is required: Everyone has to decide personally when to start and stop communicating, or determine which information is relevant for his search. Human interaction very often becomes all but obsolete. And we have to learn safe and healthy ways to deal with this freedom. All these developments are being monitored carefully. Our experience and knowledge – or our “traditions” - provide the intellectual horizon in front of which we judge current developments, and thus we hopefully make sensible and well-founded decisions.
And despite of all the well-deserved criticism of these developments, the world has opened to an essential change within the mode of communication, as the advantages (still) outweigh the disadvantages. Had we stuck to our traditions, there would never have been the opportunity to open the veils between our cultures, our different sets of knowledge, and the simple obstacles to communication such as distance and time-zones.
A turning point in a person’s life. (This is the same text as for I.3)
Almost everybody experiences the moment when a single bit of knowledge changes them and the way they perceive the world or themselves. It is a point of no return, something you cannot always pinpoint at that precise moment, but in retrospect. Growing up often consists of several such moments, and authors have made use of their dramaturgical effects for a long time.
One of my favourite examples is Will in Nick Hornby’s “About a boy”. Will is a middle-aged man who refuses to grow up, i.e. to commit himself to serious relationships and to take responsibility for his actions. A perchance encounter with Marcus, a much-too-grown-up boy, results in both forming a bond and profiting from the proximity of the other. As a result, Will has to face Marcus’ mother Fiona, who is suffering from depression. And despite his innate wish to keep as much distance from her as possible, he ends up eating pizza with her when Marcus is allegedly visiting his father. And in the course of the conversation they are having, he finds out that he is actually interested in her emotions, and that he cannot completely distance himself anymore from other people. This is the moment when he starts developing and recognizing his real affection for Marcus. He realizes that life is “like air”, and that one cannot keep it out forever, one has to live it and breathe it.
To me, this shows very pointedly the fact that life is ever-evolving and ever-changing, and that it sometimes takes a single moment in which you have a glimpse at what it means to grow up and assume your responsibilities.
The cartoon is taken from http://www.cartoonstock.com. It depicts a scene in a shoe shop. In the foreground, dominating the center of the cartoon, one can see a middle-aged man sitting on a couch next to two shoe boxes. His facial expression shows discontentment or maybe sadness, as the corners of his mouth are pointing down and his eyes are also slanted. Even his hair appears to be hanging down listlessly. He is looking at a box of shoes that a salesman is holding up to him. The salesman’s facial expression is rather happy, as the corners of his mouth are pointing upwards. His eyes are hidden behind glasses. There is another customer visible in the background of the cartoon who is standing behind the man on the couch and looking at a pair of boots.
The caption of the cartoon says: “Here’s what you asked for...’shoes made in the U.S. by adult U.S. citizens’...that’s going to be $1,795.” This statement is clearly uttered by the salesman, and thus the punch line is established. The inverted commas indicate that he is quoting his customer’s wishes for a fair-trade product. And the ridiculously high price must be seen as a critical comment on both, the prices taken for fair-trade products and the customers’ unwillingness to pay them.
Certainly the enormous sum of $ 1,795 stands in no relation to the actual production costs of the pair of shoes. But this is true for most products – even the costs for very cheap articles. So this can be interpreted as a harsh criticism on the pricing policy of major companies. At the same time, it is known that this profit does not flow back into the wages of the workers, regardless of whether the products are labeled “fair-trade” or not. Adding “adult U.S. citizens” as a specification strongly hints at the unspoken acceptance that many articles we use every day are produced in countries in which child labor still takes place.
But there are several more possible points of criticism implied:
As soon as products are considered “fair-trade”, their prices are unreasonably high, because an extra charge has to be paid by the customer to provide fairer wages. And customers are not willing to pay that price.
Finally, one could interpret the cartoon to the effect that adding a payment of fair wages to the production costs would raise the prices for many goods to such an extent that they become articles of luxury.