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GRE Issue 41: The Greatness Of Individuals - With A Free Essay Review
The greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, not by their contemporaries.
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.
The statement claims that the greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, not by their contemporaries. In some cases, this statement is true since some great people’s ideas or deeds could not be fully understood by contemporaries who are confined by parochial views. However, under some circumstances, their contemporaries can determine the greatness of persons because some deeds they make are worthy of respect.
Sometimes, the reason why some great individuals are ignored is that their thoughts or views, although profound and deep, could not be appreciated and understood by their contemporaries. Kafka is an excellent example of this point. Kafka’s writing attracted little attention in the course of his life. Although he published one of his masterpieces ”Metamorphosis”, the society did not value his work at that time partly because his works are full of fantasy, irony as well as intricacies, which made readers hardly know the underlying meanings he wanted to demonstrate. However, he received high reputation posthumously. Currently, he is regarded as one of the most eminent writes throughout history. Unlike Kafka’s contemporaries, nowadays people can fully understand the motif of Kafka’s works which reflects the complications and dilemma people would face due to the rapid development of technology and society.
In addition, in some cases, the achievements of individuals must be tested by time. Sometimes, the time may be very long, which leads people at that time to neglect or underestimate the significance of accomplishments some people achieve. Take German scientist Wegener for example. He put forward the continental drift hypothesis during his life. However, a great number of his contemporary scientists opposed this hypothesis seriously, considering it absurd as well as unrealistic. As time went by, owing to the increasing evidence found which justified Wegener’s theory, his groundbreaking and profound theory was finally recognized by scientists after his death. At present, no one is likely to deny the greatness of this prestigious scientist, Wegener. Thus, sometimes, influenced by lack of knowledge and evidence, people in the past were not able to make a right decision about the greatness of individuals.
Even though the examples mentioned above, we cannot claim that the greatness of individuals cannot be decided by their contemporaries. Actually, peers can determine whether some individuals are great or not. Consider the firefighters in 911 attacks who lost their lives for the sake of rescuing others as well as putting out fire. Almost everyone will think these individuals are great because they sacrificed their life to protect others without even hesitation. Hence, the greatness of individuals can be decided by their peers largely because some spirits and values they show are respectful and valuable throughout human’s history.
In conclusion, the answers to this statement might be diverse according to different circumstances. On the one hand, fettered by shortsightedness and dogmatic thoughts, people can hardly find out the greatness of some persons. On the other hand, with the same values, most people will think people with kindness and spirit of dedication are great.
I feel as though you are essentially arguing here, and especially in the second paragraph, that some individuals cannot be appreciated in their lifetime because the people of their time don't appreciate them. You give a good example of a literary genius whose work was underappreciated in his time, but I don't think you say very much about why Kafka, and less about why any other great individual, was underappreciated. Even if your explanation about Kafka were true, and his poor reputation was due to fantasy and irony (but fantasy and irony tend to be very popular!), the explanation would still only explain Kafka. It would not explain Nietzsche or Bach or any number of posthumously discovered "artists”. And it would not explain why the achievements of certain leaders are not appreciated until many years after the fact. The example ought to help explain a general phenomenon (and not just be an evidentiary instance of it). But if it is to do that, you need a general argument about why the phenomenon occurs. What is it generally that makes it difficult to appreciate greatness when it is staring us in the face? What makes it difficult to know whether a work (of art, of literature, of politics, of science) is truly revolutionary and historical and age-defining and influential (or whatever other attributes you want to gather under the concept “great”)?
You seem to have that question at the back of your mind because you give a partial answer to it in your next paragraph: “the achievements of individuals must be tested by time.” That seems to be still a little too vague, however. You need to linger with the general argument a little longer, before getting to your example, which in this case, as in the previous paragraph, is a good example. Your third paragraph also has the merit of concluding with a general explanatory observation: people of the past were sometimes “influenced by a lack of knowledge and evidence.” I think you need to get more sentences like that into your essay.