My Personal Statement: University of Oxford | English Language and Literature - Jill C.

11 DEC 2020

In her personal statement for the University of Oxford, Jill wrote about what literature means to her and how it has influenced different parts of her life. She references some of her favorite works and explains how they inform her understanding of the English language and the potency of literature as a cultural mainstay.

This essay is part of a collection of personal statements written by Crimson students who were accepted to their top-choice universities in the US and UK. By bringing together nearly 25 of our best students’ essays, we want to provide inspiration for future students with the same aspirations and goals. This series will showcase the wonderful variety in our student’s essay creations — powered by their personal voice and supported by their dedicated Crimson essay mentors. Ready to be inspired? Let’s go…

As an avid listener of Desert Island Discs I’ve pondered over what book would accompany me as a castaway. The one book I could never tire of is a thesaurus. I’m fascinated by the endless flexibility of the English language and its effect on literature. It contains an inexhaustible supply of words, including one to define my connection to literature: a logophile.

I’m repeatedly awed by how writers demonstrate their craft from epic novels to works on a minute scale. In the six-word story attributed to Hemingway, I find the compressed tripartite structure impressive: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The author conveys the emotion through the ambiguity of words, supplying only what is necessary to evoke the reader’s feelings.

This manipulation of the reader’s thoughts is inextricable from Hemingway's work as a journalist where he exploited the ability of simple language to engage with a wide audience. This encouraged me to investigate the effects of word choice and the technique of ‘show, don’t tell’ on my writing. I attended The School of The New York Times’ summer academy and started a personal blog, both of which encouraged me to examine the restraints involved in writing for an audience.

Orwell’s 1984 and its accompanying essay The Principles of Newspeak illustrate the role words have in influencing our modes of thought; this struck me as the most potent aspect of his dystopia. It is a profoundly sinister and subversive idea: removing the capacity for dissent by removing the ability to express and therefore understand that dissidence. This showed me that in ways, our thoughts would not exist if we did not have the language to express them. This idea is replicated in other dystopian works such as Fahrenheit 451, and in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are forbidden to read and write as they do not possess power, a concept particularly disturbing to me as a female reader. Despite their historical and political differences, these novels are concerned not just with the oppressive regimes but with the restriction of language to sustain them.

Poetry’s concision embodies the efficiency of language, which for me is epitomised by Frost’s condensed and lucid style. The succinct “sigh” in The Road Not Taken is a densely complex noun which simultaneously connotes regret, relief and destiny. Heaney’s poetry appeals to me in how his compactness of expression heightens the intensity of the emotions he elicits. The hyphenated ‘four- foot’ combined with the alliterative ‘f,’ in the closing line of ‘Mid-Term Break’ describes the boy’s short life and the harsh reality of his young death. Reading translations by Heaney and other Irish poets, such as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, who wrote in Gaelic, I have found that the beauty of language is generally non-transferrable.

My first exposure to literature was through nursery rhymes and since then I have delighted in the sound of language. Sound effects go beyond poetry and my interest in drama has enabled me to explore Shakespeare’s innovative use of metre. On stage, the fluency and rhythm of iambic pentameter are foregrounded, and in my experience performing Gertrude’s Act 4 Scene 7 monologue, the erratic and inconsistent metre elevated the emotion, helping me express the scene’s extreme grief. My infatuation with English has radiated into all areas of my life. I have the pleasure of encouraging fellow students to seek enjoyment in literature as head librarian at my school. A summer school at Oxford University amplified my interest in the academic and technical side of the subject. This prompted me to enter the Trinity Gould Essay Prize, in which I was highly commended for my essay examining reading as a form of friendship both intra and extra-diegetically. These endeavours have given me an appetite for academic writing and research and made me realise that reading is more than a pastime for me but a subject that I wish to go into in great depth, deciphering language and scrutinising literature.

NEXT WEEK: Read the essay that got Alfonso A. into Georgia Tech!

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