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Walker Percy’s essay, “The Loss of the Creature” describes the experiences that each person goes through as either a genuine experience driven by own desires, or one that is already preconceived by experts. Percy believes that people can only learn from experiences that are driven by pure personal desire, and not experiences already preconceived by experts. Percy describes the “loss of sovereignty” as preconceived notions of an experience with the help of experts. W.E.B Du Bois, on the other hand, wrote an essay called, “The Souls of Black Folk” that contradicts Percy’s term of the “loss of sovereignty”. Du Bois strongly believes that with the help of experts, people can then learn what they need to get ahead in life.
Percy presents a type of tourist, which is the “simple tourist”. The “simple tourist” helps Percy to describe someone who succumbs to the “loss of sovereignty”. In Percy’s view, someone who is a “simple tourist” goes along with what the expert’s comment on. They stay on the “beaten track”. When he describes the “beaten track” he means the road that everyone follows put forth by experts. People follow the “beaten track” knowing what lies ahead of them, and thinking that it is the best way to go. Experts take away the “sovereignty” of humankind because they take away any surprise or challenge of a learning experience. Du Bois views the “beaten track” though, as the best way to learn. The educational system that he strongly recommends is a path that he said a person must take in order to succeed in life. That path describes Percy’s view of the “beaten track” because it is a journey that Du Bois suggests that all young people should take. This definitely leaves out any room for them to wander off into their own interests if they should conform.
The students of Du Bois’s essay characterize one of which fits as a “simple tourist”. Du Bois said,
Nothing new, no time saving devices, -simply old time glorified methods of delving the Truth, and searching the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living. The riddle of existence is the college curriculum that was laid before the Pharaohs, that was taught in the groves by Plato, that formed the trivium and quadrivium, and is to-day laid before the freemens’s sons by Atlanta University. And this course will not change…(Du Bois, 235).
Because they are expected to follow what expert say, their path is already predestined for them. The students suffer from a “loss of sovereignty” because the experts want the students to learn through the educational package that contains the preconceived notions of the expertise. Du Bois said that nothing will change in the educational system, thus, the students never get a chance to explore other than what experts expect and give them to learn. Percy would describe Du Bois students as “simple” students who are letting expert opinions control what they do, and how they perceive information. The expert’s guidance help to “form [the thoughts] in the sightseer’s mind” (Percy, 566), thus, it takes away from the genuine experience. Percy would describe Du Bois students as “simple” students who are letting expert opinions control what they do, and how they perceive information.
Percy would disagree with Du Bois that “old time glorified methods of delving the Truth, and searching the hidden beauties of life, and learning the good of living” is through being a “simple” student. One cannot be forced into liking something if they are truly not interested in it, but Du Bois argued that education is something that is necessary without taking into consideration the students desire to learn. Percy though, argued with an example that, “A student who has the desire to get at a dogfish or a Shakespeare sonnet may have the greatest difficulty in salvaging the creature itself from the educational package in which it is presented” (573). Percy suggests that the “educational package” gets in the way for a student to explore because within the educational system, there are always rules which can limit and deny the student their genuine experience of exploring on their own. Percy sees that, “…the citizen of Huxleys’s Brave New World who stumbles across a volume of Shakespeare in some vine-grown ruins and squats on a potsherd to read it is in a fairer way of getting at a sonnet than the Harvard sophomore taking English Poetry II” (Percy, 572). The student’s action was all motivated by personal desire, and thus, received the most from the experience. There was not any expert to tell the student that that was the correct thing to do.
Though Percy would define Du Bois’s students as “simple”, Du Bois would have no doubt in describing his students as “complex”. Du Bois believes education is the basis for everything in life, and it is essential to survival in the world. Du Bois would see that if a Negro gets out of the hard life, he/she would be leaving the “beaten track” that exist in their culture and history of the Negro life. Du Bois would deem the experiences on the “beaten track” as something out of the ordinary because the ordinary Negro life does not include education. The black students are expected to work hard jobs to support their family, which leaves no time to go to school. Working for money to support the family is the “beaten track” for the people in Du Bois’s essay. Du Bois predicts that if a student pursues in an education seriously, they would be able to move ahead in life and get off the “beaten track” predestined for them by society.
Du Bois stated that, “The function of the Negro college [is to provide]…the rich and bitter depth of their experience, the unknown treasures of their inner life, the strange rendings of nature they have seen, may give the world new points of view and make their loving, living and doing precious to all human hearts” (248). Du Bois infers that the educational system leads the person off the “beaten track” by expanding their views through the eyes of experts. This characterizes the “complex” tourists, which Du Bois would categorize students into. Percy though, believes otherwise.
It is difficult to clearly differentiate who is wrong and who is right in the two essays. Both Percy and Du Bois stand by their statements strongly, but through personal experiences, when education is forced upon the students such as myself, it is hard to absorb all the information being taught, therefore, my interest in learning is lost. Percy sees that as a “simple tourists” characteristic. Like my parents, Du Bois suggests that education provide a successful future. The black students who have not had the chance to experience college should view education as getting off the “beaten track”, but slavery, and hard labor which is their daily life is the “beaten track” that most follow. To Percy, I am “simple” because some of my experiences are influenced by experts, but to my parents I would not be considered “simple” because I am doing something that is not common in their lives. Going to college is out of the ordinary, just like the Negroes. There are so many situations that need to be taken into consideration before categorizing people into “simple and complex”.
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