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Villanova Type V Personality Essay Sample

This prompt is about more than just your favorite novel. At its heart, this prompt is asking you to tell a story about your own personal development through your relationship to a work of art.


It might be tempting to choose a fancy piece of literature in order to show off your intellectual prowess. But you should not feel pressured into claiming that you’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow every summer since you were eight years old. The admissions committee is more interested in seeing that you are a thoughtful person who is capable of reflecting on how you have changed. If you can tell that story best by writing about Pokémon, Episode 70, “Go West Young Meowth,” so be it.


You might say that as a child you were mostly drawn to the flashy drawings and silly cartoons. But maybe when you saw that episode again in your high school years, you were fascinated with how it imagines that an animal might learn to speak “human language.” This might have been one piece of your growing interest in the philosophy of human-animal relations and the different ways that species communicate with each other.


Of course, not everything that we read as a child ages well. One way to approach this essay is to talk about something that you might have once loved, and perhaps still love, but has come to seem more problematic. For one example of what such an essay might look like, you might turn to Daniel Jose Ruiz’s essay on Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. For Ruiz, the fantasy world where mice and badgers were good guys and weasels and ferrets were bad guys was a place where he felt included as a child:


I felt a kinship with the badger characters. They were large, strong, a bit stubborn, with big tempers, but they were good guys and heroes. Redwall seemed to say that I could be a good guy and a hero even though I was big for my age, stubborn, and volatile.


But as Ruiz grew older and read more, parts of the Redwall books called out for critique:


You can do a pretty thorough Marxist reading of Redwall as a parable of the righteous nature of bourgeois property relations. The mice, hares, and badgers are metaphors for the inherent superiority of the ruling class, while the vermin are symbols of the degenerate nature of the proletariat.


In the real world, however, few people just decide to become bandits unless their situation dictates that this is one of the better options for survival. I can’t recall a single time where the [mice and badgers try] to establish a mutually beneficial agreement with the vermin, as opposed to occasional acts of charity that don’t address systemic issues.


However you choose to write about your changing relationship to a piece of art, your focus should be on how you and your interpretation of that work have changed over time. You do not want to get bogged down with lots of plot summary. Notice how, as you read Ruiz’s essay, no sentences are given over to just describing the plot: Every sentence weaves summary and analysis together, with constant references to his own personal story.


Finally, there is one last possibility for how you might approach this prompt that is a little bit more experimental. The prompt asks you to address how your developmental story changed the way you understand a work of art. But what if you reversed the prompt and asked how a work of art changed the way you understood your own developmental story? Perhaps a relevant essay in this vein is Ashon Crawley’s poetic meditation on Barry Jenkins’s Oscar winning 2016 film, Moonlight.


“Sometimes fiction functions to produce memory,” Crawley says, and then goes on to tell the story of how he grew through three different nicknames (Berry Berry, Cookie, and Ashon) parallel to, but not exactly the same as, the film’s main character who is known as “Little,” then “Chiron,” then “Black.”


Even if you end up structuring your essay in a more traditional manner, it is worth noting how Crawley zooms in on precise details that might have been mundane but vibrate with meaning in the force of his prose — a change in email address, a choir membership card, a Walter Hawkins song…


As you respond to Villanova’s prompt, you will not be able to tell the admissions committee every twist and turn in the story of your maturation, but your essay might become bland if you only speak in vague general terms. Ashon slices through this dilemma by focusing on precise details, little snippets from his life, that tell some, but not all, of his story. As you write, it is worth considering what little moments you might choose from your own life’s story to represent how you’ve changed.


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Life and Work

1925      Born in Savannah, Georgia to wealthy, Catholic parents

1942      Father dies of Lupus when O’Connor is 16; moves to Andalusia

                Farm in Milledgeville, GA

1946      Accepted to Iowa Writer’s Workshop

1948      Writes at Yaddo writer’s commune in NY

1949      Meets Robert Fitzgerald, lives with him and Sally in Connecticut

1952      Diagnosed with Lupus, returns to Andalusia

            Writes over 12 years, finishing both novels, 32 short stories. Travels to give talks and read her fiction

1964      Dies at age 39



Major Themes


·       Irony, humor, and the grotesque: the prophetic responsibility of the Christian author

·       Christian realism: sacramentality and the fullness of lived life

·       Faith and fiction

·       Violent grace: breaking through the “domestication of despair”


Suggested Texts for ACS

Wise Blood (accompanied by John Huston’s marvelous film adaptation)

Short Stories (collected in The Complete Stories)

·       “Revelation”

·       “The Enduring Chill”

·       “The Displaced Person”

Essays and Lectures (collected in Mystery and Manners)

·       “The Fiction Writer and His Country”

·       “The Church and the Fiction Writer”

·       “Novelist and Believer”

·       “Catholic Novelists and Their Readers”

·       “The Grotesque in Southern Fiction” (background reading)

·      “On Her Own Work” (background reading)


Major Themes

Irony, humor, and the grotesque: the prophetic responsibility of the Christian author

§  Disparity between character’s limited perceptions and the awesome fate awaiting them

§  “Revelation” story

§  The Christ-haunted South

·      “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted."

·      Often ironic portraits of fundamentalist Protestants who undergo transformations that bring them closer to a Catholic view

·      Attempt of well-meaning liberals to cope with the rural South on their own terms

§  Faith allows us to see what is grotesque

·      “My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable."

·      “The fiction writer should be characterized by his kind of vision."

Christian realism: sacramentality and lived life

§  One of O’Connor’s diagnoses of the modern condition is that we have abstracted ourselves from our lived condition

·      We no longer live life, and instead we have theories about life; we move in worlds of increased abstractions; or rather we don’t move through the world, we prescribe and fulfill functions—we choose method over content

§  “Concreteness” is connected to an awareness of mystery

·      The only way grace is mediated is through life as lived; it is never abstract or theoretical

·      Her art is “incarnational”

§  Conviction: life has become unlived: the secular mind chooses a narrow rationality instead of a fully embodied and aware living

§  Antidote: re-discovery of Christian faith lived fully, i.e., creation infused with Grace, redeemed through incarnation, on the way to resurrection

·      But this takes the form of shocking readers into a view of the significance of the grace that is communicated

§  Sacrament: the world is charged with God (mystery)

§  Thomistic view: grace perfects nature; this perfection (as change) is painful to undergo


Faith and fiction

·      These are two means of grace: the first through the Church, the second through nature

·      Grace is not a warm feeling, but a sharp form of revelation, indicating truth that sets us free

·      The revelation is of human limitation and sinfulness, but also our created value

·      Both forms of grace work at the intersection of spirit and matter


Violent grace: breaking through the domestication of despair

§  Gentle mocking of intellectual pretense

§  Mystery (or the lack thereof) is what divides the modern world

·      We have domesticated despair.

·      Our crisis lies in separating nature and grace, reason and imagination

·      It leads to bad living as well as to bad art

§  Every story presents grace (it is present, but it can come to us in an ugly vessel)

·      “There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment."


Suggested Texts for ACS

Wise Blood (accompanied by John Huston’s marvelous film adaptation)

·      Hazel Motes is a wounded WWII vet and the grandson of a traveling preacher; he has always doubted salvation and original sin; now he is an avowed atheist

·      Witnesses a blind preacher (Asa Hawks) and teenage daughter (Sabbath Lily Hawks) advertising on the street; decides to start his own anti-God church

·      Asa’s claim to fame: he blinded himself with quicklime to detach himself from worldly pursuits; but he faltered and failed, instead becoming a con-artist

·      A local con artist forms his own ministry of “Holy Church of Christ without Christ,” charging $1 donation to join

·      Motes is enraged, follows the man, eventually killing him by running him over with his car; in a separate incident, a strange police officer has Motes destroy his car

·      Motes becomes sullen and withdrawn; he eventually blinds himself with quicklime, and lives as an ascetic; he goes through a passion experience, eventually suffering and dying

Short Stories (collected in The Complete Stories)


·      Mrs. Turpin is a respectable, middle class Christian woman who would never deliberately harm anyone

·      Her failing is that she is thankful that she is a good woman with a good disposition (like the biblical Pharisee who confidently thanks God he is not a sinful tax collector)

·      The action in the waiting room: social standing and her select judgment of those who are less than her

·      Mary Grace throws “Human Development” at her, hitting her in the head; calls her “a wart hog from hell”

·      Mrs. Turpin experiences this as a revelation from Jesus; goes home to her farm, shouts to Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” which echoes back to her

·      Sees a vision of Jacob’s ladder in which she is the last in line, and her virtues are being burned away

“The Enduring Chill”

·      Asbury is convinced he is going to die, and he is pre-occupied with the dramatic meaning of this

·      Has to return to his small town from New York, but is imposed upon by the local doctor Block, his hovering mother, and Father Finn.

·      The Holy Spirit descends on Asbury along with news delivered by Dr. Block that he will not die but will have a life-long illness, an “enduring chill”

·      He sees that “for the rest of his days, frail, racked, but enduring, he would live in the face of a purifying terror.” Grace is revealed and made tangible in the continual presence of illness and the uncomfortable penetration of the Holy Spirit.

“The Displaced Person”

·      After WWII in Georgia, Mrs. McIntyre contacts priest to find her a “displaced person” to work as a farm hand; Mr. Guizac, a polish refugee, relocates to the farm with his family

·      The current white farm hands are threatened, try to manipulate Mrs. McIntyre into firing him; she fires them instead

·      Guizac has asked his teenage cousin to come to America by marrying one of the African American farm hands; Mrs. McIntyre is appalled

·      Decides to fire him, but instead silently participates in murder when bitter Mr. Shortley positions a tractor to roll over Guizac’s body as if “by accident”

·      Mrs. McIntyre’s farm hands abandon her and she has a nervous collapse, receiving no visitors except for the priest.

                                                                                                                    Paul Camacho

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