To Live in Freedom And “A Question of Elbow Room”Throughout human history, experiences with various forms of government have introduced us to the aspects that define a successful administration. By examining the past, we can identify the qualities that are most important to us, and the qualities that we consider to be most beneficial. One broad, but familiar, theme that defines successes and failures alike is the element of individualism. In some governing bodies, this wasn’t a valued element, and partially because of that, they ended up being remembered less pleasantly. In governments where this component is taken to heart and displayed with pride, we find that these governments were much more effective and long-lasting and have made positive marks on society. If we look closely at the past, we can better understand the values that we want future generations to live, and in this, design their future destiny. Individualism is a fundamental aspect of any society, regardless of the government or leadership that is in place, regardless of the time and discoveries that are known. Regardless of all else, we need individualism.
“A Question of Elbow Room” by John Dos Passos is a profound expository essay that reveals the need for individuality in our modern-day world and the worlds to come. To have a fully functioning society, people require the ability to share insights to the world around them, and the ability to obtain these materials as well. Published on January 25, 1958, in an issue of the National Review, this compelling piece represents the importance of freedom of expression, and how this quality can fit with the operation of a nation. While moderately critical, the essay evolves and shows where individualism came from, and the reason why we need to explore this term more diligently. With enough space in the world for citizens to find themselves and grow as an individual and as a collective whole, the future can only be a positive one. With apparent limitations, the government, no matter the form, can provide a dependable space for discovery and exploration. If there is enough space for differing ideas and opinions, people will likely develop a way to coexist and cooperate. If the world were to be rebuilt, this is a piece that I believe would need to be saved. From this concept, the future is open to countless opportunities, all coming as an effect of this central liberty. When people are allotted the use of “elbow room” in society, everyone benefits. Although this is not the central text of our society today, through this document, we can reflect and respond to the world around us in a way that is both introspective and productive to our time.
Throughout this essay, Dos Passos raises many themes that completely encapsulate the achievements and downfalls of our society. Within this text, information about government, happiness, politics, independence of the United States, and the rise of social conformity, is presented and elaborated on. The teachings revealed through many metaphors guide readers through these topics, reflecting and revealing along the way. As John Dos Passos begins his essay with the memorable words, “Individuality is freedom lived,” it is clear that he wants to encourage us as readers to dig deeper into the prospects of individuality. It seems as though he also wants to indicate the importance of individuality, and individuals, to society. This essay shows the opinions of others, empathy, and suggestions based on this, it truly communicates ideas of how to continue and improve the world. In the introductory section, Dos Passos uses a metaphor of a cross-section of an onion, one that represents his exploration of the topic: "When we use the word individuality we refer to a whole gamut of meanings. Starting from the meanings which pertain to the deepest recesses of private consciousness, these different meanings can be counted off one by one like the skins in the cross-section of an onion, until we reach the everyday outer hide of meaning which crops up in the common talk." (Passos 1) Dos Passos understands that we must strive to understand deeper meanings behind common themes such as individualism, and from that, inquire about their broader applications. Also introduced in this initial paragraph is the extended metaphor, or motif, of a theory Dos Passos describes as “elbow room.” This metaphor builds as the writing continues, but the basic meaning of this is the ability to extend yourself and have space in society to fully express yourself. This specific theme spoke to me and was especially impactful because it represents the need for everyone to be able to be themselves in a society built for them. The author’s eloquence and attention to detail presented in this essay are what make it such a meaningful piece to remember. With relevant history included, this text provides a much-needed perspective as well. When Dos Passos dives into the depths of a theory, he makes an effort to examine enough to keep the reader interested, while also providing a space where the reader can explore past the limits of his essay. As Dos Passos continues remains curious about the subject in which he writes; an element that makes for a complete text. This theory is of great significance, mainly because it is a key choice element that needs to be respected. Later on in this essay, Dos Passos describes the battle for individuality as“a life and death matter.” "Fifty years ago all this would have been the rankest platitude, but we live in an epoch where the official directors of opinion through schools, pulpits, and presses have leaned so far over backwards in their efforts to conform to what they fancy are the exigencies of society." (1) This essay not only expresses the meaning of individuality and expression, but it also highlights how governments can adapt to fit these qualities into their leadership. In the many sections, Dos Passos delves deeper into the moral and ethical limits of this theory, building on how it can be applied in the modern world, as well as the future one. As long as people are truly free to express themselves as much or as little as they choose, the collective society will remain significantly more content and satisfied on the long term basis.
If this text were to be the main text of the future, I believe that with the freedom to be yourself and access important information, society will be able to revive itself and move forward in the future. Even if the knowledge from the present isn’t preserved, with the ideals and morals that provide security, or “elbow room,” for individualism and freedom of thought, society will be able to move on, hopefully in the right direction. Applying Charles Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest and of evolution, individualism allows concepts to find their way around, and in that, improve society. Ideas with the most weight and importance will be circulated, and with this individualism and free speech being executed, the world can move forward. Through the use of individualism, society can better find solutions. If this liberty is respected and appreciated, an atmosphere of respect for others will come forth. Hopefully, in this common appreciation, compromises and sacrifices will be implemented and basic social contracts honored. If every citizen is granted the right of self-expression and will, they can not only fulfill their duties to society but also become independent simultaneously. No matter what information is available to society in terms of discoveries, individuals will build on preexisting knowledge as long as they are allowed their freedom. Holding this as a basic human right, many catastrophic nightmares are easily avoided, and in turn, people are free to make observations and learn about our world and universe. The way that we got to the intellectual place that we are now is by individuals collectively producing work and presenting it to the public. If this is a basis for society and the world as a whole, this would also provide that an individual or group could worship, explore, discuss, and teach information by their own volition. There is an evident limit to this freedom when it comes at the cost of other’s freedoms, but in terms of representation, there would be limited rules made to restrict it. There is a distinct need for not only the civil liberty of individuality but also the ethical limits that exist and should be set for citizens to thrive and be expressive in an ideal society. This text represents and displays just how far society can go with reasonable limits and expectations, as well as the freedom to discover and learn within the confines of fair government. In a society in which everyone is subject to their own beliefs, people are accounted for, represented, and protected by the government.
When people are allowed to think for themselves and be free to express it, individuality allows for change to be encouraged and for forward-looking development to thrive. Many conflicts started or have lasted because of a lack of freedom of control over a citizen’s actions and opinions, and in this, a lack of individuality emerges. If we can bring this lesson into the future, it is not that anything would be limited in terms of possibilities, but events would come at a different pace and point of view. With these morals serving as a guide book for the future, society will be able to evolve and change, while keeping a high moral compass. With “Elbow Room” at the core of society, people will be free to express themselves, and free to make discoveries and observations without the social confines designed to silence them. With Dos Passos’s passages safe in our minds and hearts, we will remember that “Individuality is freedom lived.”