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November 19, 1961 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1961-11-19
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Freshman Disillusions

Increased Energy and Purpose to Literature of Cot


THE FRESHMAN has always been a
figure of pathos on the campus. Half
in earnest, half in fun, he is chided for
his naive outlook on, the one hand, and
prevented from considering himself a
full member in good standing on the
But now, because of the increasing
quality of the education some students
are receiving in high school, the best of
the incoming freshmen are facing a new
type of problem-a disturbing lack of in-
tellectual challenge.
A whole set of special circumstances
surround the first-year student here, and
he is caught in a paradox which is im-
penetrable for ten long months. When he
arrives on the scene, he is told that he
is a big boy now. He was warned in high
school that college would be very differ-
ent. He must look out for himself. No
one would be looking over his shoulder
4)' be sure he was studying efficiently.
He would not be able to drag his parents
to school to defend him against unrea-
sonable academic tyrants. No one would
care whether he passed or failed, and
the work will be murder.
The first thing the freshman discovers
is that none of these admonitions are
true-the real situation is worse than
anything he had dreaded in his wildest
nightmares. Instead of being completely
on his own, he discovers that house-
mothers and resident advisors are watch-
ing how he looks, guessing how he thinks
and evaluating his manners. They are
not doing this particularly to help him,
he learns, but in order that they may be
better able to rate him on reports which
will be turned in to the deans offices as
long as he lives within the residence
He discovers that his mother's re-
minder not to go around looking like a
beatnik is uncalled for. He must appear
at dinner resplendent in pants not just
pressed, but creased. Furthermore, he
must wear a tie and jacket. All this is
in order that he may file through a dis-
mal cafeteria line and wolf down his
dinner in time to run out of the building
before the atmosphere suffocates him.
The girl, -too, must have a "dinner
dress" (preferably an outmoded cotton
easily crumpled and tossed into a corner
of the closet between meals) ready to
drag out so that she also may join in
the assembly-lirie gracious living process.
She need not worry about losing sleep
as she did in high school, because the
authorities see to it that she is safely
locked inside the dorm at 11 p.m. while
her unperclass neighbors, having learned
the intricacies of campus conduct. are
permitted to stay outside the sanctuary
for another hour.
* * *
IF EVER a housing plan was calculated
to turn a freshman's mind to the
things of the spirit, the residence halls
system was. To forget his miseries, the
freshman is quite prepared to turn to his
studies. Yet once again he finds himself
stymied-unless he is fortunate enough
to be placed into the honors program or
accidentally winds up in the class of one
of the truly great professors-by the
mass lecture courses which send any

Freshmen enter the University with high hopes

thinking freshman screaming back to the
bosom of his high school.
Along with 200 or 300 or 500 other
sufferers, he sits patiently through lec-
ture after lecture on rats in Skinner
boxes or heliocentric parallaxes. Then he
learns that it is possible to make a deal
with a friend whereby he takes lecture
notes for him one day and the friend
returns the favor the next, so that one
can cut the agony in half and stay home
and drown his sorrows in sleep.
He never quite sees what the course is
driving at. The instructor counts on the
recitation leader to clarify questions, but
the recitation leader either reiterates
what the lecturer says or tests the stu-
dent's ability to parrot it on a quiz
He sits through English 123 classes,
wrestling grimly with George Orwell's
moral travails in shooting an elephant
and then writes a 500-word paper dem-
onstrating the use of alliteration. He gets
the paper back with a "B-" because his
instructor, although finding no flaw with
the alliteration, did not particularly
agree with the philosophy expounded in
the body of the paper.
He goes to the language laboratory and
spends half an hour learning that he sees
"den Mann" but must say "dem Mann,"
and wonders how anybody ever learns to
speak the language.
Then he writes a letter home to his
parents who become very agitated by his
lack of response to the intellectual at-
mosphere of the campus community.
"Get out more," they write back. "Aren't
there any interesting lectures or con-
certs on the campus?" He does not reply
that he cannot attend an interesting
library seminar because he must write
a 1,000-word paper on what he would
have done if he were Thoreau, or that he
cannot go to the Gilbert and Sullivan
Society concert because the sale of tickets
to quadrangle residents is forbidden so
as not to compete with the sale of tickets
for the Chiristmas dance. He stops writ-
ing home.
* * *
IN GENERAL, the freshman finds that
where he faced some -challenge in a
really good high school, he finds in lec-
ture courses mostly busy work and
trivial details which must be memorized
-but not enough solid ideas. His upper-
class friends soothe him with promises
of better things to come during his
sophomore year, but this is cold comfort
to take back to the quad and his dinner
of disguised veal leftover.
As a high school seniorhe was treated
with respect and given credit for an adult
understanding and approach. He worked
night editor on The Daily, is a
junior majoring in English.j

on advanced science projects, he de-
bated world problems, he studied great
literature and learned to write the sort
of compositions that give one a good
rating on the College Entrance Examina-
tion Board.
Here he is treated like a baby who
must be taught to construct a 500-word
paper from scratch and join a crowd
milling across the campus inspecting the
botanical specimens on the Angell Hall
lawn. It is a real comedown and he is
* * *
A LARGE PART of the problem is that
it has never before been so difficult
to get into college-and it is getting pro-
gressively harder. The average college
freshman, simply because he has succeed-
ed in making the grade, knows more about
competition than many of the most hard-
ened businessmen.
It used to be a matter of course for a
Michigan student who had decent grades
to be accepted at the University. He
mailed an application about the beginn-
ing of his senior year, and then forgot
it, being assured of admission. It is not
the case anymore. Students in high school
are no longer driving for good "B" aver-
ages. They need "A's," and the friendly
rivalry of former classes has of necessity
turned into a struggle to the death.
No one used to realize he had such a
thing as a standing in the class until he'
graduated. Now first-semester high school
juniors calculate their average to the
hundredth of an honor point to know
precisely where they stand in relation to
the girl next door.
Parents and humanitarian educators
are horrified at the mass of factual and
even interpretative material high school
students manage to cram into their
heads simply for the sake of doing well
on an examination. But regardless of
their purpose, the students are learning

not only academic material, but tech-
niques of efficient study and memoriza-
tion. The fact that they must compete
with everyone around them forces them
to apply themselves to the fullest possible
extent--and with college acceptance the
stakes, they are never permitted to relax
their efforts.
* * *
BY THE TIME the high school senior
becomes a college freshman he has
put up a good stiff fight. He has battled
his way in against an ever-increasing,
ever-improving body of competition and
he has become a fairly well educated
young person in the process.
Now he has achieved his goal, and
enters college with great expectations. He
knows how to work and he is ready to be
challenged-and to face the challenge
like an adult. What he finds is English
123 and the like.
It is no wonder that he is discouraged.
He wonders what the fight was all about
and doubts that it was worth the strug-
gle. The question then becomes: "What
do I do now?" There are several alter-
He can master his disappointment,
throw himself into the fray by memor-
izing volumes of trivia to delight his
instructors and make them believe they
have taught him something. This is prob-
ably one of the best reactions because it
insures that he will be able to return
next year when he may find some worth-
while classes.
He may give up altogether, spend his
time sleeping and participating in activi-
ties. He will flunk out after a year and
a half, or may do enough work to get
by and look for another outlet for his
time and energies.
But more- often he prefers to go into
activities and organizations, especially
those with a definite purpose or objec-
tive. The political clubs, Americans Com-
mitted to World Responsibility and The
Daily, for example, yearly find them-
selves with an increasing membership of
highly-qualified freshmen who turn out
brilliant work for- the organization, but
who must be prodded to snend enough
time in class to stav in school.
This is, of course, fine for both the
organizations and the students, in the
sense that education cannot be limited
to the c assroom but must include rec-
ognition of membership in a larger com-
munity. Nevertheless, the primary ob-
jective of four years of residence at the
University-and the goal most parents
have in mind then they accept the re-
sponsibility of paying the bills-is an
academic education.
True, the participation in, extra-cur-
ricular activities is important too, but
ideally these should serve as a means to
apply the results of one's learning, not
merely to escape.
The University is recognized as having
one of the most outstanding faculties in
the country. The potential of the student
body is increasing all the time. But un-
less something is done quickly to catch
and hold the interest of the freshman,
he may decide that a diploma is not
worth the effort.

ley Amis began to appear. These young
writers deliberately attempted to deal with
the issues of their time, to use the novel
as a means for conveying attitudes and
speculations about the contemporary
In order to convey these attitudes force-
fully, they avoided the kind of techni-
cal innovation favored by many of the
preceding generation of writers, delib-
erately re-establishing older prose tech-
niques. They were, particularly at this
point, formally conservative and tradi-
tional. John Wain, for example, in Hurry
on Down, attempted to revive the picar-
esque, a tradition appropriate for his
rootless hero leaving the university to
survey the contemporary world.
Kinsgley Amis used a good deal of farce
in his first two novels, deliberately mak-
ing his humor obvious and his incongrui-
ties ridiculous as a slap against a society
in which humor was too delicate and gen-
teel. And Angus Wilson, in Anglo-Saxon
Attitudes, used the large framework of
the Victorian novel, the huge saga that
portrayed a society by cutting through
numerous class and occupational lines. g
* * *
lack of technical innovation, has con-
tinued. But these writers are new in the
sense that they frequently look at jobs
and women and parties from the point of
view of the member of the lower classes.
Often, in this attempt to gain an es-
sentially different perspective on the class
issues in contemporary Britain, the hero
is, like Larkin's John Kemp, the son of
the lower classes granted a university
education. The university education itself,
however, tangles the lines of class iden-
tification, and the novels of Amis, Wain,
and Larkin do not, for all their concern
with house painters and Welsh miner's
sons. delineate any clear working class
a++tzude as such.
Rather, the novels of John Braine and
Alan Sillitoe provide far more complete
and articulate statements of what the
oYrking classes think and feel. John
r'-n and Jim Dixon may suffer in the
ryentP-l university, but their problems and
tair ims are onite different from those
of A an Sillitoe's eanstan lathe operator
n a Nttinham bicycle factory.
Alan Sillitoe best demonstrates working
- attitiides. for John Braine's workers
(both in Room at the Top and The Vodi)
a- co ecaiw'l-t in endless repetitions of

Young British author Kingsley Amis

maudlin self-pity that they are left little
room to express or observe any issues out-
side themselves.
The drama provides numerous exam-
ples of the working class intellectual and
how he reacts to his world. John Osborne
depicts the university graduate who runs
a sweet stall as he rails against the posh
purveyors of Sunday culture. Arnold Wes-
ker (author of a trilogy including Chick-
en Soup with Barley, Roots, and I'm Talk-
ing About Jerusalem) uses the stage to
present his family of Jewish East End
intellectuals, disillusioned by the failure
of Thirties' socialism.
THESE WRITERS, however, do not
simply portray social attitudes as.
thinly disguised sociological reports. The
social issues are invariably filtered
through individual emotions and reac-
tions. Similarly, many of these writers
deal with the impact of political causes
and action on their characters.
These writers share no particular doc-
trine or cause (indeed, one of the prin-

cipal tenets they do share is a sharp
skepticism about all causes, all attempts
to fashion unilateral Utopias), but, since
they generally oppose the Establishment
and the Establishment is or seems a Tory
institution, these writers frequently dem-
onstrate an interest in the effect of left-
ist politics.
Jimmy Porter talks of the war in Spain,
after which his father died, as the last
cause that made sense; Iris Murdoch
uses Lefty, a political agitator, as one of
the traps for the unwary human being in.
Under the Net; Angus Wilson portrays
the impact of political engagement on
scholars, writers, and television commen-
tators in both Hemlock and After and
Anglo-Saxon Attitudes.
In their consistent concern with social
and political problems, these writers fur-
nish statements, both implicit and ex-
plicit, that the world is wider than the
tea-table or the hangover of psychic
guilt. A number of these writers also oc-
cupy themselves with moral issues that
are not specifically social or political, for
John Wain, John Bowen, and Angus Wil-
son are all, in vastly. different ways,
firmly committed to moral points of
Yet these writers do not comprise a
new branch of Moral Rearmament. They
share no group moral position, as they
share no specific political doctrine. And,
in addition, they hold their various mor-
alities with vastly different degrees of in-
Doris Lessing's attack on the shallow-
ness of the British colonial set in South
Africa is far more morally committed and
has a very different pitch from Kingsley
Amis's attack on gentility at the provin-
cial university.
* * *.
AMIS'S PITCH, however, is more gen-
erally characteristic of these writers
than is that of Doris Lessing, for many
of these writers, particularly the novel-
ists, use a good deal of comedy. Amis,
Wain, Iris Murdoch, William Golding,
and Angus Wilson are frequently very,
funny, developing a concept of comedy
that ranges from simple verbal jokes,
farce, and comic .images to complete pro-
jections of entirely bizarre and incongru-
ous worlds.
Each of these novelists views his ma-
terial in an essentially comic perspec-
tive, aware of man's various and dis-
cordant experience, cognizant that a sin-
gle view of man leads to pretentious over-
simplification. This comic perspective,
this multiple awareness, represents a con-
temporary world in which man faces
many facts, many experiences, without
any clear guide or formula around which
to organize his experience.
Clearly, the old guides and- formulae

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Studying is routine
Page Twelve

Freshmen soon discover dormitoryistaff offices

Principals in the speech department play


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