Sample Essay Draft: When to Give Up

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Mr. Anderson

February 27, 2015

English 10A
Sample Essay Draft: When to Give Up

During World War II Winston Churchill urged his countrymen in Great Britain, ““Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” His countrymen were in the throes of war with Nazi Germany’s bombing of England threatening the existence of their nation and life as they knew it. In much of the world we do not face such threats or at least not in such a desperate dire sense as Britain faced decades ago. Still we hear this sentiment repeated by parents, coaches, and peers. To give up is to be a quitter. To give up is to be a person undeserving of admiration and respect. To give up is to be worthy of criticism and rebuke. But is this judgment fair or even useful?

In Night, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his experiences surviving the Holocaust, the author shares his harrowing experiences as a young teenager, fourteen and fifteen years old during the telling of this story, when he is forced from his home, into the camp of Auschwitz, through the torture of starvation and overwhelming labor, and through a death march in the frigid German winter, before he is liberated by Allied forces. At first glance, Wiesel could be the poster child of never giving up. He refuses to get in line with the young children and women, when going through initial selection upon reaching Birkenau, refusing to give into the innate feeling that to fall in line would be to give up on his survival. While he is in Buna for months, he is forced to labor and will face death, if he chooses to give up his struggle to work. He does not give up; he keeps working with no end in sight. When running to Gleiwitz through the frigid cold with no sustenance, Elie refuses to fall out of line and to allow himself to freeze or to be trampled. His refusals to give up end in his survival after going through the Holocaust. His story is a testament of human will, and supportive of the never give up mentality.

But what if he had given up? How would Elie Wiesel be judged? His story would not be told. He would still be a number representing one of the millions slaughtered by the brutality of Nazi Germany. Those who died during the Holocaust are not viewed as quitters. They are viewed as casualties. They do not receive the praise that Elie can receive for striving, but nor do they earn our condemnation. Who could condemn those who face such trials?

In Night readers are able to catch glimpses of those who Elie notices giving up. Akiba Drumer, a large and powerful man, who is seen as a rock for people, was a faithful man. He believed in God and kept an optimistic view of life after the war, until he didn’t. When the camp has to go through selection again, Akiba Drumer is unable to pass, and he gives up before the selection even begins saying, “I can’t go on… It’s all over” (56). Elie, the author, refuses to pass judgment upon this strong man, whom many had admired. Prior to the man’s death, Elie and others agreed to say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, over the man’s body, but afterwards Elie says, “These were terrible days. We received more blows than food; we were crushed with work. And three days after he had gone we forgot to say Kaddish” (57). Elie’s reflection makes no attempt at judgment. He shares no feelings about the man’s death. Akiba Drummer dies. It is an amoral action that the man choose to take.

After readers make it through this section of the story, it would be hard to find someone willing to be angry at Akiba Drumer for his decision to forfeit his life. The feelings that arise are those of sadness for seeing a man of such strength and stature lose his life early, because he found himself in a terrible situation that he could little control. For readers or spectators to pass harsh judgment upon this man for his decision to die or upon any other person failing to struggle for survival in the Holocaust would be naively harsh and possibly offensive. Few modern day readers can say that they have found themselves in such dire situations, which subject them to horrid dehumanization through physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual means. We may value the never quit attitude, but if we are honest, we cannot claim certainty in knowing, whether we would fight or give up if we found ourselves in similar situations as Elie Wiesel found himself in during the Holocaust. If any judgment is to be passed on struggling, quitting, surviving, and dying in the Holocaust, it should be that those who fight and struggle can be admired for their resilience, but they must be given sympathy for having to live with the nightmares of the Holocaust. Conversely, those who gave in to death were unable to regain a chance at life.

Night can help readers to see an upside to continuing to fight, but it does not narrow down for us when giving up becomes something to condemn. To come up with an answer to this question we must take a closer look at our own lives in which we don’t face nearly as dire circumstances. The most obvious place that people look for fighting or giving up is the playing field. In sports the object for most participants is to win. We talk up the benefits of sports as being learning opportunities, activities for having fun, and a medium for growing as individuals, but all of these positives are the results of striving for wins. If people have fun on the playing field, does it matter if we lose? In terms of effects on the world, no. In terms of the opinions of those who watch sports for enjoyment, it is a definite yes. Giving up is decried. Even the perception of not putting forth all of the focus and effort that a person or team has is viewed as a person affront to the fan base. But sports are games. Sports are an escape. Sports are for fun.

Life is much more complex than the various games we play. Life has more than one goal, it has more than one possible destination that would be viewed as positive, and there are many more obstacles and factors that can distract and influence the final destinations of people. Defining what winning or succeeding in life is difficult, if not impossible. The idea of giving up looks different, as well. As children, people are often encouraged to dream big and to shoot for the stars. You want to be a professional athlete, the President, or an astronaut? That’s great. At least for now. But how many people have these dreams compared to those who achieve these dreams? The overwhelming majority of us fail to achieve what we dream when we are young, but we would not call doctors, social workers, or carpenters, failures, even if they fell far from the lofty hopes they had as children.

At some point we all have to give up on something. It allows us to function on a more realistic level individually, and makes society function in a practical manner that would be impossible if we all became presidents, lawyers, and astronauts. So how do we determine, when we should give up?

Honest self-reflection, assessment of odds, and weighing of risks and rewards are necessary in order to determine effectively and appropriately, what is worth striving for and what is worth giving up. The first step of the equation is weighing what we are capable of. Many young people have aspirations of playing professional sports. They are complemented and built up to believe that they can succeed. This is great for a person’s sense of self-worth; however, a lack of tempering expectations can lead to a hubris that causes a person to misplace values and lack a true understanding of his or her own skill. A person who is unable to compete at the highest level of high school varsity sports needs to realize that he or she is not destined to be a professional athlete. If a person is a strong player in high school and loves playing the game, then, he or she may continue with their enjoyment of playing the sport at a college level, but the percentage of college athletes that become professional athletes is still in the single digit percentages.

This personal assessment must tie in closely to an assessment of odds of success. The athlete odds assessment should be striking for young people. It does not mean all athletes need to plan on not being professional athletes, but it does mean he or she must take a seriously close look at his or her chances. Questions that the person might ask are “Am I in the top five percent of competitors at my position?” “Do I have the willpower and potential to improve significantly?” “Am I willing to put forth the time and effort to improve?” and “How much does this matter to me?”

The final question that the person must ask his or herself leads into the final determination of whether or not a person should give up. A person needs to look at what can be lost and what can be gained? What ultimately, is hoped to be gained? If the end goal is money, there are many roads that a person can choose to take in order to reach the end goal of earning money, and the success rate will shoot up by changing directions. If the end goal is happiness, the person must determine what will make that person happiest and if there are alternatives that will allow for the same level, higher level, or similar level of happiness. A person must also look at what failure might do to him or her. What situation will that person find his or her self in, if success at the stated goal is not achieved? Will he or she be left with other options that fall short of the desired goal but will be highly rewarded or will a go for broke strategy result in joblessness, a lack of useful skills, and a sense of emptiness?

Ultimately, the answers to each of these personal questions is subjective. People will judge the decisions that others make. They will be praised for success. They will be criticized for failure. Whether a person decides to strive for a goal or give in to alternatives, there will be multiple rewards and drawbacks that must be accepted as part of the experience of life.

Based on the above ideas and questions, can the criteria that should be used in determining whether we should fight or give up in our common endeavors in life be applied to Elie’s Holocaust experience? Sure, but don’t expect the determination to follow your rules in theory or application. What you value and how you weigh the risks and rewards are different than how Elie would weigh his. How Elie weighed his likelihood of survival compared to those of Juliek were different. And in some instances, when he made the same assessments as others, dumb luck – good or bad – determined that Elie Wiesel would survive the Holocaust, while his father would die.

Maybe the lesson of struggle and fight isn’t that we need to know when to fight and when to give up; after all, the way one person assesses a situation will be different from how another person assesses it. Maybe the lesson of struggle and fight in Night is that we should be more understanding and less harsh in our judgment of the decisions that other people make for their lives.

Works Cited

Wiesel, Elie. Night. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2000. Print.

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