Student Responses to Ruskin's "Soldier vs. Merchant" Essay Question from the 1995 test

note from 1999:

"When brainstorming with Neeraj during break, I pulled up allusions to Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues, then Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men, and finally Captain Queeg's character in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, as examples of soldiers we may not like, may even strongly dislike, yet may satisfy Ruskin's requirement of deserving our respect."

Strong Responses 2003-04

Emma: Crisp, effective beginning, which leads us to a precise and provable thesis. First body paragraphs establishes Ruskin's effective diction, next paragraph shows how the writer disproves the merchant's position, then delivers a coherent body paragraph on syntax. Finally, she writes a good conclusion, discovers she has time to insert several sentences at the beginning of this, and does so, presumably in the time left over. (See typed and scanned essay below)

Emma: introduction
Although John Ruskin wrote this passage in 1860, the principles he outlines are still valid in the world today. He powerfully displays how, although contrary to reason, a solider should be respected more than the merchant. Ruskin uses a strong decisive diction, using words such as "always," "verily and essentially" and "only." He acknowledges the opposing argument, but then asserts his own views with a more decisive counter-argument. Lastly, Ruskin's syntax on his line, "And this is right" provides a definitive answer to the question that leaves nothing to the imagination. Through his diction, counter-argument and syntax, Ruskin provides a powerful argument of why the solider should get precedence over the merchant or manufacturer.

body paragraph on diction
Diction, although it only involves simple words, can make or break an argument. Diction not only decides the tone of an essay, it can affect whether the reader will believe or agree with it. In this passage, Ruskin's strong and decisive diction has a powerful impact. By not leaving the reader to decide anything for themselves, he secures his argument in their minds. In the last sentence of paragraph one, Ruskin writes that the soldier should "always" get precedence. In the beginning of paragraph two, he describes the soldier's trade as "verily and essentially" being slain. In line 14, he states that the solider puts "only" death and duty in front of him. In each of these cases, Ruskin uses strong diction to convey his conviction and confidence in his beliefs, which rubs off on the reader to make them agree with him.

body paragraph: opposing argument:
No argument is complete unless it acknowledges and destroys any opposing argument. It is easy to say you are right without paying attention to why others say you are wrong. Here, Ruskin openly confronts the accusations against his claim. He acknowledges that it does not, "at first sight," appear reasonable and that many writers have disagreed with him. Immediately following this assertion, however, he contradicts its validity by showing how despite this initial "reason," mankind always gives precedence to the soldier. He then claims that this is for good reason and goes on in the third paragraph to describe why it is right. This powerful tactic of assessing the issue honestly, making his claim, and then proving it appeals to the reader's sense of reason and makes a powerful impression.

body paragraph: use of syntax
Perhaps Ruskin's most powerful tactic in writing is his syntax. In line eight immediately following in acknowledgement and dismissal of opposing ideas, he writes "And this is right." In this one sentence, which he leaves to stand out as its own paragraph, Ruskin makes a very lasting impression. He does not merely state that this is right, he does it boldly, with confidence, and with the intent to make a huge impression in all of which he succeeds. He also ends his statement in line 16 with the assertion that the soldier "does in reality die daily." Once again, he makes his point through the use of a 'short but sweet' phrase that catches the reader's attention. He puts this statement strategically at the end, where the idea lingers after one has finished reading. Ruskin’s syntax makes you think about his argument for a while and leaves a lasting impression that ultimately forces you to, if not think him absolutely right, believe his argument has merit.

[insert] The issue that John Ruskin confronts is a very complicated one, with no easy answer. However, Ruskin makes his argument solid by not allowing for moderation in thought. His strong diction serves to deny the complicity of the issue and for his ideas into the readers' minds. Although he addresses opposing arguments, he immediately dismisses them and proves that he is, in fact, completely correct. Lastly, through his strong style and syntax, he proves his argument to be valid through these rhetorical devices, Ruskin demonstrates how his ideas are absolutely correct.

supplement, written after everything else, but inserted where indicated, above
Ideas, not matter how valid or absurd, are only relevant if the believer can convince others. If the writer portrays his thoughts in a manner convincing enough, there will always be people to believe them, no matter what.


Scott Stevens: Nicely phrased thesis: "Ruskin makes compelling arguments in support of his advocacy for the precedence of soldiers over merchants or manufacturers, his arguments fail because he neglects to consider the essential, but albeit different contributions to society of those engaged in commerce." Offers an effective counter-argument, defending the place of merchants, and noting in the second body paragraph, "It is ironic to consider that soldiers would have very little to fight for if manufacturers and merchants failed to make their contributions (guns, food, supplies, etc.). Puts forth a detailed rebuttal for both groups to be on more of an equal status. Enigma: good use of the "psychological impediments" a soldier faces, in defending Ruskin's position. Especially effective in the third body paragraph, in explaining how the author's syntax (" 'The soldier's job is not to slay, but to be slain.' This raises the reader's sympathy toward the soldier.")

Giselle: A notch behind the previous three, this writer's intro is less substantial, needing more context or background for the thesis ("I agree with Ruskin's argument. I believe that soliders sacrifice more, are braver, and are more focused than a merchant.") Or the other hand, she systematically addresses the passage and provides three solid body paragraphs of paraphrase and analysis. Each topic sentence locks on a clear target (e.g. "sacrifice," "recognized for bravery," "focus and determination") and then provides good supporting evidence.

Strong Responses, 2004-05

Funky Monk: strong overall response; intro establishes clear parameters, 3rd par. zeroes in on diction choices (See scanned entire essay below)

Penny: At first, it seems as though the student has quoted almost the entire text within her analysis, which I worried might appear as though a padding device to hide a lack of analysis. However by the bottom of the third page her copious citations balance with her paraphrasing and skillful defense of Ruskins's view. If a possible example of "over-quoting," this is far preferable to the too slender or abstract other extreme.

Ja Bleu: strong overall response, consistent quality "Anonymous": Although many of the paragraphs are skimpy, the student does a good job of stating her defense and setting up a sequence of paragraphs which consistently support this view. This has a feel of an "essay response" versus many writers who appear to have only succeeded in producing a few paragraphs or more fragmented views. scratch outline at top of page might suggest a bit of planning before plunging in. (See scanned entire essay below)

Strong Responses 2005-06

Delilah: Opening sentence with specific technical targets to "evaluate": John Ruskin uses persuasive diction, parallel structure (syntax) and imagery to convince his reader that precedence should be given to the soldier rather than the manufacturer/merchant."

Ingrid: clear thesis: "Soldiers demonstrate selflessness, self-control and a sense of pride in their work, which isn't found in merchants." Nice clincher for the first body paragraph, on "putting one's own needs aside to help the greater community": "A soldier does not join the military for monetary gain; they join for the experience of putting the "us" before the "I." Strong, personalized last paragraph, vividly putting us in the soldier's shoes, on the battlefield.

pumpkin: Best example of defending the merchant's side and disagreeing with Ruskin, although not disparaging the soldier's courage or respect towards them. Cites the "cohesive community" does need protection, but "the manufacturers uphold the basic economy and infrastructure" Also charges Ruskin's views are more obsolete for the 21st century

Donald: whole (see scanned passage further down).

toto: whole intro (see scanned passage further down). Smooth lead-in to clear thesis.

Susie Salamander: skillful use of definition essay skills to write, mid-intro: "In becoming a soldier, a man loses his independence, his ability to think freely. A soldier stands as a slave for the government willing to give up his life to set a political controversy straight. Ruskin believes this sacrifice of dignity, and bravery make a soldier much nobler . . ."

Layla: nice use of parallel structure to begin: "To sell is a merchant's trade, to produce is a manufacturer's trade, and to die is a soldier's trade. John Ruskin argues that three jobs are important to a country as a whole; however, the burden of a solder carries clearly outweighs that of . . . and because people fear death, a soldier's trade is valued higher than any other."

Lou: good body paragraph with specific parallels of the American Civil War, with the Union and Confederate soldiers and the manufacturers mass producing shoddy equipment for the troops (manipulating the situation a bit, perhaps, but with great topicality for the time period and Ruskin). Less successfully in another paragraph, likening Huck Finn to a soldier and the Duke and the King to merchants, although imaginative and concrete connections.

Charlie: Good style with opening series of rhetorical questions: "Yankees or railroad workers? Warrior or artisan? Fighter or craftsman? Throughout the course of history those who are soldiers have always been given . . .

Bertha: nice use of her syntax in first body paragraph: "Ruskin states declaratively that soldiers are 'capable of self-sacrifice' and others are not. This stems from the nature of their jobs, not the nature of their character." Two sentences later: "The mentality of thinking and living outside yourself is valuable and holds true for few professions. Being a soldier is one of them . . ."

Angie: more effective syntax from the student, in the first sentences of her intro and her first body paragraph: "A willingness to sacrifice oneself in the place of others is a characteristic becoming of a virtuous person, a characteristic native to the solder, lacking in the merchant, and applauded by Ruskin." "The soldier relinquishes all material possessions while marching to his fate; whereas, the merchant seeks fortune and prosperity."

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