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Compare and Contrast

In: English and Literature

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These days many people want to feel like they belong to a community but many are pressured to accept their roles in society. The informative and narrative essay “Can You Tell the Truth in a Small Town” by Kathleen Norris focuses on a small town community in the Dakotas in order to explain a bigger picture on how American society does not want to highlight failures and mistakes from the past. Norris conveys many individuals apart of this community have been trying to remember things the way they want to than how things actually are in reality, and therefore the community masks the truth and hides their history. On the other side of the spectrum, the informative and revealing essay “A Secret Society of the Starving” by Mim Udovitch validates the way individuals, especially young girls, engage themselves in dangerous activities and behaviors because of the familiar environment they have with others who can relate to them. Specifically in Udovitch’s essay, she targets a population of young girls who have an eating disorder and seek an emotional understanding within others on websites that promote an eating disorder community by sharing their experiences. Norris and Udovitch present different issues regarding communities in their essays, but they both explain that acceptance in American society affects how people cope with their problems, how they tell the truth, and what crucial details of their stories they leave out for others to hear. In both essays, females are pushed to follow their role in society if they want to fit in with the rest of their community. In Norris’s essay, she focuses on the expectations of women and what they should be doing instead of thinking about themselves, which emphasizes that many women feel judged by their peers if they do not succumb to societal norms. Many of the women in the small town community belong to church groups, home extension clubs, sewing clubs and more (128), implying that they do not have time to have their own leisure activities because they have other womanly duties that are more important. On the other hand, Udovitch’s essay highlights guidelines for young women with eating disorders to follow if they want to be motivated to continue with their life-threatening journey like their peers. For instance, the “Thin Commandments” and “The Ana[Anorexia] Creed” (Udovitch 112), show that these young women should find comfort in restriction and talking down on themselves in order to achieve their skinny goals, even if it means psychologically destroying their self-esteem. Both Norris and Udovitch stress the gives and takes of community expectations that may not always be in one’s best interest. Although they are different scenarios, both essays emphasize that one must follow appropriate conduct and expectations, or else they will be looked down upon by society and have no real impact on their community. Writing and telling stories/experiences is a form of interaction that many communities believe is important in order to preserving history or expressing oneself. In the cyber pro-ana/mia[pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia] community explained in Udovitch’s essay, girls can express themselves anonymously online and in secret so they can avoid being judged by people they actually know in real life. Using blogs and message forums, young girls can comment on one another’s posts about their body image issues and have intimate conversations about their feelings. Posting in secret, girls can cope with their issues and express themselves without having to worry about what others in real life will think of them. On the other hand the small town community, Norris explains that many times this art form is not taken seriously as a real career and those who aim for this occupation are judged as “frivolous” (128). One woman in the small town community lied about attending a writer’s workshop because she felt she was going to be looked as superficial by her peers, and her lie shows that many townspeople restrain themselves from being themselves and trying out new things. However, Norris highlights that if one were to start writing in the Dakota town, the younger generation would have more knowledge and history to appreciate. The essays both show that there is some secret to the way they express themselves and tell their life stories because of the way society will look at them and judge them. Telling the truth is another concept that is important in both essays in different ways that affects their communities. In Norris’s essay, more people are hesitant to tell the truth because of history, judgment, and the idea that in order to create a civilized community they should be cordial with one another. Norris spoke with a priest who claimed that the town appeared to have lost their spirit for the arts and creativity, because the elders did not want to tell their history. Instead of being proud of their history, the people of the small town appeared to be ashamed of what had happened in their past and they overlooked telling any stories to their younger generation. In Udovitch’s essay, however, she shows that girls suffering with eating disorders appear to live a double life where they share their feelings/experiences online truthfully but they cannot tell people they know in real life because they do not want to be judged. Like the small town community in Norris’s essay, Udovitch explained that girls with an eating disorder also felt ashamed, but they saw themselves in a psychologically different way than in reality, and they thought other people could not understand. Both essays show that judgment has a large influence on community lives in different ways whether it is within lifestyle decisions or the way people will interact with one another. In “Can You Tell the Truth in a Small Town?” Norris uses implications to educate her audience about major faults she sees in the Dakota town. When describing a high school student who lived in the town she states he has “been raised for a world that does not exist” (Norris 129), and makes implications of a death of honesty in society. Also she uses the word “censorship” (Norris 132) when describing how the town has few writers who are willing to speak up about history, which makes the same implication that honesty is dead in the town. She uses implications in a way that make her audience wonder whether knowledge of the past limits or benefits people in society.
In a different way, Udovitch tries to educate her audience about the dangers of eating disorder promoting communities by quoting people to emphasize the issues. She highlights that many young women suffering eating disorders feel like outsiders. In one instance in order to prove her point, she uses a quote from a young girl with an eating disorder named Claire, “You can’t tell the truth … I can go online and talk to them there, and they know exactly what I’m going through and how I feel,” (Udovitch 111). Udovitch recognizes that Claire provides a real life example of how many young women do not feel like they belong to their community because their eating disorder weighs them down. With quotes from real people, Udovitch informs her audience about these controversial online communities that bring out the negative health behaviors for young women and help them keep it a secret. In Norris’s essay she particularizes how the small Dakota town is closed off from one-another leaving long-term effects on their community’s history, while in Udovitch’s essay she describes how people suffering from eating disorders still suffer despite the fact that they are sharing very intimate details of their lives. Although the two essays focus on different communities, there are similarities that emphasize existing issues in American society. The most important issue apparent in both essays is the fact that society is not as accepting as it may appear to an outsider. In the Dakota small town, Norris notes how the townspeople do not want to share their past because they cannot accept the dark recollections of their superiors. While for the cyber pro-ana/mia communities, Udovitch explains how even with such a large support system online, many girls find it difficult to get professional help because they fear what others will think of them and how it will affect their reputation. With evidence of both essays, lack of acceptance in society changes people and can leave harmful effects on communities. Acceptance in America is a deep-rooted issue for communities around the nation of all ages and sexes.

Works Cited
Latterell, Catherine G. Remix: Reading Composing Culture. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2006. Print.
Norris, Kathleen. "Can You Tell the Truth in a Small Town?" Latterell: 127-133
Udovitch, Mim. "A Secret Society of the Starving.” Latterell: 109-116

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