A unique and beautiful snowflake, amazing in its fractal crystal structure, joins millions of other unique, beautiful snowflakes in creating a pile of snow. Blanketing the ground, frosting the trees, and looking much like God up-ended a carton of powdered sugar, snow is the wonderful product of so many individual snowflakes. James Stephen might have been thinking about snowflakes when he said, “Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before but in saying exactly what you think yourself.” Such a sweet idea, that each snowflake must have qualities original to itself and none other. How delicious that so many unique individuals can come together and look like a pile of identical white bits that melt into a pool of exactly-the-same-as-each-other water molecules. How bland. To reduce the quality of originality to the superficial differences between members of an easily generalizable set is to strip the term of all its value.
Stephen imagines his audience members pondering his words with identical half-smiles as each turns to glance at their neighbors. How different each piece of clothing, each hairstyle. Each shoe, or sandal, or perhaps even lack of footwear–how eccentric! Stephen and his self-admiring audience, in their eagerness to see their individual uniqueness have overlooked their collective sameness. In the set of odd numbers from 1 to infinity, no number is identical, yet they are all odd. In this dimension, none have originality. Like the fractal patterns that make each snowflake unique, each has overwhelming sameness—white, cold, and small.
To call a thing original is to highlight its qualities that make it fall outside the set. Like the number two among odd numbers, an original thing sticks out like a bright carrot embedded in a snowman’s face.
I wrote this essay as practice for the GRE. The topics come from a Barron’s 2008 GRE review book.
Topic 1: Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before but in saying exactly what you think yourself. (James Stephen)
Topic 2: We laugh at the naivete of celebrities who complain about the public’s fascination with the intimate details of their lives. Movie and television stars, pop singers, politicians–public figures all–should necessarily understand that the inevitable price of becoming a public figure is the loss of privacy.