Author's Introduction to "Chameleon Girl" and "The Pervasion of Revealing Clothing"

Hilda Hei Nam Leung '05, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

Like Oscar Wilde's "The Decay of Lying" (text) my first piece of writing takes the form of a dialogue. Wilde, who ridicules realism and naturalism in literature, sighs at the decay of imagination. Dialogue is a medium with which Wilde can mix serious ideas with hilarity, thus avoiding the overly earnest and evangelical tone of a Victorian sage. I chose the form of the dialogue to deliver the defense of obscenity so that it would not appear to be a didactic sermon. Rather, the more skeptical interlocutor, Louis, challenges the truth-bringing Peter while facilitating Peter's delivery of his argument.

In Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" (text) the speaker, an earnest projector, employs the logic of a rational economist. However, the soundness of his quasi logic ultimately conveys the absurdity of his proposal of eating babies. In my first piece of writing, "The Pervasion of Revealing Clothing," Peter tries to convince Louis of the morality of the obscene with seemingly persuasive arguments that actually twist reason. While readers of "A Modest Proposal" are aware that the speaker does not really support cannibalism despite his deadpan tone, readers of Beerbohm's "The Pervasion of Rouge" (or "A Defense of Cosmetics" [text]) have to guess the degree of seriousness in the speaker's advocacy of artificiality. The ladies who have painted faces with artificial expressions are as ridiculous as ladies who display their wrinkles; his prophetic proclamations of the age of artifice seem serious and authoritative, but it also mocks the prophetic rhetoric of Carlyle and Ruskin. Likewise, Peter's absurd arguments and false appeal to religious references ask his readers to constantly evaluate his seriousness.

The other piece of writing, "Chameleon Girl," is about a kind of person who changes her physique in order to stand out from homogeneity. The character in the piece is certainly not the only person who can be characterized as Chameleons in society. However, I chose to focus on one person to provide more details and specificity. Johnson, when describing a phenomenon or a trend in society, seldom pinpoints a particular case; and when he does, the case does not have to be real as they are more like parables than proofs. Meanwhile, Tom Wolfe, instead of speaking in generality, either shows us a small pocket of sample people in "The Pump House Gang" or else focuses on one single person as in "The Put-Together Girl" and "The Mid-Atlantic Man." Like Wolfe, I created a term for a kind of people in our society. I provide brief but informative samples of my character's dialogues, and I tried to imitate Wolfe's seamless transition from objective narration to the impersonation of his character's way of speech.

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Last modified 12 May 2005