Sample Personal Statement

  • The following personal statement was written by Nick Barnes as part of an application for admission into graduate school. It has been posted on this website with permission from the author.

On the Avenida de Cristobal Colon the scooters zigzag around the cars unmoving in the late Sunday afternoon crowd. People move in swarms on the expansive tiled sidewalks looking out across the Guadalquivir, in and around the crenellated Torre de Oro which rises beside the slow, dusty river. The bullring, La Plaza de la Maestranza, hot and imperturbable in the sun, looks over the bustling crowds. White with yellow doorways and windows, the Plaza is the quintessential Andalusian bullring. The crowds moving along the street and next to the river make their way into the bullring. I follow them. The fat man stops yelling "agua, fresca, cerveza y coca-cola" and everyone prepares for the season's last weekend of bullfights.

To the bullring I bring all the things I had read from Hemingway. In the intense sun, there is much to watch for: the bull running into the ring, his horns seeking for the man beneath the cape, the matador working close to the bull, the picador fiercely jabbing with his lance. I remember seeing a photograph of Hemingway standing behind the fence of the ring, the barrera, wearing a white driving cap. I look for him but he is not there. The blasting of the trumpets, declaring the introduction of the procession, interrupts my daydream. I watch everything closely, the bulls, the matadors, the horses, the picadors, the banderilleros, their fluid movements, the fickle crowd's reactions, the cape, the sword and the deaths. Over the edge of the ring the sun goes down, the lights come on and the bullfight continues until six bulls are killed and dragged from the plaza. The crowds again fill the Avenida and the fat man resumes his shouting as I walk home across the river and into my neighborhood. Nearly seventy years after Hemingway did most of his writing on bullfighting, I am happy to know that he got it right.

In "The Loss of the Creature" Walker Percy writes of a man who takes a vacation with his family to the Grand Canyon. Percy believes that, for this man, seeing the Grand Canyon, "is almost impossible because the Grand Canyon, the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed by the sightseer's mind. …[formulated] by picture postcards, geography books, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon." Percy's argument fails to realize that some writing, good writing, can enhance our experiences. Hemingway's words on bullfighting do not blind me from the action on the sand. Rather they allow us to appreciate the intricate pleasures of the event. Hemingway leads me into the ring, pointing out the beauty in the bull's bloody flank grazing the man's vest, the red cloth slowly leading the bull past, the man rooting his feet, just turning the cape slowly away. And then they separate and stare and come together again in the dance of death. Jake Barnes sits beside me and watches intently, saying nothing.

I never felt such a strong connection with writing before and did not understand to what lengths literature could enrich the experience of real life. I always loved literature but it seemed so distant from any reality I knew. The writers of my youth, Twain, Dickens, Vonnegut, Alcott, Doahl, and Suess provided me with great stories and the opportunity to use my imagination, but to live in the world Hemingway wrote added a whole new dimension to the writing. After the bullfight, thinking about it in bed, I try to remember exactly how it looked and felt. With the same feelings of reverence, wonder, tragedy and sorrow, I couldn't separate what I had seen from what I had read. And one without the other would not be as good.

I decided if this is what good literature can do, then I want to be involved. My current efforts reflect my future interests as I am writing a two-part thesis: a critical analysis of Hemingway's Spanish works and the other is the creation of short imitational fictional pieces. Most afternoons I can be found, pen in hand, sitting with my thesis advisor going over my stories, trying to get each word right. If it goes well, it is easily the best part of my day. I also work in the Writing Center and am involved in the other end of the revision process, trying to help other students find their own right words. I know that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. At Oxford, I want to analyze such writers as Hemingway, their methods, and their lives in acquiring my MSt in English. Oxford can provide me with the opportunity of extensively studying the expatriate community, more than just the American writers, with renowned scholars of authors writing in this time period and society. Their flexible curriculum and the coursework in 1900 through the present day will allow me to narrow my focus to exactly what interests me. I plan to continue my work on prose of the Modernist period hoping to earn my PhD somewhere in a closely related topic.

Hemingway once wrote, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you have finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was." After the last bull is dead and gone, dragged over the sand by the horses with bells, spurred by men with giant riding whips, I remain seated and wait for the crowd to thin. It is evening and clouds begin to cover the moonlit sky. Jake Barnes and I sit and wait in the bright lights of the ring. The maintenance personnel begin sweeping the sand, erasing the remnants of the wake left by the bull being dragged from the ring. Writing and experiencing a thing is like the smoothing of the sand. Quickly all that is left is the memory of the thing. What Hemingway said was true. I read his bullfights and then I saw my own and now I have them both, forever.

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