In each of the pieces of literature, “Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie, “Much Madness is divinest Sense” by Emily Dickinson, and “The Birthmark” by Nathanial Hawthorne, one of the most profound and somewhat subtle implied claims of knowledge and individual power is that knowledge and power are the natural state of mankind, often derived from one’s ability to act according to one’s own instincts and in nature, rather than act by majority rules. Mankind’s ability to derive knowledge and power is something that is innate, and to be found in nature, and from one’s natural sense of self, rather than something that can be derived from science, or majority learning. Through the use of rhetorical appeals each convinces the reader to accept the natural course of knowledge in their own life.
In “Superman and Me,” Alexie claims that low class individuals or those born into a lower status or poor economic conditions can still gain knowledge and succeed in society. The narrator seeks knowledge as a means of improving his life and fighting for others. Knowledge is not gained by scientific method, but rather through natural means, using whatever was readily available. The character in the story used a Superman comic book to learn how to read. He speaks of reading Grapes of Wrath in Kindergarten, and if other children had done that outside of a reservation, they might be considered prodigies (Alexie, 1998). Referring to himself as Superman later in the story, the author notes, “I am breaking down the door,” revealing his acquisition of power in that single moment (Alexie, 1998). His appeal is one of pathos, an emotional appeal to the reader, where he pours out his own emotion and hurt as a child, appealing to the reader’s sense of injustice at the disparity between his life and that of other children who are afforded more opportunity. Ethos is also used, as his knowledge has not caused him to abuse the power he has been given.
In Dickinson’s work, “Much madness in the divinest Sense,” the author demonstrates that power and knowledge is often an end result of going against the majority, and seeking solitude. This is something that comes from nature, or the state one achieves when one breaks away from the majority to and finds peace, quiet and the sense of self that comes from abiding in nature and retreating to one’s inner sanctuary. To others, this might be considered “madness” according to the author, however Dickinson argues that it is madder to accept what the majority considers normal or sensible. Dickinson claims when you “Demur – you’re straightway dangerous – And handled with a Chain –“which only proves that dissenters have power and thus are considered dangerous” (Dickinson, n.d.). This is an appeal to logic, where one must make conclusions based on the information that Dickinson has presented; one must conclude that the maddest, or the “starkest Madness” must come logically from those that give up their knowledge and power to appear sane, or agree with the majority (Dickinson, n.d.). This may also be an appeal to ethos, or ethics, as one must question whether it is agreeable morally and ethically to do so, for the sake of fitting in. One may even argue that Dickinson appeals to pathos, or emotion as some will overwhelmingly have reactions to the idea of being bound to a Chain for disagreeing with the majority and suffering for it. Yet, this is the state for many in society considered outsiders or outcasts for expressing different ideals from the majority.
In the last work, by Hawthorne, “The Birthmark,” the scientist Aylmer describes his wife’s birthmark as something unnatural, imperfect, and horribly disturbing. Yet, there are allusions to this birthmark, deep within Georgiana’s check, as being a gift brought to her by magical fairies. The text reads, “Georgiana’s past lovers used to say that the hand of a magical fairy had touched her face when she was born” (VOA, n.d.). Yet her husband did not see the mark in this way. Natural as it was to her face, her husband saw it as unnatural, and when Aylmer “opened his eyes upon his wife’s face” he only recognized it as something unnatural despite the fact that this existed from birth (VOA, n.d.). This is a mark of perfection, something suggesting one has been touched by nature and therefore, possessed of a super “natural” power. This is proven when Aylmer succeeds in removing the birthmark only to discover it is the source of his wife’s life, as she dies with the final color of the birthmark fading. “The hand on her face had been her link to life. As the last trace of color disappeared from her cheek, she gave her last breath” (VOA, n.d.).
Hawthorne’s appeal is an appeal to ethos, one that causes the reader to pause and question morality and ethical issues, as to whether man is perfect and whether perfection is possible. Hawthorne also argues that what is natural is good and powerful, and that science and man’s lusts can destroy natural knowledge and power. It is man’s ignorance and lack of knowledge that often causes destruction. Illusions of perfection can result in blind ignorance. Aylmer is not a man of power but rather one that is weak. The appeal is also pathos, deeply causing one to sympathize with the characters in the novel, and questioning whether perfection is something that can actually deprive one of power, or cause one to lose power in the pursuit of it. Rather, one may argue that the pursuit of perfection is a witless cause, one that actually causes individuals to lose power and knowledge, rather than gain profound knowledge such as that that may be derived from nature, and everything that comes from nature.
Hawthorne suggests that in the pursuit of vanity, only death may result, rather than the eternal beauty and profound wisdom one may achieve by accepting what is natural in its own right. This is similar to the argument presented by Dickinson who suggests that it is far better to side with the minority than try to acquiesce with the majority, who is far more concerned with norms and status quo. The majority would be more likely to attempt perfection than the minority who would more likely be comprised of individuals with birth “defects” or other imperfections. Likewise, in “Superman and Me” Indians on reservations would be considered the individuals in the minority, imperfect yet possessed of the most knowledge and power, and more likely to turn out child prodigies that may be neglected, but ultimately the ones that have the highest reserves of wisdom, power and knowledge that when wielded properly can result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This knowledge also results in the greatest self-revelation.