Over the course of the last few weeks I’ve been working on a paper for my Advanced Writing class (they say advanced, but it’s a 201 class). The goal with this essay was to use some of the essays we’ve read over the first month of school and synthesize them together.

My essay is entitled “Offing the Ophelia Within.” I explain what the title means within the first several paragraphs of the essay, but basically the paper is about making your own decisions, particularly within education. I’m really quite proud of this essay and so that’s why I’m posting it here. So after the jump is my full paper (including the sources). If anyone actually reads this, I’d encourage comments because I’m always looking to improve my writing (though any criticism without any constructiveness will face the ban-hammer).

Note on plagiarism: I know there are people out there who go searching the internet for papers to steal as their own for classes. I’m highly against this and would be very sad if anyone was lame enough to do this with this. That’s why I’m going to leave the errors I made in APA style in-tact for this posting. If, however, anyone reads this and wants to reference it in their own work, I’d be absolutely flattered, and would love to hear about it too!

Note on The Way of Wisdom: My school (Brigham Young University – Idaho) has created a custom anthology titled The Way of Wisdom for the Advanced Writing class that I’m taking. This anthology is not available except to students of the class, so that’s why there’s the (original year/2011) references in the paper and why the page number references seem so weird. During the first posting the references at the end of the paper will just reference The Way of Wisdom, but in the next few days I will try to find the articles I used on the internet (or at least in the more common paid databases that are found at schools and public libraries) and post them in the references section so you can go back and read the original sources I used, because they’re amazing! (Yes, I know there are links in the references, but it requires a login to the school and being enrolled in the class to actually access those documents.) UPDATE (Feb 14, 4pm): I have posted links in the references section to places I found the articles online. Please note that I have no way of telling for sure whether the links I provide are legally authorized postings of the original sources, I just want to make this article more helpful.

Offing the Ophelia Within

“We’ve been reading poems in school, but I never understand any of them. How am I supposed to know which poems to like?”

“Somebody tells you.”

This exchange between Lucy and Charlie Brown from a Peanuts comic illustrates what the Ophelia Syndrome is (as cited in Plummer, 1990/2011, p. 372). Despite its dangerous sounding name, the Ophelia Syndrome is not a deadly disease, at least not physically. It is, however, a very dangerous disease mentally. Its name comes from the character of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The character of Ophelia is asked a question by Polonius to which Ophelia responds by saying “I do not know, my lord, what I should think.” Polonius’ answer: “I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby” (as quoted in Plummer, 1990/2011, p. 371). The Ophelia Syndrome is to give thought over to someone else. Like most diseases today there are treatments available. By looking at various situations in which the Ophelia Syndrome rears its ugly head, in particular education, we can find some strategies to bring it into remission, namely, developing a love for learning and developing opinions for ourselves.

As the Peanuts comic demonstrates, the Ophelia Syndrome quite frequently rears its head in education. Students suffering from it can be found writing lengthy notes, memorizing their notes for the upcoming test, wanting the topic of assignments to be given to them, and basically just repeating what they’ve been told by the teacher (Plummer, 1990/2011, p. 372). Of course, a student wouldn’t be able to do this without their teacher taking on the role of Polonius, and so these teachers provide the opportunity for the student to merely be an Ophelia. (I’ll be calling those with the Ophelia Syndrome Ophelias for convenience. If you qualify, feel free to substitute your own name, especially if you’re male.) It’s not hard to fall into the trap of being an Ophelia in school. Many teachers teach in a way that enables Ophelias to “succeed” the most by exhibiting Ophelia Syndrome characteristics (if you measure success based solely upon GPA and grades on tests). We can’t blame teachers too much. With all the demands on their time, which is easier for a teacher: letting a computer grade a multiple-choice test filled with facts and statements from the reading or posing an essay question or two and grading each individually for hundreds of students? However, this encourages students to not break out and learn on their own as much because their time is being consumed with studying in an Ophelia manner so that they will be able to keep their GPA up. This can also foster an attitude of dislike towards learning, since the student is just working for the grade instead of real understanding of what they are learning about. The Ophelia Syndrome does not indicate that actual learning is taking place. While it is not the polar opposite of actual learning, the Ophelia Syndrome can prevent real understanding. Ophelias focus on the “cow,” or facts, of education and are so focused on getting the cow right that they can’t see past it to the “bull,” or connections, between the facts that they are memorizing. This does not facilitate actual understanding. Instead, it’s just an accumulation of facts (Perry, 1967/2011, p. 348).

We can also take a look at some world history to find another time the Ophelia Syndrome has shown up: Hitler’s domination of German will in World War II. In his essay “Propaganda Under a Dictatorship,” Aldous Huxley (1958/2011) examines the tactics that Hitler used in controlling the German masses. One of the most effective strategies he used was to gather people into large crowds so he could make them think collectively and get them fired up against his enemies. Huxley calls this “herd-poisoning,” which could be considered the most extreme form of the Ophelia Syndrome (p. 165). Hitler forced people into a situation where it would be easy for him to get people to turn their thoughts over to him and allow him to make the decisions for them. Essentially, Hitler said “I’ll teach you. Think yourself a baby.” Looking at the history of what this lead to, it’s easy to see just how dangerous this form of the Ophelia Syndrome could be.

So what can we do to off the Ophelia within ourselves? Obviously, a first step would be to recognize the condition. This may, in fact, be the most important step because once someone recognizes that they exhibit the symptoms of the Ophelia Syndrome they can begin to take the other steps necessary to curing themselves of it. This is a disease that cannot be diagnosed by any doctor. It requires a self-diagnosis. There are many among us who don’t realize that they have this condition. They just think they are doing what has to be done to get good grades. So put on your scrubs and ask yourself some of the following open-ended soul-searching questions: Am I applying myself to the work in (insert class name here)? What do I do with my spare time; do I spend it on things that make me think (even a little) or do I just let some executive at a large faceless corporation shove ideas and drivel into my head? Where do my ideas come from, did I think them up or am I starting to think that inception is real? (If you don’t get the reference, go watch the 2010 film Inception.)

If you just diagnosed yourself, I’m sorry for your discovery. (If the test results came back negative, congratulations! Read on to see how to help the less fortunate people.) Whichever way the results went, we can now move onto the treatment stage. Ophelias may not have a full enjoyment of learning because they are just working for their grade. Loving learning is a strong indicator that someone has cured themselves of the Ophelia Syndrome. David McCullough (2008/2011) in a university graduation speech titled “The Love of Learning,” gave some advice on what to do to foster a love of learning: “Read. Read, read” (p. 248)! Reading on your own is one of the best ways to begin loving learning. When you read things that you haven’t been told to read, you don’t have any test or quiz to worry about! You don’t have any scholastic accountability, and you are given the freedom to take your learning from the book in whatever direction you desire. Of course, there are so many books out there that it can be hard to know what to read. Beginning to read, and learn, on your own does involves taking a risk. It may simply require going out on a limb and buying or borrowing a book with a degree of uncertainty. However, there’s no need to worry because books can always be sold if purchased or returned if borrowed. (E-books are the general exception, but they’re cheaper in the first place.) There are many, many books out there and it can be intimidating to choose from among all those books, but there is help. Plenty of people are willing to offer their help and advice about which books you might like! However, if you don’t find yourself learning from or enjoying a book (preferably both), you should move on from it to another book, no matter how highly recommended the book may have come.

The other cure comes from Huxley (1958/2011) and his ideas on herd-poisoning and how individuals allowed it to occur. He believed that people bended to Hitler’s will because they lost their individual identity (p. 166). When the crowds were riled up nobody wanted to be the one person that didn’t agree with the rest of the crowd. It’s easy to feel that way even today, even in education. This requires a change in mental process. People have different opinions, and that creates an amazing diversity in voices that should be celebrated. It doesn’t make you less of a person to be the only one in the room that didn’t enjoy the Harry Potter books. It’s fine to be the only male in the movie theater watching Twilight who wasn’t forced to go with his girlfriend (even though I wouldn’t be caught dead there). In education, it’s OK to disagree with the teacher’s views, or even his or her methods of teaching.  It’s even OK to disagree with this paper and the points stated in it! Being different and holding different opinions is fine and can be a sign that one has been cured of the Ophelia Syndrome. It’s also fine to agree with others! There is a caveat though: disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing makes you just a punk. Inevitably opinions will agree with others at times, and sometimes even the popular opinion!

I know that these treatments sound fairly vague, but that’s because the implementation of these treatments varies by individual. To compare it to medicine, individual dosages will vary. Unfortunately, these treatments are also difficult because there is no easy way to get rid of the Ophelia Syndrome. However, with these cures in hand it is possible to overcome the Ophelia Syndrome and break out into original thought and opinion! In this exciting world you no longer ask others what poem you should like; you read a bunch of poems and find the best ones yourself!


Huxley, A. (1958/2011). Propaganda under a dictatorship. In D. Hammond, M. K. Hartvigsen, A. Papworth & R. Seamons (Eds.), The way of wisdom (pp. 163-167). Rexburg, ID: BYU-Idaho. Retrieved from http://www.byui.edu/anthology/Propaganda.pdf Link I found: http://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/index.html#propdict

McCullough, D. (2008/2011). The love of learning: Address to the graduates. In D. Hammond, M. K. Hartvigsen, A. Papworth & R. Seamons (Eds.), The way of wisdom (pp. 246-249). Rexburg, ID: BYU-Idaho. Retrieved from http://www.byui.edu/anthology/Learning.pdf Available at http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/08/McCullough_BCCommencement08.pdf

Plummer, T. G. (1990/2011). Diagnosing and treating the Ophelia syndrome. In D. Hammond, M. K. Hartvigsen, A. Papworth & R. Seamons (Eds.), The way of wisdom (pp. 371-380). Rexburg, ID: BYU-Idaho. Retrieved from http://www.byui.edu/anthology/Ophelia.pdf Available at http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2537

Perry, W. G. Jr. (1967/2011). Examsmanship and the liberal arts. In D. Hammond, M. K. Hartvigsen, A. Papworth & R. Seamons (Eds.), The way of wisdom (pp. 345-353). Rexburg, ID: BYU-Idaho. Retrieved from http://www.byui.edu/anthology/Examsmanship.pdf Link I found: http://lclane.net/101/examsmanship.html

UPDATE: Post was updated at around 4pm MST on Feb 14th with links to the source articles. Please read the other update notice earlier in the article.