Individuals wake up and make decisions everyday, but are these decisions truly made by the individual, or another external force that may be dictating the lives of all living beings? Individuals debate about free will and pose valid arguments either stating that individuals possess free will and influence their future, or that individual’s fate is predetermined by another unknown force. “Outliers: The Story of Success,” by Malcolm Gladwell, a nonfiction story, describes the importance of practice in order to master the skills that allow professionals to properly perform their occupations.
Throughout the story, Gladwell utilizes numerous examples comparing differing groups of individuals based off of their hours dedicated to practicing a certain skill. Gladwell communicates the idea that individuals possess free will and may influence their future by making decisions independent of external factors. In Robinson Jeffers’ free verse poem, “Fire on the Hills,” the speaker describes the tragic event of a forest fire which kills many animals. Jeffers suggests the fate of individuals relies on the ultimate equilibrium of opposites to allow for a balanced and equal world.
Fire on the Hills” depicts the cycle of life through exemplification, and utilizes juxtaposition of the contrasting ideas of beauty and terror from a fire. Jeffers utilizes animals to symbolize different classes in a hierarchy and juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, which leads to a paradox. “The deer” symbolizes the middle class destined to struggle, but allowed some success, similarly to “the deer” struggling to escape death by fire (1). Comparably, the “smaller lives,” which consists of minor animals including mice and birds, symbolises the lower classes of life whose destiny is to struggle with limited to no success (3).
Representing an individual occupying the top of the hierarchy is the “eagle,” symbolizing power and nobility, because eagles fly in the sky above other animals (6). Classifying the animals into this hierarchy allows the speaker to compare and contrast the different values the classes possess. For example, to summon the eagle requires a numerous amount of “smaller lives” due to the fact that the “smaller lives” posses less value than the eagle; in order to obtain the attention of the eagle and entice the eagle to appear a large sacrifice must take place to satisfy the eagle’s requirements (3).
The sacrifice of “the smaller lives” may be a hideous act, but the speaker interjects with the idea that “Beauty is not always lovely” (3-4). This paradoxical statement reveals that the fate of individuals achieves a balance in the cycle of life. To allow the beauty of the eagle’s presence to occur, first the hideous death of the smaller lives must take place. Essentially, the death of a lower class results in the eagle’s appearance, so an equal exchange of evil and beauty may balance each other; the lower class must die, because the value of their lives are less and instead their energy may transfer to the eagle.
The lower class doesn’t have free will; their fate is to die and have their energy transferred into the cycle, so the beauty of the eagle may recycle the energy. Simultaneously, the eagle doesn’t possess free will as the necessity to feed summons the eagle from the heavens to the aftermath of the forest fire, which supplies food. The reason for the painless life of the eagle, unlike the lower classes, comes from the eagle’s higher position on the hierarchy and the beauty the eagle generates. The ultimate need for the preservation of the eagles beauty, also causes the death of the smaller lives, due to the need of balance in the world.
Although Jeffers argues that individual’s’ fate is predetermined, others argue contrarily, stating individuals possess free will. To argue his claim, Gladwell utilizes examples from scientific research which are factual evidence, due to the credible scientists Gladwell sites, and comparison along with contrasting the differences between groups of individuals in the research. Gladwell analyzes groups of violinist in the “talent argument… study… by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson “which divides the violinist into groups based upon the amount of time the violinist practice (Gladwell 2).
Through this research, Gladwell compares and contrasts the similarities and differences, to discover a principle that explains the results of the study. Gladwell states the fact that, “ Everyone from all three groups [of violinist] started playing around the same age” (Gladwell 3). Stating that all violinist begin to play approximately the same age is important because the control over the variable of beginnings allows for the equal opportunity between the violinist to practice and become skilled. With the variable of beginnings similar for all the violinists, Gladwell reviews the aspect of practice which contrasts between the groups.
Gladwell discovers a correlation between the amount of time the violinist practice, and their skill: “elite performers [total] ten thousand hours… good students [total] eight thousand hours, and… future music teachers [total] just over four thousand hours” (Gladwell 3). This correlation reveals that individuals possess free will and may influence their future. By simply practicing the violinists are able to influence the amount of skill they will have in the future, effectively influencing the amount of success they will have.
A similar study, by Ericsson, with pianist also yields the results with a correlation between practice time and skill, and interestingly, Ericsson “couldn’t find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top” (Gladwell 5). The evidence that no individuals are born with talent, from the piano experiment, supports the idea that fate doesn’t exist and individuals have free will, so through practice and perseverance individuals may determine the path their life will take.
Concluding the argument about free will, Gladwell quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin: “ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery… ” (Gladwell 7). This principle that explains the amount of time required to master a skill is formed by a credible sources and thus holds true. Arguing their points of view on the subject of free will, both Gladwell and Jeffers make valid points and convince their audience through their differing styles. Jeffers conveys his message that individuals don’t possess free will though his use of symbolic examples, comparison of groups, and juxtaposition.
Opposingly, Gladwell appeals to his audience through the use of factual examples from credible sources and comparing along with contrasting divisions within a study. Utilizing logical reasoning that is directly communicated to the audience, Gladwell makes a more convincing claim supporting the claim with real life scientific studies. Jeffers’ bases his circuitous argument on opinions conveyed to the audience through a symbolic story, rather than actual evidence that is proven. Free will exists and explains the diversity of fates seen today