The Crimson Tide by Atul Gawande

Intention- The intention of The Crimson Tide is to explore and explain to the audience the different reasons behind why a person blushes. Gawande explores the common belief that blushing is merely caused by embarrassment, and he proposes evidence that it is not merely caused by embarrassment, but instead is a sort of reflex humans have towards attention. Blushing creates a sort of psychological response to us, as when we blush we feel self conscious. Gawande describes the psychological change Drury went through after her operation, and says that she became a brand new person. Blushing, though a natural reaction of the body, is also a psychological block to us.  Near the middle of the essay, Gawande proves this point by saying, “What is perhaps most disturbing about blushing is that it produces secondary effects of its own. It is itself embarrassing, and can cause intense self-consciousness, confusion, and loss of focus.”

Anecdote- The essay opens with anecdote about Christine Drury, a news anchor who had uncontrollable blushing habits, which began to ruin her career.  The use of this anecdote helps draw in the reader, as the title is somewhat misleading–some people thought it would be about the University of Alabama or communism.  This anecdote brings the reader’s attention to the actual topic of the essay-blushing. It has strong pathos, as the reader begins to either relate to or feel bad for Drury.  The essay not only begins with the anecdote, but also concludes with it.

Tone- Gawande’s tone is a curious and educated one. He wants to educate his readers on the phenomenon of blushing and the reasons behind it. He cites studies and writings on blushing, as well as uses a personal interview with Christine Drury, making his writing formal and well researched.

Pathos- Gawande’s inclusion of Drury’s story invokes a sense of pathos in the readers. We can all remember a time when we stumbled over or messed up our words, which eventually led us to blush, making us feel more embarrassed than we already were. The reader feels sympathetic towards Drury, as her blushing began to ruin her career, which was something she was incredibly passionate about.  By the time Gawande resumes the anecdote later in the essay, which discusses the means Drury took to remove the blushing and the backlash she received, the reader feels the urge to defend Drury. This feeling is especially present when we read about Drury’s friend’s rude comment towards her operation. The reader knows the immense struggles Drury went through during the time her blushing was uncontrollable, and for someone to belittle these struggles makes the readers angry and defensive.

–Katie Tegenkamp

Arrangement: As Gawande lists the dangers of the surgery about halfway through the essay, the reader feels empathy for those who have undergone such situations in that they felt they had to risk so much to feel comfortable in their own skin via the endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy surgery. His informative tone enhances the seriousness of the side effects and risks listed. Gawande’s placement of this information, after Drury’s decision to proceed but before the readers find out what the results are, entices readers to continue reading and discover what happens to her. The piece overall is arranged with personal and professional/medical parts intertwined. This provides a captivating balance the reader processes back and forth to understand the internal and external challenges that the protagonist faces.

Gawande states in this section that, “as one patient who had the operation told me, ‘I would have gone through with it even if they told me there was a fifty percent chance of death.'” This epitomizes the desperation the patients feel to erase their severe blushing. This was one of the most memorable parts to me because I felt myself in Drury’s shoes and how deeply she felt this surgery was her last resort to happiness and comfort.

Ethos: Gawande provides ethos to Drury by describing her as becoming, “the overnight anchorwoman for Channel 13 News, the local NBC affiliate in Indianapolis.” Later, he states she, “at Purdue University… majored in telecommunications.” These facts provide trust between the reader and the subject of “Crimson Tide” because one can see that she is highly skilled in her job, no matter the setbacks of her constant blushing. Even though she is not speaking in first person, it is a story centered around the events of her career and its challenges she endures.
–Sophie Needham

Delivery: This work is delivered in the form of a written essay. Using written presentation over oral presentation is a more effective method of delivery for Gawande’s intention, since text allows him to tell his anecdote with more detail. This also allows him more room to easily include scientific/medical data about blushing, which appeals to the reader’s logos.

Quote: In a later section of the essay, Gawande returns to his anecdote about Drury’s condition around two years after she had the surgery, stating that he had lunch with her at a sports bar. He wondered what her face would look like without having the nerves to control her face’s coloring anymore, questioning “would she look ashen, blotchy, or unnatural in some way? In fact, her face is clear and slightly pinkish, no different, she said, from before.” This quote stuck out to me because I found these questions to be somewhat relatable, since as a reader I wouldn’t know what to expect someone’s face to look like after that type of surgery, too.

Logos: Gawande appeals to logos by including scientific information and data in the essay, one example being a description of why the human face blushes. “The face and the neck have have an unusual number of veins near the surface, and they carry more blood than those of similar size elsewhere,” Gawande states. “Stimulated by certain neurological signals, they will dilate while other peripheral vessels contract: the hands will turn white and clammy even as the face flushes.” By describing and discussing the physiological and psychological explanations of why human beings blush, the author is providing scientifically proven facts that show he is knowledgable about the subject of blushing.

– Mira Bauer



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