A profile captures a person's character and
gets it on the page.
Like a good photograph, a profile portrays a person so that readers feel as though they’ve met the subject, and that the meeting was worthwhile. The best profiles, in my view, aim for a balanced or objective presentation, a virtual photograph, and leave judgment, as much as possible, to the reader.
Unlike biography, which covers a life-long story, the profile generally deals with a limited time-frame. Profiles reveal people by what they say, and what they do.
Joseph Mitchell’s stories in Up in the Old Hotel epitomize the profile. On the surface these stories are disarmingly simple, yet they reveal subtleties of character, irony, incongruity, and more. In “The Gypsy Women,” Mitchell profiles NYC detective Captain Daniel Campion—retired from over twenty-five years in the Pickpocket and Confidence Squad—and his fascination with the gypsy rackets. Even in retirement Campion keeps files and maintains genealogy charts. It is apparent that—through prolonged, intimate contact, multiple arrests and such—his feelings for these people are complex. Considering their thievery, preying unmercifully on poor widows and such, his affection is striking. He recites names and describes grave sites in a New Jersey cemetery:
"There’s women lying over there that I stood in doorways across the street . . . waiting and watching for the moment to go in and nail them, and they despised me and I despised them, but I knew them very well . . . and when I look at their tombstones and read their names and dates, after all they’re dead and gone, I must admit it makes me sad." (199)Mitchell, the consummate New Yorker writer, grew up as a North Carolina country boy.
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