Monthly Archives: April 2013

“Do you speak English?” Representations of the American Woman Abroad

   Within modernist literature, readers have been fascinated by travel writing literature and the culture created by the modernist expatriate movement. This interest is amplified and is invariably more controversial when the protagonist of these works is female. Modernist literature has since been dissected for its commentary on both the culture it portrays and the lives of the authors who have created these societal representations. The underlying theme of the expatriate has been personal to both the authors who have chosen to leave America and the characters that they portray leaving America. These representations highlight assumptions about traveling women and work to solidify stereotypes within both the male and female characters. 

When examining Henry James’s Daisy Miller: A Study in Two Parts, the actions and attitudes of the American and European women convey clear sentiments about the transgression of gender roles and class boundaries. The ongoing conversations pertaining to Miller offer a variety of critiques of her character. Some critics believe Daisy is an antifeminist coquette who deserved her unfortunate ending. Others claim Daisy to be a feminist heroine for her ability to independently navigate the social circles of European culture. In addition to these views, Henry James’s biography plays an important role in his characterization of the Millers. In order to highlight the experiences described in Miller’s narrative, I parallel her voice with my own experiences traveling abroad. 


From Mallory to Morgan: How Arthurian Legend had shaped with Time

-Katie Owens      

The stories of our past have a way of staying with us throughout time. This can come in the form of retellings of the story in its original form or in the form of adaptations. One story that has persisted in our collective memory throughout time is that of King Arthur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. From the time Sir Thomas Mallory collected them in Le Morte d’Arthur in the 1400’s, there have been countless retellings in the form of books, poems, television series, and movies. One particular retelling of the Arthurian stories in the BBC drama Merlin which aired from 2008 – 2012. This particular adaptation sees Merlin and Arthur as young men in the time leading up to Arthur being crowned king.

By comparing the television show to Mallory’s texts, I will examine the ways in which the two represent themes of chivalry and class structure. In order to do this, I will first examine the nature of adaptations in general and a brief history of Arthurian adaptations. Then, I examine the ways that both Le Morte d’Arthur and Merlin present these themes by looking in depth at specific characters and tales from each. In addition to exploring the themes of chivalry and class structure, I look at the ways that the time period in which each version was created informed the manner of presentation.




The Birds and the Bees are More Than a Sex Talk with Your Mother:

Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Ecocriticism.

Ecocriticism is a somewhat new field in the world of literary criticism. Critics are now examining works from earlier periods in order to find naturalistic elements. Ecocriticism is defined as “the interplay of the human and the nonhuman in literary texts,” by Cheryll Glotfelty. Texts such as O Pioneers! (1913) and As I Lay Dying (1930), by Willa Cather and William Faulkner respectively, are widely known to a variety of audiences. They have been torn apart at the seams and pieced back together like a puzzle. O Pioneers! is a text in which land and nature play a central role; however, in comparison with As I Lay Dying, the land is viewed in a more geographical sense.

An even closer look at the two texts reveals that there are links with human characters and their relationship with the land they not only live on, but farm and travel. The Bergson family in O Pioneers! not only builds but sustains their lives on the wild plains of Nebraska. The Bundren’s in As I Lay Dying, on the other hand, view land and nature more as a means to reach their destination. Although critics have explored Ecocriticism within the two texts, it is plain to see that there are underlying causes behind the reasons why one promotes a strong relationship with the land, where the other does not.

It is plain to see that the outcomes of both stories are vastly different. The Bergson’s, despite the tragedy at the end regarding Emil and Marie, live prosperously after many years of struggle. The Bundren’s from As I Lay Dying experience hard times from the death of Addie Bundren to the difficult journey to perform her burial and to obtain modern-day technologies. It is clear that the characters’ individual relationships with the natural elements of their stories are directly correlated with the outcome of their tales. The fates of the characters in conjunction with their relationship with land are tied directly to Willa Cather’s and William Faulkner’s own ideas about modernity.


Rise of Rebellion: The Chocolate War and The Hunger Games Fight for Justice

By: Molly Boylan

In young adult novels, rebellion can come in the form of chocolate and berries. But are teens rebellious for more than just rebellion’s sake? Yes. More specifically, Robert Cormier and Suzanne Collins each use the hero/heroine of the young adult novel to advance the relationship between reader and reality. In this essay, build on the work of Tom Henthorne, Michael Cart and others who consider various aspects of young adult literature as a whole and each novel respectively. However unlike these scholars, I analyze how The Chocolate War (1974) and The Hunger Games (2008) leave readers with a disturbing awareness of the downfalls of societies in similar plot lines that promote social justice.

In order to look deeper at social justice issues in young adult novels, I use The Chocolate War as the foundational text and consider its influence on teen readers. Thirty-four years later, Suzanne Collins incorporated social action as a theme in The Hunger Games. Each author creates a connection to the readers by evoking empathy, acknowledging the disturbing elements of society, indicate tragic injustices, and demonstrate the social action each protagonist undertakes.

A comparison of these two texts leads to a better understanding how young adult novels motivate teens to consider social action in their own reality.

Works Cited

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.

Cormier, Robert.The Chocolate War. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1974. Print.

Cart, Michael. Young Adult Literature from Romance to Realism. Chicago: American Library Association, 2010. Print.

Henthorne, Tom. Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy: a literary and cultural analysis. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012. Print

My Name is Lizzie Bennet…and I’ve Invaded the Internet

By: Noelle Kozak

“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that Pride and Prejudice, the brainchild of nineteenth century novelist Jane Austen, has more than stood the test of time. It tells the story of the Bennet family and their five daughters, as they navigate through a world defined by marriage and social status. The main plot of the novel revolves around the relationship between main protagonists Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as they overcome their ‘pride’ and ‘prejudices’ to ultimately understand each other and find love and happiness. It is a work that has been adapted many times to fit a modern audience. In this paper I examine how Pride and Prejudice translates into its latest adaptation, web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

In this fresh re-telling, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet is characterized to fit a modern audience, in a story focused less on marriage and more on life goals. Here, she is a grad student who lives with her parents and two sisters as she makes a video about her life with her best friend Charlotte. Along with Lizzie, all the original characters from the novel are re-imagined for this adaptation which initially focuses solely on Lizzie’s point of view. However, in this version, Lizzie’s opinions are only part of the story as minor characters like her sister, Lydia Bennet, come center stage.

Austen’s original depiction of Lydia Bennet had been a character that most fans of the novel explicitly disliked for both her naiveté and choices that nearly ruined the lives of those around her. Within the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, this is not the case, as the series gives Lydia her own web series as well as an evolved characterization which not only fits a modern audience, but allows for another form of perspective.

This idea of a web series that develops through new media is a most interesting and original take on Pride and Prejudice. This study argues that The Lizzie Bennet Diaries does a excellent job of keeping the spirit of Jane Austen alive while expanding and building on her novel in creative and compelling ways.

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“Shoulder to Shoulder and Heart to Heart:” On the Road with Whitman, Steinbeck, and Springsteen

Kelsey Healey

The tradition of the road narrative has long been a part of American culture.  Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, and Bruce Springsteen are three iconic writers who have worked in this tradition to discuss the American experience. Interestingly, while the image of the road is often associated with a lone traveler or bold individualism, Whitman, Steinbeck, and Springsteen have also used the road as the center of their stories about community and convergence.
The road narratives of Whitman, Steinbeck, and Springsteen develop a sense of community that is both social and spiritual, and is rooted in a kind of protest that identifies unity as a vital part of the solution to social ills.

In “Song of the Open Road,” Whitman characterizes the road as an equalizer, used by everyone.  He talks about the different people who travel the same road, and invites the reader to travel with him; he creates a sense of community. This is fitting, as Whitman is often described as having aimed to create a “national literature” that would unite the new country in a shared sense of identity.

Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath makes a bold statement about community as well. Much of the book follows the Joads as they merge with other families out of necessity. The narrator describes the communities that emerge among the displaced people on the road. Most famously, in Tom Joad’s speech near the end of the novel, Tom asserts that “a man is no good by himself,” and embraces the idea that there is “one big soul everybody’s a part of.”

In addition, I will look at three of Springsteen’s songs, representative works from the early, middle, and recent years of his career: “Born to Run” (1975), “Land of Hope and Dreams” (1999) and “We Are Alive,” (2012).  These songs continue the tradition begun by Whitman and Steinbeck, both lyrically and formally. In addition to speaking about the same themes, Springsteen draws on various ethnic musical influences to comprise an even more inclusive message of unity.

Today, the call for solidarity and empathy seems as appropriate as ever. Together, these writers draw attention to the experience of the individual, but also the individual as part of something bigger than him/herself.  They each create a picture of the American experience that emphasizes the essential connection between “I am” and “we are.”

There is a reason why the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body; just ask Bill Clinton: The Power of Rhetoric in Message and Medium

By: Kasey Lynn

Aristotle claims, “the law is reason free from passion.” However, passion is not as far removed from the law as Aristotle might have believed. In the instance of rhetoric, passion is closely tied to the concept, and rhetoric is of course a large factor of the law. When and if passion meets the law, one could say that a great deal can be done. Rhetoric can also greatly influence the appearance of reality. Everything is not always as it seems. The written rhetoric vs. the oral rhetoric is a concept that needs exploration, especially in our media-crazed society. By looking at Bill Clinton, President Obama, and Governor Romney one can learn the power and truth about rhetoric. Will what meets the eye match what’s written in black and white?

Rhetoric is defined as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques” (Oxford Dictionaries). This standard definition fits both classical rhetoric and the rhetoric of today. Classical rhetoric still forms the base of rhetoric however, today’s society has caused rhetoric to morph into something quite different from what the original philosophers thought it should be. There is a need to understand rhetoric and its uses because rhetoric is not always used simply to communicate, it can be used to manipulate but without double checking one cannot know which fiction is and which is fact. People must care about what they do, what they hear, what they read, and what they are told.

There has been a much disputed debate about whether or not rhetoric is used by people who have “something to hide” or whether it’s used for “statesmanship” (Nichols). However, now in today’s society there is another dimension to rhetoric that needs to be explored now more than ever; written rhetoric and oral rhetoric, so that one can understand the difference in appearance and reality. The realm of rhetoric is large and very powerful to those who can tap into it. The discussion of rhetoric and how it can affect reality is not new, classical rhetoric discussed the same concept, and it is time for those discussions to surface once again in our society. By looking at Bill Clinton’s 2012 DNC Speech and the first presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney one can see how classical and present day rhetoric play roles in the society of today. The problem is that voters pay more attention to the oral rhetoric and appearance instead of hearing the message and content of the speech. By exploring this, one can begin to see that there is a need to have the message, the written rhetoric, the oral rhetoric, and the appearance in order to be an effective orator and a master of rhetoric. Politicians must do their best to incorporate all of the above in order to achieve their goals and present the truth to the public, and the viewers must pay attention to the message of speeches and debates and not be distracted by the performance that is in front of them.

In a society where appearance is of the utmost importance it is easy for politicians and any speech makers to blind the audience to what they are truly saying.  The idea of appearance vs. reality has been around for years but it is possible that now as a society we are enabling our appearances to differ from our realities. There is the freedom to make one’s own decision, the decision to question what he/she is told or shown, the decision to believe what he/she wants. But maybe people have become lazy with this freedom; no longer holding accountability for his/her own rationale as well as for others. People need to choose to find the truth in all the obstruction of appearance and believe in that truth instead of believing anything they are shown or told. When images lie, words can tell the truth.


Work Cited:

Nicols, Mary P. “Aristotle’s Defense of Rhetoric.” The Journal of Politics, 49.3 (1987): 657-677. web.

Oxford Dictionaries. 2013. web. 22 February 2013.

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Steinbeck Conference

Kelsey Healey

This May, the John Steinbeck Society of America will present an international conference: Steinbeck and the Politics of Crisis: Ethics, Society, and Ecology. The conference is sponsored by the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies which publishes the Steinbeck Review  and maintains an extensive bibliography of articles and books on Steinbeck and his works.

This conference focuses on ethical issues of different kinds and explores some new ways of looking at Steinbeck’s work. The individual papers are grouped into themed sections that reflect some of the major trends in Steinbeck studies. An attention to global and social consciousness, for example, is seen in the sections on “The Female Space,” “Reports from Overseas,” or “Steinbeck and Race in America.” Some of the papers in these sections will take a feminist critical approach to Steinbeck’s novels, or looking at  race relations and what it means to be “American.” Interestingly, the conference will also hear from some international perspectives on this American writer. I find it especially interesting that there will be two papers on Steinbeck’s relationship with Japanese culture, as this is a connection I have come across in my own research.

Other sections of the conference include “Eco-criticism,” “Fresh Critical Approaches,” “New Economic Approaches,” and “Man and Machine.” These sections cover a variety of topics which indicate that readers and scholars are constantly looking at Steinbeck’s works in new ways. As the world around us changes, so do our ways of reading and understanding these texts. For instance, one of the papers to be presented is entitled “John Steinbeck, Spaceship Earth Cosmonaut.” Over the span of the three-day conference, many other topics of interest will be explored as well.

The conference on May 1-3 will be immediately followed by the 33rd annual John Steinbeck Festival on May 4-5; this year’s festival’s theme is “Home.” The festival will honor this particular theme by celebrating the specific places that Steinbeck considered “home” (Salinas, CA, for example) and also exploring the concept of “home” in American culture.

Some other things I discovered, via the Center for Steinbeck Studies website: the John Steinbeck Society periodically presents the “John Steinbeck Award” to recognize “writers, artists, thinkers, and activists whose work captures the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and belief in the dignity of people who by circumstance are pushed to the fringes. The phrase “In the Souls of the People” comes from Chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath.”

I learned that the first recipient of the award was Bruce Springsteen in 1996– which fits in perfectly with my own research that connects these two. Other recipients of the Steinbeck Award include Rachel Maddow, Dolores Huerta, Garrison Keillor, Arthur Miller, and most recently, John Mellencamp in 2012.

What Is the English Major?

The English major is diverse and difficult to define, but during a semester exploring lots of ideas and conflicts regarding the major, we came up with analogies that say what the English major might be if it were a place, a movement, an animal, a time of day.

What’s the English major to YOU? Leave comments and video responses!

PS If you’re wondering about the finale, it’s because we’ve been reading The Use and Abuse of Literature, so Marjorie Garber has become our unofficial mascot. Oh, yeah.

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Response to Freeburg

by Kelsey Healey

The last lines of Christopher Freeburg’s essay “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth About Starbucks” in my Profession book are now practically unreadable, so completely have I inked up the page myself. Upon reading those lines for the first time, I may have gotten a little carried away with the underlining and the starring.

Freeburg writes: “If we do not help them understand better what it is they are doing in our courses, then we undermine their potential success and ours. We should, especially for undergraduates, emphasize vocation more. We should… present the tools and options our fields offer in the most clear and cogent ways. What will make the students themselves bitter… is the realization that we didn’t ask them to do enough.”

Freeburg’s point about informing students about the relevance of their work, and the vocation they’re involved in, and the bigger conversation going on outside of the classroom is spot on. The idea of “vocation” and the “options” available in the field of English is something we definitely don’t know enough about as students for most of our undergraduate careers. And while job-mindedness is not and should not be the primary focus of our educations, it IS important to know what is going on outside the university. And, how we can not only passively consume knowledge but contribute and produce it as well.

His essay reminds me of Sidonie Smith’s essay “The English Major as Social Action,” when she talks about students’ work having an “afterlife.” She quotes Marshall Gregory, “Information we can look up, but when a thing gets absorbed, it turns into ideas and skills, and it turns into forms of socialization and cognition that shape students’ intuitions and that strengthen their powers of language, imagination, judgment, and reasoning.”

As hard as it is to define the value of studying English, the above quote at least gets at one big part of it. The ideas, skills, intuition, judgment, etc. that we may gain are part of the “afterlife” of our work that Smith mentions. Freeburg echoes Gregory when he says that students cannot “grab the syllabus” and accomplish on their own what they would accomplish in class. It’s not just about the information, but also the skills being learned and honed, and the participation in a conversation.

Explicitly addressing the ways in which our work is not  “inconsequential after submission” makes such a difference in the classroom experience, and I think it is just not done enough. If we’re not getting the sense that the work we’re doing is relevant, then what’s the point?  I think this holds true for college as well as high school. When assignments and classes have no “afterlife,” they feel like a waste of time, and that’s not fair to students or teachers. And frankly, that’s where the “bitterness” comes in. Furthermore, having assignments in English classes and humanities classes that we don’t connect to a bigger picture outside the classroom only contributes to the myth that these courses don’t have real-life value.

As much as I love it, it’s not enough to just read books and write about them and call it a day.  It’s vital to give students “an awareness of what they’re doing, why they are doing it, and what it offers them beyond the loose rhetoric of critical thinking and writing skills.” Students should ask these questions more often, and teachers should help them always to arrive at some answers.  Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions; we’re just David Foster Wallace’s little fishies, swimming blindly around with no idea what “water” is.