Author Archives: meganxr17

Proposal

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.

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The Humanities: Only if Daddy has $$$

By Megan Zappe

Apparently, only the rich kids get to educate themselves in the realm of the humanities. At least this is where the field is headed – students who are getting turned away from schools because of their interest in philosophy, history, and english degrees, students who are unable to even get into courses required of their humanities degree because of cutbacks on professors – who is running this show anyway? It is sad that kids entering college are being coerced into fields that will prepare them for the professional world. It’s as if the nation is preparing to pump out mini-clones of politicians and corporate moguls.

But the fact that it is predicted that only elite, wealthy, private colleges and universities will be able to offer the humanities degrees is heartbreaking. There are many students who deserve the equal right to major in something they are passionate about, regardless if that is pre-med or modern languages. There has always been a rift between the science/math (aka: “practical” majors) versus the humanities. There are countless colleges who are beginning to completely cut out their foreign languages programs.  What is at risk here is a generation of American adults who are specifically programmed to be cut-throat, business-minded, and harsh. They will be unable to value ethical reasoning, historical effects, and the importance of the English language in literature.

It’s even more saddening to be hit with the realization that as my college career comes to a close that there will be employers out there who simply do not value my degree. I have wanted to be a teacher for years now, and I am fairly certain that is where my degree will take me, but if at any point in my life do I want to enter a more business-minded tract, I suppose I might as well give up before I get started, since my degree doesn’t fit the requirements.

Volume 5: Why are the Kardashians Famous?

by: Megan Zappe

Cather Studies is a journal published by the University of Nebraska Press once every two years. It is a journal highlighting important issues found in and surrounding Willa Cather’s works. The audience consists of scholars interested in ideas and topics arising from readings of Cather as well as some American history and its effect on literature. In order to submit to any of the University of Nebraska Press’ journals, there are strict guidelines a writer must follow. As with any publication, a proposal must be drafted, as well as a sample chapter of one’s research (UNP.org). The UNP warns that to reviewing proposals could take six to eight weeks due to the multitude of submissions they receive. Each published Cather Studies journal follows a theme, whether it is types of literary criticism, historical, or autobiographical.

The first trend resulting from Volume 5 of Cather Studies deals with ecological issues in Cather’s works. Her novels O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and Song of the Lark are all part of a group known as the Prairie Novels. In “Catherland,” the study of environmental issues in Cather’s works is known as Ecological Imagination. The fifth volume of Cather Studies has essays titled “My Antonia and the Parks Movement,” “A Guided Tour of Ecocriticism, with Excursions to Catherland,” and “Willa Cather: The Plow and the Pen.” These essays all deal specifically with the representation of the wild Nebraskan plains in Cather’s written works. These trends may have developed after scholars realized that there was a significant tie to natural elements other than the fact that Cather lived in the West (Rosowski). They began to explore reasons for including these elements as well as the role that nature adopted in her works.

In the next installment of Cather Studies, the trending issues were history, memory, and military conflict. The essays in this journal deal specifically with One of Ours and The Professor’s House, which are the most renowned war-time works that Cather has written. Essays in this volume are titled “Recreation in World War I and the Practice of Play in One of Ours,” “Looking at Agony: World War I in the Professor’s House,” and “Between Two Wars in a Breaking World: Willa Cather and the Persistence of War Consciousness.” These essays are mostly concerned with the ways that war and human ideas about war have influenced Cather’s literary works. These works were written in a post-war America where the acquisition of wealth was the main goal of most Americans. The authors of these essays were primarily concerned with how the effect of war had changed literature (Trout).

The final installment of Cather Studies deals with Willa Cather as a Cultural Icon. This volume addresses the role of Cather outside of the literary world. After Cather’s success as a writer, scholars began to examine autobiographical instances in her works. Essays in this volume include “What Happens to Criticism When the Artist Becomes an Icon?,” “Willa Cather and Her Public in 1922,” and “Cather’s Secular Humanism: Writing Anacoluthon and Shooting Out into the Eternities.” After Cather had become a household name, scholars were focusing on everything but the “quintessential frontier” in her works (Reynolds). Cather’s life had not revolved around Nebraskan prairie novels and she had explored many other types of writing such as poetry, short story, criticism, and journalism.

In Cather Studies, trends studying Willa Cather’s works revolved around Ecological Imagination, Post-war America represented in literature, and aspects of Cather’s life that were not studied as prominently as her famous prairie novels. There is obvious difference between the topics of these volumes, but they were molded from the concerns of scholars. The fifth volume of Cather Studies was published in 2003, when the world became much more informed about recycling, ozone layers, and saving the polar bears. This was just a mere three years before Al Gore released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” The sixth volume reflects the United State’s connection with war and Cather, because the war with Afghanistan had began in 2001 and was still being fought in 2006, though people were questioning the reasons for war. Finally, viewing Cather as an icon when volume seven was published in 2007 reflects changing social ideals about famous people and their successes. It just so happens that “Keeping up with the Kardashians” aired in 2007, and people began to ask why we are so obsessed with famous people’s lives. It is interesting how current events strike new ideas about literature written 80 years ago and this is reflected in the trends of Cather Studies.

                         

 

*Rosowski, Trout, and Reynolds are all editors of and wrote the introductions to the three volumes of Cather Studies. The full-text versions of these volumes can be found at: http://cather.unl.edu/index.cs.html

B.A. in English: Useless or Stepping Stone?

by Megan Zappe

When I was a freshman at Mansfield University way back in 2008, I had come to the realization that my declared English major would not take me very far. At the persistence of my parents and peers, I changed my major to psychology, hoping for a career in school counseling or substance abuse counseling. After switching my major a total of five times and transferring schools once, I came to realize that being an English major was not so bad after all. I mean, if I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on my education, it might as well be doing something I love to do, right?

In The Use and Abuse of Literature, Marjorie Garber explores the reason for a decline in students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English: “the old truism – that a degree in English made you seem literature and well grounded in general education – was gradually replaced by a new truism, that the English major was useless” (121). As I read this I realized that my parent’s warnings were reverberating off the fleshy membranes of my skull … “You’ll never get a job after college with an English degree” … “What do you even want to do with that?” … With a quick shiver, I continued to read on and found that there was a fine line drawn between loving literature and wasting time analyzing literature.

The reason why I chose my major in English, once and for all defying my parents’ wishes, was for the exact same reason Garber gives for why literature study and love of literature go hand in hand. “[L]oving literature is, after all, what literary study is all about” (123). This holds true on so many levels. I love to read, most English majors would attest to that statement. But there is something much more meaningful about connecting with the reading – finding allusions to something else you’ve read, understanding symbolism, or picking apart a character’s intentions solely from his/her dialogue – it all revolves around a love for reading. Reading was held an aesthetic value for so many people years ago, but it cannot be denied that there was a certain connection, regardless if this can be truly defined as literary criticism. Going beyond the simple “I liked this book,” and “That book was dumb,” judgment, an average reader can pick out simple, yet important motifs and foreshadowing in just about any book.

The argument that the English major has become a useless study, a waste of four years, a money-pit leading to years of unemployment, does not depend on the major alone. The economy and the generally negative attitude toward literary studies is what fuels this. As for me, I will agree with Garber and say that yes, I LOVE reading and writing for pleasure, but I also LOVE analyzing a text and finding different meanings hidden between each word. I’ll take my English degree and happily job search for years knowing that I spent five years and sixty thousand dollars doing what I love.