Senior Critical Theses Abstracts Fall 2016



Mariana Candela - Joint Major ENAM/HAAH

In this paper, I will examine Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting, The Goldfinch and Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel The Goldfinch. I will explore how both works present the idea of an abyss between two realities; the reality produced on the canvas through a painting technique, and the reality that a viewer, looking at the painting, is physically inhabiting. In relation to the painting, I will focus on how the illusion created through painting tools can be broken to reveal this abyss. And in relation to the novel, I will study how Theo develops a personal relationship with this artwork, arguing that his obsession with the painting stems from an attempt to cross and inhabit the abyss between realities.   

Advisors: Marion Wells and Carrie Anderson

Hailey Cosseboom

In my thesis I will focus on the true crime genre narrative both in literature and film as observed specifically through the lenses of James “Whitey” Bulger stories and depictions of the organized crime scene in Boston, Massachusetts throughout the middle to late 20th century. In analyzing this genre I plan to explore to what extent both media of film and literature honor the ‘truth’ when depicting a true story. I plan to focus on two film adaptations of the Whitey Bulger story and observe how some film versions sensationalize stories and conform to tendencies of Hollywood constructs in film in order to appeal to a mass audience more so than others. Ultimately I will assess how these adaptations that possess misrepresentations and glorification of characters in film for success and commercial benefit betray the literature, the truth, and the public, posing the potential for misrepresentation and misunderstandings within society.

Advisors: Timothy Billings and Christian Keathley
 Jacob Dana

My thesis examines morality’s role in J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 novel, Disgrace. Due to the absence of true morality, Coetzee shows South Africa to be extremely bleak. As a way of moving past Apartheid, South Africa attempted to enforce a practical morality using incorrect implements, such as the law. The new moral code was in response to Apartheid, thus pointed and biased. True morality is demonstrated through natural goodness, not legal requirement or suggestion. Moreover, this moral code actually plays a role in the dangerously retributive power struggle that has shaped South Africa’s violent and immoral history.

Advisor: Elizabeth Napier

Jerrica Davy

My thesis explores the role of women in Charles Johnson’s 1982 novel Oxherding Tale and their treatment specifically in relation to both the time period in which the book was written and Johnson’s Buddhist beliefs. I analyze this
tension in Oxherding Tale via close reading of the novel itself, as well as looking at some of Johnson’s other fictional works, critical writings, and interviews. In looking at Oxherding Tale through both feminist and Buddhist lenses, my objective is to provide an innovative reading of the novel that does not exist in secondary literature.

Advisor: William Nash

Kathleen Gudas - Joint major ENAM / THEA

My joint thesis project examines the relationship between King Lear and his Fool in William Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear and, more specifically, the causes and implications of the Fool’s sudden departure from the text at the end of Act 3. Through inclusion of Renaissance literature focusing on the interrelated nature of folly and madness, I will argue that the Fool loses his dramatic function once Lear goes mad. I will include a theatrical dimension to my thesis by analyzing past productions and film adaptations of King Lear.

Advisor: Marion Wells

Julia Hass

In my thesis I intend to argue that Adrienne Rich uses the image of the sea as an ongoing metaphor for a pure and feminine core truth. I will discuss how the ocean is used to represent a “void” that women have been taught to disregard within themselves—a void that could contain, if explored, a truth and knowledge of an individual woman’s selfhood as well as of the collective matriarchy. I will discuss how Adrienne Rich uses a distanced image of the sea in her work, often to illustrate the utopic dream of what could be. I will fully analyze the poem “Diving Into the Wreck” as Adrienne Rich’s climactic delving into the psyche and into her ongoing metaphor of the sea as a necessary and attainable female deepness.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

Nick Kaye

Working Title: “Knocked Breathless by a Powerful Glance”: Seeing Like Annie Dillard

In my thesis, I set out to answer the question, “How does Annie Dillard see the world?”, by examining her writing through the lens of contemporary and historical consciousness studies, and by contemplating my own experiences. I argue that Dillard’s perception of the world, as reflected by her writing, can
be considered primal in two ways: on an evolutionary scale, it resembles the unedited sense perception of a
single-celled organism; and on a personal scale, it resembles the sense perception of a child, which, as Dillard writes, is “sensation unencumbered by meaning.”

Advisor: Christopher Shaw


Lana Meyer - Joint major ENAM / THEA

My thesis argues for the existence of two separate narrative models in 20th/21st-century American drama: the intimate narrative, which emphasizes individual plot and unique characters as the precepts of dramatic achievement; and the subject narrative, which explores a play’s topic, often political in nature. The twentieth century saw a significant shift from the former model of plays to the latter, and I will attempt to chart that change using both a broad observation of popular plays from the last seventy years of American drama as well as close focus on four individual works that lit the way.

Advisor: John Bertolini

Alex Newhouse - Joint major ENAM / PSCI

In this paper, I develop an illustration of society and government in both Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and then assess it based on political theory. I will specifically focus on Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes and The Prince and Discourses on Livy by Niccolo Machiavelli to identify the unique elements of an apocalyptic society. I argue that an apocalyptic event causes an inversion of the traditional conception of Hobbesian and Machiavellian political progression. I conclude with an assessment of how well Hobbesian and Machiavellian theory apply to these works, identifying where and why the theories fail. I will then attempt to create a more nuanced, comprehensive picture of the politics of the apocalypse based upon my analysis of the novels.

Advisor: Brett Millier

Nora O'Leary

Working title: Transgressing the Middle Space: The Tension of Beauty and Immorality in Cheever’s Suburbia 

In my thesis I intend to argue that John Cheever’s use of the idyllic post-war suburban setting evokes within his characters a dream-like distancing from reality, morality, and spirituality, which provokes them toward transgressions and exposes the precariousness and uncertainty that exist beneath the surface. Specifically, I will be examining three short stories, “The Swimmer,” “O Youth and Beauty,” and “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” from the collection, The Stories of John Cheever. In order to demonstrate the dreamlike quality of these stories I will look at elements of Cheever’s style, such as his use of fragmented sensory images and his subtle incorporation of the supernatural into otherwise realistic stories. I will also examine how his placement of the characters in their middle age, in the middle class, and living in the imaginary suburb of Shady Hill, creates a middle space in which they take action to prove their individuality. Finally I will show how their “heroic” actions disclose the truth and commonality of immorality that they had previously ignored or concealed behind the decorum of their communities.

Advisor: David Price

Quay-de la Vallee

Junot Diaz creates a world within The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) that roots itself deeply in the history of the Dominican Republic yet simultaneously expands into the depths of the imagination to explore altered, magical worlds. I aim to study how culturally infused yet varying notions of masculinity define the relationships Oscar Wao forms. The surreal quality of suffering within Dominican history, especially under the regime of Dictator Rafael Trujillo, necessitates engagement with other fantastic worlds in order for a new understanding to cement; thus I will argue that Oscar must escape reality through fantasy fiction, comic books, and science fiction novels in order to overcome detrimental conceptions of masculinity and come to a genuine self both rooted in, and transcending, history.

Advisor: William Nash

Kate Raszka - Joint major ENAM / HIST

In 1895, Oscar Wilde went on trial for "gross indecency" after losing his case against Lord Queensberry for libel. Popular throughout London, and very much known for his flamboyant ways, Wilde was not brought to trial until a fellow eccentric publicly accused him of posing as a sodomite. Lacking credible witnesses, Wilde’s opponents turned to his literature. Quoting from Wilde's 1889 "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the prosecution strove to prove the dangers such provocative literature posed to society. Plays were canceled, and novels were stripped from their shelves. The Western Gazette applauded Wilde's conviction of two years of hard labor, believing it would check “unwholesome tendencies in art and literature." Through the lens of the trials of Oscar Wilde, this paper will explore how and why literature is deemed a threat to society.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

 Elana Schrager - Joint major ENAM / HIST

Working title: “The past that was differs little from the past that was not:” Figuring
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian Within the Discourse of Twentieth
Century Historiography

“Historians in general, however critical they are of their sources,” historian Hayden White
once wrote, “tend to be naive storytellers.”[1] My thesis will explore historical storytelling, that groove where the disciplines of history and literature meet. I will examine the ways in which theorists have figured the concept of “history” over the course of the twentieth century, and use that theory as a lens through which to read Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel Blood Meridian. Ultimately, I hope to look to Blood Meridian as a participant in the discourse of twentieth-century historiography—as a theory of history in and of itself.

[1] Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973,) 8.

Advisor: Deborah Evans

Erin Winseman

James Joyce’s “The Dead” attempts to understand a world afflicted by entropy. All life is bound to death; everything is bound to nothing. How does the self find meaning in such dissolution? This duality between searching for meaning in life and losing it in death is an overshadowing antithesis of Joyce’s story, and accompanying it are pulls between self and other, past and present, distance and proximity. Joyce’s rendering of music throughout the story creates a curious and visceral space in which these dualisms can intermingle. I will be exploring how music momentarily enables a durability and perpetuity of self within an entropic, fragmented world.

Advisor: David Price

Department of English & American Literatures

Axinn Center at Starr Library
15 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753