Senior Critical Essays and Theses, 2013 -- 2014

Janey Ames

This essay engages with works of nineteenth century American fiction which feature female protagonists in search of some kind of self, some realm in which to exert their agency. A pattern of societal and interpersonal condemnation forces these characters into suicide or “madness.” The protagonists of works by Chopin, Glaspell, Crane and Gilman all illustrate this pervasive pattern, despite the fact that the women themselves are drastically different characters in a diverse range of settings. In an endeavor to uncover the meaning of this narrative pattern this essay will do a close reading of four pieces of literature. It will moreover offer insight into the relationship between womanhood and selfhood for these characters, and the real women they implicate.

Advisor:  Antonia Losano

Matt Ball

Working Title:  Mark Twain in Performance

Mark Twain's writing style and propensity for public performance were in direct dialogue throughout his life.  From early performances of short sketches, to the oral dictation of his monolithic autobiography from his deathbed, Twain's literature and performance work (both fiction and non-fiction) have always been closely related, and tied to the rich oral tradition of American humor.  Incorporating primary source material surrounding Twain's public speeches and recent re-imaginings of his work, such as Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain Tonight!, this essay will examine the connection between Mark Twain's written texts and their performance, focusing on two short stories and one essay.

Advisor:  Michael Newbury

Allyson Boyd

Working Title: "No One Man Should Have All That Power;"  Gender, Religion, and Power in the Dream Sequences of The Satanic Verses

My Senior Essay is on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses with a focus on the role of gender in the Dream Sequences and how it relates to the use of religion throughout the book.  I will discuss most of the women who appear in the Dream Sequences, but I plan on focusing on Hind and the two Ayeshas.  I will compare how they all use their sexuality as a means to gain power.  I will also delve into their complicated relationships with men, especially the male adversary of each woman.  I hope to explain further the reasoning behind Rushdie's use of religion and gender and the importance in their complicated relationship in the Dream Sequences.

Advisor:  Ben Graves

Hannah Caner

Beyond the Self: A Lacanian Study of Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery

This essay will examine Flannery O’Connor’s portrayal of mystery in her short fiction as it relates to Jacques Lacan’s concept of “the Real.” O’Connor’s nonfiction writing expresses resistance to rigid psychoanalytic interpretations of her work and discourages readers’ attempts to distill a concrete “meaning” or “point” from her stories. Instead, she claims that her stories are concerned with “that sense of Mystery which cannot be accounted for by any human formula” (Mystery and Manners 153). Lacan, similarly, was interested in the limits of human perception and expression and the inaccessibility of “the Real.”  Rather than apply a psychoanalytic mold to O’Connor’s work, I intend to utilize Lacanian theory to explore Flannery O’Connor’s vision of her stories as irreducible vehicles of mystery.  

Advisor:  Deb Evans  

Quinn Cronan

Morality Mistaken for Complacency in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day

This essay will explore the relationship between narration and morality in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Critics have traditionally identified Ishiguro’s unreliable narrative technique as a means to reveal the protagonist’s complacency in his employer’s fraternization with Nazis. I intend to prove that the characteristics that make Ishiguro’s narrator (Stevens) unreliable – especially the intense lack of discernible sociable traits and personal reflection – work not to reveal complacency but rather disassociation with Nazism. The relationship between Lord Darlington and Nazi supporters is portrayed as one of friendship and camaraderie, but Steven’s’ noticeable omission of such traits in his personal reflections reveal his moral opposition to his employer’s actions.     

Advisor: Ben Graves

Rachel Dicker

Working Title:  “He’s Hooked”: The Commentary, Insight and Magic of Disney Animated Films

My essay examines the Disney animated films from a literary perspective, bringing to light the burgeoning field of Disney Studies and demonstrating the value of applying literary theory to Disney animated films in particular. Disney animated films—due to their wide reach and quintessentially “American” feel—offer a unique window into the American psyche at different points in its modern history. The Disney films follow a specific pattern of success due to the strength of their storylines at three clearly delineated points in the studio’s history: The Golden Age (1937-1942), the Silver Age (1950 – 1967), and the Renaissance (1989 – 1998). The films at these points all offer fascinating insights into racial, political, and feminist attitudes of the time. From the contained, pristine beauty of Snow White to the exotic, fiery mystique of Esmeralda, Disney both follows and defines American popular culture. In addition to a brief overview of each “era,” I intend to do a close reading of several films, including Bambi (1942), Lady and the Tramp (1955), The Jungle Book (1967), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Each offer compelling insights into prevailing attitudes of the time, and each also provides a clue as to what makes a “classic” – what continues to make an impact on audiences generation in and generation out, and why.

Advisor:  Antonia Losano

Amelia Furlong

Working Title: The Madwoman and the Melancholic:  Gender and Madness in the Literary Consciousness

My thesis explores the ways in which mental illness, or "madness," is represented as a female malady in literature.  By looking at historical, social, autobiographical, and medical texts, I will trace how madness became a gendered illness from the early modern period to post-Freudian Modernism, and how literature reflects and manipulates our cultural understanding of this illness.  By working with two texts, The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, I will explore the changes and similarities in the way that madwomen are constructed in literature, and how these changes are reflected in the societies that produced them.

Advisors:  Marion Wells and Karin Gottshall

Maggie Goff

Working Title:  “You Can Always Count on a Murderer for a Fancy Prose Style:” The Rhetoric of Evil

This essay will examine how evil narrators and characters use rhetoric to make themselves sympathetic to the reader. I will look closely at the rhetorical techniques utilized by Vladimir Nabokov in Lolita and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange to humanize their repellent main characters. Both Humbert Humbert and Alex are characters whom readers should despise for their anti-social transgressions. However, many people feel uncomfortable with these novels upon reading them because they find themselves liking their criminal narrators. Through close reading I will argue that by seducing readers to adopt their aesthetic, these narrators seek to have the reader subliminally adopt their ethic. Through rhetoric, the reader is asked to aid and support the accomplishments of the narrators’ crimes.

Advisor:  Cates Baldridge

Rebecca Hartje

Revitalizing the Robert Frost Cabin

As an interdisciplinary joint thesis with English and American Literatures and History of Art (Museum Studies track), I am writing a proposal to revitalize the college-owned Robert Frost cabin on the Homer Noble Farm.  I plan to structure the proposal through examination of 1) the cabin's potential, identifying benefits for the College and community and justifying the proposal; 2) the history of the cabin, its inhabitants and contents, with a focus on Frost and his personal belongings; 3) Frost's writing and teaching while he inhabited the cabin; and 4) existing house museums (particularly author homes) and museological theories of education.  My conclusion will recommend how best ot present the cabin as an educational space fostering exposure to and enthusiasm for poetry through the example and literary legacy of Robert Frost.  I will also incorporate literary interpretation of Frost's poetry through curatorial supplementary materials, such as brochures or an audio tour.

Advisors:  Richard Saunders and Jay Parini

Alexandra Kennedy

Gender in Performance:  Women Playwrights and the Restoration Stage

Under a royal decree issued by Carles II in 1660, women were for the first time legally allowed to make careers of acting on, and writing for, the English stage.  These theatre pioneers, along with their fellow Englishwomen, found themselves subject to a dizzying array of social strictures and codes for behavior based on their gender.  To step out of socially delineated bounds could prove calamitous for women, and yet, with a newfound avenue for expression in theatrical production, those bounds would be examined and tested as never before.  Blending socio-historical and literary analysis with a gender studies framework, my project will investigate the works of three women playwrights of the Restoration era -- Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn , and Susanna Centivre.  Through this investigation, I will consider just how revolutionary their texts were, and the results that their texts yielded (criticism, theatrical practices, societal views, etc.) in light of the social constitution of "woman" in the seventeenth-century English gender binary.  How successfully did they challenge the status quo of culturally constructed ideals of "man" and "woman," if at all?  If not, did they simply serve to maintain societally delimited boundaries and definitions?

Advisor:  Marion Wells

Gemma Un-hee Kim

Trauma in Rawi Hage's Cities and the Oscillation between Life and Death

Winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award as well as several other literary awards, Rawi Hage, a Beirut-born writer currently residing in Montreal, has written three novels about the cultural geography of major cities and the painful experiences of migrants. By setting his novels within the perimeter of a city, Rawi Hage has been able to explore ideas such as marginality, fragmentation of identity and the meaning of survival. This essay will examine the role of the city in De Niro's Game and Cockroach  and observe the ways in which the character's movements and observations of the city are very much a reflection of the state of mind of the protagonist. 

Advisor:  Yumna Siddiqi

Jasmine Lee

Working Title:  Narration and Perspective in Daisy Miller and A Lost Lady

This essay will examine the similarities in narration and perspective in Henry James's Daisy Miller: A Study and Willa Cather's A Lost Lady.  As the titles of both works suggest, the female characters are the central subjects of the works;  however readers are able to access them only through the perspectives of the main male characters.  Daisy Miller:  A Study and A Lost Lady both have peripheral narrators, but the voices of Winterbourne and Niel dominate the narratives.  This essay will argue that due to narrative construction, Daisy Miller:  A Study and A Lost Lady function as studies of the main female characters by the male characters.  Furthermore, by studying the two works together, I intend to examine the influence of Henry James and his ideas of realism on the narrative construction of A Lost Lady.

Advisor: Stephen Donadio

Alison Lewis

Working Title:  Great Poets Do Not Die:  The Works of Shakespeare Reborn in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

I am studying the influence and resonance of three plays of Shakespeare -- Cymbeline, Hamlet, and King Lear -- in Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway.  To Woolf, Shakespeare represented the supreme writer and the "incandescent, unimpeded mind," for Shakespeare the man remains largely unknown to us; his writing and identity are unconstrained by the vexing distinctions of gender and personality.  Similarly, the concrete and abstract references to Shakespeare's plays in Mrs Dalloway serve to overflow the boundaries between male and female , madness and sanity, life and death.  Basing my research on Woolf's published work and unpublished manuscripts, with the support of secondary historians and literary critics, I am exploring the expansive and elusive perception of self which Woolf develops under the influence of Shakespeare.

Advisor:  Stephen Donadio

Audrey Martino

In my thesis, I analyze select works by Henry James and Edith Wharton from the perspective of a collector, a viewpoint that allows for further insight into the aesthetic realm of the nineteenth century.  Spatial settings assume museum-like features where protagonists are driven to acquire, collect, and preserve "fine things" in accordance with their taste.  Women, the ultimate collectibles, alternate between states of true human characters and those of pure aesthetic articles, while maintaining a sophisticated touch of realness in both dimensions.  Museums, objects, and collections constitute the faces of a cultural triangle, each showing different sides to the world.

Advisor:  Deb Evans

James McMillan

Working Title:  Dickens v. Law:  The Idiolects and Influence of Dickens's Lawyers
In my essay, I will analyze the idolects, mannerisms, and speech tags of solicitors, barristers, and others at law in Dickens's novels.  In studying these characters' idiolects, I aim to establish the following patterns in their speech:  long-windedness; a consistent use of meaningless qualifying locutions; a reliance upon specialized legal expressions; a tendency to act aggressively interrogative; a courtroom habit to drop lightly stressed syllables or whole phrases; a proclivity to build series of sentences in anaphoric mode; an inability to differentiate one's speech between the public and private spheres.  After delineating Dickens's "legal register," I shall show how characters themselves who have never been members of the legal profession drop into the legal language.  I shall, then, contemplate the following question:  How do legal characters in Dickens's novels influence non-legal characters, their speech and, in turn, their actions?

Advisor:  Elizabeth Napier

Kate Miley

Working Title: Contemporary American Southern Environmental Writers: Exploring a New Canon
In my thesis, I plan to explore the writings of key contemporary American Southern environmental writers. (For the purposes of my project, "contemporary" is defined generally as the 1980s to the present, and "Southern" will indicate authors from the South or those who engage primarily with the South in their work.) This subset of environmental writing has received scant critical attention, and I hope to add to what has been said about this emerging canon by highlighting certain themes common among my chosen texts and drawing attention to certain writers. My efforts will lead me to distinguish in clear terms this type of environmental writing from environmental writing of other regions. In other words, I will grapple with what constitutes “Southern” and what defines “environmentalism” in the modern-day South, a region weakened by environmental issues yet held together by a deep cultural and literary tradition.

Advisor: Dan Brayton

Leo Moses

My thesis explores moments of enlightenment through immanence in two of John Muir’s works, My First Summer in the Sierra and The Mountains of California.  Muir’s experiences and descriptions of immanence are unique, beautiful and accessible.  In my thesis I will explore the literary origins of Muir’s writing to provide a tradition in which to read Muir’s moments of experiencing the sacred.  I will explore their patterns and common elements and show how Muir’s moments of hierophany dictated his natural discoveries and scientific descriptions of the Sierras.  Seen within a literary background, these moments of immanence allow Muir to see the Sierras as a western Eden, and describe them through an Edenic topos that feeds off of Muir’s understanding of geology and knowledge of literature.

Advisor:  Elizabeth Napier

Evann Normandin

In a world filled with unimaginable horror, can words ever possibly bridge the gap between survivor and non-traumatized reader? My thesis explores the fundamental question of trauma literature: how can a survivor-author communicate an experience for which words are inadequate and the event itself, lost to time and the inner workings of the brain, is arguably a figment of memory and imagination. I will utilize trauma theory applied to Tim O’Brien’s fictional novel The Things They Carried to show through close reading and critical analysis that O’Brien’s project is to allow the reader access to his Vietnam “experience” but that, despite his intentions, we still find ourselves on the outside of a community of shockingly real, though fictionalized, characters.

Advisor:  Cates Baldridge

Billy Prince

Working Title:  History, Philosophy, and Fantasy in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire

My thesis explores the sources and analogues of the immensely popular series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, a contemporary fantasy and science fiction writer. The current status of critical work on Martin is next to none, so I aim to lay the basic groundwork on what directly and indirectly influenced Martin as well as what his contribution is in relation to others who have dealt with similar material. I will perform close readings of his work through this lens within three categories that exert the greatest influence on Martin's work: history, philosophy (both moral and political), and fantasy.

Advisor:  Kathy Skubikowski

Kirtley Righi

My essay examines the evolving relationship between motherhood and food as seen thorough the Split Mother figure in fairy tales.  Many fairy tales use food as a vehicle to distinguish Good and Bad Mothers, thereby instilling (or reinforcing) certain ideals of motherhood in readers of all ages.  Using Grimm's fairy tales, Lucy Clifford's "New Mother," and Neil Gaiman's young adult novel, Coraline (2002), my essay will argue that the Split Mother figure is not simply a relic of century-old fairy tales, but reflects a relevant and increasingly antagonistic attitude towards women, especially working mothers whose consumer habits and food preparation differ greatly from Victorian era ideals.

Advisor: Marion Wells

Brittany Taylor

Working Title: "All Was Well":  An Exploration of the Hero, the Villain, and the Self in Rowling's Harry Potter Series

My essay will begin with a generalized focus on the archetypes, as described by C. G. Jung, in an effort to uncover the ways in which Harry as protagonist and Voldemort as antagonist embody different, sometimes conflicting, archetypal figures.  I will contend that these combinations of archetypes found within Harry and Voldemort drive the plot, the characterization, and, ultimately, the ending of the series.  Expanding on this, I will argue that, while Harry Potter can be made to fit Campbell's monomythic patterns, the series most readily mirrors the quest for knowledge such as that seen in Sophocles' Oedipus the King.  Drawing on Freud's The Uncanny and Rank's The Double, I also plan to argue that Voldemort serves as a double or shadow figure to Harry Potter in a way that continues the archetypal patterns found within the series, complicates the monomyth, and provides explanation for the convoluted conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I intend to examine and analyze, using close reading and psychoanalytic interpretations, the ways in which Rowling uses these archetypes and the Doppelganger figure through the series in an effort to explain the progression of the plot and fulfill her own agenda.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

Joan Thompson

Working Title:  Govern[ess]ing Liminality in The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre

This essay will examine Henry James's 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw and Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel Jane Eyre, specifically the way in which the role of the governess and the supernatural figures embody contradictions that dominate each narrative and relate the narrative to one another.  Through an exploration of intra- and inter-textual elements as well as historical background relating to governess and ghost figures I will explore the relationship between the liminal space that the protagonists occupy and the way in which each text generates a similar feeling of liminal space occupation in the reader.

Advisor:  Antonia Losano