Selected Senior Critical Theses

Virginia Adams

In the late nineteenth-centrury, the romance adventure novel, invariably featuring a white, male European explorer penetrating unfamiliar, feminized spaces, abounded.  This genre promulgated imperial ideologies of gender and power, placing feminized (and thus inherently inferior) natives under the power of masculine Britain, as represented by the male quest hero.  In his 1924 novel A Passage to India, E.M. Forster interrogates Victorian imperialist ideology, confounding traditional structures of the romance quest novel.  Set in the waning years of imperial vitality, A Passage to India depicts an India that has been fully "discovered" and domesticated to the extent that it is available to English women, as Adela Quested adopts the masculine explorer role.  In addition to displacing English men from their traditional position, the presence of white women in India complicates colonial order, as the homosocial sphere operating under a gendered hierarchy must confront the heterosocial expectations of domestic Victorian England.  Not only does Forster challenge patriarchal appropriations of power; he also offers glimpses of alternatives to this structure, namely in the friendship between Fielding and Aziz.  In a final moment of bathos, however, Forster indicates that such a friendship between England and India is not yet possible, as the very terrain of India as a colonized space pushes the two men apart.  Thus, A Passage to India acknowledges the influence of imperial ideologies even as he criticizes them.

Advisor: Dan Brayton

Sarah Baldwin

This project examines Federico Garcia Lorca's collection of poems, Poeta en Nueva York (1929-1930), and its relation to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), with the aim of better understanding both poets' reactions to and descriptions of urban space in the early nineteen hundreds.  I compare each author's use of fractured poetic voice to explore the role of the artist in the modern city, and to argue that Lorca and Eliot are driven by the same need to reconfigure the poet's voice according to a new, urban society they see as fragmented, alienating, unnatural, and unrecognizable.

Advisor: David Price

Elizabeth Bernhard

My critical thesis examines how William Butler Yeats' poetry in his later years reflects his struggle with aging.  By looking at "Sailing to Byzantium" (1926), "The Tower" (1926), and "The Circus Animals' Desertion" (1939), I argue that the prospect of dying both frightened and troubled Yeats deeply.  Some critics have said that the young Yeats and old Yeats are inversions of one another; they say Yeats' younger self was physically able but spiritually crippled and that his older self was physically debilitated but spiritually liberated.  I disagree with the pretense that he finds spiritual bliss in his old age, and find that these three poems express an inability to reconcile with old age.  By specifically examining Yeats' intense focus on the physical and on decay, my thesis discusses how constricted and troubled Yeats was by the inevitability of death.

Advisor: Jay Parini


Benjamin Custer

My thesis will examine the ways in which Franz Kafka's portrayal of totalitarianism and the supernatural reflect the nature of a Judeo-Christian conception of God.  In much of his work, Kafka's protagonists must grapple with forces of complete authority that remain utterly elusive in nature.  Just as the antagonistic menaces in Kafka's work are simultaneously unreachable and unquestionable in their might, so the God of Abraham commands complete, and in many ways terrifying, control over his worshippers despite his conspicuous material absence.  I will closely examine the ways that this similarity reveals itself in four of Kafka's works: The Trial, The Castle, The Judgement, and In the Penal Colony.  Each of these texts grapples with a different aspect of God's relationship to man and, when considered together, they create a complex, disturbing metaphysics for the modern person.

Advisor: Rob Cohen

Emma Eastwood-Paticchio

My thesis looks at Dr. Watson as crucial to the development of the quintessential detective in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes works. By translating the mysterious “all-knowing” Holmes through Watson, Doyle provides an access point through which readers can engage with and understand the acquisition of knowledge. This paper looks at differing critical opinions of Watson, other detective constructions of the nineteenth century
such as Poe’s Dupin, and the result of subtracting Watson from Holmes in order to examine his unique role in Doyle’s texts. The paper argues that Watson’s narration is not only successful but also a kind of detection of its own.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

Luke Greenway

Place and time are experienced differently in prison.  The very idea of place is involuntarily limited in scope, and time becomes something done to one, rather that something one does things with.  Writing is something that many inmates turn to while in prison, one of the few creative things left to them.  But as in any writing, the experience of the author permeates the prose thematically as well as stylistically.  Given the powerful and inherent nature between the writing and the author's experience, my thesis will interrogate the idea of what prison does to writing and what writing does to those who experience prison, specifically in regards to written creation of place and time.  It will analyze contemporary trends in commercially published prison writing as well as in literary journals that exhibit prison writing.

Advisor: Jay Parini

Margaret Morris

 My thesis will explore how female cross-dressing on the early modern stage affects and challenges contemporary homonormative discourses of perfect friendship between men. First, I will argue that by allowing the boy heroine to participate in the metatheatrical instruction of masculinity plays such as Twelfth Night and Ben Jonson’s Epicœne enable the audience to imagine a way in which women can be socialized as boys so as to performatively fulfill the homosocial friendship. I will also argue that the eroticized boy on the stage conjures homoerotic associations that disrupt Montaigne’s non-erotic ideal friendship, suggesting a flexible boundary between the homosocial and the homoerotic. Second, I plan examine the marriage of the boy heroine in As You Like It and The Roaring Girl. I will contend that the ease with which these homosocial (and homoerotic) friendships transform into heterosexual marriage opens up a space for heterosocial relationships within marriage.

Advisor: Marion Wells

Kate Murray

Working Title: “Then Say What You Mean”: The Aesthetics of Speech in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

My thesis examines how aesthetics and language construct racial narratives in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. I observe the ways that language—both the narrative voice and the characters’ speech—situates community relationships and elucidates issues of assimilation, cultural preservation, and retribution in the black community. Using traditional aesthetic theory as well as criticism that addresses the specific linguistic approaches of black writers, I focus on the characters of Macon, Pilate, and Guitar and how Morrison characterizes them through their speech acts. I am interested in the interplay between the beautiful and the political, and the ways that Morrison aestheticizes politics and politicizes aesthetics.

Advisor: Ben Graves

Fritz Parker

Working Title: Orange Juice and Agent Orange: Don DeLillo's Reach for Coherance

My thesis examines the conflicting epistemologies at work in the fiction of Don DeLillo.  DeLillo's novels challenge and often overthrow traditional cultural forms of meaning - particularly those espoused by mass media and late capitalism - provoking skepticism about the validity of knowledge in general.  I argue, however, that this skepticism does not have the last word.  Rather, the writer's novels contain a shared impulse to construct meaning from epistemological void, webbing together knowledge in coherent systems that allow for the possibility of faith and hope against a backdrop of postmodern meaninglessness.

Advisor: Brett Millier

Daniel Reed Working Title: The Ape and the Aesthete: Atavism and Decadence in British Popular Fiction at the Fin de Siècle

The second half of the nineteenth-century saw tremendous growth in scientific inquiry into evolution and related theories. As a result, several fears developed regarding potential modes of degeneration of the human race. Two of these that received particular attention were atavism (i.e. “reverse evolution”) and decadence (the decay of proper standards, morals, etc., and the resulting decline towards self-indulgent and hedonistic behavior). My research will examine these and related concepts in several works of popular fiction from fin-de-siècle (“end-of-century”) Britain. Primary sources include Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Wells’s The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau, Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Through my analysis of these and related secondary sources, I will assess the ways in which these authors interact with the themes of atavism and decadence and consider the complex relationship between popular art and the societal fears that it addresses.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

Sonia Rodrigues

Working Title: Mad Women, Silent Women: Exploring Female Madness in The Woman in White and Lady Audley’s Secret

This essay deals with portrayals of female madness in two nineteenth century English novels, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. Both novels belong to the sensation genre of literature and follow male protagonists as they uncover secrets about the “mad” women who surround them. Yet in the process, the men in these novels seem to obscure the very women whom they aim to discover, largely through the application of masculinized reason. In relating these counterproductive actions, both novelists destabilize characters’ application of reason to the female mind. This essay will explore how both novelists recast objectivity, manifested specifically through medicine, as an opportunity for male characters not only to invade these women’s privacy but also to reconfigure their identities to fit the definition of “madness.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

Eric Truss In my thesis project, I will critically examine two works by the widely regarded titans of twentieth-century American modernist poetry, T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost.  Specifically, I will argue that Frost's missive, "Directive," can and should be read as a direct response to Eliot's monumental work, "The Wasteland."

Advisor: Jay Parini










Department of English & American Literatures

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