Selected Senior Critical Theses



Carly Andersen

Title: Out of the Pit and Into the Parlor: Miners' Wives in D.H. Lawrence's Short Fiction

Perhaps most fundamentally representative of the themes and subjects which dominate D. H. Lawrence's fiction, his coal miner stories delve into the complex social, familial, and interpersonal relationships that govern the lives (and deaths) of colliers, their wives, and their children.  Arguably more important than the portraits of the colliers themselves, Lawrence's emphasis on the role of miners' wives - whose characters he develops with more finesse, nuance, and depth - underscores his attempt to both expose and reconcile the notions of work and home, male and female, in a psychologically compelling and dramatically expressive representation of the working class.  By examining Lawrence's coal miner short stories, I will focus on the representation of miners' wives in order to explore the varied roles of women in Lawrence's writing.

Advisor: David Price

Scott Berkley

I intend to provide a reading of the works of the American poet Wallace Stevens as an ecological poet of the New England landscape as well as of the Modernist poetic landscape. I will assess the span of his career (from 1923’s Harmonium to 1955’s Collected Poems) with a view
toward an eco-critical and ecology-focused re-reading of Stevens’ two geographies, of Florida and Connecticut. Biographical and archival research will augment the analysis of Stevens’ life and verse both south and north, and will also illustrate the “conversation” which Stevens joined with other Modernist poets such as William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost. 

Advisor: Brett Millier




Anastasia Capatina

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon uses African-American slave folklore in conjunction with elements of magic realism to ground the novel in a rich sense of setting, develop the core theme of identity, and place the story of Milkman Dead in the body of African-American literature. In my analysis of Morrison’s use of folklore, I compare motifs of flight in Song of Solomon to the mythological source story they are based on, the Gullah folktale of the flying Africans (using several different recorded versions). Throughout, I will also analyze the relationship the novel builds between the myth of the flying people and the magic realist vehicle that presents it to readers. I would like to form the argument that the novel showcases the intrinsic relationship between magic and myth, and presents a structure in which the two collaborate metaphorically and literally to bring Milkman’s ancestral past into the “present” of the novel, contributing to the complexity of Milkman’s final, ambiguous embrace of and breakage from his past.

Advisor: Deb Evans

Katie Carlson

Title: ’A Sword Without a Hilt’: The Grotesque and Feminine Power in A Song of Ice and Fire

My thesis explores George R. R. Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire as a postmodern philosophical text.  I argue that Martin uses nonlinear, scattered narration and multiple focalization to create a sense of both subjective reality and moral relativism.  I speculate about why such a morally relativist text has become so popular over the past few years, and attempt to reconcile the novels' simultaneous concern for social justice and insistence on moral relativism.

Advisor: Claudia Cooper

Christina Denbow

Title: The Woman Who Must Ride Like a Man: Ursula Le Guin, Tamora Pierce, and Feminism

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and A Wizard of Eatrhsea, and Tamora Pierce, author of Alanna: The First Adventure, are both heralded as quintessential feminist fiction writers of their respective times; and, it would be intuitive to believe that Pierce's younger works delve into gender, sex, and sexuality breakdown that Le Guin's has not touched.  However, using Judith Butler's philosophy as a guiding lens, it becomes clear that Pierce's work is not as progressive as it is expected or believed to be.  This is not indicative of a shortcoming on Pierce's part, but rather an indication of the self-induced limits that we have placed upon what issues children's literature can and cannot explore.

Advisor: Claudia Cooper

Sophie Dodd

Working title: Stevenson, Stoker, Science and the Soul in Victorian Gothic Literature: The Doctor Tropes at Play in Strange Case of Dr. Jekylland Mr. Hyde and Dracula

The focus of my thesis will be a comparison of the two "doctor tropes" that dominated common opinion in the late Victorian era, as well as an analysis of their origins, implications, and consequences.  More specifically, I will examine the nature of the "mad scientist" as it applies to Dr. Henry Jekyll in Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and the sagacious doctor as it applies to Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).  I will argue that these seemingly opposing tropes could not exist without each other and are the natural and obvious product of a rapidly changing scientific and cultural landscape.

Advisor: Cates Baldridge

Rebecca Geiger - Joint major ENAM / PSCI

O’Brien has long been acclaimed for his vivid depictions of the obfuscation and personal turmoil the Vietnam War caused for soldiers, and he fixates particularly on the malleability of truth and purpose that war experiences bring about. Though the themes he addresses most directly in his novels are of a literary and narrative persuasion, I will argue that there is an analytical layer to his narrative and that he has chosen to explore themes that draw parallels between the memory of the individual and the political legacy of the event. I intend to show that O’Brien’s distinct way of  portraying his own experience and the fictional experiences of others uncovers the political atmosphere of this crucial event in tandem with delving into the emotional and experiential, and ultimately arguing that this and perhaps any war can only be understood when all of the elements are considered simultaneously and equally.

Advisors: Brett Millier and Nadia Horning

Elisabeth Harmor - Joint major ENAM / HIST

My joint History and English thesis explores medieval hagiography as a source for costume history.  By examining vernacular writings of female saints' lives between 1100 and 1450 alongside contemporary sources such as clerical writings and romance, my thesis seeks to add hagiography into the conversation of sources traditionally used to discuss medieval clothing.

Advisors: James Berg and Louisa Burnham

Marie Henneburg

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau employs dawn imagery throughout the book to connect himself and his readers to a heroic past, the world of Homer and rosy-fingered dawn. While Thoreau does not disregard night, he gives clear preference to morning and the sun. An e-book word search reveals that the “moon” is used 7 times in Walden, whereas the “sun” appears 63 times.  

After Walden was published, Thoreau entered a time of aimlessness. ​Robert Richardson notes that Thoreau’s mood is hard to account for, but that perhaps Thoreau felt his daily routine to be trivial compared to the intensity of his Walden days. During this period from 1850 to 1854, Thoreau decides to give a series of lectures on night and moonlight. He ended up only delivering one lecture on October 8th, 1854. His moonlight journal entries surfaced after 39 volumes of Thoreau’s journal were put into publication in 1927. Within these volumes were a few odd pieces of manuscript, transcripts from the Journal in the process of being worked into lectures or essays. Included was a sheaf of notes given the title Moon, which were probably intended to form the foundation of a lecture. While he “wrote [a] moonlight paper as a night piece to balance the sunny moods of Walden, [he] dropped it.” 

I will critically examine the Moon, held in Middlebury's Special Collections library. I will read it in light of Thoreau’s previous works, focusing mainly on Walden, but referencing Kaatdn (1848) and Walking (1851). I will note similarities and changes in diction between the texts, looking specifically to see how the later works act as counter pieces to or revisions of Walden. Furthermore, I will draw conclusions about Thoreau’s preference for vision and sight.

Advisor: Brett Millier

Sarah James

My thesis project explores the treatment and construction of the female body in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847), Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market (1862), and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891). My work examines the dichotomy between the prudent woman and the fallen woman in Victorian society. The texts meditate, in varied ways, on expressions of holiness through the regulated female body and on expressions of worldliness through the sexualized female body. Together, these three texts form a cohesive analysis of complicated, threatening, and, sometimes, attractive portrayals of embodied womanhood that intensely enthralled and shaped the Victorian cultural and literary imagination.

Advisor: Cates Baldridge

Leah Lavigne

Title: 'There is Nothing She Can Do So Well': The Role of Marriage and Divorce in Determining Isabel Archer's Fate in Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady

The ending of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady - which features the formerly independent and free-willed young American Isabel Archer choosing to return to her manipulative husband, Osmond - has perplexed critics of James's masterpiece for decades, prompting a major question for scholars, feminist theorists and readers alike: why does James doom his most psychologically complex character to her fate?  Many interpretations conclude that James's ending destroys the integrity of the rest of the work, while others posit explanations that justify that there is no explanation for a text of "aestheic perfection."  In my thesis, I will attempt to explain why this contentious ending is, in fact, consistent with Isabel's character, the social conventions of the day, and James's perspectives on freedom, marriage, and identity.

Advisor: Kathryn Kramer

Robin Loewald

Religious communities surround many of the women of Toni Morrison’s novels; the opportunity to share and convene in religion and spiritual beliefs, particularly those of Christianity, gives these women the power and agency to form individuality and isolate themselves from the ever-pervasive male sphere. The intricacies of these communities differ across time and place. However, through feminine spiritual isolation, Morrison’s women have the chance to transform and adapt their religious experience and grow both as a community and as individuals. In my thesis, I will focus on the women in Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Paradise, and A Mercy as representations of the power of the female religious individuality and

Advisor: Brett Millier

 Ellie Lovering My thesis project examines the autobiographical components of F. Scott Fitzgerald's staple novel The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald and Jay Gatsby shared an obsessive fascination with the American Dream, yet ultimately neither was able to reach it. The similarities between the two men are captivating, but what I find incredibly unique about the relationship between author and protagonist is the way in which the trajectory of Jay's dark life chillingly predicts Fitzgerald's own tragic end. My thesis will explore this eerie relationship through many sources, including letters written by the author himself and biographies chronicling his troubled life. 

Advisor: Will Nash

Boone McCoy-Crisp Working title: How the Rocket Looks From Over Here

Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow has attracted huge attention for its incorporation of scientific fact and theory.  While a great deal has been written about the role of entropy and Newtonian mechanics as they appear in the book, less has been said about the role of modern physics, especially Einstein's theory of relativity.  My intent is to explore the role of modern physics, especially Einstein's theory of relativity.  My intent is to explore the role of relativity and quantum mechanics in the novel, and relate them to the symbolic order surrounding Newtonian mechanics and thermodynamics, which has already garnered so much critical analysis.

Advisor: Robert Cohen



 Tim Patricia - Joint major ENAM / PHIL

Working title: The Search in Salinger: A Literary and Philosophical Critique of the Pursuit of Happiness in Narrative

My joint ENAM and Philosophy thesis examines J.D. Salinger’s characters and their serendipitous pathways to fulfillment, as analyzed through the lens of the philosophy of happiness.  In most cases Salinger's charactersthink Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye and Franny in Franny
and Zooey
exist as people searching for purpose, understanding, inner peace, the meaning of life, and so forth. Essentially, they are searching for happiness. The question is: are these characters searching for happiness in the right ways and in the right places? On which tactics of finding fulfillment do philosophers of happiness agree and disagree with regards to the choices of Salinger's characters? I intend to study Salinger’s characters by invoking some of the great philosophers of happiness, from Aristotle, to St. Augustine, to Nozick.

Advisor: Kathryn Kramer



 Julie Sénat

My thesis examines the trauma of the Civil War in the South, in three of William Faulkner’s short stories. I look into the way women are constructed as the cornerstone of the myth of the Lost Cause and how they are considered to embody its decay. Faulkner uses this centrality to reveal central aspects of the collective repression. I plan to investigate how the female characters of those stories both comply with and resist to the literary tropes imposed upon them, which creates a crease in which they can deliver an alternative voice, question and destroy the Southern ideology which relies on them.

Advisor: Brett Millier and Cécile Roudeau

Carlyn Vachow

My thesis will use the Picayune's Creole Cookbook, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Awakening to set historical context for focusing primarily on The Help.  My focus on the texts will be to compare representations of these women in regard to literary stereotypes, compare the truthfulness of these characters in regard to real domestic workers, and examine the issue of white women acting as a voice for African American women.  I will also explore the disenfranchisement these women experience within their respective novels despite the major role they play in preparing one of the most important parts of American Southern culture.

Advisor: Deb Evans

Department of English & American Literatures

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