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Senior Critical Theses Abstracts Spring 2017



Philip Bohlman

My thesis explores landscapes, real and virtual, in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. The Matrix, cyberspace, is Gibson’s famous predictive imagining, a virtual reality where corporate systems and their data are visualized as neon monuments on an endless two-dimensional grid. Outside of the Matrix, Gibson’s world is entirely urban, devoid of nature, the traditional subject of landscape imagining. My primary interest is in the aesthetics of Gibson’s world as they compare to ours. Appreciating the sublimity of technology in these books reveals to us the sublimity of virtual entertainment and experiences in our society, a society in which computers and urban space have great aesthetic importance.

Advisor: Michael Newbury
Renee Chang

As a writer who was equally as well known for being an avid reader, David Foster Wallace was a consumer of all kinds of texts. Wallace’s annotations in his personal library – which is preserved alongside his papers at the University of Texas at Austin – reveal that he was not an idle consumer of fiction, but rather a reader who was acutely aware of the limitations of the narrative form. Interestingly, of the many annotations Wallace made while researching his novel, Infinite Jest, a sizable number are concerned with the complex dynamics that regulate the ways in which we are allowed – or not allowed – to engage with mass media. This commentary is especially illuminating, as Infinite Jest is just as much a meditation on the consumption of media as it is a form of media itself. As a novel that is saturated with television screens and set in a technologically oriented world that feels eerily proleptic of our own, Infinite Jest questions whether books and movies bring us closer to reality, or leave us perpetually trapped in the purgatorial space between the real and the virtual. Wallace’s marginalia reveals that this ambivalence as to whether the vicariously enjoyed fictional enterprise can bring long lasting unity did not appear for the first time in Infinite Jest, but rather nestled tightly in the margins of the author’s own library.

Advisor: Brett Millier
Thomas Dils

My critical thesis investigates the most problematic elements of Alistair MacLeod’s short stories and novel as they relate to postmodernism and globalization, with a particular emphasis on narration and point of view. Postmodernist theory, scholarship on Atlantic Canada, and my own ethnographic research in Cape Breton all influence my analysis. MacLeod’s stories look simultaneously to the past and to the future in constant inquiry of how identity and memory are continuously evolving and shaping each other. I argue that the inherent presence of history and tradition in MacLeod’s writing is not sentimental but rather a device for grounding and enhancing his postmodernist social commentary.

Advisor: Dan Brayton

Camille Kellogg

My thesis compares two of the most famous Irish classics: Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Both authors use the format of a journey narrative to force their characters to encounter the flaws of mankind, leaving their protagonists isolated and unable to communicate once they return home. My thesis argues that, while Swift and Joyce point out the same vices in humanity through similar methods, they do so with very different agendas. Swift’s purpose is to debase man and make him realize his shortcomings. Joyce’s purpose is to elevate man and show that this flawed creature can still have dignity.

Advisor: Stephen Donadio

Caitlyn Meagher

My thesis will explore mourning and melancholia in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece and Hamlet by examining the allusions to Hecuba, the archetypal grief-stricken female of Ancient Greece. In Euripides’ Hecuba, the titular character transforms her deep grief into justified revenge, revealing her power through sorrow. By examining both psychoanalytic and feminist criticism, I will explore how Shakespeare complicates ‘feminine’ grief in his own characters, emphasizing the self-destructive nature of melancholia and how personal mourning comes to represent larger socio-political and historical issues of the time, specifically the fears surrounding female power.

Advisor: Marion Wells

Katherine O'Neill

In Fates and Furies, author Lauren Groff creates a complex female interiority for her protagonist in a life and a world that is deeply misogynistic. I will utilize feminist theories of narratology to focus on the ways that Groff plays with her narrative style and manipulates time in order to create a more genuine female identity for Mathilde through the oppressive form of the novel. I will also use modern, pop-culture feminism to critique the ways in which Groff – while empowering the beautiful, thin, white Mathilde – also oppresses other women by excluding characters of color or different oppressed identities in the novel. Ultimately, by employing both modern lenses of feminism and also critical work on feminist narratology, I hope to prove that Groff is doing feminist work by subverting the structural forms of the novel, even as she writes a world that is dominated by the white hetero-patriarchy.

Advisor: Antonia Losano

Addison Pierce

In C.S. Lewis’s fictional creations, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, the subject travels out of the ‘self’ to meet the ‘other,’ an ‘other’ that appears as blatantly on the surface as it does profoundly at its depth. This ‘otherness’ is entirely capsulated within the images, metaphors, and allegory Lewis uses throughout his myths, and he welcomes the reader’s reason and imagination in order to capture the certain truths about our world that he presents in his non-fiction. If we lead with our heart before we follow with intellect, we can discover how supernatural his myths truly are.

Advisor: Brett Millier

Claire Sagurton

My thesis examines the portrayal of characters with disabilities in young adult literature. Characters with disabilities are often portrayed using tropes that do not acknowledge disability as a lived experience, and these representations often shape the public’s perception of disability. I will engage with two contemporary young adult novels, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, to examine how they present disability. I will use my analysis of the novels to consider how disability studies can inform literature to promote the development of nuanced and realistic representations of disability.

Advisor: Susan Burch

Alyssa Taylor

For my thesis project I intend to write about the idea of hybrid identities in White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I will evaluate the complexity of the cultures and places that make up the jumbled roots of Smith’s characters and will ask what the role of memory, history, and the stories they tell determines about their sense of self. The thesis will examine the ways in which Smith presents hybridity through the lenses of culture, religion, language, and multi-generational familial bonds. It will ultimately ask how a multi-cultural identity both elevates and hinders Smith’s protagonists.

Advisor: Dan Brayton


Department of English & American Literatures