Selected Theses and Essays
Orientalism by Edward Said offers a framework for understanding how Western powers can retain authority over how Middle Eastern societies and cultures are (mis)respresented. This is done by cultivating, sustaining, and re-affirming stereotypes and assumptions over long periods in history, all for the purpose of creating an image of the Middle East and its people that benefits the Western power. In my paper, I apply this framework to post 9/11 America, where there has been a resurgence of a highly politicized Orientalism that serves the specific purpose of bolstering the heroic goodness and power of the United States against the image of the evil, violence, and hatred of Islam. This image is strengthened every time a government official proposes a new illegal surveillance program on Muslim communities, mainstream media inundates viewers with images of the fanatic Muslim, and academics forward arguments claiming that the existence of Islam promises an impending clash of civilizations with the West. Ultimately, I find that there are many discourses that work in conjunction with American Orientalism to sustain it today, but that overall, this amounts to American Orientalism being pervasive. Its influence has penetrated several aspects of American society, and it has become intuitive to feel that Muslims stand outside of the boundaries of what is deemed “American.”
"Good for Her" traces how contemporary possession films portray their protagonists with a level of complexity previously withheld from on-screen female characters. I introduce the concept of the "corruption arc" as the narrative tool used in possession films to mark the protagonist's descent into worlds beyond our own. There are two distinct forms of corruption that lend different portrayals of the corrupted figure. Spiritual corruption traditionally centers an instance of paranormal possession framed as or instigated by sexual violation. On the other hand, the scientific corruption arc relies on a different methodology of displaying terror. Scientific corruption narratives use aliens and body horror to explore the existential question of what it means to be--or, more appropriately, remain--human in the face of tragedy. What both branches of corruption share, however, is a far-reaching meditation on how the cinematic medium can portray femininity in crisis without decentering the female lead from her own narrative. The violent configuration of corruption therefore demonstrates a cinematic reimagination of on-screen female interiority. By analyzing The Witch (2015, dir. Robert Eggers), Under the Skin (2013, dir. Johnathan Glazer), and Annihilation (2018, dir. Alex Garland), I present three films that demonstrate the complicated, visceral experience that is existing in a feminized body, a perspective frequently disregarded in the history of cinematic horror.
The medium is a central aspect to any work. No art can exist without a medium to shape it. Following in the footsteps of Marshall McLuhan, this thesis explores the relationship between a text and its medium. By leveraging the inherent properties and traits of a medium, an artist can enhance their work into something truly unique to the medium. This thesis explores this concept in several different media such as films, novels, comics, and poetry. In each, there is an exploration of some traits of the medium and how specific texts were able to use this to their advantage. Under consideration are texts such as Mrs Dalloway, b o d y, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Watchmen, Being John Malkovich, Easter Wings, and more.
The unofficial hazing process of assimilating affects many American immigrant groups, though some are welcomed with open arms. Due to this disparity in treatment, how immigration is viewed by the immigrant varies as well. This essay explores how immigrants accept or reject America as their home, specifically by comparing their age, gender, nationality, and time period in which they move. Ranging from my personal experiences to the fictional families’ in Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira Kira and Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, I observe the common duties of age groups and gendered roles and how that is complicated by moving to the U.S. Furthermore, I examine how nationality and era play a role in how immigrants of certain countries are received by white Americans. Ultimately, I conclude that experiences shaped by gender and age responsibilities in their home country heavily influence how immigrants perceive America, especially after reflecting whether their quality of life has improved or worsened.
This thesis investigates the history of Superman’s cultural relevance through American history and attempts to find out if Superman truly lives up to his title of “Man of Tomorrow.” Reviewing the development of his character through the golden age of comics (1938 to 1956) to the silver age of comics (1956 to around 1970) reveals the foundation of the character’s origins. However, his status as an American icon and a reflection of America would make Superman subject Superman to many alterations and different interpretations as American culture changes overtime. This thesis defines the three core elements of a superhero narrative as optimism, pragmatism, and individualism. On the other hand, there are four major critiques of superhero stories including vigilantism, fascism, escapism, and conservatism. Using these values as the baseline for analyzing a Superman story, I analyze how Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman manages to create a modern superhero myth that adheres to the core values of Superman’s character while incorporating elements from the character history without limiting the narrative to a specific time period. Ultimately, I conclude that All Star Superman depicts the character as the true representation of the man of tomorrow and show how the character is still relevant in American culture. Even after eighty-four years, the world still needs Superman.
This thesis addresses the broader topic of refugee literature and examines three memoirs written by female survivors of genocide from Germany, Rwanda, and Bosnia, including Edith Milton’s The Tiger in the Attic, Atka Reid and Hana Schofield’s Goodbye Sarajevo, and Clemantine Wamariya’s The Girl Who Smiled Beads. While focusing on the gendered memories of 20th-century genocide survivors, I aim to establish how female survivors communicated and reckoned with their experiences of trauma. I also investigate how female survivors interpreted their identity as refugees when navigating and/or negotiating their citizenship status, studying how this identity changed an individual's perception of their place within the nation.
In a cultural moment where visual media and social networking have irrevocably changed how we read and remember texts, this paper uses Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray as a case study in the formally strange world of contemporary adaptation. A survey of half a dozen film renditions of Wilde’s novel read alongside less conventional new media treatments including Internet memes, artwork, and fanfiction reveals that adaptation plays an essential role in the preservation of older texts, but it also suggests that such mediating work can have an extraordinary impact on what these texts signify to new audiences. Despite the ambivalent moral tone and solely subtextual homoeroticism present in Wilde’s 1891 novel, current cultural narratives surrounding the Dorian Gray name follow one of two clearly demarcated adaptational pathways. Mainstream films from Albert Lewin’s 1945 The Picture of Dorian Gray up through Oliver Parker’s 2009 Dorian Gray present Wilde’s narrative as a relatively straightforward morality tale, allowing scholars and social media users alike to deploy the novel’s central device sans context for their own aims. Alternately, more subversive readings offered by works like Massimo Dallamano’s 1970 The Secret of Dorian Gray pave the way for contemporary fanfiction that reimagines Wilde’s work as a queer romance, massaging its fraught moral legacy into an aesthetic and thematic repudiation of homophobia. These divergent traditions preserve Wilde’s text in name only as they create a cultural image of The Picture of Dorian Gray which speaks more to the intertextual potency of old and new adaptational forms than to the true longevity of the novel itself.
What does Ecclesiastes mean when he laments “in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”? Why does eating from a Tree of Knowledge exile us from paradise, and why is this mankind’s Original Sin? Is the supernatural knowledge revealed to Macbeth and Hamlet productive at all? We commonly understand knowledge and Truth to always be beneficial, but this essay investigates an Ecclesiastean tradition in Gothic literature. It argues that Gothic authors problematize our assumptions about the productivity of knowledge and our own search for existential satisfaction in Truth. A Gothic antihero type emerges, who is obsessed with striking “through the pasteboard mask” of regular existence, to reach at some underlying metaphysical Truth–we see this in Satan from Paradise Lost, and trace it to Ahab in Moby-Dick, and even to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. This Truth they transgress for, the damning knowledge of the Tree of Knowledge, is addicting, maddening, and always destructive. This essay defends Ecclesiastes’ anti-intellectual solution to existential identity, and explains how we might consider our relationship to Truth through the Gothic lens.
This essay examines the coming-of-age processes of the twin characters in I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and White Teeth by Zadie Smith in comparison to the process of self-actualization as described by psychologist and Brandeis professor, Abraham Maslow. I highlight the parallels between Maslow’s theory and the books’ portrayals of coming-of-age, but also use the twins’ stories to offer a more nuanced definition of self-actualization. Maslow’s conception of self-actualization as an independent, personal process unaffected by factors outside the subject’s personality is proven insufficient by the characters in these books, whose comings of age necessarily incorporate twin drama, family history, and racial identity, all of which affect their ability to achieve self-actualization.
My thesis looks at Richard Wright’s novel Native Son from both a literary and legal perspective, using the novel to explore ideas of justice in America. I look at the roles race, violence, and justice play in Bigger’s life, and how inextricably the three are linked. My paper examines how race and violence can lead to unjust outcomes and how the justice system can continue to perpetuate racism and the use of violence as portrayed by Wright in his novel. It also touches on current events where race, violence, and injustice all intersect and what steps can be taken in order to ensure a more just America for all those who live in it.
This essay examines how J.R.R. Tolkien used his elaborate fantasy world-building to express the hidden violence of illness and contagion in human society—particularly the devastating 1918 flu pandemic. While many scholars have argued that Tolkien’s war-related trauma appeared in his legendarium in various forms, few have considered how he may have processed the pandemic that emerged just as WWI was ending in his work. I examine the similarities and differences between Tolkien and modernist writers in their depictions of contagion, unpacking how they articulate concepts such as miasma, pandemics’ concealment beneath war narratives, and the omnipresent dread associated with an invisible enemy invading the domestic realm. Ultimately, I hope to show that fantasy world-building is a unique means of exploring the short-term and long-term effects of “under-acknowledged” events in history, especially pandemics.
"Articulation" presents an exploration of language and communication in day-to-day interaction and art through a practical lens. The piece captures the potential for beauty in raw language, addresses the impact of instinct on art and language, and encourages self-awareness of personal articulation with regards to self-identity. Through this investigation, the essay uncovers the invisible medium between our minds and our speech, connecting the tangible with the intangible, uncovering the relevance and meaningfulness of articulation in our everyday lives. Along this journey, we discover the power of healthy and pure articulation and its positive affect on the self.
This essay examines the wide range of wifely behavior in Elizabeth Cary's play The Tragedy of Mariam, ranging from utter submission to open rebellion. I argue that while Cary presents the most defiant and subversive of the wives, Salome, as an unambiguous villain, she nevertheless does not present the most meek and demure of them, Graphina, as the heroine. Rather that title goes to Mariam, long suffering wife to the tyrannical Herod, who is presented as so cruel and mad a tyrant that Cary succeeds, even against the tide of Jacobean condemnation for rebellious wives, in portraying Mariam as a hero.
My project examines the role of religion in the American and French Revolutions, respectively, through the lens of Thomas Paine’s pamphlets. Paine was a prominent advocate of both revolutions, making his writing a perfect lens for examining the divergent roles that religion played in each society. My work compares religious references in Common Sense, Paine’s famous defense of the American Revolution, to those in Rights of Man, his defense of the French Revolution, and contextualizes Paine’s writing by incorporating various historical and literary analyses. Paine’s work reveals the intriguing trend of American religious culture supporting the revolution, while in France, the reverse was true.
David Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive emerged out of a troubled production to directly reflect Hollywood back at itself – in ways we're just now able to see. My project examines the context in which the film was created, both tracing Lynch's evolution as an artist and the way the entertainment industry operated at the time, a moment when abusive figures like Harvey Weinstein were at the peak of their influence. Lynch's film even features a representation of a monstrous studio head. Beneath its experimental, expressionist surface, Mulholland Drive provides a valuable vantage point on the question of whether or not fantasy – even fantasy wrapped up with and complicit in systems it cannot control – can hold any progressive power.
This essay project explores the concept of xianfengxiju (avant-garde theater) in China’s socio-cultural context. This paper offers a brief overview of the history of Chinese modern theater since it was introduced into China in the early 1930s, gradually forming what is now generally called huaju (spoken drama) and triggered intense discussions about the reform of Chinese traditional theater, xiqu. The following chapter discusses selected adaptions of western avant-garde theater artworks in China regarding the specific changes made in the adaptions according to the socio-political and cultural context. With the background knowledge provided, the project then attempts to explain the socio-cultural meaning and the current status of the genre “avant-garde theater” in China through a combination of analysis of theater theories, selected director, playwrights, and productions. In addition to the discussion of theater artists and artworks, the last chapter includes the audiences’ perspectives and acceptance of the avant-garde theater works in China.
My research focuses on female characters in novels who are passionate readers of novels, and how this both shapes and warps their realities. In my research, I found that many society members and critics in the 19th century, particularly in Europe, viewed reading as a nonsensical habit for noble women, and a dangerous one at that, as it distracted women from their domestic and maternal duties in the home. The three novels that I focus on are Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. In my thesis, I aim to discover the different ways that the heroines in these novels are impacted by their reading of novels, and how it puts their reputations at risk but also aids in their searches for self-discovery and self-worth.
This paper will document the trajectory of Fifty Shades of Grey; from first iteration as Master of the Universe, a Twilight Fanfiction, to a published novel. It will compare how both titles were celebrated (or berated) by the public. Through a thorough analysis of copyright law associated with literature and categorizing of, if any, differences between Twilight characters and the characters in the finished Fifty Shades of Grey this paper asks: What does the existence of Fifty Shades of Grey mean for the future of fanfiction and traditionally published works? How can we better understand the confluence of fan definitions of what is acceptable and the legal definitions of copyright?
My research incorporates elements of personal narrative, the Irish postmodern, and various literary frameworks regarding comedy and characterization in order to elaborate on the formation of a queer identity. My aim is to shed light on comedy as a tool of both disidentificatory reclamation for the queer subject and a methodology by which character, in regards to both the literary construct and the flesh-and-bone human, forms in relation to societal hierarchies and inequalities.
Often people do not see Zora Neale Hurston as a "legitimate" anthropologist or think she made any significant contributions to the field; she is largely known only for her literary accomplishments. My essay argues that, on the contrary, Hurston's literary and anthropological skills were intertwined and only served to strengthen each other.
This project explores the construction of two dystopian worlds. Though initially unfamiliar for its shocking violence and the otherworldliness of its society, the dystopian world of each text is made familiar first, by translating and decoding the invented language, then, by analyzing the ritualized or institutionalized violence, and finally, by exploring the narrator's role in delivering the story, with particular focus on the ending. In doing so, the injustices of the unfamiliar world mirror those of the world in which we live. The social critique levied by the authors against their dystopian societies is, by extension, a critique of the author's own society, and the reader must reconcile the dystopian elements of both the text and her world.