Selected Theses and Essays
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.