2014 Thesis Abstracts

Catherine Ake
“The Re-Vivification of the Individual within D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Tortoise Shout’.”
Directed by Romana Huk

For my thesis, I analyzed D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Tortoise Shout,” which recounts a narrator’s experience as he observes two tortoises in the midst of sexual union.  This poem incorporates several of Lawrence’s most frequently discussed themes: male-female relationships, nature, and the primitive, all within his unique poetic form of free verse.  I use this poem as a medium through which I answer the question: What is D.H. Lawrence’s vision for a perfected, complete individual in the face of modernity?  Lawrence struggled against the quickly changing modern world.  He believed that modernity’s developing technological and social advancements severed humans from their inherent ties to nature.  The world was becoming increasingly rationalized and structured, losing the organic bounds that had previously held people together.  As this breakdown occurred, the individual was ripped from his roots, and his inner-integrity was corrupted.  The Victorian era created unnatural, hyper-gendered identities, which fragmented people into two discrete genders.  These artificially imposed genders disconnected people from a pure consciousness of the self and the world, and Lawrence’s poem is a call for people to recover this primitive knowledge through interaction with others. Through this interaction, Lawrence hopes for humanity to return to its natural state, and to be reborn as perfected individuals.  In order to become whole, each person must interact with both male and female forces to recover the lost natural genders and regain a complete understanding of self.  He or she must connect with others in order to spark his or her knowledge of the world.  This process is symbolically explored within “Tortoise Shout” as the two tortoises unite and the narrator ruminates on individual consciousness and the process of achieving self-knowledge.

Anne Marie Blieszner
“Woolf, Duras, and the Reader: Autobiographical Writing and Discovering New Identity in To the Lighthouse and The Lover.”
Directed by Cyraina Johnson-Roullier

Because it is a confessional form, autobiography necessarily forms a connection between the writer and the reader. While an autobiography allows a reader to learn about the writer, we do not always consider what the writer might learn about him or herself, or why a connection to an audience might be important—why would a writer make public an exploration of self? Two autobiographical novels that embrace their subjectability to exposure are Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Marguerite Duras’s The Lover. Though they were written nearly sixty years apart, they are both narratives of women trying to discover their stories, to re-create their identities. Neither novel is an autobiography in a traditional sense, that is, a first-person, chronological narrative; instead, they belong to a wider definition of autobiography that has evolved greatly since the 1970s and 80s, when critical focus shifted from the actions described in the text to the factors, such as gender, affecting how the text describes a life. I argue that the Woolf and Duras take the public nature of their confessional works to the extreme by forcing the reader into the text, forming not just a relationship with the reader, but an intimate one. I analyze the various non-traditional techniques the authors use, such as changing narrative perspective in order to widen or narrow the distance between the narrator and the reader as well as including other artistic media into the text, and show that these techniques facilitate the writers’ recreation of their familial relationships in order to understand them. We become part of the complex webs of the relationships that structure each novel and are implicated in the creative processes of the writers. However, though the writers become vulnerable by exposing intimate details about their lives in the discovery of their identities, they are ultimately the ones in control. They compromise the reader’s agency, not letting us choose the consciousness from which we see the stories or the order in which they are presented, forcing us to make an effort to understand their stories just as they make sense of them in writing. The writers regain control over their lives, which were generally dependent on their family members, suggesting that this non-traditional method of creating a textual identity is a way of taking back control of one’s life.

Quentin Collie
“Digging Deep to Transcend the Boundaries of Region: Appalachian Coal-Mining Novels and Critical Regionalism.”
Directed by José E. Limón

Appalachia and the literature produced by and about the region have often been associated with ideas such as isolation, ignorance, and an “otherness” in relation to other parts of the country.  Despite the popularity of this widespread understanding, more recent literature has proposed alternative ways for understanding Appalachia and other regions.  Douglas Reichert Powell argues in Critical Regionalism for a view of regionalism, particularly with regard to Appalachia, in which regions are constantly defined by and understood in terms of the relationships within and between regions.

In my thesis, I draw upon Powell’s theory of critical regionalism to analyze three novels produced by Appalachian authors about Appalachia.  Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth by Denise Giardina and Strange as this Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake each present narratives concerning the coal-mining industry in West Virginia and how it relates to the social, cultural, political, and economic structures of the communities and Appalachian region.  By analyzing these novels with regard to Powell’s theory, I argue that these authors portray the communities and region as grounded in the unique realities of the characters and conflicts of the region, but, at the same time, they transcend these regional boundaries through many direct and indirect relationships and social and cultural similarities with other parts of the country and world.  In making this argument, I analyze the multiple, diverse narrative voices used in each novel, the perceptions of both the Appalachian and outside characters regarding Appalachia, interactions between the novels’ characters and places beyond their communities, and relationships made between the conflicts and events of the novels and broad patterns of culture, society, and history.  Though all three novels express some common ideas and circumstances, each contributes unique elements to the development of my argument.  Through these novels, the authors ultimately demonstrate how Appalachia cannot be considered and understood as isolated or fundamentally different from the rest of the country, but, rather, as intricately related to and connected with all other places and people.

Casey Connolly
“Gullible Gulliver: Degeneration of the Narrator into the Role of Passive Observer in Book III of Gulliver’s Travels.
Directed by John Sitter

Since its initial publication in 1726, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels has been a catalyst for heated critical debate. The complexity of Swift’s satire has given rise to one particular question which has plagued literary critics across the centuries: what is the purpose of Book III? In my thesis, I attempt to join this debate by addressing the two main points of contention regarding Book III: first, whether it is a unified narrative (both thematically and structurally); and second, whether it contributes to the content and structure of the Travels as a whole. I argue that the structure and content of Book III, and, more specifically, the voyage to Glubbdubdrib, paint Gulliver as a passive observer of his depraved surroundings, thus allowing him to transition from humanity’s staunch defender in Book II to its bitter opponent in Book IV. I begin by analyzing the existing critical literature on Book III in order to situate my own argument, and find that much of the literature tends to focus on the more topical elements of Swift’s satire. I then attempt to provide a broader interpretation of Swift’s satire through a close reading of each episode in Book III. I find that the degeneration of Gulliver’s character is most clearly evidenced by Gulliver’s increasingly passive cataloguing of the physical and intellectual monstrosities he encounters over the course of Book III. The uniform occurrence of such grotesqueries across each episode establishes thematic unity within the book, while their contribution to Gulliver’s gradual degeneration into passive observer supports the book’s structural unity. I argue that the Glubbdubdrib episode in particular provides a key to the format and function of Gulliver as objective narrator throughout much of Book III. The conceit of this voyage is a condensed reflection of Gulliver’s previous voyages in Book III, in which he is merely a passive observer of his surroundings who rarely interacts with other characters. I conclude that Swift’s ultimate goal in writing the Glubbdubdrib episode, Book III, and the Travels as a whole is to caution against the kind of uncritical, gullible thinking of which Gulliver (and, Swift implies, the human race) is guilty.

Brittany Davis
Ask Now the Beasts
Directed by Valerie Sayers

For many people the term “Appalachian” may call to mind a truly American pathway, running north and south through the mountainous terrain of one of the first wildernesses in the United States. Others may start humming John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, dreaming of bonfires and being behind a wheel of a Ford pick-up truck. Yet when we get off the highway onto those exits with no gas station, hotel or restaurant we are faced with a poverty unexpected in our beautiful vacationland. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Perry County in southeast Kentucky, the poverty rate for households headed by single women is 47.4 percent, 2 percent above the same rate for Detroit, Michigan. If we add children under 5 to that mix, Perry County’s poverty rate skyrockets to nearly 80 percent. In Detroit, America’s Ghost Town, that rate is only 56 percent. 

How, then, can a region with such harsh numbers also be the beautiful mountains we dream of in our city offices and orderly suburbs? Literature becomes an ideal way of exploring this problem, a middle ground between sociology and art. Unfortunately, fiction oftentimes takes one road or the other, verging towards a frightening reality on the one hand and a lyrical ignorance on the other. Out of a sense of respect and a desire for accuracy, it is essential to do both. This is especially true in an area where stereotyping and idealization have become familiar habits.

The piece of fiction produced as a part of this effort has, at the heart of its argument, two sisters. The narrator and older sister, Nola, is mathematically minded. Through her close relationship with her younger sister Mavie, who is tied to nature and art, we can see both the tradition and love of the land as well as Nola’s steady understanding of success and the hard work she accomplishes. By the close of the piece Nola is a successful employee, wife and mother who lives outside of the Appalachian region. Mavie lives in a tiny house not far from her parents and works in a garden center at the local Walmart. As the story progresses, Nola moves from being Mavie’s caretaker to developing an understanding of Mavie as a peer, equally successful though in a way that is less worldly.

The simple beauty found in the world of Appalachian writers such as Wendell Berry and Ann Pancake argue for the importance of maintaining community in and loyalty to rural settings. The more sociological Nick Reding in his book Methlands is quick to inform readers that broken families, drug use and other problems that we commonly associate with urban settings can be found in rural settings as well, asserting that the country isn’t as ideal as we often believe it to be.  By using the plot device of the two sisters, this capstone introduces two different choices for a girl in Appalachia and we come to understand that there is merit to be found in both of these lifestyles.  As there is no leaning towards one lifestyle as better, this ending instead asserts that we must first seek a true awareness of the complexity of rural living before we can take on the task of fixing the problem.

Samuel Evola
Moby-Dick: Ishmael’s Parable of Perception.”
Directed by Sandra Gustafson

Moby-Dick is one of the most unorthodox works in the English language. Ishmael, the narrator, begins his tale in the retrospective first person, only to give way later to the conventions of drama, to tell stories that appear unrelated to his own whaling experience, and to offer an encyclopedic survey of the sperm whale. When we dedicate a close eye to this massive, apparently digressional inner section known as cetology, important elements of the novel’s ideological vision take shape. Though many readers encounter in Moby-Dick a spiritual reality that is inaccessible, empty, or malign, Ishmael’s cetological study actually speaks to his unfolding experience with a world that courses with positive spiritual presence.

Ishmael’s growing intuition of divine reality is made possible by his adoption of a discerning, open perceptual style. He effectively reflects upon and responds to personal experience in making sense of the world he encounters. He presents himself as unique among the crew in this matter, his shipmates embodying other, less-authentic dispositions to the divine, limited by their incomplete vision. Each of them—imperceptive, unresponsive, and fatalistic—is bound for the ultimate tragedy that awaits the Pequod. Ishmael, spared the wreckage suffered by the rest, testifies to the redeeming character of the epistemological orientation that set him apart.

The narrator structures this message, however, so as to mask and obscure the reader’s understanding of it. Ishmael’s own presentation of his effective discernment is embedded in the tedious, dry cetological segments that many readers are likely to dismiss. Meaning is hidden, difficult to encounter, and ambiguous because symbolic. In this way, Ishmael formally re-creates for the reader a situation similar to his own, challenging us to make out the obscured inner reality of what we encounter. More often than not, we fail to do so, and are thus inaugurated into the ranks of the Pequod’s crew: warned of the coming hazards, but unsuccessful in responding to them. The record of Ishmael’s voyage, then, offers a double warning, dramatizing the tragic consequences of the crew’s imperception while simultaneously implicating the reader in the fatal flaw of Ahab’s company.

Maria Fahs
“Immortality, Intertextuality, Innovation and Individual Agency in Harry Potter.
Directed by Romana Huk

In the first half of my thesis, I explore the concept of genre in the Harry Potter series. I argue that through intertextuality Rowling creates a millennial fairy tale with Bildungsroman characteristics. I examine the ways in which Rowling’s series emulates and outstrips these genres, in order to explain how Rowling creates a new genre for contemporary readers. I also explore the allegorical significance of “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” I believe “The Tale” acts as a subtextual mirror in which to examine the choices made by Voldemort, Dumbledore and Harry.

A common reading, which I did not wish to pursue, reads Harry Potter as a Christian allegory. Instead, I argue that Rowling presents choice, not fate, as the guiding force in our lives. The most important narrative in the story is how Voldemort, Dumbledore and Harry respectively resemble the three brothers who ask for the Unbeatable Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak from Death. I argue that the decisions that these characters make impact not only their lives and deaths, but also determine their postmortem experiences. As Dumbledore says, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Kaitlyn Farrell
“Flexible Plastic (Theater): The Use of Stage Directions in the Plays of Tennessee Williams.”
Directed by José E. Limón

This thesis will focus on Tennessee Williams’ use of stage directions in his plays and examine how these subtexts augment the information conveyed to both the reader of the script and the audience member of the production through the dialogue of the characters even as they simultaneously creating distinct subworlds that visually and aesthetically echo Williams’ concern with exposing the inner psyche of his created characters. Drawing primarily from the prefatory stage directions of his 1937 Spring Storm, Williams’ earliest known full-length play unpublished and unperformed during his lifetime, his 1954 The Glass Menagerie, the classic work which launched the golden age of his playwriting career, and the 1961 The Night of the Iguana, a play widely regarded as Williams’ last critical success, I will track the nuanced evolution of Williams’ employment of stage directions and the way in which the style and length of these stage directions fluctuated over time without abandoning their primary task of providing vital details pertaining to character development and the atmosphere of the world created within the script. I will argue that Williams’ stage directions are a uniquely blended and descriptive product bred of his career as a frustrated poet, an underappreciated author of short stories, and a critically acclaimed playwright and that these stage directions, like the works of Williams themselves, are a testament to the thoroughly American modernist interest in blending a variety of different media to produce a single work of art. 

Katherine Fusco
‘“I Can Only Tell You My Side of the Story’: Feminist Theory and Identity Reparation in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams.”
Directed by Sara Maurer

Feminist theory and literary criticism are unavoidably linked to Betty Freidan’s 1963 non-fiction text The Feminine Mystique, in which Freidan deems the restrictive role of a housewife detrimental to a woman’s self-perception. To alleviate the feminine mystique, the dissatisfaction of one’s female identity, Freidan prescribes higher education, either before starting a family or in conjunction with such a process, in the name of personal development. While Freidan’s book is a touchstone feminist text, it is dangerously exclusive in its focus on white, middle-class women. Her solution, though viable for many American women, is ultimately an ideal, neglecting the women who lack have the resources to focus their money and energy on education. Unfortunately, Freidan’s solution is unattainable for women of lower socioeconomic status and minority races.

In This Bridge Called My Back (1981), a collection of essays and poems, editors Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa address and call into question the pitfalls of normative American feminism – normative relating to Freidan’s strain of feminism. I use this text along with Anzaldúa’s book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) to contextualize the theoretical work purposed towards a more inclusive feminism, one addressing the women left behind by Freidan’s “solution” to “the feminine mystique.”

During the 1980s, the feminist critical approach to novel studies gained momentum as a relevant force in novel studies.  This criticism involves understanding how feminist theories drive the narrative and using such theory as a tool to gain better insight into a text. A feminist critical approach to fiction allows the reader to better understand the events of a narrative through a focus on the female protagonist’s experience as a woman, both in her cultural context and her feminine understanding of self.

In this paper I comprehensively analyze Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Animal Dreams (1990). In her novel, Barbara Kingsolver uses the narrative structure to theorize about a potential solution to the problems posed by Third Wave Feminists. Kingsolver enters into the conversation of identity and feminism, working towards a more inclusive feminism in the same way as Anzaldúa and Morgaga. Thus, Kingsolver creates a female protagonist, Codi Noline, who struggles with maintaining a purposeful and fulfilled identity as an American woman in the late twentieth century, much like the crisis Freidan’s mid-century women suffered.

This paper elucidates important connections between Kingsolver’s theoretical work in fiction and Anzaldúa and Morgaga’s theoretical work in non-fiction. I argue that in return to her hometown of Grace, Codi confronts her authentic origin story in order to fully understand her female identity. Through the novel’s narrative structure and Codi’s personal narrative, Kingsolver theorizes about a viable, more inclusive solution to the persistent malaise of the feminine mystique.

Genevieve Gill-Wiehl
‘“Hope for the Nation’: Sensory Creation of Memory in Yvonne Vera’s Nehanda.”
Directed by Z’etoile Imma

“Hope for the nation,” writes Yvonne Vera in her 1993 debut novel, Nehanda, “is borne out of the intensity of newly created memory (111). Disgusted with the overall status of women in Zimbabwe, and the way in which a female hero, Nehanda, had been inserted into a patriarchal national discourse as a tender “mother” or “grandmother” figurine with limited agency, Vera’s fictional depiction restores Nehanda’s lost presence and voice. However, Vera’s main goal is not to restore Nehanda to her righteous mythical status, but rather to use her story to restore “the mood of the times;” Vera suggests through her text that Nehanda’s revolutionary fight was not completed with Zimbabwean independence in 1980, but rather is extended through the author to call for a modern women’s rights crusade. To this end, I argue that Vera’s retelling of Nehanda employs sensory imagery to create scenes that captivate and invigorate her readers by reclaiming a piece of the nationalist discourse and present Nehanda as a multi-dimensional female character with both a voice and the power to act. Circular images further move the novel from the pre-colonial past to the post-colonial present and future and challenge imposed binaries, including the divisions between men and women, oral and written traditions, and the past and present. I challenge the critics who see Nehanda as Vera merely deconstructing the past, and by providing an in-depth contextual and textual analysis, find that Vera’s circuitous novel, through its form and content, opens up a new space within the historical discourse by creating an intense sensory experience and new memories that provide hope for gender equality and a united Zimbabwe. 

Regina Gilmour
“Folklore in Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw”: A Critique of Spiritualism in the Late 19thCentury”
Directed by Diarmuid Ó Giolláin

Historically, literary scholars have focused on the existence of the ghosts that pervade “Turn of the Screw” and it is this theme, in one way or another, that dominates the majority of scholarship on the work. It is only recently that critics have started to examine the implications of the motifs that James employs in work beyond the scope of the Gothic. Steven Swann Jones’ 2002 article, “Folklore in James’ Fiction: Turning of the Screw,” is the first criticism to explore the similarities between “Turn of the Screw” and folklore. In my thesis, I will develop this idea further by demonstrating that not only does “Turn of the Screw” use folkloric motifs, but James also manipulates these motifs to critique the spiritualist culture that was prevalent in the late nineteenth century. My work contextualizes James in the spiritualist movement of the nineteenth century. I then argue that James’s opposition to the movement influenced his portrayal of ghosts and those interacting with them; by using folklore and manipulating the common motifs James found there, he was able to effectively criticize spiritualism. I analyze the folkloric motifs that James employs in the text, looking specifically at his treatment of the Governess, the two children, Miles and Flora, and even Bly itself. Therefore this paper argues that although critics have largely ignored the parallels between “Turn of the Screw” and folklore, the similarities are crucial for understanding the way in which James is criticizing nineteenth-century spiritualism.

Marielle Hampe
‘“Rational Creatures’: Female Education in British Fiction by Women, 1778-1814”
Directed by Yasmin Solomonescu

In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, the purpose of women’s education in Britain became a contentious topic debated by conduct book authors, social critics, and novelists.  Some authors argued that the current system of female education taught women to be ornamental wives who reinforced women’s inferiority to men, while other authors countered that altering female education would damage women’s abilities to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers.  Novels also sparked and participated in the debate, for many female authors viewed novels as sentimental works of the imagination with little educational value.  However, many critics of the novel also wrote novels, suggesting that female authors saw a potential in the genre to counteract the sentimental excesses they criticized. 

I compare the “progressive” vision for female education articulated by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) to three novels traditionally perceived as “conservative”: Frances Burney’s Evelina  (1778), Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791), and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814).  By focusing on key moments of the heroines’ educations, I argue that these three novelists share Wollstonecraft’s pedagogical vision that women should learn from their experiences to become rational and independent beings who earn men’s respect.  Each heroine initially lacks a stable family and financial wealth.  To overcome their vulnerability to seduction and subordination, the heroines must learn how to judge their surroundings rationally, regulate their sensibility, and speak confidently.  I argue that the compatibility between the heroines makes Wollstonecraftian values valid across class, geography, and writers’ perceived politics.  Ultimately, each novel advocates for rationally educated women in society and positions reading and the novel as a valuable pedagogical tool.

Kelly Keenan
“Wealth’s Illusions and Disillusions: Social Class and Consumer Culture in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
Directed by Sandra Gustafson

The works of F. Scott Fitzgerald are often studied not only as literary masterpieces, but also as historical analyses, revelatory of the society and culture in which the writer lived.  Fitzgerald grew up in a somewhat complicated economic situation that exposed him to high society without granting him full membership in it, leaving him with feelings of alienation from the upper class. Despite these feelings, the author expressed an intense desire to emulate the lavish lifestyle characteristic of high society Americans in the Jazz Age. Though he lived as one of them, Fitzgerald knew that he did not, nor would he ever truly be a member of the upper class.

Fitzgerald’s smoldering loathing is evident in several of his works of fiction including “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “May Day,” and The Great Gatsby. His vivid depictions of 1920s consumer culture reveal the power of wealth to create illusions of status and class. Through their accumulations of clothing and other material commodities, characters fall under certain delusions about the romance of the upper class and their own places within the social hierarchy. Other characters, like Fitzgerald, come to understand their true positions in society through their recognition of the corruption within the upper class and their knowledge that no matter what their ways of life may be, they are not actually part of it. These understandings of wealth and class, therefore work to protect these characters from disillusionment. 

Sian Kresse
‘“His Absence Resonated Retroactively’: Exploring Multidirectional Readings of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.”
Directed by Kinohi Nishikawa

In the graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel depicts the complex mutual influence that existed, and ostensibly continues to exist,  between her and her deceased father, Bruce Bechdel. Emotionally distant, controlling, and possessing assorted roles and identities, both public and hidden, Bruce dies from a probable suicide when Alison is twenty. Bechdel figuratively links this death to her own coming out as a lesbian— a process that unexpectedly led to learning about Bruce’s closeted homosexuality. In this way, Alison and her father intersect in the midst of an irrevocable separation.  These apparent contradictions define Alison’s childhood and adolescence; her life is shaped by familial deceit and the pursuit of authenticity, artistic inhibition and inspiration, absence and presence. Fun Home requires an intensely interconnected structure that can account for the relational possibilities that exist between Alison and Bruce. Because Bechdel created Fun Home through the visual medium of comics, this “structure” appears in a literal, material way.  Bechdel, like most American comics artists, makes use of gutters— the technical and critical term for the blank spaces in between individual comic panels. Critic Scott McCloud describes how gutters create closure across images, clarifying in-story changes in time and space; yet, the presence of a physical space automatically suggests distance. Gutters and other “gaps” constitute the physical and thematic body of Fun Home. Indeed, much of Fun Home’s criticism concerns whether the various gaps, including gaps in knowing, are bridged, or if the intermediate spaces themselves produce meaning.

I argue that a revelatory moment at the center of Fun Home, two specially-formatted pages where Bechdel presents a photograph of her father’s lover, functions as a special kind of “gap,” pointing to a transition in Alison and Bruce’s relationship. Upon crossing this gap, if one reads from beginning to end, panel compositions that show power disparities shift toward images suggesting Alison’s agency. The memoir’s final pages encapsulate this evolution. However, Fun Home is not chronological; Alison appears at a variety of ages in both halves of the memoir and distinct life episodes are repeated.  Reading “outwardly” from the center gives equal weight to the two sections. From this perspective, the two formulations of Alison and Bruce’s relationship are always extant and overlapping; Bruce simultaneously represses and helps to construct Alison’s queer and artistic identities. Bechdel fully utilizes the comics form by permitting problematic elements and closure to coexist.

Angela Lake
“An External Path to Internal Truth: The Odyssey for Heroism in On the Road.”
Directed by Declan Kiberd

In April of 1951, Jack Kerouac spent 20 days typing a scroll which eventually became the 1957 published copy of On the Road. With the advance of nuclear weapons and decline of the nuclear family, Kerouac takes his quest on the road, travelling to transcend social boundaries and attempt the search for an external path to an internal truth.

My thesis begins with an assessment of the societal influences of the late 1940s, relevant biography, and a detailed description of the publishing process of On the Road. I then continue to describe the road as a world of childhood—representing escape, growth, and freedom—and society as the realm of the adult, characteristic of responsibility, structure, and the mundane. Ultimately, Kerouac’s hero is the man who can reconcile the positive aspects of both the road and society, preserving them throughout the years and relishing family as a unit of societal stability. He is the man who can step out his door, find something to believe in, and bring it back home.

Crucial to this conclusion, and in reconciliation of autobiography and fiction, is the fact that although many years passed between the completion of the scroll and its eventual publication, the ending remained the same. In 1951, the scroll provided a way for Kerouac to describe his past life on the road to his new wife. Thus, the scroll ends with their meeting and the idealization of a future life together. In reality, Jack and Joan parted ways seven months later, and Kerouac lost the stability that he craved for so long. Despite this shift in marital status, the ending of the 1957 published version remains the same, proving that throughout the many revisions, Kerouac continually relied on the idealization of family as the culmination of his adventures and personal call to meld both society and road. Essentially, as Kerouac describes the search for a postmodern hero in an age of disintegration, he asserts that successful growth is not external, but internal, and in the end, effects a positive change. This change, and accepting said change, is what makes a man heroic.

Anrong (Anna) Lei
#We Can’t Stop: A Fashion Photography Poetry Cocktail
Directed by Joyelle McSweeney

Words fascinate me. A single word, a compilation of letters, a jumble of sound holds so much power. It can cause a person to tumble onto the floor in a hysterical heap of laughter. It can move a person to tears. It can start a war. These tiny little puzzle pieces when assembled together create the beautifully disastrous masterpiece of absurdity that we call life. Without words, we'd be nothing.

To me, words are not meant to just give tangibility to thoughts. That would be doing words a great disservice. It would be making a trinket out of words. Words are not simply a device for communication. Words are not simply something you use. It's something that consumes you, immerses you, wraps you around in its arms until it becomes you. That's what words are to me. Words are my playmate. I dance with them, I laugh with them, I cry with them, I throw them on the ground and stomp on them. I am meticulous with my words. I am reckless with my words. But always always always I am inextricably linked to my words. I am simultaneously the prisoner and the conqueror. I am a prisoner because words cannot be tamed. They have already been defined. The potency behind one word is beyond me. It is something I cannot dictate. The only thing I can do is humbly submit to its poignancy and significance and use it as it sees fit. At the same time, I am the conqueror of words. As an unabashedly self-proclaimed poet, I am allowed to break through the finiteness of words. I can create my own. I can say that distance doesn't always mean distance. That distance is closeness and that nothing is something, but something is nothing. In a very Napoleon-esque manner, I manipulate words in any fashion I see fit. I string words together to paint my world onto paper or, at least, my own illusion of my world. But sometimes, sometimes words elude me. Sometimes they slip from my grasp. Bound by the iron rope of their magnificence and supremacy, I am left gaping at the twinkling lyricism of their sound and the profundity behind a fragile line of letters. And in that sense I, once again, become a captive of words. And, I guess, that is my definition of a poet. A person caught in a paradoxical relationship with words. One enraptured by its brilliancy, but also one who commands and sculpts that brilliancy into something that is entirely one's own. To create a world to let other's into or escape into a world to restrict other's from.

On the subject of poets, particularly on the subject of me as a poet, I find it rather difficult to categorize myself into a single voice. In fact, if I had a spirit animal I would be Two-Face from Batman. Or maybe Three-Face. Or Four-Face. Point is, I have many different voices and I think the way I approach poetry attributes to my schizophrenic voice.

Primarily, poetry is a very cathartic experience for me. I am a slave to my emotions and if there is anything I love in this world (besides sleeping and eating), it is feeling feelings. I like feeling happy, but I like feeling sad even more. I am a huge advocate of crying and try to find every excuse in the book to cry. Frankly, in my opinion, it is extremely disconcerting when life is going too well. In situations in which I feel that there is an emptiness in my life, an emptiness created by too much joy and dandy fluff and unicorns, I will tirelessly search for something that will remind me that this world is full of lost dreams and hopes and turmoil and tears. In many cases, I will pop in Titanic and spend a good three days weeping over the tragedy of lost love. But sometimes, even Titanic is not enough. In that case, I will place myself in a situation in which I can bemoan about a real life lost love. My own! I love to be in love. I fall in love so I can runaway and cry about it. And that's what my poetry often captures. The whole conflicted, and rather deranged, procedure. And thus, one of my voices materializes. I am the angsty teenage girl that digs herself into her own hole and then whines about it. The one that everyone wants to shut up because they are tired of hearing about her selfinflicted failure of a love life. The one that everyone secretly identifies with. These poems are always very close to my hellhole of a heart. They are my feelings pulled from the murky swamp of my soul and splattered onto paper. I am vomiting out my emotional catastrophes and flushing them down the toilet, which becomes the mess of words I label my poetry.

I am not always angsty teenage girl, however. Sometimes I am myself or my own fabrication of myself. Bottom line, it is me being the me I think I am. Is there a distinction between being you and being the you you think you are? I don't really know. The two could be synonymous or there could be a not-so-fine line between them. Either way, whatever I am, it's real. I know this because I am not pretending to be the me I think I am, I am genuinely being the me I think I am. In that case, how could it not be real?  Anyways, I am not normal and, thus, my voice in these poems is weird. These poems are filled with all sorts of delicious absurdities, which serve as the gateway into my crazy mind. I am a firm believer in the beauty of madness, and these poems, try to reflect that beauty. Welcome to a whirlwind of confounding images that will tickle your toes. You'll be placed on the fast track of highways, speeding down the road at a neck-breaking pace.  And suddenly, you'll stop at a sentence which touches your heart only to be attacked by another hoard of quirky, and sometimes disturbing, narwhals soon after. My closest friends often tell me, "You are so complicated. We don't understand you." One of them recently said to me, "I have used scientific reasoning to attempt to understand your personality, and I failed. I don't understand you at all." So I guess these poems are the door into my mind, which seems to evade even my best of friends. The voice is me.  Strange little ole I'm-gonna-dress-up-as-an-Aborigines-person-and-dance-on-your-lawncuz-I-feel-like-it me. Welcome to my weird life in poetry form. Don't forget to wear a wolf mask and steal some candy on the way out.

I also distance my poetry from myself and submit to the enjoyment of simply playing with words. I focus not on my feelings and thoughts, but on sound. I adore the lyricism of words and the impact they can have on a reader. Thus, I piece together words for the sake of sound and sound only. I try to mold sentences, which will roll off the tongue with ease and salivating delicacy. Words that are sparkly and glittery and trickle across paper like water flowing down a bubbling stream. This voice tries with all its might to be eloquent because pretty words make me weak at the knees and I've always wanted to be F Scott Fitzgerald.

On the subject of always wanting to be Fitzgerald, he is definitely not the only writer I admire. My poetry is influenced by many talented poets as well as the Internet and other art forms. That being said, my poetical influences can be divided into four main categories: the old poets, the new poets, Internet slang, and fashion photography. My twinkling lyricism comes from the old poets. My kooky teenage girl comes from the new poets. The irreverent madness and fast paced whirlwind lack of control comes from the online lingo. And fashion photography is a muse I translate onto paper.

Alex Leslie
“An Urban Frontier: Re-Appropriation of the Pioneer Narrative in Willa Cather and Hamlin Garland.”
Directed by Professor Thomas Werge

Despite writing amidst the increasingly urbanized and industrialized American population of the late 19th and early 20th century, Willa Cather and Hamlin Garland focused most of their careers on rural perspectives and imagery. Yet far from ignoring the forces transforming their country, these authors reconfigure the nation’s waning pastoral identity as a means for confronting and understanding these sweeping socio-economic changes. Cather’s The Song of the Lark and Garland’s The Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly each reappropriate the pioneer narrative in order to trace their farm-raised female protagonists’ participation in the contemporary phenomenon of urban migration. In doing so, these novels provide a means not only for understanding a rapidly changing societal structure but for reconciling a national heritage predicated on rural existence and the nation’s present urban reality. By bringing these two worlds into dialogue, Cather and Garland are able to criticize the faults of the pioneer project as well as city culture, ultimately proposing a redemptive harmony between the two by employing the benefits of each as antidote to the other’s shortcomings.

Alyssa S. Mall
“My Name is Asher Lev and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: The Integration of Faith, Art, and Culture in the Modern World.”
Directed by Declan Kiberd

My Name is Asher Lev is both an adaptation of and a tribute to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Both works depict the tensions between individuality versus community, the dilemma of “aesthetic” versus “moral blindness,” and the antagonisms and harmonies between religious and secular culture. Comparing these questions and issues in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and My Name is Asher Lev demonstrates, firstly, the Joycean analogy in Potok’s work. Secondly, the comparison reveals how the alterations which Potok makes to Stephen Dedalus’ story lead to an alternative reading of Asher Lev. Specifically, the “redemption” of Asher in the sequel becomes a symbol of the possibilities for the Jewish artist and Jewish culture at large.

Alyssa Mandarakas
“The Binary Construction of Femininity in the Snow White Tale.”
Directed by Cyrainna Johnson-Roullier

Although often dismissed as simplistic children’s literature, fairy tales provide a wealth of sociological and cultural insight, as their meaning is culturally imposed. This essay analyzes the reconfiguration of the “Snow White” tale across culture and history through the examination of four works: the Grimm brothers’ written “Snow White” (Germany, 1857), Walt Disney’s animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (US, 1937), Rupert Singh’s film Snow White and the Huntsman (US, 2012), and Tarsem Singh’s film Mirror Mirror (US, 2012). Focus is specifically assigned to the treatment of the feminine in the characters of Snow White and the Queen. This essay examines the extent to which the “Snow White” tale, regardless of cultural or historical context, presents a binary construction of femininity. It is argued that in the tale “Snow White,” the Queen represents an adoption of inappropriate femininity; it is this departure from appropriate femininity that provides her with an otherwise inaccessible political agency. The construction of appropriate femininity directly correlates to the extent of feminine agency. The earlier works present an emphasis on female domesticity that precludes Snow White’s ability to hold political sovereignty, while the modern films purport that just motives are required for a female sovereign.

A shift has occurred in the perception of appropriate femininity; the two older versions of the tale focus on the moral perfection inherent in appropriate femininity. Conversely, the more recent films allocate more attention to the physical perfection that is required for appropriate femininity. Despite this difference and the reduced passivity of Snow White in the modern films, a dichotomy of appropriate feminine agency, morality, and beauty is still perpetuated. Since the writing of the Grimm’s tales, women have achieved greater social political, social and economic liberties; however, although it has changed in form, the rigid binary of appropriate feminine behavior remains intact.

When examining women’s rights and perception in society, we tend to focus on the progression of political and social rights. However, despite the increasing female liberalities in society, women are still constricted in this gender binary. In this essay, I am going to demonstrate that a shift has occurred in the balance of two characteristics—morality and physical perfection—that are used in the social judgment of femininity.

In order to do this, I am first going to provide background to the “Snow White” tale and then proceed to analyze the four representations in chronological order. First, I will examine the Grimm’s “Snow White” to demonstrate the prevalence of middle-class ideals of domesticity, moral pureness, and social silence that, in this particular social and political context, defined appropriate femininity. Then, I will explore Disney’s use of the supernatural, domestic, and the mirror in its construction of the feminine binary. Both the Grimms’ tale and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs place greater emphasis on morality, rather than physical beauty, when judging femininity—although it should be noted that both are necessary. Next, I will shift my analysis to the modern film representations—Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman—in order to highlight an increased importance of natural beauty and youth in the performance of femininity. All of these films, however, indicate that without adherence to ideals of morality and beauty, a female’s political agency is deemed to transgress acceptable social boundaries.

Brooke Murphy
‘“Technology as a Facilitator’: Infrastructure and Architecture within JG Ballard’s High Rise.”
Directed by Kate Marshall

The ever continuous evolution, mechanization, and eventually digitization of built environments, and particularly residential dwellings and urban infrastructure, has had a profound and even violent affect on the way individuals internally experience the modern world and social culture as a whole. Within JG Ballard’s novel High Rise (1975), infrastructure is not merely symptomatic or reflective of the modern condition, but also is responsible for its conditions and behaviors in invisible and subtle ways. Infrastructure is the object of no one’s desire. It is not illuminated in a shop window for all to see but rather tucked away out of the usual sight lines, indeed often inaccessible to all but authorized personnel. After covering the existing criticism on Ballard with reference to modes of infrastructure and architecture, I will expose the knowledge gaps and absent critical insight that may better illuminate the profound psychological and social presence of infrastructure within High Rise and within the modern world. This type of infrastructural reading hopes to identify what is morally and socially at stake within the realm of the postmodern, with particular interest in the ways elevator systems, ventilation shafts, corridors, electrical wiring, plumbing, and garbage disposal chutes affect gender, violence, and the individual’s experience of interiority.

Chelsea Palmer
“Technology and Its Potential in Classic Science Fiction.”
Directed by Thomas Werge

Since science fiction’s status as a “genre” precludes much serious literary criticism about such books, my thesis aims to augment the existing critical conversation by exploring how technology shapes humanity’s future and how control emerges as a central issue in three science fiction classics - Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman; and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein. These novels are representative of three major subgenres of science fiction, respectively dystopian, military science fiction, and social science fiction, which extrapolate from current times to imagine vastly different futures for humanity. My thesis sets out to argue the following. Although modern science fiction literature deals explicitly with the theme of whether humans control technology or it controls humans, classic science fiction conflates this issue. In these three novels, humans’ control of technology interacts equally and constantly with technology’s control of humans to form society. These novels’ views towards technology, though, whether negative, ambivalent, or positive, are primarily determined by who controls technology on the human side – the government or individuals. Viewing technology as a neutral social force with morality imputed by human use, the novels attribute immense power to technology by portraying its effects on societal structure, culture, and human nature. A text by text examination of how technology and the issue of control interact with the plots and primary themes of each will explicate this thesis.

Ronald Peltier
Pearlesque
Directed by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi

Pearlesque is nihilist, atrocious, obscene, and ready to pop.  Pearlesque follows the eponymous protagonist as she copes with the death of her mother.  Only, she does not know that her mother is dead.  She’s grown up on pain: barbed wire fences, little girl ovens, and Very Handsome Men with affinities for sharp objects.  Pearlesque loves life, especially when it hurts.  After all, pain is the rule.  After escaping from the genocidal ditch where her mother’s corpse bloats, she dejectedly finds her way back to the kamp.  Torso; Pearlesque’s armless, legless and headless arch-nemesis; hisses tauntingly that her mother is dead.  Pearlesque does not listen to Torso.  She’s never been good at listening or playing by the rules.  Pearlesque has a penis, but that doesn’t bother her too much.  Nothing bothers Pearlesque except for chastity… and Torso.  She really wishes Torso would just shut up.  Everything changes for Pearlesque after she is rudely castrated by some imposters.  Things start to get a little “surreal.”

Pearlesque was not fun to write.  Writing Pearlesque was a labor against society and my mother.  Writing Pearlesque was, in short, a type of religious sacrament.  It is my sincere hope that Pearlesque addresses issues of gender identity, trauma, sexual morality, and compassion.  If I had to pigeonhole Pearlesque, I would label it a thoroughly transgressive coming of age story. Pearlesque was inspired by Kathy Acker, Nikanor Teratologen, Lara Glenum, and many others.  Hopefully, it will grow to novella length before quietly offing itself in the corner of some poor college student’s dorm room.

Will Frawley Peterson
“David Foster Wallace, Vocation, and the Future of Contemporary Literature.”
Directed by Matthew Wilkens

There has been, in the words of his critic Adam Kelly, “the widespread agreement…that David Foster Wallace affirmed and embodied sincerity as a crucial value in his life and work.” I use that sentiment, and Kelly’s essay presenting Wallace as part of a movement toward a New Sincerity, as foundation for my own presentation of Wallace as deeply invested in the concept of vocation as a driving aspect in his latter works, specifically the novels Infinite Jest and The Pale King. The congruence of avowal and actual feeling that is sincerity leads an individual to action, which is at the heart of vocation. Wallace approaches the idea behind vocation not simply as one’s profession, or line of work, but as a calling from outside the self. The approach is evident in the two scenes analyzed from the respective novels. In both, a character discovers what is described in Infinite Jest as their “true vocation.”   

The study of vocation in the novels is inherently Christian, and specifically Catholic, not only because the characters in each situation are directly affected by Catholics, Jesuits to be exact, but also because Wallace demonstrates in them a willingness to place trust in the Other. He separates his work from the postmodern mainstream because, though the work questions the presence of innate meaning, it displays the good that comes from belief despite the presence of doubt. Wallace’s characters believe they can find that innate meaning, and it makes their lives better. A vocational reading displays Wallace’s answer to addiction of all sorts, something that tears apart lives in both novels. Ultimately, understanding Wallace’s idea of vocation as sincere action while trusting the Other allows the reader to see his goal for contemporary literature. It needs to present characters who can be sincere and allow that sincerity to radiate outward into action.

Mary Prokop
“Honest Fraud: Poetry, Prophecy, and Allegory in Sir John Harington’s Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse.”
Directed by Susannah Monta

Long before an eleven-year-old wizard named Harry Potter enchanted the world, many Renaissance readers were troubled by the pervasive presence of magic in Ludovico Ariosto’s 1516 romantic epic Orlando Furioso. For Sir John Harington, who was the first to undertake an English translation of the text, The Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse became a platform to discuss magic, the marvelous, and the value of poetry in Elizabethan society. I argue that in Harington’s 1591 translation, he relies on an understood symbiosis of magic, poetry, and religion to argue for the potential of poetry to enact positive social change. While Harington explores debates about poetry with great vigor in the “Preface,” I suggest that he sidesteps those same debates in the lunar episode in order to privilege an attractive image of the poet. I focus, too, on the presentation of magical figures. Although Harington translates the descriptions of their words and actions faithfully, the words he selects to describe their shared creative power have definitions and connotations that are more mutually exclusive than those in Ariosto’s original text.

My interpretation of the text depends upon Harington’s presentation of both poetry and certain magical occurrences as “honest fraud.” The paradoxical word pairing is Harington’s answer to the charge levied against poets by some reformers: that fiction represents images of unethical action, and that readers are enticed into emulation of that behavior through aesthetic delight. In my discussion of how Harington presents poetry, prophecy, and the marvelous as “honest fraud,” I show how Harington borrows the language of poetry’s detractors to undermine their arguments. Far from shying away from the potentially subversive implications of the associations between the three, Harington capitalizes upon the relationship between them by appealing to Renaissance understandings of allegory.

Katherine Puszka
“You Are What You Eat?  ‘Food Thinking’ and Katherine Mansfield’s Exploration of the Modernist Female Identity.”
Directed by Barbara Green

For my Honors Thesis I am exploring the conventions of food and eating in 1920’s British literature, primarily the writings of Katherine Mansfield, in order to further understand the amorphous, changing identity of the woman that modernism catalyzed.  Notably, in my thesis I harmonize feminist theories from eating disorder literature and theories from food studies literature in order to gain greater understanding of the modern female psyche; indeed, both lenses are critical for understanding Mansfield’s writing.  I specifically combine elements of eating disorder literature and food studies literature to analyze Katherine Mansfield’s exploration of female identity through a mechanism I call “food thinking”−a type of thought that is dominated and controlled by contemplations that constantly surround conventions of food and eating and habitually yield to manners and modes of thought that are ultimately restrictive and fruitless as a result of this over-compulsive cognitive framework.  “Food thinking” is an obsession, and those who cogitate in this way cannot escape the ritualistic eating habits and implications of food, especially in relation to socio-cultural expectations and demands on the female body:  it permeates and infiltrates all facets of life and cognition.  Indeed, I chose Mansfield’s short story “Bliss” as an ideal example of modern “food thinking” because the main character, Bertha, is nearly swallowed up and consumed by her façade of domestic and marital “bliss” as she decorates and adorns her house with food, thinks and attributes adjectives and description in terms of food, and frequently hosts dinner parties so as to better relate to her more “modern” friends.  I analyze this obsessive manner of thinking about food and eating as a framework through which to explore and unpack female subjectivity in relation to those issues that cling to food:  disgust, anxiety, sexuality, obsession, dinner parties, nourishment, consumption, and self-alienation of the female body.

Molly Shank
“‘Agony or Pleasure’: Sadomasochism and De-gendering as It Expresses Female Agency in Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of My Mother.”
Directed by Abigail L. Palko

Because nationalist literature written by men was the main creative force in the construction of national identities in the post-colonial Caribbean, Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of My Mother lends a uniquely female perspective to the narrative of oppression and colonization. Uncovering this voiceless post-colonial woman and enabling her visibility and agency, I argue that Kincaid through Xuela, the main character in the novel, uses sadomasochism in symbolic and actual sexual relationships, such as between Xuela and her mother and Xuela and her white husband, Phillip, as well as de-gendering, to reinscribe the pain and oppression that colonialism and gender placed on Caribbean women and transform it into female agency.

The term de-gendering applies a name to the scenes in the novel in which the main character, Xuela, performs as neither a man nor a woman and removes from herself the outward signs of either gender. In de-gendering herself, Xuela makes the conscious choice to subvert her ascribed gender role, refuses the burden of motherhood, and takes control of her own body. Recognizing that gender is performative, Xuela uses a kind of conscious gender performance, demonstrated by her sadomasochistic sexuality and her de-gendering, to escape from the restrictions and limits of her own gender and social position as a woman in the Caribbean and to break the silence about the violent and oppressive “history of trauma” caused by colonization and its after-effects.

Without Xuela’s deliberate use of sadomasochism and de-gendering, she would never have gained the self-possession and agency required to subvert traditional gender roles and only submit to death, which overpowers us all. Ultimately, Xuela’s conquering of the conqueror through her mastery of Phillip and her rejection of restrictive gender norms through de-gendering leaves death as “the thing greater than I am, the thing to which I can submit” (228).

Alec Vanthournout
Reviolator
Directed by Steve Tomasula

This thesis seeks to raise for the reader questions of how a text is perceived, why it is perceived in a given way, and what effect that perception has on the reader’s interpretation of the text. By making use of a non-linear narrative and purposefully withholding detail from the reader, Reviolator aims to raise questions of what makes a story a story and what, ultimately, the relationship of the reader is to the text. Drawing influence from experimental works such as William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, radical genre fiction such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and metafictional texts such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, this thesis attempts to place the reader into an alien world in which the only sources of information are characters who do not themselves know the whole story. Thus, Reviolator is in truth a commentary on the nature of reading, writing and storytelling - it is a commentary on narrative that ultimately questions where the onus of responsibility for narrative clarity lies.

Michelle Werner
“Language as Control in Dystopia.”
Directed by Steve Tomasula

The dystopian novels 1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood are both dominated by a totalitarian government that has restricted the use of language in an effort to control the populace. This restriction voids a sense of interiority from each of the protagonists’ identities, making it difficult for them to connect to others and necessitating their quests to regain control by reestablishing their power over communication.  By mapping the modes of totalitarian linguistic control onto the framework represented in Foucault’s Panopticism, I analyze the use of linguistic determinism in creating a self-policing system more powerful than police surveillance.  In response to the frightening level of linguistic control imposed upon the populace in 1984, Margaret Atwood delivers a tale illustrating the power of the feminine storyteller Offred in regaining control over her life and body through her mastery of language.  The orality of Atwood’s narrative nods to the écriture féminine popularized in the 1980s, which emphasizes the distinction between male and female writing styles.  Despite limiting community support for Offred, Atwood utilizes literal and stylistic language games to reappropriate power to her as an individual storyteller.  Orwell participates in this end to a lesser extent through his depiction of Winston’s diary.  Surrounded by an army of institutionalized minds, Atwood and Orwell’s protagonists construct an audience for themselves as a means of rebellion, creating a connection denied to them by the modes of totalitarian control.  However, both authors feel the need to contextualize their narratives with an epilogue written outside of the original voice and in doing so undercut the message of the storyteller.  As such, the attempts at rebellion within the novel are ultimately unsuccessful and illustrate the complicity of the protagonists in their own subjugation through their inability to reappropriate language as a means of connection to others. 

Carolina Wilson
“‘The sky is [not] safe’: Bill McKibben Provides 21st-century Solutions to a 19th-century-rooted Climate Crisis.”
Directed by John Sitter

“Thank God the sky is safe,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 19th-century Walden. While the American author did not foresee the climate crisis of our day, Thoreau showed a clear interest and concern in what he believed to be a deteriorating relationship between humanity and the natural environment. The work of 21st-century environmentalist McKibben—which aims to emphasize the urgent need for humanity to establish a closer and more cautious relationship with nature—not only represents a contemporary evolution of ideas which concerned 19th-century Thoreau, but also takes this concern a step further to propose viable options for today’s society to establish this human-to-nature relationship. I argue that although Thoreau and McKibben represent societies almost 150 years apart, their experiences are comparable because the relationship between land and personal identity surpasses the limits of time. Much as Thoreau’s world experienced material changes due to the Industrial Revolution, McKibben’s world is comparable to Thoreau’s due to the arrival of what McKibben terms the “informational age.” In The Age of Missing Information McKibben conducts an experiment similar to Thoreau’s “Walden experience.” Just as two chapters of Thoreau’s Walden contrast a day at the pond and a day at the village, McKibben contrasts a day distilled from more than a thousand hours of television that came across the Fairfax cable system in Virginia, to a day encamped on a mountaintop by a small pond.

So what can we do? Lowering fossil fuel emissions is an essential, but large-scale operation. What can we do, realistically, daily? McKibben demonstrates that we have to think and act locally. Not only should we be using the resources immediately available to us in our close proximity, but we should also unite as a community. Establishing a relationship with a large variety of what is local, not only strengthens community ties but also allows local action to support our planet.

We must understand our role in causing the climate crisis predicament and how we can mobilize as a community to change our harmful practices, for local action inspires national action. We must push forward together, now, for our sky is no longer safe. This project, therefore, aims to emphasize the roots of ecological concern reaching back to 19th-century Thoreau, while arguing the relevancy and place of the 21st climate crisis in McKibben’s planet and ours.