2020 Thesis Abstracts, Photos, & Personal Reflections

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Catherine Barra

Please click here to read Catherine's personal reflection.






Catherine's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Yasmin Solomonescu

Loss, Grief, and the Therapeutic Power of Literature
in Mary Shelley’s Valperga and The Last Man

In 1824, after suffering the loss of her husband, Percy Shelley and her friend, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley wrote in her journal: “The last man! Yes, I may well describe that solitary being’s feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race.” Shelley refers to being the last surviving member of a group composed of some of the most notable Romantic writers of the time. Scholars typically read Shelley’s novels through the biographical lens, reflecting on the presence of her own grief within the literature. In this, I look beyond the biographical lens to consider how Shelley’s characters cope with grief, and link their abilities to cope with their relationships to literature. I discuss four characters in Shelley’s second and third novels, Valperga (Castruccio and Euthanasia) and The Last Man (Lionel and Perdita). Although critics often see Shelley’s interest in grief as personal, her later novels indicate the author’s desire to observe the relationship between grief and literature beyond her own experience, and to show that literature, ideally, fosters selflessness, which allows one to cope with grief. I conclude that when characters have not been exposed literature early in their education, such as Castruccio and Perdita, they resort to revenge and self-destruction, respectively, in order to cope with grief. When characters in Shelley’s novels have a close relationship with literature, as Euthanasia and Lionel do, they are able to use the wisdom learned from their beloved literatures to channel their grief into charity.

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Paige Curley

Please click here to read Paige's personal reflection. 





Paige's Honors Thesis Abstract
Paige's Advisors: Sarah Quesada and Maria McKenna

Canon, Curricula, and Classrooms: The Power of Multicultural Latino/a Literature
                                                    in English Education

     Earlier than we may expect, children understand which identities are valued and centered in schools and which are not. Experiences of low self-esteem and pride in one’s cultural identity result from a literary canon saturated with white, male, and other hegemonic voices. While the canon’s historical status in academia and influence over classrooms and curricular content may present it as a fixed and sacred entity, this is not the case. I align myself with scholars of multiculturalism who re-frame the canon as a malleable social construct subject to change and necessary to critique.  
With this thesis, I contribute to a larger project of decolonization by interrogating the canon, its exclusive nature, and its grip on the American educational landscape through two questions: 1) How do we radically decenter the literary canon away from traditionally dominant identities and expand the canon to include diverse stories? 2) How can we best find, effectively implement, and responsibly teach Latino/a literature from a multicultural framework in early education? From these questions grew three case studies that construct the core of my project. The first is a community based research project at Holy Cross Grade School in which I measured 330 books from their dual immersion pre-k classroom for representation and cultural authenticity. From this data, I found that the majority of books feature white or non-human characters, with a small percentage of leading characters of color. The following case studies are two close readings: Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez, a children’s book featuring an Afro-Puerto Rican boy; and Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa, a novel following an Afro-Puerto Rican family. Due to a dismal lack of Latino/a stories in the canon, as well as harmful generalization made about Latino/a groups, I chose to focus exclusively on Afro-Latino/a and Caribbean-Latino/a stories.  
     Ultimately, I assert that multicultural literature is an anti-bias, educational tool functioning within a pedagogy of decolonization that lays the foundation of validation and empathy necessary to prepare students for participation in social justice-oriented English education at higher grade levels.  

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Peyton Davis

Please click here to read Peyton's personal reflection.





Peyton's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Mark Sanders

                                                    Geobiographies of Violence and Survival in the Poetry
                                                                of Natasha Trethewey and Colette Bryce

At the end of the 1960s, the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland escalated, leading to the decades of violence known as the Troubles. The Catholic side of the conflict, primarily known as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, looked to the African American struggle for civil rights over the previous few decades, recognizing their experiences of segregation and discrimination, establishing solidarity across the Atlantic Ocean. Although evidence of this trans-Atlantic exchange of ideas has existed since at least the mid-nineteenth century, current scholarship has not examined the thematic and formal similarities between contemporary African American and Northern Irish poetry. In this thesis, I analyze the poetry of Natasha Trethewey (b. 1966, Gulfport, Mississippi) and Colette Bryce (b. 1970, Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland) to explore how they represent their relationship with the land and the past in their poetry. I develop the term “geobiography,” combining geography and biography, to frame this conversation and emphasize the role of the land in personal narratives. From the importance of the land and its role in developing self-awareness, geobiography becomes a context—like Édouard Glissant’s Relation and Thadious Davis’s Southscape—through which we understand the land and personal narrative. Although scholars such as Richard Rankine Russell and Alison Garden have discussed the ways that African American poets have looked to Northern Ireland—particularly Seamus Heaney—this paper explores the specific thematic and formal relationship of Natasha Trethewey and Colette Bryce. The investigations of twentieth-century and contemporary African American and Northern Irish poetry run parallel; this thesis seeks to explore an intersection of contemporary poetry and offer directions for further research and analysis.

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Kaitlyn DeHerrara

Please click here to read Kaitlyn's personal reflection.






Kaitlyn's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Sara Maurer

Determining Morality Through the Analysis of Narrative Structures in Jane Eyre

Contention over the moral messages present in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre persists throughout the chronology of its criticism, perplexing both readers and scholars as they attempt to work through the novel’s complex commentary on virtue. This thesis suggests that the moral message of the novel can best be understood through careful attention to motifs associated with the Gothic and with Nature. Consequently, this thesis provides an analysis of the narrative structure of Jane Eyre, offering insight to what moral messages are truly condoned by the narrator, and which are forsaken. These structures, in the form of Nature and Gothic motifs and forces, are created by the narrator, the matured and happily wedded Jane. While these motifs and forces are uniquely employed in different sections of the bildungsroman, the ultimate function of Nature is to guide younger Jane throughout her development into the mature narrator, whereas the Gothic works to derail Jane’s progress. In order to explain to the reader which morals and pathways are and are not effective in crafting young Jane into the person she is upon writing the autobiography, the narrator describes situations, places, people, and even supernatural beings as constructs of Nature or Gothic. Through this lens, readers are better able to understand what Jane deems as morally just, such as strict child-rearing and love in marriage, or morally corrupt, such as women’s liberation and marriages of convenience.

Abigail Dommert

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Advisor: Declan Kiberd


Incarnational Paradox: Catholicism
in Oscar Wilde’s “The Fisherman and His Soul”

There are few figures who have occupied the literary and popular imagination with more notoriety and flair than Oscar Wilde. While known best for his enigmatic wit and social comedies, Wilde also penned numerous fairy tales. It is one of these darkly ambiguous fairy tales, “The Fisherman and His Soul,” which is the focus of this thesis. Utilizing Joseph McQueen’s critical framework of the “logic of the Incarnation,” I aim to provide a new understanding of the paradoxes in one of Wilde’s most complex and confusing texts. By focusing on the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation as a mediation of oppositional ideas, the paradoxes in “The Fisherman and His Soul” between civilization and nature, the literary and oral traditions, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, and the fragmented self can be comprehended in a fertile way. It is also inclusive of the dynamic political, cultural, and societal contexts of fin de siècle England and Ireland which formed Oscar Wilde, the artist, himself. Rather than attempting to solve such paradoxes present in “The Fisherman and His Soul,” an Incarnational lens allows them to co-exist without stripping them of their vibrant and creative power which Wilde so loved. He utilizes these paradoxes to endorse his own conception of theology, one of that is both Catholic and catholic in nature. It is my hope that by affirming the importance of the Incarnation in this work of Wilde’s, the critical conversation will begin to take seriously the importance of Catholicism more broadly in Wilde’s oeuvre beyond a merely aesthetic scope.

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Mary Henrichs

Please click here to read Mary's personal reflection.





Mary's Honors Thesis Abstract

Advisor: Jesse Lander

“You Must Now Believe It”
 Poetic Faith and the Possibilities of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in Performance

Shakespeare’ Cymbeline has been frequently dismissed by critics as “stagy trash” and “unresisting imbecility,” largely due to its highly elaborate and improbable plot. With its various fairy tale elements and Providence-asserting deus ex machina, the play poses significant challenges to an audience attempting to suspend their disbelief, and various rewritings of the play have attempted to mitigate these challenges by creating a more “realistic” or believable text. Rather than merely suspending disbelief, Cymbeline’s audience must awaken and practice poetic faith through engagement and empathy without suspending their critical faculties. Examining three contrasting modern productions of Cymbeline, I explore the moments where audiences are asked to believe and how their poetic faith is encouraged or discouraged by the staging choices of each production. In BBC Television’s 1982 production, realism is broadly enforced, yet also purposefully undermined in moments which awaken poetic faith, whereas the camp and postmodern melodrama of the 1989 Public Theater production consistently and actively promotes the audience's consciousness of the story’s artifice and theatricality. Finally, Fiasco Theater’s 2011 Cymbeline draws attention to the story by emphasizing the craft of storytelling through its cast of only six actors promoting an ever-present awareness of the poetic faith the audience chooses to practice. Thus, the theatricality of Cymbeline appears to burst out at the seams, suggesting that despite claims that the play is impossible to believe, a certain theatricality intrinsic to the play inherently encourages active audience participation and engagement of poetic faith.

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Mary Hilliard

Please click here to read Mary's personal reflection.





Mary's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Ernest Morrell

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”: Exploring the existential identities of California’s
native daughter, Joan Didion

“We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience”, Joan Didion wrote in the title essay of The White Album collection. Culturally and academically, Joan Didion has been difficult to contextualize, but her non-fiction works document a tumultuous time in American history when the country assumed its position as a global superpower post World War II while the threat of nuclear war loomed over daily life. In my analysis of her first two essay collections, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, I argue for Joan Didion’s inclusion in the existentialist tradition and American literary studies. She took principles from Jean-Paul Satre such as “existence precedes essence” and “man is responsible for all men” and made them American, using them as a framework for exploring the national gospel of self-determinism and individualism. Didion elaborates on the pre-existing French existential lexicon regarding freedom, responsibility, and the human condition, and creates terms with unique weight in her arguments: home, character, promise, self-respect, and morality. Her writing poses questions such as: What happens to the past when there is no one left to remember it? If community and family structure collapses, who will teach the next generation the promises humanity makes to one another to live securely, and the importance of keeping those promises? Through her personal and journalistic writing, she processed her own existential nausea in coming to terms with a highly atomized world, a social structure deteriorating, a center that was not holding.

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Jane Honorlaw

Please click here to read Jane's personal reflection.





Jane's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Yasmin Solomonescu

Re-Placing Pride and Prejudice: Modern Responses to Place-Based Insecurity
in Adaptations of Jane Austen’s Novel

     Writing an adaptation is a contradictory exercise: at once unimaginative by drawing on pre-established characters and plot structures, these works demand greater creativity of their authors in order to disrupt the familiar. This can be accomplished using a number of techniques, but the most fundamental change involves transporting the story to a new place. This basic space-defying experiment has been undertaken again and again for classic stories, perhaps none more than for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

     This project compares Pride and Prejudice to two of its more recent counterparts: Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible and Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable. My interest in modern conceptions of place—which adaptations complicate through an expanded and destabilizing public sphere—is based in Austen’s own usage of Longbourn and Pemberley. I argue that Austen contrasts these two estates by the degree of social security they offer their inhabitants, with Elizabeth Bennet moving from a state of instability to one of stability by the novel’s end. Sittenfeld and Kamal, on the other hand, eliminate the heroine’s attainment of domestic security and imbue places with comparable emotional significance instead. Nevertheless, all three heroines realize contentment through their respective relationships and thereby demonstrate a change in conceptions regarding the opportunity afforded by mobility.

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Hanna Kennedy

Please click here to read Hanna's personal reflection.





Hanna's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Declan Kiberd

Love in the Time of Text Messaging:
Exploring the Effects of Technology-Mediated Communication
in Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Normal People

     After the publication of her two novels, Conversations with Friends and Normal People, in 2017 and 2018, respectively, Sally Rooney was quickly heralded as “the great millennial novelist.” In an attempt to explain her popularity, critics turned to what separates Rooney from her contemporaries: her novels’ deft incorporation of email, texting, and social media. In this thesis I agree with that claim and argue that Rooney’s use of technology-mediated communication not only explains her popularity, but that it reveals how her generation interprets and interacts with the world. Technologies, like email and texting, provide an opportunity for her characters to deepen relationships with each other and to say what they are unable to say in-person. Social media, on the other hand, provides a defining community in which the individual can learn about the self. Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity sheds light on how Rooney’s characters define themselves according and in resistance to social media’s rules. Additionally, Rooney makes visible the unspoken rules of all three technologies: email, texting, and social media. She invites her readers into the minds of her characters as they read and re-read typed messages in hopes of expressing themselves and understanding others. For some, what she writes is a recreation of a reality they inhabit every day, while for others it is a brave new world and a look into how another generation operates. Either way, the insight she provides on her generation’s relationship with technology grows increasingly relevant as more and more individuals grow up digital natives.

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Jackson Mittlesteadt​​​​​​

Please click here to read Jackson's personal reflection.




Jackson's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Laura Walls

 “Seeds of Grass: Walt Whitman’s Quest for Democratic Perfection”

Walt Whitman was a patriot, devoted to the ideal of inclusivity which is implicit in the word “democracy.” The overarching inclusivity found in Whitman’s book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, was the cornerstone of his work as he attempted to spiritualize democratic life, and in so doing, achieve a perfected form of democracy. However, he was well aware that America was far from such perfection. In his post-war essay Democratic Vistas, Whitman notes that the word democracy is great and its history remains unwritten because it has yet to be enacted. Painfully aware of the imperfections of democracy as it existed in his time, Whitman turned to the future, to us.

Whitman's project is an unfinished one. Furthermore, his project seems to have been forgotten as nowadays divisions still run between us, lies are spoken on major news stations, and people grow apart over the smallest of issues. The answer to these issues and key to the establishment of a unified society is what Whitman calls “the composite American identity of the future.” National identity is for him a dynamic collective moving from the past through the present and into the future, a phenomenon which should not be boxed in by walls.

            I hope to show in my thesis that we as a democratic people need to consider that our daily exertions are indeed contributing to a common spiritual cause, that our work is a continuation of Whitman's, that all people, all ethnicities, should be considered as a part of the community effort towards the germination of the democratic “seed perfection.” I hope that my readers will go forth from this essay, the seeds of grass having been planted in their minds, and spread the message of democratic inclusivity and its evolutionary capacity for perfection to all.

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Connor Mulvena

Please click here to read Connor's personal reflection.





Connor's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Susannah Monta

A Divine Equity: Marriage Law in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

     Much has been said in scholarly circles of “law and literature” about legal commentaries, or a lack thereof, found in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Among these commentaries are analyses of marriage and marriage law, as the play centers on a problem of marriage. But scholarly commentaries on marriage and the law in Measure for Measure tend often to focus primarily on the Duke and Angelo, each of whom represents a philosophy of law which is addressed in the play’s final scene. While this area of scholarship is valuable in uncovering legal meaning in Measure for Measure, my thesis seeks to shift the focus to the play’s female characters, namely Isabella and Mariana, in order to uncover a commentary on marriage law. I provide a concise background of the scholarship on marriage in Measure for Measure, both from those who address marriage tangentially as one of many themes in the play and those who focus on marriage by specifically addressing the function of law in the play. I also provide a brief background of legal understandings of marriage in pre-Reformation, Reformation, and post-Reformation England. I continue with an analysis of the Duke and Angelo, which ultimately leads to a focus on Mariana and Isabella in order to express the play’s commentary on marriage. In the end, I contend that Measure for Measure offers a critique of legal arbitration of marriage by human authority. Moreover, I hold that the play advocates for a divine mercy which mirrors legal conceptions of equity in the proper judgement of marital unions.

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Katherine Rentz

 Please click here to read Katherine's personal reflection.





Katherine's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisors: Sara Maurer and Susan Ohmer

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is The Fairest of Them All?”:
Constructing Beauty and Body Through Recombinations of Snow White

     Fairy tales have become deeply embedded in the cultural imagination. As Jack Zipes argues, fairy tales have staying power as socializing devices that prescribe certain behaviors, and in particular certain gendered behaviors, for children. This socializing power, however, has been complicated through the release of various adaptations of these stories across media formats that can maintain or subvert these normative behaviors. Though these adaptations often alter and subvert these normative behaviors, these contemporary re-workings continue to reflect the society in which they were written. In this thesis, I examine the ways in which gender is being prescribed through a selection of contemporary (published since 2003) film, novel, and TV young adult adaptations of the Snow White story, a fairy tale that relies on heavily stereotypical gender norms. I use both Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and more recent feminist conversation surrounding it to explore how beauty and the beauty hierarchy promote an ideal woman, both perpetuating problematic beauty norms and, occasionally, pointing to their danger After establishing this conceptual framework for discussing beauty, I shift my attention to the mirror, the object through which these problematic beauty norms are manifest. Using Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, I develop a framework for analysis of how the mirror functions to impose the voice of the patriarchy upon the Queen, both in ways that hide its nefarious potential and in ways that call attention to it. These adaptations provide a wide range of ideas on gender, both serving to subvert and reinforce the patriarchal ideologies of beauty for a young adult audience.

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Evelyn Stein

Please click here to read Evelyn's personal reflection.





Evelyn's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Sarah Quesada & Brian Collier

                                                                           Life on Paper:
                                                           Exploring the Relationship Between
                                                                   Junot Díaz and His Texts

      While the ideal role of the author has long been debated in literary theory, the conversation is inevitably complicated with the rise of technology. Junot Díaz provides a provocative example of various dynamics at play in today’s authorship debate because of his public persona and activism. In addition to this use of his platform, Díaz has become beloved to many in the last 25 years because of his normalization of Latinx and immigrant experiences and the ways in which his writing encourages readers to use their “decolonial imaginations” to question powerful and damaging systems still prevailing in society. Unfortunately, in May 2018 Díaz was accused by several women of sexual misconduct after revealing his own personal trauma, all of which greatly complicated critical and casual readers’ understandings of what to do with his work — and whether we should read him at all. I argue that Díaz can have a place in our classrooms if we discuss his literature with specific considerations of audience, teaching capacity, and financial investment in mind. Two interviews with teachers provide support for this conclusion, which ultimately generates further questions and hope for how the “American canon” can be transformed.

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Isabel Weber

Please click here to read Isabel's personal reflection.





Isabel's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Barbara Green

]: Meaningful Blankness in The Little Review

Margaret Anderson’s monthly publication, The Little Review, is largely known within periodical studies for advancing avant-garde modernist literature. However, for its first three years, The Little Review was mainly an anarchist publication. In this project, I show how Margaret Anderson was inspired by the feminism, anarchism, and individualism of Emma Goldman in some of her most notable editorial uses of blankness in her magazine, The Little Review. Anderson’s 1915 Blank Advertisements are clearly connected to Goldman’s ideas about the body, the individual, and commercialism. The 1916 Blank Issue comments on Goldman’s ideas about revolutionary art and anti-war anarchism, as well as weaponizes female silence in a way which emulates Goldman’s performative lecture stunts.

By studying Anderson’s 1915 Blank Advertisements and her 1916 Blank Issue, I recover Anderson’s connection to Goldman, and situate Goldman within feminist modernism. I also demonstrate that a rich understanding of modernist aesthetics requires an examination of feminism and anarchism along with it, making the point for a renewed study of feminist modernism. This work argues for the merit and inspiration of Anderson’s editorship, and also shows page design as a source of editorial commentary, beyond text alone. It is my hope that this project inspires greater investigation of Anderson and Goldman’s intellectual relationship, and the importance of page design for both editorial commentary and the feminist-anarchist project.