2021 Thesis Abstracts

Elizabeth Allgaier

Thesis Headshot 1

Elizabeth's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Ernest Morrell & Michael Macaluso

From Students to Educators: How African American Male Teachers' Experiences Inform Classroom Practices

Within the United States, African American males comprise just two percent of our country’s educators, and this lack of representation of Black males within the field of education has drastic impacts on both students, especially young Black male students, and educators. This study orients itself around this two percent statistic and works within a mirrors and windows framework to emphasize the ways through which representation is important in both classroom content and in those who stand at the front of classrooms.

For this study, data was collected primarily through interviews conducted with current Black male educators, and the literature previously produced by scholars guided the interview questions to focus on the following topics: current Black male educators’ experiences as students, including their relationships with teachers and their connections or lack thereof with classroom content, their current experiences as educators, including the structural constraints they experience due to their identities, and their persistent hopes for the future of our country’s education system for both students and educators. 

A primary aim of the conversations with these educators was to better understand the lived experiences of Black males in the field of education and to amplify those experiences. Although this study did not solve the lack of diversity, specifically that of Black males within education, it emphasizes the significance of entering into dialogue with those who have been historically silenced. 


Olivia Barnard

Olivia Barnard Headshot

Olivia's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Susannah Monta 

                         Ada Lovelace meets Tom Stoppard's Arcadia: Searching for Knowledge as Iteration

   The play Arcadia, written in 1993 by Tom Stoppard, stands out in modern drama as highly scientific through the influence of chaos theory, a mathematical theory that describes unpredictable determinism and is largely rooted in the process of iteration. The play features characters that search for knowledge in a variety of ways, so many scholars attempt to analyze how chaos theory reveals itself in the play and how that relates to epistemology, or the study of knowledge. In this thesis, I aim to provide a new angle from which to understand this relationship. I claim that the interest Stoppard portrays in mathematical iteration can be paralleled by a humanistic reading of iteration in the characters’ searches for knowledge. In order to build this model of humanistic iteration, I myself perform an iterative search for knowledge about Arcadia, starting with my own knowledge of English and mathematics and honing my ideas through interactions with others. This thesis falls into three main parts. The first two sections lay the framework for the concept of humanistic iteration, with the first setting foundations and the second drawing on original archival research through the mathematical work and letters of Ada Lovelace, who discovered iteration in the early 1800s. The third and largest section tests this model in the characters of Arcadia, where Stoppard refines and complicates through his characters’ contrasting searches and their exchanges of knowledge in community. I ultimately assert that Stoppard puts forth humanistic iteration as the best way to search for knowledge, for when we model our search for knowledge, we can best find meaning in our lives.


Ryan Burns

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Ryan's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Mark Sanders                                                                                      

Fast Fish, Loose Fish, and Lines of Determinism: Herman Melville as a Predecessor to American Naturalism

This thesis will argue that Herman Melville should be considered in the American naturalist canon because while he is generally considered a romantic, his writing advances themes of the American naturalism well before it is even considered its own genre. Some of these naturalist themes Melville develops include the concepts of free will, environmental determinism, and humanity’s inner-beast that influences one’s actions. Melville focuses heavily on forces that determine characters’ fates in his novels, especially in Moby-Dick, where he outlines two terms — the Fast-Fish and the Loose-Fish — which from a naturalist point of view represent two categories of characters in naturalist fiction, those determined by the wills of other humans in their environment and those determined by the forces of the environment itself. I then show how these two terms can be used to understand the characters in Melville’s later works of fiction, in which he deviates further away from the traditional romance in favor of an early form of naturalism to develop a concept of man’s inner-beast. Further, I will show how Melville’s concepts of the Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish can be used to understand later works of naturalist fiction, specifically Ann Petry’s 1946 novel The Street. Applying Melville’s Fast-Fish/Loose-Fish terminology to his short stories Benito Cereno and Billy Budd, Sailor show how issues of determinism are inherent to the African American and female psyche in the United States. The protagonist of Petry’s novel, Lutie Johnson, is a black woman who battles both internal and external forces of determinism, which can be described through the Fast and Loose terminology. Applying these terms to Petry’s novel not only shows how Melville is valuable to the naturalist canon, but also hints at why some black authors chose naturalism as the genre to tell their stories, as the forces of determinism that Melville describes, mainly in Benito Cereno, have arguably been inherent in the United States since the inception of the transatlantic slave trade.


Isobel Grogan

Isobel Grogan

Isobel's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Susan Harris

                            "All Possibility Possible:" Marina Carr and the Pursuit of a Tragic Anti-theater

This thesis aims to discover Marina Carr’s current praxis as a classical adaptor and to provide an explanation for her methodology’s ill-success in recent years. My project deals with Carr, not only as the 90s child of Beckett who produced Low in the Dark, but also as a truly contemporary playwright who has become increasingly involved with the Greek world and the realm of conventional drama. I endeavour to understand Carr, not as she was but as she is: a respected and established artist who is poised to capitalize on her artistic legacy with more power and reach than she has ever had before. In situating her most recent staged adaptation, Hecuba, between Carr’s primary theatrical influences: Greek drama and anti-theater, I have uncovered certain stylistic and philosophical incompatibilities which call into question the possibility of successful adaptation in Carr’s innately post-Beckettian dramaturgy. This essay investigates several arguments made for Carr’s employment of epic theater in Hecuba and argues instead that Carr’s rejection of dramatic temporality ultimately leads to a dehistoricization which makes drama untenable and epic impossible. This thesis is more than a post-mortem of a failed piece of theater. It is an investigation into the nature of adaptation and the difficulties of combining theatrical legacies which seem to innately disavow one another. I interpret Carr as an artist in the midst of an ongoing investigation into adaptation which may yet yield promising results. However, I hope to impress upon the reader the futility of the path she currently pursues.


Sydney Haberman

Sydney Haberman Headshot

Sydney's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Noreen Deane-Moran

Defining the Undefinable: Rhetorical Device and the Philosophy of Cosmic Horror in H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Thomas Ligotti's Nethescurial

Horror, as a concept, has historically been exceedingly difficult to accurately describe. Many have tried through their research on the history of the genre, and the most widely accepted definition of horror as it is expressed in literature is that it is experientially based. Horror is found in a piece of literature through the reader - if the reader feels fear, then the work must be a work of horror. However, this definition leaves something to be desired in that it does not account for the various subgenres found within horror as a whole. These subgenres not only inspire fear in the reader, but can often be demarcated by specific rhetorical devices or literary conventions. This is true of the cosmic horror subgenre, a branch of horror centered around the belief that humanity’s existence is insignificant in the face of the vast universe, and that no actions taken by humanity in the past, present, or future have any meaning. Two authors approach this belief from opposing angles, but share common rhetorical devices in their work. H. P. Lovecraft and his short story The Call of Cthulhu and Thomas Ligotti with his short story Nethescurial both convey the central theme of cosmic horror in their works, partly through utilization of the rhetorical device of perversion of architecture. However, Lovecraft locates the source of his horror in an external creation (his eldritch monster) and Ligotti localizes the horror in his story as stemming from within the human mind. These opposing approaches represent two ends of an inner vs. outer binary regarding the source of horror in literature. Through their shared usage of perversion of architecture, a glimpse at the intricacies of their philosophies towards the locus of horror can be attained. This in turn allows the construction of a new and more informed definition of horror as something not only experiential, but also defined by convention and marked by an underlying sense of unnatural events - occurrences that defy the “laws of nature”.


Sarah Ielusic

Sarah Ielusic Headshot

Sarah's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Yasmin Solomonescu

"I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach": The Relationship Between Psychological and Rhetorical Growth in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion


Conversation plays a prominent role in both Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. However, just as prominent as face-to-face conversations are alternative forms of conversation — most notably letter-writing, overheard conversations, and the use of coded language. Critics commonly agree on the importance of letters for Elizabeth and Darcy to overcome not just physical but emotional barriers to communication. Further, they focus on Anne's process of growth as she transitions from a largely silent character to one who finds her voice and is able to take control of the conversation. 

However, what is missing from criticism on the characters’ transformations in both novels is an examination of how the process of growth for Elizabeth, Darcy, and Wentworth differs from that of Anne. Psychological and rhetorical growth follow a cause-and-effect relationship for the three: letters and other alternative forms of conversation allow Elizabeth, Darcy, and Wentworth to drop their pride, which then improves their rhetorical skills and their understandings of themselves and others. With Anne, the relationship is not as straightforward: the more she holds her tongue and does not speak up in conversations, the more self-conscious she becomes of the perceived inequality between her and those around her — and the more she is aware of this inequality, the more silent she becomes. It is not until a friend's fall and injury at Lyme, when Anne finds herself suddenly at the center of the situation and its resulting conversations, that she simultaneously finds her voice and learns to drop her inhibiting self-consciousness. I argue that this more complex process of growth ultimately allows Anne to emerge as the character with the greatest rhetorical prowess of the four, while also demonstrating Austen's increasingly complex understanding of the relationship between psychological and rhetorical growth. 


John Kling

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John's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Greg Kucich & Ian Newman

"There Was Nowhere to Go But Everywhere": Wordsworth, Kerouac, and the Self-Epic as Shelter from Revolutionary Storms

    For my honors thesis, I am comparing the British Romantics’ and the American Beat’s
responses to periods of political and social crisis. My two primary texts, The Prelude and On the Road, confront the dilemmas of the French Revolution and World War II, respectively. By adapting older quest narratives through the lens of the individual poet prophet, both authors use their journeys as personal refuges from issues that their institutions have failed to effectively solve. M.H. Abrams’ notion of the circuitous quest in his book Natural Supernaturalism references the poet figure setting out from his moment of crisis to reflect back, eventually working his way back to the present. Through this recollection of their youthful optimisms as well as the failure of their idealistic journeys in search of grand revelation and a more optimistic future, both Wordsworth and Kerouac retreat into their past memories and journeys to as a means of finding the root of their own personal and political crises. Although the Romantic period and the Beat generation both sought lofty revelation inspired by disillusionment with their political eras, these movements have not been properly compared and analyzed together in scholarship. By placing The Prelude and On the Road in tandem, a greater understanding of their literary quest is attained; by actively placing their own works in a long lineage of literary and visionary journeys, Wordsworth and Kerouac both achieve an inner contentment and resolve to face their tumultuous eras, even if they fail to bring about the widespread change they seek in the openings of their quests.


Elinor McCarthy​​​​​​

Elinor Mccarthy Headshot

Elinor's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Ian Newman & Melissa Miller

"What Have We to Do with Thee?": Ethel Voynich's The Gadfly as a Case Study in World Literature

Forgotten by the West, The Gadfly, by Irish author Ethel Voynich, became one of the most popular foreign language novels in the Soviet Union in the first half of the twentieth century. Poised at the crossroads of European culture, The Gadfly develops two symbols which resonate across both Irish and Russian contexts – the New Woman and the secular martyr. This thesis analyzes Voynich’s approach to these symbols, as well as how their portrayal was received by Irish and Russian audiences. In the first part of the thesis, a comparison between The Gadfly, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement reveals facets of the New Woman character’s development across Irish and Russian contexts. The second part of the thesis explores the novel’s religious symbolism, its parallels with the Christian Passion narrative, and its commentary on martyrdom. The Gadfly exemplifies the internationality of publication and circulation of literature at the dawn of the twentieth century.


David Phillips

David Phillips Headshot

David's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Barry McCrea

"The Poet is the Medium of Nature:" An ecocritical Study of Queer Natures and Anti-Futurity in Modernist Literature

     Throughout history, conceptions of “the natural” and nature have been weaponized to stifle, derogate, and persecute queer individuals and the art they produce. Federico García Lorca, for example, was assassinated by fascist forces in 1936 Spain, in part due to his sexuality. Focusing on two homosexual poets, my research inhabits the tension between “the natural” and the queer poet in the Modernist era of literature. I argue that despite the biosphere’s ostensible antagonism towards queerness, Modernist queer poets such as Federico García Lorca and W.H. Auden co-opted natural imagery to assert the intrinsic nature of their sexual identity. Moreover, these two writers made nature central to their poetics in order to refute the idea that humankind is separate from nature and ought to dominate the planet. In works such as Sonetos del Amor Oscuro, Poeta en Nueva York, Romancero Gitano, Nones, and Bucolics, the writers portray humans as both derivative of and indicative of nature. I utilize queer and ecocritical lenses to demonstrate the ongoing cultural significance of Lorca and Auden’s poetry, especially in the context of the climate crisis and globally-pervasive queerphobia. Lorca and Auden’s affinity for the natural world embraces the present sacredness of the planet and the queer person, who is intrinsic to the created order.


Ruilin Sang

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Ruilin's Honors Thesis Abstract
Advisor: Susan Harris

Reconciling with Seamus Heaney’s Soundscape of Nature: An Acoustic Analysis of “Death of a Naturalist” and “Personal Helicon”

My paper examines two of Seamus Heaney’s most popular early poems, “Death of a Naturalist” and “Personal Helicon” through analyzing both the poetry of sound and the sound of poetry, both the natural soundscape these poems represent and the way Heaney transcribes soundscapes into poetry. 

This paper primarily builds its discussion of natural soundscapes on R. Murray Schafer’s sound theories. Since the ear is better than the eye in capturing more subtle and unconscious influences in the natural environment, attentive listening is an important step for people, especially children, to explore the inexplicable aspects of Nature and to reconcile with their newfound roles in the natural world.

By closely focusing on the way Heaney’s poetic language embodies and maps the complexity of the natural soundscape, this paper expands on two typical soundscapes in Heaney’s poems, the “flat-line” soundscape in “Death of a Naturalist” and the “soundscape of silence” in “Personal Helicon.” The former goes on continuously in the background, while the latter creates an almost soundless environment. While both soundscapes cultivate the listener’s awareness and help them reconcile with the truth of Nature, the former nurtures and protects, whereas the latter “strains” and inspires.