2011 Thesis Abstracts

Felicia Aguirre, “Farfalla” (Director: Valerie Sayers)

Farfalla is a novel that responds to an ever-changing world of English literature in a unique way. Josh Hays is stuck in class all summer long at London’s legendary St. Martin’s College of Art and Design. When he is given an assignment to ‘capture an instance of cross-cultural displacement on the London streets,’ he is amazed by his classmates’ naïve opinions about what constitutes as art. For his project, he draws a picture of an American girl reading a book on Trafalgar Square. His little assignment is brought to life, however, when the American girl is reported as missing. His Trafalgar sketch and the people within it become the evidence for her disappearance, as the United States Embassy begins to conduct their investigation. As he gets to know the subjects of his piece for himself, he starts to relate to art in a new way, just as readers will respond to this novel in an unusual manner.

Farfalla is a novel that responds to a classical tradition of British literature, while, at the same time, adding a contemporary spin to the style and themes. The story is written in two alternating forms. The first, like classic British literary texts, is the third person, limited, omniscient person, from the point of view of the artist Josh Hays. The second is written like a cinematic screenplay, and the scenes that would most naturally be from the perspective of the American girl, Bethany Brooks, are written in this style. Farfalla is an interesting way to examine the contemporary creative world, a society obsessed with movies and fast-paced action. As a result, literature is also affected, and this novel juxtaposes old and new tradition together, and asks readers to decide what is gained and what is lost in the telling.

The events and experiences are based upon my travels around London, but are also influenced by two popular English literature genres: travel writing and the detective story. I studied classic and contemporary British literature, from Francis Burney and Henry James, to Nick Hornby and Ian McEwan, in order to capture an English voice, but also to compare and contrast our contemporary literary world with the classical one we know and love. The novel seems to be focused on the mystery of the American girl’s disappearance, but this is only a disguise. Much like the Italian word, farfalla, which means butterfly, the text has a larger mystery emerging through the text. Just like caterpillars ‘die,’ in a sense and are reborn into a more beautiful butterfly, so, too, are the characters reflecting on this same theme in their own way. This novel shows that it is possible to write in the exhilarating style so common in cinema, while at the same time still contemplating life’s most important mysteries… what happens after death? Farfalla tries to develop an answer through art.

Blair Carlin, “Challenging Normalcy through Counter-Narratives: The Intersections of Disability and Race in Passing and Wheelchair Warrior: Gangs, Disability, and Basketball” (Directors: Stuart Greene and Essaka Joshua)

Disability Studies is a relatively new and under-represented field of study. While scholars note the necessity to study disability in conjunction with other minority groups, little research thus far has been dedicated to doing so. Due to the prevalence of race in the United States’ social structure, this thesis examines the relationship between disability and race specifically. I use Critical Race Theory and Chris Bell’s theory of White Disability Studies as lenses through which to understand this relationship. I then create my own theoretical framework in which I argue that we cannot fully understand disability without the inclusion of race and that when studied together, disability and race provide unique insight into each other and the psychological experience of individuals who belong to either or both of these minority groups.

To depict the individual psychological experience, I apply my theoretical framework to two distinct literary texts. I begin with an assessment of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing, and examine the social practice of passing in order to explain the psychological repercussions it posits for black racial minorities and people with disabilities. I then explore the direct interplay of race and disability and its creations of a multiply oppressed individual in the 2007 collaborative biography, Wheelchair Warrior: Gangs, Disability, and Basketball by Melvin Juette and Ronald J. Berger. I propose that, together, these narratives refocus our understanding of the dominant white and ableist narratives that are being told and complicate notions of race and disability through the counter-narratives they provide.

One of the primary conclusions I draw is that the stigmatized identities that are attributed to racial minorities and disabled people attest to society’s obsession with being “normal” and that severe psychological damage emerges when individuals deviate from established norms. I propose that through counter-narrative, we can begin to challenge these established norms as well as our accepted truths and become conscious of whose stories are being heard and whose are not. Further, I conclude that our greatest optimism lies in giving a voice to untold stories at a time when Critical Race Theorists assert that U.S. society will never escape the racial turmoil that we are in and disability theorists purport that the disabled figure will continue to be rendered the “Other” in a society obsessed with normalcy. Therefore, the implications of my research are twofold: first, researchers need to continue investigating the relationship between disability and race to challenge concepts of normalcy and, second, to use counter-narratives as a primary means for doing so.

Sarah Ceponis, “The Moon Moves Slowly” (Director: Joyelle McSweeney)

In a literary landscape sometimes overpowered by postmodern bleakness, The Moon Moves Slowly offers a series of stories that explore whether or not there is still a place for positivity in the world. Though showcasing affairs and terrorist attacks, helplessness and heartbreak, leaving and losing, the stories consciously demonstrate the steady—even if sometimes difficult to see or feel—presence of good.  Especially through the innocent eyes of children, or via the idealistic dreams of young adults, a framework of friendship, forgiveness, and, ultimately, love, shapes The Moon Moves Slowly.  This is a collection committed to showing a multi-faceted understanding of today’s world.  While a place full of frailties, glitches, and oftentimes more problems than solutions, these stories show that it is only the darkness of the night sky that makes possible the beauty of the moon.

John Corgan, “‘Even But the Dirtiest Are the Most Beautiful’: James Joyce and the Value of the Vulgar” (Director: Mary Burgess)

Among other critics, James R. Baker has emphasized that the aesthetic philosophy laid out by Stephen Dedalus at the end of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a near exact copy of the artistic theory that Joyce himself lays out in the Paris Notebook of 1903.  But is Stephen’s high-minded aesthetic theory actually an accurate summation of Joyce’s own?  The issue is less clear in Portrait than one might immediately presume based on textual similarities between Stephen’s pronouncements and the Paris Notebook, though the narrative style of the novel and its heavily autobiographical content ensure no easy answers.  Ulysses is actually far less equivocal in this respect.  In that work, Joyce appropriates the vulgar and obscene stuff of life—innards, exhibitionism, excrement, and snot, to name just a few—in order to craft a physically rich portrait of the reality of lived human experienced.  This elevation of vulgar physicality is a direct contradiction of Stephen’s highly spiritual and idealistic aestheticism, and shows a side of Joyce that believes that even the dirtiest things in life are the most beautiful. 

Matt Coyne, “‘I see beyond hills and time’:  Deep Time and Transhistorical Identity Construction in The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake” (Director: Kate Marshall)

Appalachian studies and its subfield of literary criticism has been a growing site of academic discourse for the past several decades.  As the region continues to explore its own identity within the larger American context, so has its literary output dramatically increased.  Among the most influential Appalachian writers of the past fifty years is West Virginian Breece D’J Pancake, whose one collection of short stories, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, was published posthumously in 1983.  The stories were met with significant critical acclaim, but were often dismissed as highly aestheticized portraits of the grim nature of contemporary Appalachian realism. My project, rather than adding to the body of criticism which notes the characters’ failures to conform to American social and economic norms, explores alternative ways in which certain characters seek to construct identities for themselves.  Focusing primarily on three of Pancake’s stories—“Trilobites,” “The Honored Dead,” and “In the Dry,”—my work argues that characters seek to construct an identity looking backward rather than forward.  To this end, I employ a framework grounded in Wai Chee Dimock’s concept of Deep Time, which understands time circularly rather than linearly, highlighting the importance of a connection between the present and the past.  The characters in these stories, I argue, connect with the region’s past inhabitants and seek to participate in a worldview—the worldview of the American Indian—which has largely been ignored in the narrative of American history and in American literature more generally.  Ultimately, the identity which these characters seek to construct is transhistorical, that is, not limited by a national culture or a modern understanding of history.  This reading of Pancake’s stories puts forth a new vision where certain characters, reacting to their unique time and place, look deeply into the land’s present and the ancient past—its history and prehistory—to forge an identity which ultimately turns out to be both more complex and more inclusive than one shaped by a national culture or by a linear understanding of history.

Dennis Crowley, “The Challenges to Self-Development in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit” (Director: Chris R. Vanden Bossche)

Despite the wide scope of many of his works, Charles Dickens often utilized his novels to critique the social challenges faced by individual characters.  In particular, Dickens returns again and again to the prevalent ideas of the Victorian ideal of self-actualization, or self-development. One of his most interesting approaches to the subject of self-actualization can be found in his sweeping social novel Little Dorrit, which was published serially between 1855 and 1857.  In this novel, Dickens advocates an idealized, Romantic interpretation of self-actualization while not overlooking some of the problems inherent in the very idea of self-development.

The fact that Little Dorrit is one of Dickens’s most socially conscious novels has given many previous critics of the novel opportunities to examine its themes relating to reform.  A common theme throughout much of the critical literature is the way in which Dickens treats the mid-nineteenth century economy as corrupt and self-serving, painting people of all classes in society as likewise self-serving and corrupt.

Dickens raises concerns not only about the nature of individual self-actualization, but also about the societal institutions such as government that impede the self-actualizing process.  These impediments had recognizable connections to Victorians; a hotly debated issue around the time of the novel’s writing was the corruption and inadequacies of Her Majesty’s Civil Service, the official bureaucracy of the United Kingdom.  The language used by advocates of reform, particularly the language of the investigative Northcote-Trevelyan Report, is closely mirrored in Dickens’s own treatment of government in Little Dorrit’s fictional Circumlocution Office.  Both the reformers and Dickens displayed disgust that positions were granted based on patronage rather than merit.  With his depiction of social institutions such as the Circumlocution Office, the novel’s strikingly inept bureaucracy, Dickens suggests the need for individualism in the process of self-actualization; the Office serves is a hindrance rather than a promoter of positive changes to the self and society.  The impact of the numerous impediments to self-actualization is felt on every social level, from the aristocracy to the poor of the novel’s aptly named Bleeding Heart Yard.  Through his condemnation of the Circumlocution Office and, implicitly, the Civil Service, Dickens attacks the aspects of government that destroy the opportunity for self-actualization. 

While critical of the institutions that discourage self-actualization, Dickens also expresses fears of the socially damaging nature of some aspects of self-actualization.  The world of business, often idealized in the Victorian Era, is treated with a critical eye through the characters of Mr. Merdle and Mrs. Clennam, two antagonists characterized by their shady business dealings and perverted notions of self-actualization—notions that eventually only harm themselves and those around them.  Here the idea of self-development, an idea closely related to that of the self-made man, is presented as purely selfish and detrimental to society.

In Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens does not only criticize but also establishes his own, idealized vision of the Victorian ideal of self-actualization.  Using the language of the reformers of his day, he presents the lives and eventual marriage of his two protagonists, Arthur Clennam and the titular Amy Dorrit, to imagine a solution to the problems raised throughout the novel.  His protagonists are able to transcend the social institutions, including the government offices and private businesses that have thwarted the lives of those around them by resolving to work for their living in a socially productive manner in order to enhance their own lives within society. While not poor, the pair will have to work for their living, which further distances them from Mrs. Clennam, Mr. Merdle, and the employees of the Circumlocution Office.  Their marriage is a commitment not only to each other, but also to a future of honest self-actualization.

Sy Doan, “Permanent Visitors: Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, Racial Hierarchization, and the Politics of the Margins” (Director: Kate Marshall)

Met with widespread critical acclaim upon its release, including the prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award, Chang-rae Lee’s 1995 novel Native Speaker presents a thoroughly American portrait, albeit with an uncommon, Asian American palette. Following the exploits of corporate spy Henry Park as he infiltrates the campaign of New York mayoral hopeful John Kwang, Native Speaker posits a contemporary America in which race is the primary means by which political, economic, and social conflict is defined. Though Native Speaker is in many ways explicitly political, Lee himself has been wary of approving a political reception of his novel, preferring instead to describe Native Speaker as a novel invested in exploring the structures of power that are inherent within language usage. However, by reading Native Speaker in a manner that is conducive to a political understanding of the novel, one finds a political framework that intertwines the fates of white, African American, and Asian American political actors, a zero-sum political world that privileges relative, rather than absolute, gain over all else. This racial-political reading of the Native Speaker is, as this thesis will argue, not only richly beneficial to the reception of the novel, but unavoidable and central to its meaning.  In relation to whites and African Americans, Asian Americans exist in the novel in a form of racial triangulation that exoticizes and marginalizes their political activity, leaving the formation of their political identity as a process dictated primarily by white and black political action. Though the prospects of political success, which Lee ultimately presents as inextricably connected to economic and social success, seem dim for Asian Americans in the margins in the American political spectrum, Lee’s characters offer a novel set of political strategies for Asian America that profits from its marginalization. Operating in an America that is defined by Lee as dominated strictly by a “white-black” racial consciousness, the Asian American characters of Native Speaker transform their malleability into flexibility, allowing them to manipulate political hierarchies from the shadows of American public consciousness. However, though Lee presents a profit motive for Asian American characters to utilize their marginalization, he is also clear to present this sort of “racial flexibility” as an unsustainable solution for not only aggregate racial advancement, but for individual members of the Asian American community as well. With political incentive to manipulate fellow Asian Americans, as well as their own “Asianness,” the Asian American characters of Lee’s novel ultimately find their “flexibility” to be more appropriately described as “compromise,” burdened with a consciousness of their betrayal of not only their community, but against the very idea of their culture itself.

Alanna Durkin, “‘A Monstrously Perfect Result of the System’: The Power and Limitations of Feminine Beauty in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country” (Director: William Krier)

Published in 1913, Edith Wharton’s early novel, The Custom of the Country, follows Undine Spragg, a remarkably beautiful young woman, as she strives to become a member of fashionable New York society.  Despite the increasing opportunities for women at the turn of the century, Undine’s upper middle class status forces her to remain tied to the traditional customs of the Victorian era.  Consequently, for Undine, marriage remains the only means available to her to open the door into high society.  Having learned the power of her beauty from a young age through her relationship with her parents, Undine uses her remarkable beauty as a means of obtaining everything she desires, from a trip to Europe to the very men she marries. Yet, despite the amount of scholarly and critical research on The Custom of the Country, Undine’s beauty, and the central role it plays in the novel, is given little attention by critics. 

Wharton emphasizes the extraordinary affect Undine’s loveliness has on the men over the course of the novel, each of whom bestow Undine with gifts in the hopes of attaining her unspeakable beauty for themselves.  However, through the depiction of her failed marriages to Ralph Marvell and Raymond de Chelles, Wharton demonstrates the way Undine’s beauty, once in the hands of a man, becomes objectified as a means of taming the striking, yet rebellious, young woman.  While Wharton seemingly presents a solution for Undine’s trouble through her introduction of Elmer Moffatt, the one man in the novel with the power to see past her beauty to her inner depths, Undine continues to yearn for something more.  This is precisely because Undine plays a significant role in her own objectification as she comes to see herself as a commodity that can be purchased by her suitors.  Undine, a woman so beautiful she is often thought to be a goddess, is paradoxically the one character in the novel who fails to understand what beauty is.  While she claims to strive for “the best” Undine wants only what others have.  Thus, Wharton concludes that Undine’s perpetual longing derives from her inability to perceive anything beautiful, other than the beauty glancing back at her in the mirror.             

Lisa Folkerth, “Lydgate in Middlemarch” (Director: John Sitter)

This thesis examines the role of Tertius Lydgate in George Eliot’s 1874 novel Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. While Eliot’s novel follows the developments and connections in the lives of over ten central figures living in Middlemarch in 1830, Lydgate is unique in that he is a newcomer in the town. The setbacks and difficulties that Lydgate encounters as he attempts to establish a medical practice make a larger statement about the dichotomy between nature and nurture and its relationship to the ability of an individual to develop and evolve. The theory of evolution, made infamous by Charles Darwin’s 1859 The Origin of the Species, had a broad social impact that fundamentally changed the understanding and interpretation of experience in Victorian society. The theory is reflected in Eliot’s emphasis on random and accidental events as developmental agents in the lives of her characters. Eliot’s novel is seemingly organic in form, allowing the reader to imagine various developmental outcomes for her characters. She incorporates use of the scientific method and disputes the easy assumptions of cause and effect. This thesis challenges the common argument that because of his pride, a characteristic inherent to his nature, Lydgate will be incapable of succeeding professionally and socially within the Middlemarch community. Eliot’s novel instead asks its readers to understand that a character may be so shaped by the pressures of environment that the idea of complete individual autonomy must yield to a worldview in which fate does not determine success.

Kelly Hagen, “‘A New Set of Opinions and of Hopes’: Elements of French Revolutionary Thought in Jane Austen's Persuasion” (Director: Margaret Doody)

Jane Austen's Persuasion takes place during the temporary peace between Napoleon’s defeat on the Continent in 1814 and his escape from exile at Elba in 1815. Through this temporal setting, Austen draws our attention to the novel’s historical context and encourages us to consider the relationship between Persuasion and the French Revolution. An analysis of Persuasion in consideration with the philosophical debates that took place during and immediately after the French Revolution reveals that Austen’s model for social progress draws significantly upon Revolutionary ideals. The novel’s call for increased social mobility and gender fluidity, along with a proper balance of reason and emotion, draws upon French Revolutionary discussion to provide a model for social progress in Britain. Furthermore, the impression of inevitability throughout the novel conveys the sense that Austen's model is not merely an ideal, but rather a foreseeable reality.

Kathryn Halloran, “Ironic Transubstantiation: An Analysis of Stephen Dedalus’s Aesthetic Tendencies in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (Director: Joseph Buttigieg)

Roman Catholic thought and practices are among the most prominent features within James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man.  Not only is A Portrait set in the predominantly Catholic country of Ireland, but it also follows closely the intense spiritual and intellectual struggles of its central character, Stephen Dedalus. The specific role the author intends for the Church, continues to generate debate among Joycean scholars—for any attempt at properly examining Roman Catholicism within the novel is complicated both by the intricacies of James Joyce’s narrative style and the vast amalgamation of traditions contained within the Church.  How, therefore, is the reader expected to approach the oscillating relationship between his main character and Ireland’s religion?

My thesis intends to answer this question by examining it specifically through Stephen Dedalus’s ironic aesthetics.  Indeed, what becomes apparent throughout the novel is that Stephen copes with the harshness of this world by transforming (transubstantiating) it into a pleasant fiction or an aesthetical creation.  Stephen’s imagination thus becomes the locus of his own life’s transformation.  Whereas Stephen, in proclaiming himself a priest of art, claims to be embracing “life,” in fact his imaginative transformation of reality distances him even further the actuality he inhabits.

Stephen’s aesthetical inclinations, however, are not mere results of a sudden dissatisfaction with the Church.  Instead, they are gradual developments motivated by key experiences in which he is able to combine creatively his own life’s dissatisfactions (poverty, guilt, Irishness, family) with imaginative expression.  And although the specific influences of Roman Catholicism become more pronounced as A Portrait proceeds, the Church is fundamentally represented through Stephen’s escapist aestheticization of reality.  Transubstantiation thus becomes the primary metaphor through which readers may comprehend Stephen’s journey toward his pseudo-priestly vocation.  The final irony of the novel exists in the fact that although Stephen succeeds (at least partially) in secularizing Catholic theology, he remains incapable of applying it to the life from which he has continued to escape.  His final theory is thus simply a continuation of the aesthetic, transubstantiating tendencies that were exposed within the novel’s earliest pages.

Kiely King, “Lilith, Belladonna of The Waste Land” (Director: Susan Harris)

Though Eliot was not writing a traditional quest narrative, grail mythology is still important to understanding The Waste Land. But grail imagery does not provide adequate context in which to discuss the female figures in Eliot’s poem. The equal importance of the masculine and feminine roles in the creation of the modern wasteland goes unexplained.  I believe that the female counterpart to the male-oriented grail mythology of The Waste Land is Lilith, apocryphal first wife of Adam. Eliot adapts her qualities to suit his work. I argue that Lilith is a co-presence, a mythic figure used to characterize the female in The Waste Land in much the same way that the fisher king characterizes the male. Her naturally fragmented characterizations lend themselves to Eliot’s style, allowing him to adapt her qualities to suit his needs.

In this paper, I briefly trace the development of the Lilith myth from Mesopotamia through to the Jewish religion, showing how elements of this legend can enrich readings of certain passages in the poem, particularly the pub scene in “A Game of Chess.” I also analyze The Waste Land in comparison to depictions of Lilith from the late 19th century. Strong similarities appear between Eliot’s imagery and such famous Liliths as those created by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George MacDonald. With these analyses I hope to demonstrate that adding Lilith’s legend to the body of secondary sources used in Waste Land criticism contributes a quasi-biblically based archetypal construct for the sexual, uncontrollable females present in Eliot’s work, a construct not otherwise provided by literary canon.

Tara Kron, “Guidebook: Engaging Ideas of Travel, Identity, Estrangement Through Poetry” (Director: Johannes Göransson)

In the Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, the chapter entitled "Traveling to Write” analyzes the development of travel writing, asserting that in the post-war era the genre made a shift from didactic to impressionistic, as well as delineating trends in the emergence of narrative personae, approaches to voice, and the role of narrative, as well as identifying five major strands of travel writing in the last 25 years: comic, analytical, wilderness, spiritual, and experimental. Literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky describes the objective of art as, “ to lead us to a knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition.  By ‘estranging’ objects and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and ‘laborious.’…Art is a means of experiencing the process of creativity.” Extending this principal to the experience of travel, the role or function of a traveler parallels the role of artist in relation to art.  A traveler is outside of the culture that they are dwelling in or passing through.  The situation of a traveler within a foreign city is a site of tension between human commonalities and physical and cultural displacement.  The art that the travel writer may produce is then both a result and an expression of this theory of estrangement.  

In my Honors Thesis Creative Project, a collection of poetry entitled “Guidebook,” I work within both the subgenre of ‘experimental’ travel writing as well as the tradition of the personal lyric poem.  In this collection I endeavored to  write poems that engage various constructions of place, drawing on my experience studying abroad with the Notre Dame Paris Program in the summer of 2008, as well as the 2009-2010 academic year I spent studying at Trinity College Dublin.  The speaker in this collection of  poetry encompasses the identity of the traveler in relation to ideas of estrangement as a “device of art” as well as a core component of the formation of personal identity. 

Mary McKeever, “The ‘Imaginary Audience’ and ‘Personal Fable’ in Tales of Obsession: An Elkindian Approach to Narrative Truth-Value in Gothic Literature” (Director: Essaka Joshua)

In 1967, psychologist David Elkind coined the terms “imaginary audience” and “personal fable” to describe the peculiar cognitive patterns of adolescent egocentrism. The former term captures the aggrandizement of reputational themes in an adolescent’s interpretation of the “other” when viewing oneself, and the latter is concerned with the individual’s hyperbolic interpretation of his own personal uniqueness. More recently, Daniel Lapsley has provided a nuanced discussion of Elkindian literature in his “New Look Theory.” Lapsley adds a social element to the process of cognitive development of the self: if an adolescent has a faulty identity-formation process (or “separation-individuation”), his or her adolescent psychology is likely to persist into adulthood. Such persistence has been shown to be maladaptive, manifesting in narcissistic, obsessive, and depressive tendencies. William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) each present first-person coming-of-age narratives preoccupied with the experience of “selfhood.” The novels are rife with narcissistic, obsessive, and depressive expression, stemming from subjective experiences of inescapable scrutiny and personal uniqueness. The characters in question do not articulate a narrative that aligns their stories with objective reality, and therefore show evidence of the aberrant tendencies of their adolescent psychologies persisting into adulthood. This thesis assesses the validity of the truth-value in first-person narration in these gothic novels and identifies deviance from objective reality as indicative of emerging psychopathology.

Kate Mullaney, “Almost the Fool” (Director: Valerie Sayers)

Almost the Fool is a collection of three stories which examines the constant, involuntary creation of narratives - often narratives which idealize a hero - in the contemporary world, as well as the use of language, voice, and specialized vernacular to classify, conform, and marginalize. This is revealed through various situations that reflect on media culture and transmission, establishing a constant actor and spectator, although those roles are also constantly mutable. Through varied forms, genres, and points of view, the ideas of heroic narrative, language, and media overlap and are made manifest both literally and in the subtext. Ultimately, this topical exploration of story creation implicates the reader as a collaborator in the narrative trinity of fiction, creator, and consumer.

A modern legend examines the unique qualities of the fable and narrative in oral tradition, serving as a commentary on American culture’s elevation of athlete to superhero status as well as its tendency to smooth complex, human narratives into media-friendly soundbites. Both senses of story-spinning are reflected in the narrative voice, which incorporates free indirect discourse between the specific vocabularies of the distanced, third-person narrator and that of the characters.

A dual-perspective narrative highlights the fictionalizing process of interior thought, taking place entirely through the internal monologues of two characters as they experience the same concert. Their methods of constructing narratives about the musical world and each other are vastly different due to the specialized language that only one is able to access, demonstrated through two distinct narrative voices with separate vernaculars. Their individual experiences as spectators of the same musical performance, which strongly affects their localized feelings towards one another, are ultimately inverses, highlighting the already present rift in their relationship.

A story in the realist tradition, but incorporating flashes of media-related genre writing, examines the creation of literal and figurative superheroes. In the presence of extremes of optimism and cynicism as well as extreme, rapid speech, the creation of individual identity and the attempt to find one’s own language are explored as parallel. Thoroughly drenched with the inescapable presence of contemporary media, through which nearly everything can now be experienced secondhand, the creation of narrative and the relative authenticity of language take on even greater resonance. Thus, the real world becomes fiction.

Margaret Nettesheim, “‘The Robber’ and Other Stories” (Director: Steve Tomasula)

My thesis is a collection of three short stories, all in the realism genre and all using first-person narration. The first story, “In the Name of the Father,” examines father-child relationships between the narrator’s father and grandfather, and the narrator and her father. Set against the background of her grandfather’s funeral, the narrator reflects on the legacy that fathers pass on through the generations. “I Don’t Love You, Lawrence Windsor” gives the narrator’s highly analytical account of her dating relationship with Lawrence Windsor, and ultimately reveals significance of the intangibles of romance in the contrast between the narrator’s perception of the relationship, and the actuality. In “The Robber,” the narrator avoids her own self-realization in the imaginary life she constructs for the robber that holds up the bank where she works. The three stories converge at the consideration of what it means to be “real,” and the ways in which we interpret, shape, and redefine our own realities.

Soeren Palumbo, “Helen’s Way” (Director: John Duffy)

Access to history, not to learn it but rather to make it, is perhaps the most fundamental humanizer. Inclusion in the story of humanity is an acknowledgement of worth and membership in the basic fraternity connecting every instance of that which we label human. Through the selection process of what does and does not – who does and does not – qualify as part of history, humanity participates in a perpetual identity construction; by deciding what enters human history, we decide what qualifies as human.

This project challenges the dehumanizing exclusion of people with intellectual disabilities from the historical record. With oral history techniques and an extended interview process, I have brought together the facilitated autobiography of Helen, a South Bend woman with intellectual disabilities.  Written in first person and through the voice of Helen, the narrative presents an intimate and humanizing portrayal not of a disabled woman, but of a woman, a human being, as she meets the trials and formative challenges of her life.

Claire Reising, “‘As a woman, I have no country’: The Idea of Exile in Woolf and Mokeddem” (Directors: Maud Ellmann and Catherine Perry)

My thesis examines the liberating effects of exile in Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out and Malika Mokeddem’s Le Siècle des sauterelles (The Century of Locusts).  Both Woolf and Mokeddem, an Algerian writer who lives in France, develop characters who are alienated from imperial societies because of their gender or nationality.  Woolf links feminism and anti-imperialism in The Voyage Out by describing a character’s coming of age in a colonial setting with British colonizers who patronize both women and the indigenous people they meet.  Malika Mokeddem published Le Siècle des Sauterelles about 80 years after The Voyage Out, in an age more conscious about imperialism’s effects on colonized subjects.  Writing about colonial Algeria, she addresses the connection that Woolf also found between colonial and gender discrimination. 

Woolf writes in her nonfiction essay, Three Guineas, “As a woman, I have no country. My whole country is the world.”  She argues that with little influence in the public sphere, a woman does not have as much incentive as a man does to be loyal to her country.  Woolf’s and Mokeddem’s novels reflect this alienation, as female and colonized characters lose, or never possess, loyalty to a single country or culture.  Instead, they create a separate space, independent of a group, by living in a state of exile.  This condition is not exile in its strictest definition, since the characters are not forced to leave their countries, but it is often a self-imposed exile, as characters reject values from their cultures and distance themselves, both physically and intellectually, from mainstream societies.

Freeing themselves from dominant, nationalist groups allows the protagonists to escape the rigid dichotomy between “self” and “other” that sexism and imperialism reinforce.  When Woolf’s and Mokeddem’s characters are no longer regarded as inferior, they are free to form communities with other marginalized characters and to express their opinions without repression.  

Most of the exiled characters in The Voyage Out and Le Siècle des sauterelles do not reject their country altogether, but reject the jingoist or discriminatory culture that many members of their country or tribe uphold.  However, the protagonists are forced to engage with mainstream cultures and face discrimination, and often, these encounters are not successful for exiled characters.  Woolf and Mokeddem demonstrate that exiling oneself from the dominant culture is often necessary to achieve self-representation and freely express one’s own opinions.  In these novels, however, exile is not a state that one can maintain.  By force or by choice, the characters eventually must confront the dominant group that they tried to escape, and the authors show the difficulties that this confrontation brings.    

Rachel Roseberry, “‘Walled in Here’: An Examination of Poetic Space and Community in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves” (Director: Barbara Green)

Virginia’s Woolf’s The Waves was the embodiment of her call for a new literature; a departure from realist detail to privilege the poetic detail contained in images of consciousness. It is typically considered her most experimental work. In this self-described “play-poem,” as in her other fictions, she explores the idea of interior space, yet the extant body of scholarly work on Woolf and interior space relies on the exploration of concrete details in order to unpack her more realist texts. That is, much of the scholarly work on Woolf’s interest in interior space is concentrated historically, tracing Woolf’s literary philosophy through evocations of her personal, physical space or, in a slightly wider lens, the physical details of the historical environment. In the experimental work The Waves, as in Woolf’s other works, characters move significantly through interior spaces including homes, schools, and the spaces of urban London, yet an examination of their function is still missing. The absence of descriptive detail in this work has clearly presented a challenge to Woolf scholars invested in space, and, as such, requires a new method of analysis.

Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenological, poetic framework provides the ideal lens from which to view The Waves. Even though she predates him, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves can be read as a literary extension of his “poetics of the imagination.” His conception of interior spaces, and in particular, the childhood home, can be found in Woolf’s work amidst challenges to his assumptions of solitude. Her work fills his “isolated house” with people, creating a unique conception of communal space and the memories that follow in its wake. Her poetic language and subsequent presentation of interior space in The Waves presents a unique vision of communal interaction. Through a Bachelardian examination of the shared spaces within the novel, we can better comprehend Woolf’s understanding of the human relationship to space and its impact on “life itself” in her most experimental work.

Maria Sengenberger, “The Moral of the Story: Béroul’s Didactic Intent in Le Roman de Tristan” (Director: Tom Hall)

Medieval romances are filled with romantic intrigues which contradict the Church’s strict teachings on sexual relations. Among the most well-known of these stories, that of Tristan and Iseut stands out for its overwhelmingly tragic nature, and of the many medieval versions of this story which survive today, Béroul’s Le Roman de Tristran stands out, not only for being one of the earliest, but also one which does not shy away from the moral implications of the couple’s passion. In fact, it could be said that Béroul plays up the moral conflicts that arise, writing a Christian God who supports an adulterous couple in face of a human court which condemns them. How can we understand this problematic presentation of morality? A natural assumption might be that Béroul is trying to tell us something, that there is a message to be learned about how romantic love can be understood in a medieval Christian societal context.

Perhaps it is that Tristran and Yseut are not as culpable as one might think. Peter Abelard, not only the famous lover of Heloise, was also a well-known twelfth-century theologian who developed an understanding of sin based on intentionality. If someone does not intend to do evil, it is not a sin. Tristran and Yseut fall under this category, being under the power of the Irish love potion, and are thus guiltless, or are they? Another thing to keep in mind is that the Old French word pechié, which is used frequently in Béroul’s poem, does not always translate into the Modern French word for sin, but also means ‘outrage’ and ‘misfortune,’ a significance that increases our awareness of the tragic nature of the story.

One tragic  element is the disjunction between divine justice, seen in the miraculous escapes made by Tristran and Yseut, and human justice, seen in the constant prosecution of the couple brought about by King Marc’s advisors. The two codes never match up and, in fact, seem to be in conflict with each other. For example, the hermit Ogrin, representing the Church, helps Tristran and Yseut to trick the tribunal into pardoning them. Is this hypocrisy or compassion, and what is the right thing to do? Tristran and Yseut do receive forgiveness and are reconciled with the court, but this is not to say that they have changed their ways.

Béroul is so insistent in bringing up moral issues that it might be useful to look at another version of the story, the Middle English Sir Tristrem, which is infamous for its lack of moral depth. A close reading of this text reveals that the same moral issues are present in the English text, albeit in a reduced manner, and this experimental control does not clear up much about Béroul’s poem, except perhaps on the issue of marriage.

Hot debates raged throughout the twelfth-century about the proper place of romantic love and marriage and the proper place of marriage in the life of the Church. Such love could destroy the spiritual purposes of marriage and lead the amorous souls into sin.  The tension between Marc’s legal marriage to Yseut and Tristran’s ­­passionate yet adulterous relationship with her causes us to question the nature of marriage and which man should have the right to claim Yseut as his own.

In conclusion, it cannot be determined that Béroul has a message of synchronization of love and society in Le Roman de Tristran, but what is emphasized is the incompatibility of these two ideals. Béroul exposes many moral conflicts in his text without providing solutions to them. His intention in telling this story is not a quest for harmonization but rather an exposition of the many discordant aspects of human love and law in the Arthurian world.