Elizabeth Rawitsch, '03, Saratoga Springs, New York:
Reflecting on his recovery from a devastating and undiagnosed illness in his autobiography, director Frank Capra declared, "Beginning with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, my films had to say something." Auteur critics, however, often intentionally overlook Lost Horizon (1937), the film that immediately followed Deeds At first glance their reaction is understandable; Horizon does not follow the same pattern as the majority of Capra's work. It takes place in Tibet, not the United States, and British characters outnumber the Americans. Furthermore, film critics argue that the protagonist is not pitted against anything; the utopian plot of the film lacks conflict. Although it was a critical and commercial success upon its release, in retrospect Horizon is a puzzling film. Using a historically-based auteurist approach, I will attempt to prove that auteur theorists who ignore Horizon have missed the point. The historical period during which this film was set "the Great Depression" serves as the conflict within the film. Although Horizon is a utopian fantasy, utopias attempt to correct the problems currently existing within their societies "in this case, America" and therefore it is still overtly political; Capra still "says something." However, I will also attempt to prove that, as in many of his films, what Capra "says" is slightly muddled. His utopia is not a perfect society, despite his argument that its celebration of moderation is the true form of perfection. The theme of visible cracks in a seemingly perfect society is consistent with Capra's oeuvre, and therefore emphasizes Horizon's thematic importance in his work as a whole.
Maggie Andrews, '03, Danville, PA:
Roald Dahl and the Fractured Family
Children’s literature is often overlooked as an obvious comment on the role and structure of the nuclear family. The archetype of an evil family that the child must escape stretches back as far Cinderella’s evil step-sisters, to as contemporary as Harry Potter’s detestable Dursley’s. The families in the majority of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels are no exception. The parents are immature, cruel, and often non-existent. This fractured portrayal of family structure forces the hero/heroine to become an independent person, assuming the responsibilities of the adult world. Only a courageous and imaginative child can survive through the family situations of Dahl’s novels. So why is this convention so successful with children? Is it possible that these tales appeal to young children because they also long to escape from their family? I plan to focus on how Dahl resolves these familial conflicts with his dark humor and fanciful escapes. It is an undeniable fact that children’s literature does make an impression upon young readers, and I plan to examine how much of an impact Dahl’s novels have upon their readers. A close reading of these novels James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Dahl’s autobiography Boy, generates a completely new set of ethical questions dealing with the responsibilities of parents and the power that one child may possess. Are Dahl’s solutions of magical powers or fanciful journeys an acceptable resolution to their familial problems? Or do they inspire and encourage a subtle anger and disrespect toward parental figures?
Jason Hilton, '03 ,Seattle, WA:
Common Heroes: Passivity In Opposition to Perception
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s goal in 1922 to write, something new--something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned" created his seminal work The Great Gatsby. In it, the almost mythical heroism of Jay Gatsby is built up and then defeated. The passive heroes of John Updike and John Cheever work toward the same type of destruction of the American image of the hero in their works, The Centaur and “The Swimmer, respectively. While the idea of a common hero is itself not a new creation, these heroes stand out within the context of American literary ideas of heroism. It is important that these characters are all passive heroes because these authors write about, and in, the upper-middle class of America. From this class, a perception of what an American hero is supposed to be is generated. These three authors use their heroes to move what is “supposed” to be considered a hero away from the euphoria of WWI, WWII and idealism of the 1950’s. This new hero stands in opposition to the ideas of heroism and success based on financial and social stature in upper class society.
I will establish the characters as passive heroes and then place them in context of the American canon as well as in the context of a cultural perspective. I plan on using reader response criticism to examine the effect of such heroes on the American reader.
Gabrielle Snyder, '03, Northumberland, PA:
Exploring Aestheticism and Identity in Modernist Europe through Ballet and Text
Around 1929, choreographer George Balanchine and author Christopher Isherwood articulated the post-war cultural climates of London and Berlin by producing pieces of literary and performance art that serve to unmask, and therefore reshape, the tumultuous period of modernist Europe through their protagonists' progression towards consciousness. I will argue that Balanchine's expressionist ballet The Prodigal Son and Isherwood's The Berlin Stories paradoxically show the superficiality and consequent devastation of hedonism by developing the protagonists' consciousness of national and individual identity through the exploitation of 'life as a spectacle' using aestheticism, iconography, and significant form. Specifically in 1929-1933, the attractiveness of debauchery and capitalism in these avant-garde capitals of Europe became a partition between fantasy and truth, protecting those who chose to live in a state of oblivion from confronting the dangers of reality, which were not limited to oncoming warfare and the insidious destruction of moral character.
I will explore the cultures and theatrical scenes of London and Weimar Berlin to identify the pluralism of modernist definition found in ballet, as ephemera, versus the tangible substantiality of literature. In this way, literature and performance can be treated as forms of communication capable of intertextual analysis. By defining the crises and the radical aesthetic ideal each work presents, the protagonists' change in level of consciousness can be traced and related to the larger cultural contexts that occur simultaneously. Using new historical criticism, as well as addressing the underlying themes of homosexuality and feminism, I hope to show how consciousness, representation of sexuality, the masking of reality and classification of characters, and the eventual deconstruction of these assumptions characterize individual identity as something that is indeterminate and changeable, causing an increased sense of displacement from a fixed people and culture.
On a national scale, the ambiguity of identity regarding war, race, and gender had filtered down to the individual, where performance and reality, the mask and the self, became integrated into several indistinguishable and obscured archetypes of what a human being 'is' and 'should be.' Particularly following the gruesomeness of world war and economic decline, the appeal of aesthetics to human sensorial perception obscures both truth and falsehood to the point that the desire for fantasy essentially usurps reality. The act of living one's life, either consciously or unconsciously, becomes performance.
Primary sources include Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, a VHS recording of a 1978 performance of The Prodigal Son (possibly more recent performances as well), and the original libretto by Boris Kochno. Works by authors Hollahan, McKibbon, and Hynes will provide information on the construction of class and crisis consciousness during this era. Supplementary texts for cultural study will include: Berlin Cabaret, The Weimar Republic, Divine Decadence, and Reconfiguring Modernism, as well as other essays that focus on the evolution of ballet to modernist art in London and cabaret shows in Berlin. Julia Kristeva, Susan Friedman, and Ralph Freedman's studies in intertextuality, definitions of modernism, and consciousness will provide the background in critical theory.
Gabrielle Snyder (left) and Sarah Fair (right)
Sarah Fair, '03, Butler, PA:
Insanity in the Victorian Woman
My senior seminar paper will concentrate on the treatment of the insane woman during the Victorian Era in Britain. I will be writing on Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, as the focus of my study. In this novel, Bronte uses the character, Bertha Rochester, better known to many as the "madwoman in the attic," to display a female lunatic in Nineteenth Century Britain. I will be looking at the character of Bertha as an example of Victorian society's view of the insane, and studying the treatment that she, as a character, was subjected to, and then comparing it to the treatment of Victorian women in insane asylums during the same period.
Through my research, I plan to prove that the inhumane treatment of mentally ill Victorian women had a great effect on Victorian society. I anticipate to show that Charlotte Bronte's purpose in creating the character of Bertha Rochester was to demonstrate the corruption in Victorian society, especially, but not limited to, the treatment of women. I will illustrate the high ideals that society expected Victorian women to follow, and will hopefully connect these expectations with insanity in these women. I will also explain the treatments that mentally ill women underwent in insane asylums in order to demonstrate Victorian society's contempt for these diseases.
Abbe Watson, '03, Pleasantville, PA:
The fourteenth century Italian poet Petrarch established the mode of the ideal poetic muse in the Renaissance. Many critics argue that the subject of Petrarchan love poetry, the unattainable Laura, is the means by which Petrarch establishes his own subjectivity. Petrarchan poetics became popular in England in the sixteenth century, with many poets who followed suite, or sought to revise Petrarch’s stance on love. My interest is in the ways that the early seventeenth century female poets, Lady Mary Wroth, a popular aristocratic woman and niece of poet, Sir Philip Sidney, and Aemilia Lanyer, a middle class woman from London, reacted to Petrarchan conventions in their poetry. I shall compare Wroth’s long sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, as well as her narrative story, The Countesse of Montgomerie’s Urania with Lanyer’s collection of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, which includes a feminist revision of familiar Biblical stories, as well as her inaugural “country house” poem, “A Description of Cookham.”
A central question to my argument shall be how the female gaze, or the way in which these poets depict the love “object” in their sonnets is inherently different from the approach of Petrarch, as well as contemporary male poets. Is Wroth’s poetry significantly different because she writes in the voice of a woman addressing an absent male lover? What does it mean for Lanyer to gaze upon other women? I shall employ the feminist criticism of Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick and Luce Irigaray to expound upon the notion of the female “gaze.”
Using art and architectural theory, I shall also explore the spaces of love in Wroth and Lanyer’s poetry. I am interested in the ways that these poets use the traditional pastoral retreat (the spaces of the country house, landscape and nature) as the essential space of their love. Ultimately, I shall discern the ways that Wroth and Lanyer revise traditional patriarchal tropes of place and love in order to establish a female voice and subjectivity.
Sara Hoover, '03, Blacksburg, VA:
Inventing a New Plot
At the end of Virginia Woolf's novel Between the Acts Isabel Oliver concludes "Surely it was time someone invented a new plot" (194). Throughout her writings, Woolf suggests one of the fundamental problems with narrative in fiction as well as on a larger cultural level was that it was tied to patriarch social structure. For women, written narratives were problematic because they were bound to endings centered on marriage or death. In my thesis, I plan to explore how by attempting to reform women's access to education in British society, Woolf engages the possibility of constructing "a new plot." In her own experience as a reader, Woolf recognized that due to educational deficiencies, women were historically poor readers, thus lacking the ability to become observant writers, and ultimately denied an articulate critical voice necessary to change this system. In response to cultural imperfections, Woolf throughout her writings attempts to restructure reading, writing, and critical abilities in order to engage the possibility of plots structured around professions and the things people do in life. I plan to break my thesis into three parts, the first of which will look at Woolf and the idea of "the common reader" in relation to education in the private sphere, the second of which will look at Woolf as a professional writer in context of the problems in institutional education, and the third of which will look at how Woolf uses a critical voice to change the first two processes and how this effects our own readings of Woolf in texts such as Michael Cunningham's The Hours. My primary texts will include biographies of Woolf, non-fictional works such as Common Reader, A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas, and fictional works such as Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Between the Acts which I will use in an effort to explore Woolf's response to women's education as seen as a reader and as constructed as a writer. Ultimately I hope to suggest that by looking at the relationship between gender, education, and narrative, Woolf attempts to transcend gender as a framework for learning and thus for social narratives. By helping to create a new fictional space, Woolf is able to create space for a new cultural plot.