Reflection Essay on English studies in MA in English and Writing program

During my time at Western New Mexico University’s MA in Interdisciplinary Studies program in English and Writing, I studied American literature, literary theories, ancient and medieval literature, and Romantic and Victorian poetry. I entered the program with a primary interest in American literature, more specifically, in contemporary American fiction. As a result, the majority of my work was focused on the American novel, the American West, and American humor. However, as I started to learn more about the study of literature, I developed an interest in other literary periods, and took courses in Romantic and Victorian poetry, Greek drama, ancient and medieval literature, and the Enlightenment. Today, though I am still interested in contemporary fiction, I am no longer interested in exclusively American fiction. In particular, I am interested in the differences in the contemporary novel across American, British, Canadian, Australian, and other English speaking literatures. This portfolio includes all major essays that I had written in the program up to this point. They are organized according to reverse chronological order, with the most recently written essays first.

In the first section, I present to essays that incorporate concepts I encountered in a course on feminist theories of literature. In the first essay, I analyze the concept of unstable identities in Tania Hershman’s My Mother was an Upright Piano, a contemporary flash fiction story. The study of semiotics is based on the notion that meaning and reality are not contained or transmitted throughout the world via books and computers, but are instead actively created. In the essay, I argue that Hershman’s first person 250-word story inverts the notion of characters as singular identities and reinforces Julia Kristeva’s notion of the subject as a dynamic process with unstable identities. In the second essay, I analyze the concept of both/and vision in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of a Hedgehog, a contemporary French novel in translation. In particular, I argue that the novel’s narrators, both voiceless and thoughtless Others within society, its fluid and non-hierarchical structure, and its incorporation of Eastern traditions into Western thought all act to dissolve either/or dualism, and create a new kind of structure that promotes both/and thinking.

In the second section, I present a series of shorter essays that I wrote for a course on Greek drama. There are three essays on SophoclesAntigone, two longer essays on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and four shorter essays on the Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis. In the first essay on Sophocles’ Antigone, I analyze Creon’s peripeteia and hamartia, and argue that Creon’s peripeteia coincides with his anagnorisis, a change from ignorance to knowledge. In the second essay on Antigone, I analyze Sophocles’ use of the chorus and argue that the “Ode to Man” is a tool that allows Sophocles to praise mankind for its many accomplishments, and to warn mankind that, despite these accomplishments, it is not invincible. Furthermore, I also argue that the chorus is Sophocles’ way to remain invisible yet always present within the text. In the third essay on Sophocles’ Antigone, I analyze whether or not Creon and Antigone are tragic heroes and argue that, though Creon is uncompromising and stubborn, he is not a tragic hero because he does not fulfill one of the definitional requirements of a tragic hero. As a tragic hero, Antigone is driven by passion rather than reason; Creon, on the other hand, is driven solely by the desire to suppress, what he views as, threats to his power.

In the first essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, I analyze the plot, or who knows what and at which point. In the second essay on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, I analyze the function of the chorus. In particular, I argue that the chorus serves a dual purpose; it acts like the consciousness of the people and the spokesperson for Sophocles. In the first three essays on the Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, I analyze different characters’ approaches to argumentation. In the first essay, I point out that, unlike Agamemnon, Menelaus identifies Agamemnon’s inappropriate acts and supports his observations with culturally relevant aphorisms. I argue that these different approaches to argumentation illustrate that Agamemnon is indeed the emotional and desperate leader that Menelaus accuses him of being. In the second essay, I argue that Euripides presents Agamemnon as someone who chooses to sacrifice his daughter, and hides his decision behind false rhetoric. In the third essay, I argue that Agamemnon’s reasoning shows that he has an implicit desire for personal ambition. In the last essay on the Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, I analyze Iphigenia as a hero and argue that her use of traditional language of male heroism illustrates that she possesses the same aspirations and ambitions for fame and immortality that Achilles and Agamemnon possess.

In third section, I present three essays that I wrote for a course on the American Novel. These essays focus on three major postwar novels, Saul Bellow’s More Die of Heartbreak, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and analyze the writers’ different uses of language in conceptualizing the self and the meaning of life.  In the essay on More Die of Heartbreak, I argue that there might be a scientific explanation for Kenneth’s inability to intuitively understand the world around him. In particular, I argue that while Kenneth appears to be self-absorbed, naïve, and immature, his dependency on his intellectual reasoning may be a result of an underdeveloped ability to read other people’s minds, or what cognitive scientists call mind-reading. In the essay on The Crying of Lot 49, I argue that by bombarding the reader with seemingly disconnected images, metaphors, popular culture references, and inside jokes, Pynchon portrays Oedipa’s quest as a journey in search of meaning that embodies the philosophical concept of the Absurd, the conflict between looking for meaning in life and the inability to find it. In the essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, I argue that while the novel is poignant and memorable for many reasons, it is its style of narration, its use of symbolism, and its structure as a novel of education that makes it particularly effective.

In section four, I present three essays that I wrote for a course on life and literature of New Mexico. These essays deal with identity and the American West. In the first essay, I analyze Rudolfo Anaya’s Alburquerque and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, and compare how Anaya depicts the search for the Hispanic American identity to how Silko depicts the search for the Native American identity. In particular, I argue that unlike Tayo’s search in Ceremony, Abran’s search in Alburquerque stems from a place of love and security, a place that gives him the freedom to find his roots without losing himself. In the second essay, I analyze Edward Abbey’s The Brave Cowboy and argue that Abbey’s narrative style uses a variety of descriptions including sensory information, representations of consciousness, and realistic details to convey the brutality of industrialization and the beauty of nature. In the third essay, I analyze James McKenna’s Black Range Tales: Chronicling Sixty Years of Life and Adventure in the Southwest and argue that McKenna uses humor and hope to paint a vivid picture of a people who embodied the measured optimism of the nineteenth-century American West.

In section five, I present three essays that I wrote for a course on American humor. These essays focus on three major American humorists/satirists: George Carlin, Joseph Heller, and Mark Twain. In the first essay, I analyze George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? and argue that he examines euphemisms, political correctness, and patriotic talk in order to illustrate how all of these misuses of language soften its effectiveness, and contribute to a kind of degeneration of reality within our culture as a whole. In the second essay, I analyze Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and argue that while the novel’s numerous characters and seemingly non-chronological events present a rather convoluted plot, its third-person omniscient narrator helps Heller avoid preachy rhetoric in his satiric attack on American business. In the third essay, I analyze Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and argue that, while the portrayal of Colonel Sherburn is easy to dismiss as just another satire of a Southern gentleman, Sherburn and his speech also serve another purpose, namely to deliver Twain’s visceral attack on the cowardice of man.

In section six, I present two essays that I wrote for a course on Romantic and Victorian poetry. These essays focus on two of the most famous poems in the English language, William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and compare my interpretations of the meaning of the poems to those put forth by other critics. In the first essay, I argue that using daffodils as concrete symbols of other people’s happiness, Wordsworth’s speaker undergoes a change from someone who is alienated and lonely to someone who, while still alone, is no longer lonely. In the second essay, I argue that Michael Levenson’s and Harriet Davidson’s interpretations of “The Waste Land” are merely supporting statements to Harold Bloom’s primary argument that the poem is a search for a way out of the waste land that is the early twentieth century.

The MAIS program was an eye-opening experience which helped me develop into a better reader and writer. I came into the program with an exclusive interest in American literature, and I am leaving the program with a well-developed palate and an interest in all aspects of literary studies. For example, I am currently interested in learning more about medieval and ancient literature and their contemporary interpretations, i.e. Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The program also helped me develop into a better creative writer. By analyzing other writers’ language and narrative techniques in my critical essays, I was able to apply those techniques to my own fiction, and develop my short stories into complete works. As a result, many of those stories have been published in literary journals, in America and abroad, and my novella has been submitted to a couple of small publishers and the Paris Literary Prize competition. The MAIS program fostered my interests in literature and gave me confidence to pursue my own writing. I view my time here as only the beginning of my work in literary studies, and plan to continue my education at Western New Mexico University next year, with additional courses in Shakespeare and the British novel. Furthermore, I am also looking into PhD programs in literature and creative writing.

Official Logo of Western New Mexico University

Official Logo of Western New Mexico University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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