Department of English

Capstone Projects

At the end of their English programs, students conduct an independent research project, with the help of a faculty mentor. They submit a substantial written paper and a portfolio and present their research at a Capstone Symposium. Following the presentations and discussion, we celebrate their achievements with cupcakes and some socializing.

Some of the diverse topics students have studied are represented here in some sample abstracts:

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 3 May 2013

“There’s No Such Thing as a Well-Intentioned Horcrux”: Power, Corruption and the Sacred Soul in Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings

Presented by Ruthi Mitchell

Ancient philosophers all had theories regarding the duality of the soul, and the debate has continued for centuries in philosophy, science, religion and literature. Most cultures place the soul in the realm of the sacred, considering it the very breath of life and the source of what it means to be human. The dream of immortality and the desire for power are equally ancient in the history of humankind, so it is only natural that these two roads should intersect somewhere in time. This paper suggests that such an intersection is made possible by the emergence of fantasy fiction, which allows an author to speculate on an idea without the restrictions placed upon that idea by our world. A look at two popular works of fantasy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, tracks changes in the perception of the soul from the simple disembodied spirit of the dead to an agent capable of harming others which seems to diminish the soul’s sanctity, removing it from the sacred. Examining these texts through the lens of Plato’s tripartite soul theory offers one way to theorize about the effects of this speculation, teaching us that the development of our own souls has a direct impact on our susceptibility to the allure of power, and the practice of good character can deter its corrupting influence. This idea of good repelling evil thus realigns the soul and restores it to the realm of the sacred.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 30 November 2012

Elements, Narrators, and Suspense: Adapting the Gothic

Presented by Lauren Kuhr

Gothic fiction is a literary genre that combines the supernatural, fantasy, a play on emotions, darkness, and horror. Distinctive elements of Gothic fiction include the setting, environment and atmosphere, emotions of the characters and the readers, and the supernatural. The works of Edgar Allan Poe demonstrate these elements that are considered to be models of Gothic fiction. In this paper, I examine how suspense is generated in Gothic fiction by analyzing how the setting, narrative point of view, and the representation of the victim operate in several of Poe’s texts. After analyzing these elements and using them as a baseline, I demonstrate how Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones modifies the typical idea of Gothic fiction. Sebold’s contemporary version of Gothic fiction, set in an average American suburban neighborhood in the 1970s, centers around the main character and narrator, Susie, who is murdered by her neighbor at the very beginning of the novel. These elements would seem to detract from the potential for generating suspense, but I argue that this text shows how Gothic conventions can be modified to maintain suspense by redefining what is frightening about settings and relocating the role and power of the victim and also how suspense is adapted for a contemporary audience.

Memory, Medium, and Method: Two Tales of Fathers Surviving the Holocaust

Presented by Marci Singer

In Art Spiegelman's graphic biographies, Maus I and Maus II, and the mainstream memoir Night, by Elie Wiesel, both authors highlight how the memories between their respective fathers differ due to how the fathers individually perceive their own specific imprisonments. The two texts show how the fathers' captivity in the concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau affect Wiesel and Spiegelman although the authors write in distinctly different mediums. The Maus books have generated some controversy in Spiegelman's usage of a comic book format to deal with such a sensitive topic and his use of animals to represent his characters. Both authors have distinctly different reasons for relating their stories. In Night, Wiesel recounts his guilt and remorse concerning the death of his father in the concentration camp Auschwitz. Spiegelman, alternatively, utilizes his writing to repair a relationship with his markedly distant father and his own guilt for not being a first generation Holocaust survivor as was the rest of his family. In Spiegelman's case, absence causes a significant fracture in his familial relationships when the information of the Holocaust is transferred through generations versus Spiegelman's having an actual first-hand experience in the concentration camps. The narrative voice that is used in each book is related through first person in Night, and second person in Maus I and II. This creates a unique method to recount their reconstruction of the catastrophic events. The landscape of Wiesel's memoir is written from a personal space creating a more intimate sense of closure in relation to his father while Spiegelman appears to create more distance. His is an oxymoronic message in that Spiegelman is trying to bridge a gap between his father and himself. Memories are shaped from countless experiences, deriving from desperation and despair, or from joy and jubilation. As these two methods and mediums of relating similar stories of relationships convey the fathers' feelings behind their individual memories, they recount how important it is to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive so that the atrocities that occurred will never be repeated in our present or our future.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 4 May 2012

Can You Hear See Me Now?”: Multimodal Narrative in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Presented by Griffin Browning

The emerging field of multimodality has been subject to varying levels of critical debate, with incongruities arising in regards to the scope and nature of communicative modes. In contemporary fiction, multimodality examines modes and aspects that exist outside of primarily text-based mediums, including the use of color, typeface, space, and layout. Critical theory has yet to establish a definitive relationship between modality and meaning, calling into question the ability of modes—whether verbal, textual, visual, or otherwise—to effectively express and communicate meaning. As a result, the experimental nature of Jonathan Safran Foer's work, inclusive of non-conventional visual modes, has faced criticism. Foer's most experimental work, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, has been especially prone to divisive discourse, with the novel's varied use of non-conventional structure and visual design labeled as an innovative, narrative tool as well as a garish, distractive gimmick. Although critical discourse has identified the practical, contextual potential of individual modes, there has been limited discussion focused on the communication that exists between modes. It is through this communication that multimodality emerges as a viable and innovative narrative technique, as represented by Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The novel represents a collaboration between conventional text and the visual modes of color, typeface, and space, culminating in a narrative that allows for a unique reader experience that would be unachievable without Foer's multimodal approach to narrative fiction.

The Social Construction of Identity in Marie de France’s Le Fresne

Presented by Amanda Larson

During the twelfth century, a literary renaissance allowed medieval authors to rediscover and reinterpret Celtic romance as a literary topic. Out of this resurgence the genre of the lai develops. Lais are short, narrative tales in octosyllabic verse depicting tales of courtly romance. Marie de France is credited with a collection of twelve lais that are based on the tales she heard from Breton bards. Her lais explore themes of love, social class, reputation, and identity in a chivalric court setting. Critical discourse surrounding the lais of Marie de France often centers on three main themes: her anonymity as an author and what that means for the authority of her voice in literature, her portrayal of women throughout the lais, or her portrayal of literary figures such as King Arthur or Tristan. Other themes that have been explored by critics are metamorphosis, sexual transgression, marriage, and identity. Critics tend to focus on the lais Bisclavret¸ Lanval, and Chevrefoil when looking at how identity is shaped in Marie de France’s work.

Yet a much ignored lai, Le Fresne, entwines several conventions of the lai and demonstrates identity as a social construction of court society, rather than through metamorphosis like in Bisclavret. For example, it combines traditional themes like a heroine abandoned, the wicked woman who reaps what she sows, a female Job or Griselda whose devotion is tested and then rewarded, as well as the importance of naming with a society that constructs and reconstructs its heroine’s identity so that she fits within excepted social mores. By analyzing how reputation, naming, and the passivity/activity of characters function within the lai, it becomes clear that the microcosm of chivalric society that Marie de France created actually shapes Fresne’s identity throughout the text. Examining the use of tree imagery to engender identity, the importance of protecting one’s reputation, and the use of identity tokens to provide a moment of recognition at the end of the lais builds a framework that shows the amount of influence society has over the characters in the lai. The loss and later the reestablishment of Fresne's identity, allows her to reclaim a position in court as a noble which proves that identity in this lai is socially constructed to maintain class stratification and uphold social order.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 2 December 2011

Man Up, You Foppish Dandy!: Masculinity, Delusion, Secrecy, and Illusion in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and “Markheim”

Presented by Tara Lyn Armstrong

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a blueprint for abject duality. Jekyll lives publicly as one persona, ingests a drug causing physical transformation in order to fulfill disreputable desires, actualizes the powers of masculinity and social norms, and recruits friends into a seditious circle of secrecy and lies. The main character of Stevenson’s short story “Markheim” embodies the polar opposite of Jekyll as his duality is expressed when he, a murderer and potential thief, is confronted with a power struggle via a visual manifestation of his own subconscious. Conversing with himself conjures a realization of what was, could be, and is at present, the aggregate of which leads him to ‘man up’ and liberate himself from recidivation. Jekyll’s experiment and Markheim’s reawakening rely on reticence, the concept of which is explored at length in both Beryl Bellman’s “The Paradox of Secrecy” and James Eli Adams’ Dandies and Desert Saints. Cesare Lombroso’s Criminal Man proposes a simplistic diagnosis that Jekyll’s insanity may be to blame for his actions, a claim countered by “A Chemically Induced ‘Shadow’?, an article by Terry Cooper who willfully complies with the American Medical Association’s declaration that chemical dependency is a disease. The creation of and experimentation with the drug that enables Jekyll’s metamorphosis leads to the argument of choice versus addiction. The doctor is fueled by his insatiable desire to no longer deny himself the “irregularities” (Stevenson 78) of his younger days but rather house his desires and civility in “separate identities” (79). In “Wild Humans,” Patricia Ferrer-Medina argues the cause, effect, and symbolic notion of duality, which, for both characters, is convenient at best and necessary at least. Jekyll manipulates the system of normative masculinity in response to the debilitating fear of being socially, emotionally, and psychologically crushed by the very system he desperately requires for protection. Markheim’s vice, however, is morality and he exemplifies the propriety of the Victorian era by taking ownership of his crimes before annihilating the sanctity of authentic masculinity.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 6 May 2011

"Who's on Faust”: An Examination of Knowledge, Power, and Ambition in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust"

Presented by Patrick Lynch

During the time of the Renaissance in England, there was great change concerning the way knowledge was valued and gained.  The value of knowledge experienced a similar change during the Romantic period in Europe two centuries later.  Two important dramas which offer keen insight into these periods are Christopher Marlowe's Renaissance play, The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Romantic era drama Faust.  To properly examine the conceptual change in understanding related to knowledge, it is important to look at the internal and external forces which drive ordinary the men of these plays who offer their souls to the Devil in exchange for the ability to gain power, fame, and wealth through knowledge.  Marlowe's portrayal of Doctor Faustus represents the changes in thought and power related to the traditional ideas of philosophy, law, medicine, and theology during the Renaissance.  Doctor Faustus believes the knowledge he has gained through the traditional methods are not enough to satisfy his desire for power.  Driven by his own self-serving goals, Doctor Faustus goes beyond the traditional methods of knowledge and turns to a supernatural source.  Goethe's depiction of Faust is the embodiment of the fresh ideals of Romanticism, representing the change in how knowledge was received and valued.  Faust seeks the knowledge to gain power and desires to achieve a higher level awareness, similar to Doctor Faustus.  Faust looks toward the power of Nature, through experience and introspection, to gain knowledge.  Both Doctor Faustus and Faust desire power through the knowledge they gain; however their goals differ as Doctor Faustus seeks the ability to gain rewards of wealth and fame for his own selfish reasons, whereas Faust strives to acquire a higher understanding of the natural world for self-fulfillment.

"'History is About to Crack Wide Open': The Influence of the Enlightenment on Modern Medical Epistemology and the Formation of National Identity in Tony Kushner's Angels in America"

Presented by Melissa Pompili

During the Enlightenment, the manner in which medical practitioners viewed patients who had contracted disease changed drastically; medicine went from being descriptive in nature to being theoretical and diagnostic. For the first time in Western history, disease became a force that could be fought against with positive results and possibly conquered through scientific means. An acknowledgement of this paradigm shift is reflected in Western literature, and Tony Kushner's two-part play Angels In America demonstrates how the possibility of the long-term survival of disease directly affects the social order. The text links the character of Prior Walter to his ancestors through previously fatal and devastating epidemics, and through this bond Prior is subsequently linked to other past empires. This paper examines the early descriptive nature of medical observation in Thucydides's famous text The Peloponnesian War, and then further traces changing medical theory in the little known nineteenth-century text by William Harrison Ainsworth, Old Saint Paul's: A Tale of the Plague and the Fire. I argue that due to medical advancements in the treatment of contagion Prior is able to survive what the text describes as the plague of 1980s America, AIDS. His survival then directly leads to the formation of a community that does not adhere to boundaries that are typically set by race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion. Prior's ability to survive disease becomes the catalyst for redefining the social order in Kushner’s portrayal of an idealized post-millennial America.

"Exploring the Violent Actions of Women in Ancient Greek Drama"

Presented by Charity Anderson

Euripides is perhaps one of the most well-known playwrights of the ancient Greek era and it is through three of his plays, Medea, The Bacchae, and Electra, that audiences are given a direct link to the concern of violent women during this time. By directly analyzing the actions and circumstances within these works of historic mastery, one is able to better understand the cultural influences that spurred their creation and the target audience in which they were meant to address. By understanding the roles of women, laws, and traditional purposes for theatre itself in ancient Greece, the vision of these fictional women becomes clearer. They were not just characters created for the purpose of entertainment. Rather, due to their violent behaviors, they were more likely the faces of fear that were used to sustain the patriarchal society of the time and the limitations that were assumed within it.

"Can You Spot The Gray Chameleon? An Examination of Multiracial Identities in Fiction"

Presented by Anshea Christian

The need for proper categorization of identity is an ability most people rely on. An individual constructs an identity based on perspectives the dominant culture has established. This created identity is characteristically given to marginal individuals or "Others" who are then confined to the category placed upon them by the dominant culture. Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, a parallel novel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, shifts the perspective from the iconic character of Jane Eyre to the viewpoints of the marginal characters of the novel.  In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette (Bertha) Mason (Rochester) is no longer the Bertha of Jane Eyre, Rochester’s mad wife in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea calls attention to the negative portrayal of Antoinette (Bertha) in Jane Eyre by giving Antoinette a human voice and narrative. Both novels, as well as other literary texts, examine how society constructs certain individuals’ identities and how the individuals then reflect the identity society created for them. Rhys’s novel confronts racial identity by introducing stereotypes that attach values and identities according to skin color. Her novel examines the hidden multiracial narrative of Antoinette Bertha Mason while also enforcing the hidden multiracial narratives in Jane Eyre. The identity of a multiracial character, when furthered examined in literature, holds a dialogue on the rebellion or compliance towards society’s categorization of them, their chameleon like ability to adapt in different cultural groups as a means of survival, and the gray area that a multiracial identity resides within a racial hierarchy.

"Whom Can We Trust? : The Nature of Unreliability"

Presented by Jenna Buldas

The primary texts “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman, The Catcher and the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, share the similarity of an unreliable narrator. Whether the narrator in these primary texts is suffering from paranoia or other side effects from a mental illness, there is clear line where perspective is challenged. These three texts provide a continuum of unreliability; from the clear case of distorted perspective in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to the more ambiguous case of The Turn of the Screw and the much more subtle instance of The Catcher in the Rye, there is a clear distinction of authenticity being defied. These three authors use common techniques in accomplishing and emphasizing the unreliability of the narrators through whom they speak. The beginning of each story, for instance, reveals the narrator is writing in a diary or journal. This narrative technique is also known as an epistolary text which allows a personal perspective of the narrator existing in each storyline. Along with an important perspective of the narrator, there is also an underlying truth presented by a key secondary character in each text. The secondary character provides some stability for the narrator emotionally and also for the reader, by challenging the one-sided view of the unreliable narrator. While many scholars have studied the significance of these texts, I am interested in the nature of the relationship between the author and reader that is achieved by unreliable narration. The authors’ intention for the reader is filtered through the narrator. Narrative theory provides a foundation for examining the possibility of this communication, even as validity is questioned and ambiguity is created.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 3 December 2010

"The Road: A Post-Apocalyptic Epic"

Presented by Luke Buckenmeyer

Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Road is about a man and his son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, while simultaneously journeying towards the coast. This novel can be considered a post-apocalyptic epic, even though at first glance it does not appear to be an epic at all, because it contains many of the same conventions that ancient epics, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, also have. Some of the epic conventions that are present in The Road are beginning in medias res, a journey or quest, encounters with monsters, and a trip to the underworld. These conventions are, in some, but not all, cases, adapted to fit in The Road. However, all of these conventions in the road are placed there for the same reasons. Also, the characteristics that define the Man in The Road can also be found in the heroes of the ancient texts.  These characteristics include physical strength or endurance, cunning or wit, and determination. Because these epic conventions are found in McCarthy’s novel, and because the main character of the story is an epic hero, with his defining characteristics being derived from the heroes of the ancient texts, The Road can be considered a post-apocalyptic epic.

Also, an analysis of The Road shows that the lack of punctuation in the novel reflects the deterioration of the world around the characters. In some cases the sentences are not even grammatically correct and the dialogue is not offset by quotation marks. Even though it can be confusing, the reader can still understand what is happening in the novel. As the Man and his son travel across the wasteland and see the extent of the chaos and destruction, it is reflected in the structure of the novel through the deterioration of its punctuation.

"Community and Destructive Forces in Faulkner and Morrison"

Presented by Katie Coffey

Critics link William Faulkner and Toni Morrison in their shared genre of Southern Gothic, particularly in the grotesque.  The commonality found between Faulkner and Morrison extends past genre into their usage of community. In Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, as well as Morrison’s Beloved and Sula, community is a presence that can be defined and isolated as being outside of the primary families found in each of the novels. In Faulkner and Morrison’s novels a pattern for community’s role and structure can be seen; however, community’s role and purpose for each author is different. In each of the novels the authors create a destructive force that is opposed to the community; these destructive forces can be viewed as metaphoric vampires. These metaphoric vampires reach beyond the grave draining the family and the community of their power and life force. In Faulkner’s novels, hope is gone for the Bundren and Compson families, and as such the communities in each novel can do nothing to stop the vampiric characters from destroying their families; however, because of the family’s isolation from the community the community is not affected. Conversely, in Morrison’s novels the Suggs and Peace families are still directly connected to the community, and because of this the community must act to protect itself and that family from this destructive force. Inaction in Morrison’s novel Sula means the destruction of community, whereas the action of community against the destructive force found in Beloved saves the family and community. Conversely, in both of Faulkner’s novels, the inaction of community highlights the irreparable damage of the houses of Compson and Bundren.

“Religion and Social Frameworks in Technological Utopias”

Presented by Nate Kuehnl

In utopian literature, the conflict of religion and science often takes center stage. Three texts, in particular, highlight the relationship between these two social frameworks: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. In these three narratives, religion is suppressed in favor of a society devoted to science and the technology it produces. The texts suggest that organized religion has become outdated and no longer valuable to society. However, these societies do not necessarily eradicate religion. Instead, the governments adopt the basic structure of organized religion and use it as a means of discipline and order. Inevitably, though, the utopian societies falter when people begin to rebel against the system, showing that the problems that can exist in organized religion – inequality caused by an oppressive hierarchical structure and the suppression of individual agency – have carried over into these societies that revolve around science and technology. Thus, the texts are not specifically critical of science or religion itself. However, by showing the extremes of a society that values science and technology above everything else, the texts also criticize all social frameworks – organized religion, in particular – based upon utmost devotion to a system that can, knowingly or unknowingly, distort all other aspects of life.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, 30 April 2010

"Burned, Sold, and Exiled: The Value of Young Adult Problem Novels in the Classroom"

Presented by Savannah Frelin

Young adult literature has many purposes: to enable readers to make sense of the world around them, to affirm readers so they do not feel marginalized, and to create a transition from reading for an academic purpose to reading for pleasure. Despite the controversy surrounding the contemporary novels Burned by Ellen Hopkins and Sold by Patricia McCormick, their themes, structures, and other literary elements allow them to serve fully the purpose of young adult literature. Their modern, realistic, and controversial themes have obscured their literary merit, yet these themes intrigue young adults and create a transaction between the reader and text. These problem novels verify that young adult fiction has depth and merit and can be analyzed with several literary theories. These novels’ literary merit is based on the following criteria: they possess the same literary devices as the “classics,” they have intricate narrative style and structure, and they clearly demonstrate the viability of transactional theory. Including contemporary young adult fiction in the secondary classroom alongside the “classic” texts allows readers to improve literary analysis skills and to choose the texts they engage, resulting in greater confidence and meaningful reading experiences. Furthermore, implementing reading workshops into the secondary classroom not only increases the level of transaction between readers and texts, but also stimulates literary analysis and interpretation of novels such as Burned and Sold. The literary theories my research employs to analyze these problem novels are Transactional Theory, Psychological criticism, and Border Theory. Transactional Theory describes the ways in which meaning is constructed when readers engage a text; Psychological criticism reveals the inner struggles of the main characters in Burned and Sold; lastly, Border Theory relates how the protagonists of these problem novels have been pushed to the fringes of society and culture, much like young adult fiction in general.

"The Harlem Renaissance: Three Women, Their Poetry and Overshadowed Dreams"

Presented by Precious Barber

When we think of the Harlem Renaissance period, we often think of the popular writers and poets of this time. Names such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and even Claude McKay often spring to mind. However, what are unquestionably missing are the names of the women poets of this period. The women, whose numbers are quite larger than expected, are often left out of books and anthologies, and when they are including their contributions are minimal compared to the men. Writers such as Angelina Weld Grimke, Gwendolyn Bennett and Georgia Douglas Johnson are often overlooked and lay behind in the shadows of their male counterparts.

So, the real questions remain: Why are the women poets of The Harlem Renaissance period often left out of books and anthologies addressing the Harlem Renaissance? And why is their work often overshadowed by the men of this period?

Perhaps, the reasons for their neglect may be due to the publishing issues in the 1920’s or the fact that they were dominated by men’s publications such as Opportunity and The Crisis. Other reasons may include the disintegration of the women’s support system or that the themes and subjects of these women’s writing were often categorized as uncharacteristic of the Harlem Renaissance period. Whatever the reasons are, the important point is that if they are continually ignored or placed on the back burner, society will be forever cheated out of the opportunity to know the real Harlem Renaissance.

"H.G. Wells’s New Face of Salvation: Technology, Scientific Method, and Narrative"

Presented by Vicki Davis

The nineteenth century saw a revolution of technology unprecedented in the history of humankind. Although post offices, telescopes, balloons, and railroads had existed in previous eras, the Victorians embraced these innovations with renewed vigor and accessibility as tools for national progress. Additionally, new scientific advancements such as photography, X-rays, telegraphy, and psychology bolstered the Victorians’ strong national pride in their own technical superiority. Being educated in this era of a new technological awareness, H.G. Wells viewed scientific education as his own personal goal as well as the social responsibility of his fellow citizens. He had a natural proclivity toward scientific method and was a devotee of T.H. Huxley, a protégé of Darwin’s and “a fearless promoter of Scientific Truth who considered it his duty to change the way people thought and behaved” (Ruddick 17).1

In this paper, I explore the ways in which Wells applied the scientific method of his earlier interests and career to the Victorian adventure narrative. Unlike the traditional adventure narrative that worked backward toward a resolution, scientific method looks forward, generating questions without prescribed resolutions. As one of the progenitors of modern science fiction, utilizing what the distinguished nineteenth century physicist John Tyndall called “scientific imagination” (Zangwill 273),2 Wells’s fiction was modeled on scientific method to produce an engaging narrative process which included inventions and concepts that are extensions of innovations and cultural processes that already existed. In structural terms, Wells’s imaginative new world and inventions are a primary presence in the narrative rather than a supporting detail.

Like Wells himself, the Victorian mindset was characterized by a growing conviction that science would soon be able to answer any question, and men like Darwin, Huxley, and Wells galvanized the Victorian belief in England’s infallibility owing to their national technological superiority. Would society ask God its ultimate questions any more when men of science could be relied upon to inquire, investigate, and resolve? In The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and The Island of Doctor Moreau, when Wells’s characters are faced with physical and ethical conflicts they turn to science, not religion for deliverance. Although science did not replace religion, the relocation of agency from divine intervention to human intervention was reflected in Wells’s literary construct representing a growing secularization of salvation.

1 Wells, H.G. The Time Machine: An Invention. Nicholas Ruddick, ed. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Literary Texts, 2001. Print.
2 Ibid.

ENG 498 Senior Research Symposium Program Friday, December 4, 2009

“Excessive Individualism: The Conversion of Creation into Destruction in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

presented by Amanda May

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein approaches the Romantic emphasis on the individual in highly unconventional ways. Rather than esteeming Victor’s scientific pursuits, Shelley demonstrates the misfortunes of his success. Victor’s creative ambitions result in his downfall, the destruction of his family, and the disruption of society’s peaceful existence.

Victor’s excessive individualism is the factor that transforms his creation into his destruction. Though he attempts to gain autonomy from parental expectations by isolating himself from society and nature, his scientific success poses further complications. Victor attempts “to become greater than his nature will allow” and in doing so creates a being that surpasses him physically and contends with him cognitively (Shelley 81). While Victor escapes filial duty through creation, he also entangles himself in a new set of familial bonds that demand the fulfillment of obligations. The matter of master and slave remains unresolved until the novel’s conclusion, at which point Victor’s excessive individualism, particularly his ambition, proves self-destructive.

In Frankenstein, Shelley’s own creative pursuit reflects her search for individuality and establishes some of the innovative ideas that would eventually be adopted by Victorian writers. Romantic authors eroded the originality of the individual by incorporating distinctive elements in their writings. The overuse of Romantic conventions drove writers to pursue revolutionary avenues. In doing so, writers essentially destroyed the Romantic views of the individual while simultaneously creating a new Victorian emphasis on society.

"That’s What I Want: How the Brontë Heroines Obtain Money for Self-Preservation and Springboard from Ambition to Autonomy"

presented by Melissa Conrad

A woman in the Victorian era either married into financial security, inherited some portion of a family’s wealth, or worked for modest wages at one of few occupations.  Within the novels written by the Brontë sisters, the women depicted have limited means to obtain money.  The most memorable characters curtail conventional lines to assert themselves into society more fully than their contemporaries, either by closely manipulating or completely disregarding social convention and propriety.

In Jane Eyre, the title character upholds high moral standards but transcends Victorian convention though she is an orphan and has no prospects to future wealth.  Jane’s singular ambition drives her to surpass all other female Brontë characters to achieve and maintain an autonomous life.  This paper also examines the strategies employed by Isabella Linton in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Helen Huntingdon in Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Francis Henri in Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor, and the title characters in Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and demonstrates how they obtain money, transcend Victorian convention, and ultimately distort the carefully prescribed gender roles of propriety in order to enjoy the independence of autonomy.

The authors, Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë illustrate the potential consequences in experimental, fictional worlds for those who demonstrate non-complacency with the Victorian conventions of English propriety.  The juxtaposition of  conventional expectations and the daring ambition of the heroines invokes the spirit of social change.

“Literature, Popular Culture, and Redemption Theory”

presented by Kristin Booth

The concept of redemption has been around for centuries. More specifically, the proposal of being redeemed from one’s flawed self and transformed into a person of moral quality is a focal point in C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series. This idea is witnessed through the characters of Edmund who betrays his family and is redeemed by Aslan’s selfless act, and surprisingly, Emeth who worshiped a false god named Tash, yet is welcomed by Aslan into the new Narnia. Redemption is not just observed within literature and is not confined to just C. S. Lewis’s works. I am proposing the argument that the idea of redemption and/or salvation is a recurring theme detected throughout popular culture as a whole. Movies such as The Matrix, It’s a Wonderful Life, Beauty and the Beast, or even The Lion King all encompass some sort of redemptive quality. While this literary idea of “redemptive theory” is new to the academic atmosphere, scholars believe that there is merit for such a theory and that it is even necessary for one to exist: “It is time for the positive articulation of a theory of literature faithful to God’s word that would bring blessing to our world” (Davies 358). In other words, the concept of comparing literature to biblical texts and popular culture is beginning to intensify. The need for such theory is being recognized among scholars, and spiritual aspects embedded throughout literary works and popular entertainment of the last one hundred years is being observed.