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Exemplar: Spring 2022

The Exemplar publishes and showcases exemplary student writing completed in humanities courses at Dalton State

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Editor's Note

Editor's Note

The Exemplar endeavors to celebrate essays written by Dalton State students in Humanities classes. The first section, "Breaking Cycles: Validating and Including Generations and Minority Groups," highlights works by Kelly Smith, Kione "Kennedy" J. Houlstead, and Jonathan Fleming. These essays highlight social, cultural, and traditional cycles, along with how these cycles dictate the creation and view of minority and the other within America.

The second section, "Identity and Belief: Age, Gender, and Reality Reimagined" showcases essays from Eva Petty, Moriah Silvers, Savannah Price, and Ashley Fann, and features essays that seek to understand notions of age and gender, caveats of a real, genuine experience and belief, and the interconnectedness of life.

The third section, "Psychology and the Psyche: Human Nature, Happiness, Hope, and Mental Health," features writing by Savannah Price, Tucker Trivette, Danielle Hardy, Denise Shahan, Joy Posey, Ashley Fann, and Patrick Parrish.  Within this last category, student essays focus on the drive to understand the self in relation to society and the role fulfillment, inspiration, and mentality play in that metacognition.


Spring 2022 Awards:


Best 4000-Level Paper: "Encanto's Most Important Lesson: Your Superpower is Being You" by Savannah Price

Best 3000-Level Paper: "A Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma and Symbolic Healing in Louse Erdrich's 'The Shawl' " by Kelly Smith

Best 1000-Level Paper: “A Study of the Rejection to Oppression Shown by Minorities in early American History" by Jonathan Fleming.

Runner-up for Best 1000-Level Paper: "Individualism: The Thorn in Society's Side" by Tucker Trivette



Table of Contents


Breaking Cycles: Validating and Including Generations and Minority Groups

"A Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma and Symbolic Healing in Louise Erdrich’s The Shawl' " by Kelly Smith

Best 4000-level Paper



A Study of the Rejection to Oppression shown by Minorities in early American History” by Jonathan Fleming

Best 1000-level Paper



Rhetorical Analysis of "How America’s Identity Politics Went from Inclusion to Division’ By Amy Chua” by Kione” “Kennedy” J. Houlstead




Identity and Belief: Age, Gender, and Reality Reimagined

Looking Beyond the Lush Foliage and Ammonite of Lyme Regis” by Eva Petty



"A Feminist Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130" by Moriah Silvers



"Ophelia as a Symbol of Women in the Elizabethan Era" by Savannah Price



"Animals and the Apocalyptic" by Ashley Fann



"The Superficiality of Mankind in Tangled " by Savannah Price



Media, Mysticism, and the Mind

"Encanto's Most Important Lesson: Your Superpower is Being You" by Savannah Price

Best 4000-level Paper



"Individualism: The Thorn in Society's Side" by Tucker Trivette

Runner-up for Best 1000-level paper



"Universality of Feeling in Eighteenth-Century Literature" by Danielle Hardy



"Finding Hope in the Big Chill" by Denise Shahan



"Mental Anguish: Need Help" by Joy Posey



"Paradise is not Possible: Restoration Reflections of Rooted Pride" by Ashley Fann



"The True Antagonists of 'Liar'!" by Patrick Parrish


Breaking Cycles: Validating and Including Generations and Minority Groups

"A Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma and Symbolic Healing in Louise Erdrich's 'The Shawl' "

by Kelly Smith


Best 3000-level Paper


            Lousie Erdrich’s “The Shawl,” published in the March 5, 2001 issue of The New Yorker, tells the story of a common tale among the Anishinaabeg people of a woman known as Aanakwad. Aanakwad is the mother of a nine-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son with her husband and a newborn child born from a loving affair. After being sent away with her daughter and newborn, Aanakwad’s husband finds the remains of his daughter off the wagon path with a remnant of her plaid shawl. Aanakwad’s son, left behind at the age of five, and husband never saw her again. The narrative shifts to the speaker telling of his father’s drunken habits and abusive actions toward him and his siblings. It is at the end of the story that Erdrich reveals the speaker’s father to be the son of Aanakwad, making the speaker the grandson of Aanakwad. Through her story, Erdrich highlights the abandonment of a mother figure in a young boy’s life as affecting the young male’s development and attitude towards women, and, more importantly, the presence of intergenerational trauma in an Indigenous group of people native to the Great Lakes area. Erdrich uses the symbol of the shawl to represent the passing down of trauma through generations and the subsequent demise of the cycle, as a cloth will wear down with time.

            In Eldrich’s “The Shawl,” Erdrich produces a display of trauma that seems to begin with Aanakwad, but has actually been in the making for years prior. Intergenerational trauma is prevalent in every culture around the world. However, indigenous people are particularly prone to traumatic events due to deep-rooted historical mistreatment from colonizers. After the War of 1812, British colonizers migrated to Canada in search of land, overtaking the population of Natives. According to Marie-Anak Gagné, the British colonization caused the Indigenous people to become dependent on their more powerful counterparts, which put them at risk of “cultural genocide, racism, and alcoholism” (Gagné 358). The indigenous people were conditioned to fear the British in order to survive. The emotional response to that fear creates a higher risk of anxiety disorders “such as dissociative, depressive, or somatic symptoms” (Gagné 356). After the birth of her third child, Aanakwad becomes depressed to the point of barely surviving. Aanakwad “couldn't rise to cook or keep the cabin neat” (Erdrich para. 2). She “sometimes wept into her hands for hours at a time” (Erdrich para. 2). The love she feels for the father of her youngest child causes her heart to break and her emotional state to crumble. As a member of the First Nations Anishinaabeg people, it can be argued that she is already susceptible to depressive episodes due to historical trauma. One could see her ever changing moods as an early sign of an anxiety disorder. Erdrich says “she was moody and sullen one moment” and the next she would “make her children scream with laughter” (Erdrich para. 1). Aanakwad’s mood changes could be a sign of bi-polar disorder that is known to cause depressive episodes. The source of her bi-polar disorder is unknown to the audience, but, to look at the mental health of those in the First Nations, it is necessary to take into consideration the historical occurrences toward the indigenous people and how it affects their attitudes toward the world. The narrator says that the Anishinaabeg people “still have sorrows that are passed to [them] from early generations, sorrows to handle in addition to [their] own, and cruelties lodged where [they] cannot forget them” (Erdrich para. 18). The cruelties of the colonizers have been lodged in the minds of those they have affected which has increased their risk of anxiety disorders. While the source of her disorder is unknown, it is not random. There is a reason for Aanakwad’s disorder and it is deeply rooted in historical trauma.

            Within the intergenerational trauma described in Erdrich’s “The Shawl,” the primary victims are the children of Aanakwad and the children of Aanakwad’s son. Aanakwad’s son is five at the time she leaves with her daughter and newborn. He is not given an explanation for their departure, leading him to believe that his mother had abandoned him. At the age of five, the genital stage of his development is interrupted and altered. According to a study of Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex, Sofe Ahmend says that “around the age of five, young children wish to have their entire mother’s love” (Ahmed 64). They begin to see their father as a challenge and act in a manner that provokes their mother to provide them with attention. When the wagon carrying Aanakwad and her other children begins to travel away, “the boy trie[s] to jump into the wagon, but his mother prie[s] his hands off the boards” (Erdrich para. 4). The love he desires from his mother is physically being pushed away by his mother herself. Even though she pushes him away, he refuses to stop chasing her. The narrator says, “But there was something in him that would not let her leave'' (Erdrich para. 4). According to Frued’s Oedipus complex, we, as humans, are sexual beings. Freud viewed sex “as much more important in the dynamics of psyche than other needs” (Ahmed 65). The basic needs of food and water are important to physical survival, but the demand of sexual attention received from the opposite-gendered parental figured is important to the development the human psyche. Therefore, Aanakwad’s son’s demand for his mother’s presence far outweighs his needs to survive. Though he is in physical and emotional pain, “he refuse[s] to believe that the increasing distance between him and the wagon [is] real” (Erdrich para. 4). He refuses to believe that she is abandoning him because his mother is an essential factor in his development. Without his mother, there would only be his father who he views as competition for his mother’s love. His genital stage of development is altered, affecting his future feelings toward women.

            Aanakwad’s leaving affected not only her son’s development, but also the son's relationship with the opposite sex. In the second half of “The Shawl,” the narrator speaks of his father who is revealed to be the son of Aanakwad. He has three children with his wife who has passed away. The passing of his wife triggers a reaction caused by the memory of his mother and sister leaving him. The narrator’s father was never a heavy drinker before. The only times he drank were “on an occasional weekend when they got home late” or when they “camped with others” (Erdrich para. 9). However, after the death of his wife due to an untold reason, he begins heavily drinking. The drinking is then followed by abusive behavior toward his kids. When he arrives home after a night of drinking, his own kids would “jump out the window and hide” out of fear (Erdrich para. 9). His eldest son, the narrator, resorts to stealing his belt when he is passed out so he can’t hit them with it. However, his father finds other methods to abuse them. His behavior stems back to the moment his mother and sister left him. Instead of developing an attachment to his mother, Aanakwad’s son grew to resent her. He was never told that his father was the one who sent Aanakwad away. His father only ever told him of what happened during their departure when a pack of wolves attempted to attack them. His father told him that in order to deter the wolves, Aanakwad “had thrown her daughter to them” (Erdrich para. 7). Therefore, all he knew was that his mother abandoned him and he hated her for it. After the death of his wife, he feels the hatred once more. Another woman abandons him and it is out of his control. Instead of dealing with his emotions properly, he displaces his anger toward his children. Instead of ensuring his children never experience the hurt he did as a kid, the narrator's father repeats the cycle of trauma.

            Erdrich’s “The Shawl” displays the passing down of trauma through generations not only explicitly, but also through the use of symbolism. Symbols are created “when an incident, object, or person is used both literally (as itself) and figuratively (as something else)” (Dobie 43). The audience knows, through the narration, all the factors that went into creating the cycle of intergenerational trauma. Aanakwad’s depression causes her daughter of nine to take on the mother role of her newborn sister and mother. Aanakwad’s leaving embeds a fear of abandonment from the opposite sex in her son. Aanakwad’s son’s alcoholic tendencies and abusive attitude induces physical, emotional, and mental trauma within all three of his children and causes them to fear him. Through the narration, we, as the audience, can see the cause-and-effect of their actions. Erdrich takes the representation a step further by including a symbol: the shawl. The shawl is used in the narrative to “expand the meaning of the text” (Dobie 43). What the shawl means to expand is the representation of intergenerational trauma from a physical experience to a symbolic experience. The original owner of the shawl is Aanakwad’s daughter. Aanakwad’s daughter “curled up each night exhausted in her red-and-brown plaid shawl” (Erdrich para. 2). The shawl is her only source of comfort after having to play the role of a mother to her newborn sibling and mother. After being killed by wolves, her father recovers a remnant of the shawl and it is passed down to his son after his passing. The boy last saw the shawl when his mother and sister were leaving him. The passing down of the shawl to him is symbolic of the trauma he encountered the day of their leaving. After the narrator fights off his father’s abuse and finally sees traces of his father returning to his troubled figure, he wipes the blood off his father’s face with the remnant of the shawl. The narrator’s “father always kept [the shawl] with him” (Erdrich para. 16). His decision to keep the shredded piece of the shawl with him at all times is symbolic of his choice to not let go of his trauma. He never dealt with his mother’s abandonment, and he holds on to the feelings of hatred and sadness. The narrator, his son, helps him deal with his trauma and finally let go of the past. Aanakwad’s son tells his son the story of his mother leaving and the death of his sister. Years after hearing the story behind the shawl in a time of remembering the past, the narrator says, “Now's the time to burn it” (Erdrich para. 20). The burning of the shawl is symbolic of letting go of the past and breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma. His children grow up to live happy lives and he finds another woman to love and cherish. While there will always be trauma present from their father’s abuse, the narrator and his siblings are given the chance to reconcile and heal. The narrator not only helps break the cycle of trauma, but also helps his father consider the possibility that his sister chose to sacrifice herself. As stated previously, Aanakwad’s daughter was forced to take on a mother role at the age of nine. It was her responsibility to take care of her newborn sibling and mother. The narrator suggests that she continued her role of caregiver by sacrificing herself to save her mother and sibling. Though Aanakwad was not in a good mental state, she loved her children very much. She would not have sacrificed her daughter to save herself. Aanakwad’s son was so blinded by the anger he held towards his mother that he did not think about any other option. Once the shawl is burned, Aanakwad’s son is able to properly heal his childhood trauma and work to be a better man for his own children.

Lousie Erdrich’s “The Shawl” is a brilliant display of intergenerational trauma within a family that is part of an indigenous group. Erdrich explains through the story that historical trauma has placed certain groups, in this case indigenous people, at higher risk for anxiety disorders and reveals that the only way to truly heal is to acknowledge the effects of the endured trauma. The narrative progresses through each generation, letting the audience see the exact events that caused the cycle of trauma. Through use of the narrative and the symbolic shawl, Erdrich is able to show the audience that intergenerational trauma does not have to be an inevitable occurrence. The cycle can be broken and those affected can learn to heal.



Works Cited

Ahmed, Sofe. “Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory Oedipus Complex: A Critical Study With Reference to D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers.’” Academic Journals, Internal Journal of English and Literature Vol. 3, no. 3, Mar. 2012,

Dobie, Ann B. “Formalism.” Theory into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Criticism. 4th ed., Cengage Learning,   2015. pp. 33-49.

Erdrich, Louise. “The Shawl.” The New Yorker, 26 Feb. 2001,,which%20comes%20out%20next%20year.

Gagné, Marie-Anik. “The Role of Dependency and Colonialism in Generating Trauma in First Nations Citizens.” International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, 1998,

"A Study of the Rejection to Oppression showy by Minorities in early American History"

by Jonathan Fleming

Best 1000-level Paper


            History overflows with examples of humans subjugating and controlling others for personal gain, with early American history being no exception. But this period is also full of examples of those who resisted that control and fought for self-autonomy. Among those were the Native Americans and enslaved Blacks, whose resistance showcases the innate human instinct to resist oppression and restrictions from others.

            The history of Native Americans is often one of tragedy. Having suffered under the expansion of European and American imperialism, they have had land stolen from them, been enslaved, and killed by those who sought their oppression. Their history also reveals the lengths to which they went to stand up to that oppression. During the late colonial period, an Ottowa war chief named Pontiac sought to end his people's oppression through war, calling his people to resist the European colonists, saying they must "drive them out” and “make war" (Pioneer Society). Willing to resort to violence, Pontiac displayed his desire for freedom from oppression and his refusal to accept subjugation and injustice. While some were driven to resist violently, others sought their right to self-governance through other means.

            During the Cherokee's expulsion from their ancestral homelands, many sought to prevent this injustice by appealing to the American Judicial System. They chose to fight the United States Government's attempt to strip them of their right to decide the course of action that they wished to take through petitioning. In this petition, they denounced the Treaty of New Echota, stating that the fifteen thousand protesters "will never acquiesce" to its terms (House Documents). Through both legal and violent action, the Native Americans showcased the natural human tendency to resist external sources' control. They were not the only ones who resisted this external control.

            Throughout American history, the Black community's oppression has called belief in the fact that all men are created equal into question. It is a stain upon America that is juxtaposed by the incredible lengths to which the Black community has gone to resist their oppression. For a freedman named Boston King, his resistance took the form of self-emancipation by fleeing to Union-held territory during the Civil War. His flight to freedom was not without its cost, though, as he contracted smallpox and suffered estrangement from those he had known his whole life. But, despite the perils, he resisted his enslavement and pursued his freedom (King).

            For another freedman, his resistance led him to war. After fleeing slavery and entering into Union-held territory, William Singleton attempted to join the Union forces but was rebuffed. Upon hearing this, he responded, "The war will not be over until I have had a chance to spill my blood" (Singleton). He then raised a force of one thousand black men to form a militia eventually accepted by the American Army after a long delay. This force fought valiantly throughout the remainder of the Civil War under the leadership of Singleton, who was given the rank of First Sergeant. The efforts of Boston King and William Singleton, along with countless others like them, show us the enduring desire of the human spirit to remain free from others' tyranny.

            Wherever oppression and subjugation have appeared in history, there has likewise appeared resistance to that tyranny. While there may be a part of human nature that seeks to dominate and control others, the study of history shows us that the desire to govern oneself and be free of external control is likewise an inherent part of human nature. And the examples that we can draw from the Native American and Black experience of early American history only further enforce this truth.

Works Cited

Boston King, "Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, a Black Preacher," The Methodist Magazine (March 1798, April 1798)

Collections of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan together with Reports of County Pioneer Societies, Volume VIII, Second Edition (Lansing, MI: 1907), 270-271.

House Documents, Otherwise Publ. as Executive Documents: 13th Congress, 2d Session-49th Congress, 1st Session. ‪United States congressional serial set‪. Doc. No. 286, pp. 1-5.

William Henry Singleton, "Recollection of My Slavery Days," Electronic Edition, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, (1922), revision 2000.

"Rhetorical Analysis of 'How America's Identity Politics Went from Inclusion to Division' by Amy Chua"

by Kione "Kennedy" J. Houlstead



With her uncanny ability to analyze her viewpoint on America, Amy Chua, a Harvard Graduate, and Harvard Law School Graduate, has drafted an article about America and the very swift change in the country's identity politics to criticize the structure of how certain races are becoming the minority in the country's voting process while another is becoming the majority. With the beginning in mind, the author uses a strong claim that "we are at an unprecedented moment in America." Chua's evidence to this claim is that white Americans have endured the challenge of becoming a minority in their "own country."

What the author depicts is the population of white Americans as becoming truly angry with this new change and, as a result, many people from diverse backgrounds and multicultural areas of the country are celebrating what Chau calls "The Browning of America," which she believes is a step away from "white supremacy."  To elaborate and provide further details, the author uses rhetoric and critical analysis to interpret the anxiousness that American whites have been faced with, while developing the claim that whites have replaced Black people as the "primary victims of discrimination." Furthermore, there is a huge piece of statistics in a survey that was recorded during the 2016 election stating that 43% of black Americans did not believe America would make the changes necessary to give them equal rights.

         To analyze, Black Americans were being faced with the challenges of police brutality, prevalent poverty rates, and high and preliminary stages of systemic racism. The author states and clearly gives the emphasis that when this happens, Black Americans feel threatened and will retreat into what Chau states is "tribalism.” Defined by the author, tribalism is when certain ethnic groups or races feel threatened and mistreated; they close ranks, and will become more insular, more defensive and more of us-versus-them.

Chau's evidence includes what is happening today with tribalism. She elaborates that every group that includes "whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, men and women, Christians, Jews, and Muslims straight people and gay people, liberals and conservatives." All these races and ethnic groups feel the same way and feel that their groups are being attacked, bullied, persecuted, and, most importantly, discriminated. Chau's evidence is true to her tribalism claim. People can relate to what is going on in society today because of the senseless happenings that occurred in 2020. As a result, as this is combined with inequality, individuals can now view how identity politics is viewed from both sides of the political spectrum. Amy Chau's rhetorical argument about identity politics and how tribalism affects the country states that "it leaves the United States in a perilous new situation: almost no one is standing up for an America without identity politics, for an American identity that transcends all the country's many subgroups."

To furthermore elaborate on Chau's quote, she believes that people are scared to stand up for America and demand change to where identity politics would be erased. The author then adds to her claim that "this is certainly true of the American left today." Furthermore, Chau's reference to this relates to fifty years ago, during the pro-civil rights movement in America. At the time, great society liberals were at the turn of a new era, and their voices were heard more than ever, as indicated by Amy Chau’s reference of Dr. King and his "I have a dream" speech where he proclaimed, "when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the constitution, and the declaration of independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."

This rhetoric has caught the public's attention because, for far too long, Americans have made progress but have not lived up to the words and philosophy envisioned by Dr. King. Dr. King's ideals have captured the imagination and hearts of the public that have led to real change for Americans to realize that "skin color does not matter."

Amy Chau involves the work of author and publisher John Rawls to analyze the leading liberal philosophical movements of the civil rights era in his book Theory of Justice. Chau's analysis of John Rawls’s work notes that the book calls on people to imagine themselves in an "original position" that is shadowed by a "veil of ignorance," in which people could decide on their society's principles without regard to "race, gender, religious affiliation, or wealth." To furthermore add to Chau's analysis and theory, there was a time that still exits where people predominantly judged others based on their race and their wealth.

Throughout the rest of the article, Amy Chau moves directly to discussing the left and their viewpoints on modern identity politics. In the text, the author uses her critical and self-explanatory logic to explain how the left was concerned with the oppression of minorities and the rights of under-recognized groups. This leads to her development of stating that the dominant ideas in this period were often "color blinded" and often cosmopolitan, calling for transcending ethnic, racial, and gender barriers – as well as national barriers.

The author introduces "Reaganism" or "Reaganomics," which refers to the neoliberal economic policies promoted by former United States President Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. She develops the theory that, because there was a reaction to Reaganism and a growing awareness that "colorblindness" was being used by conservatives to oppose policies intended to redress racial inequalities, a new movement began to unfold on the left in the 1980s and 1990s, which was a movement emphasizing group consciousness, group identity, and group claims.

To recognize and explore Chau's theory, the readers have taken the time to understand where the author came from about her statement fully. Many noticed that the leading liberal figures in America, whether in law, government, or academia, were predominantly white men. The neutral "group-blind" invisible hand of the market was not doing much to correct these imbalances. Amy Chau involves the falling of the Soviet Union, where the anti-capitalist economic preoccupations that included the old left started to take a backseat to a new way of understanding oppression. As a result, this was the birth of modern identity politics.

Chau introduces Oberlin professor Sonia Kruks in her article, who presents her take on the early modern stages of identity politics, and she writes, "what makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier movements is its demand for recognition based on the very grounds which recognition has previously been denied. It is qua women, qua blacks, qua lesbians that groups demand recognition. The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of 'universal humankind' or respect 'despite differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different." After fully understanding Kruk's words, readers can now fully understand how each under-represented group has demanded recognition for a change.

Furthermore, Amy Chau presents the argument that identity politics, with its group-based rhetoric, did not become the mainstream position of the Democratic Party right away. She uses Barack Obama's speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He famously declared, "There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there is the United States of America."

Being straightforward, Chau states that "A decade and a half later we are extremely far from Obama's America."  To understand why Chau has used this conclusion to her argument, it is necessary to make a comparison between Obama's presidential term to understand how these different races and cultures believe that there is a black America or white America instead of promoting the idea of unity.

In conclusion, as far as the left is concerned, identity politics, to the author, has forever been a means to "confront rather than obscure the uglier aspects of American history and society." However, taking a deeper dive into Chau's statement in recent years, even though there were several growing strengths of growing frustrations, the left somewhat was able to stand up, as the author states, through a shift in tone, rhetoric, and logic that has moved identity politics away from inclusion. This is a massive example of how the left has used this watchword toward exclusion and division. In addition, this article is an attention grabber because it allows Amy Chau to be more inclusive with the issue at hand. Most importantly, she does not hold back on issues, political or racial.


Identity and Belief: Age, Gender, and Reality Reimagined

"Looking Beyond the Lush Foliage and Ammonite of Lyme Regis"

by Eva Petty



            There is much more to John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) than initially meets the eye because he may have outfitted his novel as a Victorian-era romance, but just one peak under the surface of his façade reveals an author questioning the norms of two very different time periods. Fowles has stitched his novel together using his own thread of beliefs, including existentialism in which he supported the free will of people to choose their own mode of living. Fowles, an avid user of Freud’s theories, plays psychoanalyst to his characters while exposing the flaws of Victorian conventions, including, but not limited to, sexual repression, class disparity, and religious hypocrisy. He proceeds by flouting his disdain for environmental destruction and is deconstructing language while casting a new light on the past in terms of the Victorian Age contrasted against the transgressions of his own time.

Within Fowles’s parallel is the duality of both periods in question, as Fowles opens the discussion of what can be done to improve the world. Accordingly, nature is mentioned often in The French Lieutenant’s Woman so that it serves as the framework upon which the novel takes place. The characters spend a great deal of time either exploring the Undercliff, a massive forest on the edge of Lyme Regis, or are surrounded by some obscure plant representing “sexual undertones” (Wilson 487). Incidentally, Lyme Regis is the very town that Fowles resided in for most of his life, dying there in November of 2005; therefore, his passion for environmentalism so eloquently speaks to the nature that surrounds the characters Charles and Sarah and incorporates into his apparently Victorian romance novel. With his use of nature as the setting for his novel, Fowles gave to practitioners of ecocriticism a “valuable piece of cultural equipment in [the] journey toward sustainability,” says Wilson (477).  The relationship that exists between humans and nonhumans is quite extensive throughout the novel, as Fowles has assigned significance to his characters via their relation to various flowers, plants, and trees, including an extensive amount of symbolism in the novel where Fowles gives phrases like “tunnel of ivy” and “lush foliage” new erotic or sensual meaning (Fowles 66, 163). There is also an instance when Charles secretly goes to meet Sarah in the Undercliff, and he unfairly accuses the “inanimate things around him” of spying on him (Fowles 241). He is convinced that he will be found out because “flowers became eyes, stones had ears, the trunks of the reproving trees were a numberless Greek chorus” and they would be the ones to proclaim all of his sins to the world “as if he was the most debased criminal caught in his most abominable crime” (Fowles 241, 250).

Humanity’s relationship with nature is indeed a reciprocal one, since humanity mirrors nature in the sense that both are fleeting and require nourishment. Fowles knew this since he himself spent time “work[ing] on a farm during the Second World War,” and, from this experience, his inspiration grew into fruition more than once with his completion of several novels and “reflective nonfiction,” all being based in a natural environment (Wilson 477). Therefore, do not neglect the myriad positive possibilities that nature holds, as well as the dangerous repercussions to those disrespecting the supremacy of the natural world. Merchant gives a much clearer explanation of this idea in her book The Death of Nature in which she states that “[f]rom the obscure origins of our species, human beings have lived in daily, immediate, organic relation with the natural order for sustenance” (40). Fowles’s distaste for the portrayal of nature as the “humble idyll” by “the creators of the cosy myth of the contented cottager” is evident as he judges the fact that “countless writers close a blind eye and lie, at tourism’s behest, [but he says] I will not” lie (Fowles qtd. by Wilson 478). Instead, he sought to embrace a real nature that is neither sugar-coated nor idyllic perfection, but instead a flawed, imperfect reality. Wilson tells us that the term post-pastoral can be used to describe Fowles’s refusal to write “of the conventional illusions” of nature leaving behind the transgression of “accommodat[ing] humans” (Wilson 478, 479). Readers also learn that “human nature[, which is] located firmly within the framework of a living landscape,” lends to the novel an “intensification of sexual undertones through isolation in nature” such as that of “Charles and Sarah’s romantic eyrie in the Undercliff” (Wilson 480, 487). Similarly, Rose touches on Fowles’s portrayal of so many natural elements in his novel being symbolic for sexual genitalia as well as Charles’s “lust” for canvassing the Undercliff, which Rose describes as “a Garden of Eden on the shore where deep crevices in the lush foliage can bring disaster to the unwary” (166). Charles goes “down a seldom-used path [and] up a steep small slope crowned with grass,” which can be construed as being a sexual allusion (Rose 166). Although readers are privy to so much sexual repression and imagery, it is also important to note that Charles and Sarah’s “love has not been consummated” yet in the novel and all the imagery used is the flirting before for the intimacy (Rose 166). 

Due to the extensive amount of Freudian psychoanalysis referenced in the novel, one can only assume that Fowles has a good reason for it and John Hagopian speaks to the fact that Fowles enjoys “play[ing] games with the reader[‘s]” mind in which “the story-teller” is in complete control of the reality within the novel (192, Freud 18). Freud tells us that the author, or “story-teller,” “deceives readers into thinking that he is giving the sober truth, and oversteps the bounds of possibility,” which causes readers to hold a “grudge against the attempted deceit” (18, 19). The author has the ability to “guide the current of our emotions, dam it up in one direction and make it flow in another,” which is what Fowles does in his novel by ending a chapter about one thing and beginning anew with an entirely separate idea continually throwing us off kilter throughout the story (Freud 19). Additionally, Hagopian brings into our view the image of Charles and Ernestina strolling by the sea where Fowles says that there is also another companion tagging along, and this “observing spy” is really Fowles, masquerading as the narrator (192). The other trilogy is that of Sarah, “the upended cannon, and the sea,” he says, which touches on Freud’s admiration of the play on numbers and the reappearance of the same numbers gives one a feeling of “uncanny” or “unheimlich,” giving one the sense unhomeliness or superstitious discomfort when encountered often enough (Hagopian 165-6, Freud 2). Since Fowles is known to have a past filled with admiration for Freudian psychoanalysis and the unconscious, it was only a matter of time before someone like Rose would come along to analyze this father-child relationship between Fowles and his novel. Rose elaborates on the “author’s imagination” which was responsible for his creating the enigmatic character Sarah which he says came to him in “half-sleep” (165). In his stupor, Fowles “project[s] her a century back in time…staring out to sea from the underbelly of England’s southwestern shore” and Rose paints our first impression of Sarah as her “having been abandoned, not literally pregnant, by her foreign lover” (165).

Freud’s uncanny “belongs to all that is terrible—to all that arouses dread and creeping horror” and Dobie tells us that he “began the quest for understanding by providing new ways of looking at ourselves” (Freud 1, 54). The “’uncanny’ is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar,” such as back in the beginning of life in the womb, observed by Dobie, where, using the “Freudian theory, it is possible to discover what is not said directly,” such as through vague dreams and feelings of uneasiness (Freud 2, 54)). Freud says that “[t]he better oriented in his environment a person is, the less readily he will get the impression of something uncanny” which is likely why Charles is singled out in the story because he is the only character who was not able to form a healthy relationship with his mother (2). This then leads us to Charles, whose own mother died when he was very young, leaving him quite unprepared for life as a Victorian gentleman. He is therefore unaccustomed to the familiar, or “heimlich,” presence of his mother (Freud 2). Because Heimlich carries with it two meanings, one being “that which is familiar and congenial” and the other implying “that which is concealed and kept out of sight,” readers are then able to understand the two facets of Charles’s personality.

There is the prominent gentleman in appearance, and, then, there lies under the surface his sexually charged counterpart vying for Sarah’s attention. This leads to something Johnstone has pointed out about Charles, being that he was “deprived early of maternal care” along with his being “subjected to…a fairly rigorous discipline” by his father (72-73). Freud mentions this feeling of uncanny being related to the “phantasy…of intra-uterine existence,” which helps readers to see what Charles’s character was experiencing because he lost his mother at such a young age (15). This existence he unconsciously longs for is “the entrance to the former heim (home) of all human beings, to the place where everyone dwelt once upon a time and in the beginning” (Freud 15). This “uncanny experience occurs…when repressed infantile complexes have been revived by some impression” which is what Sarah seemingly represents for him since there is no explicit mentioning of his sexual desires toward Ernestina in the novel (Freud 17).

Readers can see the coincidental occurrences surrounding Charles’s mother dying giving birth to his sister and the fact that “the period of her marriage coincides with the duration” of the other Sarah’s “prostitution” from which she “also had a child” around this same time (Rose 166-167). Later, we see that “two years…have elapsed since [Charles] last was with [the real Sarah], again coincide with the two years of the other Sarah’s career in prostitution” as well as the length “of his mother’s marriage” (Rose 167). Another instance of unexpected concurrence surrounds Charles and Sarah’s coming “together…in a passionate encounter of not more than 90 seconds” which “may be taken as a prefiguring of the ensuing 9 months gestation,” which Rose gathers from “the well-known tendency of the unconscious to play with numbers” that Freud has mentioned previously (167).  These coincidences are fraught with the uncomfortable feeling of uncanniness which we can interpret through Charles’s constant disbelief in himself and since Sarah represents his lost mother, Charles has been able to “become more himself, reborn, in regaining and relosing the mother of his childhood dream” (Rose 169). Charles somehow “reconstitute[s] her in both idealized and devalued forms in the two Sarahs [as the other Sarah’s] daughter [represents] his stillborn sister” and he “himself identified with her and [symbolically] identifie[s] with mother in death” (Rose 169). Dobie says that this occurs because “the unconscious plays a major role in what we do, feel, and say, although we are not aware of it,” so what readers see is Charles’s unconscious desires playing out in the novel (55).

Around the same time that Fowles is writing his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman in the 1960s, efforts to break apart or deconstruct literature are becoming popular in order to gain a more honest sense of the world through the language we use. Kneale calls this “a radical and wide-ranging development in the human sciences…initiated by Jacques Derrida in a series of highly influential books published in the late 1960s” (185). By applying this “method of textual analysis and philosophical argument,” readers can therefore interpret the literature and choose their own truths (Kneale 185). Deconstruction can be applied to Fowles’s novel because he, too, is dissecting the facets of everyday life. In his article “What We Have Instead of God: Sexuality, Textuality and Infinity in The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” Booker broaches upon such topics as sexuality and textuality in terms of infinity and he remarks that theorists, such as Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida, who “have repeatedly reminded us of the intimate and inextricable links that exist between sexuality and language” regarding topics that are “central issues in Fowles’ novel” (178). He adds that the novel brings to light “striking dramatizations” of how sexuality and textuality give us “irreducible ambiguities of interpretation, since neither concept can be” given a universal definition or truth (178). Booker also provides the idea that transgression or sin in a Victorian society first “requires boundaries,” yet “the [very idea that there is a] boundlessness of infinity” cancels out the constructs of their overly ordered foundation (179). In Bhaba’s Location of Culture, he relates that a “boundary is not that at which something stops but is that from which something begins,” which shows why characters such as Sarah desire to rebel against attempts to contain her (Heidegger qtd. by Bhaba 1).

Booker describes the concept of infinity as “the most staggering concept with which modern man has had to come to grips,” and he is challenging the basis of Christianity employing the notion that “infinity has been circumscribed and contained within the comforting concept of an omnipotent God” and questioning how a world “without God to fall back on” should continue living in the face of an infinite future for humankind (Booker 178, 178, 179). To counteract the fact that their “boundaries” are essentially a waste of time, the Victorians sought “to try to contain, delimit, and circumscribe the sublime in any way possible,” which is apparent in their obsession with labelling and/or classifying every single idea or enigma that began here because they believed that if everything had a name, every mystery could be easily solved; as a result, there would no longer would there be any looming seeds of defiance within the populace (Booker 181). Booker refers to Roland Barthes, who “has taught us that conventions in fashion can serve as a paradigm for conventional systems and taxonomies of all kinds” (182). He goes on to say how something as trivial as “transgressions of accepted modes of dress, then can function as powerful reminders of the possibility of other types of transgressions as well, of ‘emancipation in other ways,’” as Fowles says (Booker 182, Fowles 443). Sarah is already challenging the “modes of dress” with her insistence on dressing up as “poor Tragedy” with her “black coat” and lack of the stylish “crinoline” to lend her any hint of elegant sophistication (Booker 182, Fowles 9). Charles thinks that even though she wears none of the latest fashions, Sarah is like the “simple primroses at his feet [that have] survived all the competition of exotic conservatory plants” because she has a simple, understated beauty even without the fads of fashion (Fowles 167).

According to Ela Gunduz in “John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman as a New-Historical Novel,” the novel “represents a retrospective view made possible by history by providing a current view about Victorian times [via]...the novel’s maintaining a two-dimensional historicity [whereas]...the contemporary view mirrors the past” (59). Fowles presents his novel as both a work of fiction and a reflection of the past in which he embeds “a prestentist Victorian trope,” or rather the act of inserting “present-day ideas...into depictions...of the past” (Gunduz 59). Gunduz speaks of the narrator having “a consciousness beyond his times,” which is certainly a nod to Homi Bhaba who defines in his book Location of Culture that “the ‘beyond’ [is]...neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past” (59, 1). Bhaba admonishes, “focus on those moments…[of] the articulation of cultural differences,” which Fowles certainly accomplishes in his use of characters such as that of Sam, the mistreated servant, and Sarah, the outcast (1). As Fowles is basically “restaging the past,” he is bringing to light the “other, incommensurable cultural temporalities into the invention of tradition” which is an important premise of his novel as well as his inclusion of the “Victorian topics…[of] sexuality and bourgeois hypocrisy” (Bhaba 2, Gunduz 59). Fowles views Sarah as “a reproach on the Victorian age” as well as “[a]n outcast” because both she and the other “characters try to get rid of historical constraints,” which they view as “threatening to...their existence and gender perceptions” (qtd. by Gunduz 60, Gunduz 60). The novel pulls double duty when it focuses on both “reflecting” on the past that is the Victorian era and also dealing with the modern-day “psychological dilemma Sarah and Charles experience” as they are stuck between two worlds fighting to make a home for themselves in the present (Gunduz 60). “Rather than trusting the official history,” Fowles instead relies upon literary works of the Victorian era as facts upon which he based his novel “proving the fictionality of history” in order to confront the reader with what Bhaba explains as the reason that readers “must attempt to fully realize, and take responsibility for, the unspoken, unrepresented pasts that haunt”  (Gunduz 62, Bhaba 12). This feeling of discomfort from realizing all the unheard voices Bhaba speaks of leads to Freud’s concept of the “uncanny,” or unhomeliness in which Freud points to the power the “story-teller” has to “select his [own] world of representation...either coincid[ing] with [our perspective of reality or] depart[ing]” from it entirely (Freud 18). 

Charles struggles with his identity, which is evident when he tells Ernestina that he is a scientist because he has “written a monograph,” which is a detailed account of a scientific study, so he must be one (Fowles 8). As they walk along the bay of Lyme Regis, he has forgotten all about his being a scientist of paleontology, which Ernestina points out when she teases him about how they have “been walking on [fossils] now for at least a minute—and [Charles has not] even deigned to remark them” (Fowles 8). Furthermore, Charles suffers with symptoms of a duality within himself including that of the gentleman as well as the sexual being that resides within him that can be perceived when “another voice in his mind…cursed his formality, that barrier in,” which he was unable to articulate the longing for Sarah that he had been forced to bear while she was gone (Fowles 446). Charles experiences Freud’s uncanny phenomenon firsthand when he discovers that Sarah “stood above him, where the tunnel of ivy ended” from which we can also dissect the sexual allusion suggesting Sarah being on top of Charles (Fowles 137). His unconscious attraction to her is coming through the pages of the novel. Charles’s late-night chat with Grogan left him feeling that he was “naturally selected” and full of “pure intellect, walking awake, free as a god” among the “ordinary mass[es] of mankind” in Lyme Regis (Fowles 162). He was sure that Darwin’s evolution had ordained for him “exalted superiority, intellectual distance above the rest of their fellow creatures”; thus, he viewed his relationship with Sarah as one of both humanitarianism and scientific discovery. He felt that it was his “duty” to help the poor girl out of her predicament (Fowles 162, 164). Furthering his high opinion of himself that evolution had lent to him a superior fitness, Charles convinced himself that Ernestina should never be told of the “altruism of his motives” regarding Sarah’s “case” because his own fiancée “had neither the sex nor the experience to understand” what he must do all for the sake of his duty (Fowles 164, 165). Charles was set to lay down boundaries within his dealings with Sarah, his dutiful ward; he was going “to be sympathetic,” but also maintain a distance so she would always be aware of “their difference of station” and know who was in charge of providing her rescue (Fowles 164). In true scientific form, he was ready to “play the doctor as well as the gentleman” as he was “prepared to listen” to her sorrowful confession of her ordeal with the French Lieutenant (Fowles 165). From Dobie, in the practice of “psychoanalysis, a treatment in which a patient talks to an analyst about dreams, childhood, and relationships,” Freud was able to “help a patient uncover the painful or threatening events that have been repressed in the unconscious,” which is the same role Charles was prepared to play for Sarah (55).

There is further evidence to be seen of the conditioning and “censorship” that occurred within the Victorian era that Foucault spoke of in The Foucault Reader in which he says that “[u]nder the authority of a language that had been carefully expurgated so that it was no longer directly named, sex was taken charge of, tracked down as it were, by a discourse that aimed to allow it no obscurity, no respite” (301, 303). This claim is clearly witnessed in Ernestina’s hesitancy to reveal Sarah’s supposed evil deeds to the inquisitive Charles. She trails off as she tells him Sarah is called “the French Lieutenant’s…Woman,” unable to vocalize the label of Whore (Fowles 9, my italics). She is also unable to articulate the evil deed that Sarah and her French Lieutenant are said to have performed out of wedlock with “A man she is said to have…” (Fowles 9). There was indeed “a control over enunciations” that included “where and when it was not possible to talk about such things” as sexuality and the pleasure that accompanies it (Foucault 301). These practices of “muteness” led to a “whole restrictive economy” in which people were not allowed to act or speak freely and instead were shunned and forced to reveal every sexual thought or act to their clergy (Foucault 302). The people under this strain were heavily coaxed into conveying even “a shadow in a daydream, an image too slowly dispelled” in confession (Foucault 303). Even these constraints were limited to those of the lower classes who were often coerced into confessing the sins of their sould because this activity was deemed necessary to be a “good Christian” (Foucault 304), and who other than the poor would need to seek out the God of grace and plenty? In the words of Foucault, Sarah could be considered “a courageous fugitive from a ‘Victorianism’ that would have compelled [her] to silence” because she was indeed going against the grain by giving herself the title of the French Lieutenant’s Whore (305). She inserts herself into the public arena as the dark thing to be avoided so that she can live life according to her own terms. She is able to find refuge and freedom in the Rosetti household acting as the artist’s “amanuensis [,] his assistant” and occasionally as his model (Fowles 445). She then recreates herself and changes roles from whore to mere widow which comes with much less rejection in society.

Fowles deconstructs religion late in the novel when Charles goes to pray in a church and begins to question its “repressed emotion and facetious humor, its cautious science and incautious religion, its corrupt politics and immutable castes, as the great hidden enemy of all his deepest yearnings” (Fowles 363). Charles deemed religion to be the “vicious circle that haunted him…that was the failure, the weakness, the cancer, the vital flaw that had” made up his identity and he recognized that he “had become, while still alive,” a fossil (Fowles 363). The mental battle that he was waging against religion and its trappings “haunted, and profoundly damaged, his age” and as a result he realized that “his previous belief in the ghostly presence of the past had condemned him…to a life in the grave” (Fowles 364 & 365). He goes on to decide that “Sarah on his arm” would be his only savior if he was to embody “the pure essence of cruel but necessary…freedom” that he so desperately sought (Fowles 366).

Stephen Greenblatt’s introduction to The Power of Forms presents further evidence to build a case against the old way of historicism because it focused only on the popular opinions of events or circumstances. Greenblatt lends to this conversation the impression that the old way “is concerned with discovering [only] a single political vision” that would somehow account for the opinion of the “entire literate class or indeed the entire population” instead of also listening to the marginalized voices (2253). Using this logic, the powerful proclaim their agenda to the population “through myriad capillary channels” from “direct coercion” all the way down “to daily routines and language” (Greenblatt 2250). Fowles is doing what Greenblatt speaks of by “attempt[ing] to understand the lived social reality” of the Victorian era by taking apart the characters’ personalities and exposing us as the reader to the “dynamic interweaving of multiple strands from a culture that is itself an unstable field of contending forces” (Greenblatt 2250). Greenblatt views any text to be “an attempted intervention in the ongoing struggle to influence or even dominate the cultural field” and he also suggests that “history reveals the growth of forms of power that continuously affect subjects’ lives” in which we are able to recognize the poor conditions that the lower class is made to reside within (Greenblatt 2250). For example, Sarah who, because of her social standing as an outcast, is made to exist beneath Mrs. Poulteney and the other “confident pretendants” (Fowles 54). Because she had been “forced…out of her own class” by her father’s insistence on raising his family’s name higher up the hierarchical ladder, she was “made the perfect victim of a caste society” since he was unable to “raise her to the next” rung of the proverbial ladder (Fowles 53). She had subsequently “become too select to marry” the men of her former class and yet still “too banal” for the class “she aspired to” (Fowles 53).

Similarly, using Tony Jackson’s article “Charles and the Hopeful Monster: Postmodern Evolutionary Theory in The French Lieutenant’s Woman” can help understand Sarah’s motives,  as she has “consciously planned” on evolving Charles into a “twentieth-century sense of self” which is obviously unheard of in the time period (8, 7). Jackson also notes that Sarah’s being “educated above her class” led to her terrible “suffer[ing] in the conventional way that governesses in Victorian novels suffered” and from the novel we have already been informed of Sarah’s declaration that “because of her nature, she categorically cannot be happy” (Fowles   Instead of explaining Sarah’s motivations, Fowles, instead, “leaves us with an enigma” and we are left to decide for ourselves what is behind her actions (Jackson 8). The act of having to decide just what is going on is something that Fowles purposely embedded within the novel in order to support his belief in existentialism, or the ability to choose one’s own destiny. For instance, when Fowles says that “it is only when our characters…begin to disobey us that they begin to live,” the reader begins to understand Sarah’s mission “to show [Charles] out” of his miserable circumstances of being “caught in an evolutionary incident and metaphorically buried in a landslide,…becoming fossilized” (Fowles 96, Tarbox as qtd. by Jackson 8).  Jackson speaks to the fact that the onset of Darwinism could only have been greeted in one of two ways by the Victorians: one being “outraged rejection” and the other response admitting “comfort in the fact that at least we were at the top of the natural order” (6). Sarah unknowingly is “the hopeful monster of change” in the novel relates to the “newness” that is needed in order for Charles to secure a new sense of self beyond his identity as a gentleman (Jackson 8). In the Victorian era, the “newness” of a creature like Sarah causes her to be “naturally isolated and alienated,” and she says that “even things—mere chairs, tables, mirrors—conspire to increase my solitude” (Jackson 11, Fowles 171).

Booker touches on “Charles’ Byronic exile” to America and how the New World is “already itself an image of unruliness for a Victorian” (182). He furthers the discussion regarding Charles’ lack of common sense or simply his naïveté, which proclaims him “an ideal specimen of the Victorian mind” because “not only does he fundamentally accept the overall Victorian worldview, but his fascination with paleontology provides a direct representation of the drive toward classification and categorization that so characterized the era” (Booker 183). He explains further that their obsessive “compulsion to classify, name, define, and circumscribe all aspects of life is perhaps the most central force behind Victorian science in general” (Booker 183). This “compulsion” is not lost on Sarah’s behalf, for Charles desires to analyze her just like he would categorize one of his fossils (Booker 183). When Charles discovers Sarah out in the wild of the Undercliff, he begins to study her condition immediately as a true member of the scientific community. He notes her positioning as she was “in the complete abandonment of deep sleep,” as though she were a corpse as well as noting the presence of a “scattered handful of anemones” around her likely representing death, or rather the anticipation of death (Fowles 70). He also takes a mental inventory of her hair color with “red tints, a rich warmth, and without the then indispensable gloss of feminine hair oil” (Fowles 71). He notices her “strong nose, heavy eyebrows” and then when his eyes take in the innocence of her sleeping face, he is “overcome by…a certainty of the innocence of this creature, of her being unfairly outcast” (Fowles 71). Fowles tells notes, “the whole Victorian Age was lost,” since Charles had discovered a substance not native to Lyme Regis, Sarah’s alien ideas of nonconformity.

The fact that humanity is susceptible to a continual evolution or adaptation is significant because humans must continue to learn and evolve; if the person is not willing to adapt to the changes in society, he is therefore considered a fossil or no longer alive. The concept of becoming a fossilized human being goes along with the notion that this human will be left behind in society because Fowles states that the “world is an organism, not a machine” where a “genuinely created world must be independent of its creator” and be given the ability to change or else it will lead to a “dead world,” symbolized by the ammonite so often mentioned in the novel (Fowles 96). Anyone breaking away from the structure is ostracized when Charles dissolves his engagement with Ernestina and is stripped of his title of gentleman, which is the same as being transmuted into one of his fossils. It is evident that identity is connected to ability to adapt, in that if one is unwilling to evolve into a better version of the self, that individual will be merely set aside, and the world will continue.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994.

Booker, Keith M. “What We Have Instead of God: Sexuality, Textuality and Infinity in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 24, no. 2, Jan. 1991, pp. 178-198. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/1345562.

Dobie, Ann B. Theory into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Critcism. 3rd ed., Wadsworth, 2012.

Foucault, Michel, and Paul Rabinow. The Foucault Reader. Pantheon Books, 1984.

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. 1st Back Bay pbk. ed, Back Bay Books, 1998.

Freud, Sigmund. "The uncanny. se, 17." London: Hogarth, 1919.

Greenblatt, Stephen Jay, and Stephen Greenblatt, eds. The power of forms in the English Renaissance. Pilgrim Books (OK), 1982, pp. 2250-2254.

Gunduz, Ela. "John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman as a New-Historical Novel." Ross Journal 4 (2017): 59-70.

Jackson, Tony E. “Charles and the Hopeful Monster: Postmodern Evolutionary Theory in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 43, no. 2, [Duke University Press, Hofstra University], 1997, pp. 221–42,

Kneale, Douglas. “Deconstruction.” The Johns Hopkins guide to literary theory & criticism. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1994, pp. 185-92.

Hagopian, John V. “Bad Faith in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman.’” Contemporary Literature, vol. 23, no. 2, [Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, University of Wisconsin Press], 1982, pp. 191–201,

Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, Harper Collins, 1980.

Rose, Gilbert J. “‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’: The Unconscious Significance of a Novel to Its Author.” American Imago, vol. 29, no. 2, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972, pp. 165–76,

Wilson, Thomas Murray. “Post-Pastoral in John Fowles’s Daniel Martin.” Organization & Environment, vol. 18, no. 4, Sage Publications, Inc., 2005, pp. 477–88,




"A Feminist Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130"

by Moriah Silvers



            At first glance, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 seems to berate the speakers’ mistress for not being the idyllic woman usually seen in poetry: beautiful, ethereal, soft. The poem’s three quatrains describe instead how exactly plain, perhaps even ugly, this woman is. However, it is this use of contreblazon that makes this traditional, male-written piece of the canon a perfect poem to analyze through a feminist perspective. Shakespeare’s description of this mistress does not coincide with any of the traditional attributes ascribed to desirable women; therefore, a feminist reading of Sonnet 130 begs the reader to ask what it is the speaker of the poem finds desirable about this woman.

            To fully understand the implications of the contreblazon in this poem, one must understand the use of a traditional literary blazon. According to the Poetry Foundation, “Blazon compares parts of the female body to jewels, celestial bodies, natural phenomenon, and other beautiful or rare objects.” This literary device was very popular amongst Elizabethan poets (Poetry Foundation). Shakespeare’s use of anti-blazon goes as follows:

            My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. (lines 1-12)

Within the first three lines, Shakespeare mentions one celestial body and two natural phenomena; yet, instead of comparing the woman in a positive relation to these things, as one would do in a traditional blazon, he draws contrasts between them. Unlike the sun, her eyes do not shine. Unlike coral and snow, her lips and skin are dull and impure. In lines eleven and twelve, the speaker says he “never saw a goddess go” and then goes so far as to use a connotatively masculine word tread to describe instead how his mistress walks.

Early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft believed that these traditional descriptions and expectations of women to be quiet, polite, perhaps angelic, members of society were synonymous with saying that women should be weak (qtd. in Dobie 106). In a traditional blazon, a woman being compared to a goddess may have their movement described as floating or dancing, words that coincide with the descriptions of women mentioned by Wollstonecraft. Whereas in Sonnet 130, Shakespeare choosing tread to describe how the mistress walks may connote feelings of power and purpose. This stark contrast between the way that women were typically described throughout poetry in the Elizabethan era and how Shakespeare describes this woman shows that Shakespeare may have believed that there was more to desire from women than just their looks and “epithets of weakness” (qtd. in Dobie 106).

            After this listing of traditionally unladylike and undesirable features, Shakespeare leaves the reader with this couplet: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare” (lines 13-14). Thus, allowing the reader to question what unspoken attributes leads the speaker to love this woman more than any had before despite her unseemly appearance. Perhaps it is because she is not what she is expected to be: beautiful, meek, susceptible, delicate. Perhaps it is that she is filled with traditional feminine energy on the inside, but one would not know it unless they looked past her outward appearance. Perhaps it is because she is hardworking, intelligent, disciplined, or defined by other traditionally male characteristics. The reader will never know and that is because this woman, any woman, can be a combination of any and all qualities, the least of which are her physical traits, and still be desirable.

            Today, it is more understood that women are worth more than their looks. However, many women are still expected to act in a way that is traditionally feminine and to “put their best foot forward” when in public. This expectation is unjust and does not encapsulate the individuality of each and every woman. Some women do not subscribe to traditional beauty standards; they are not less desirable because of this. Some women do not subscribe to traditional female personality traits; they are not less desirable because of this. Some women do not subscribe to traditional thoughts of the gender binary; they are not less desirable because of this. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 strengthens the idea that being desirable should not be defined by an archaic set of physical and emotional traits but should instead be defined by the amalgamation of traits that makes a person unique: the character of a person. As Wollstonecraft points out, “…the first object of laudable ambition is to obtain a character as a human being, regardless of the distinction of sex” (qtd. in Dobie 106).


Works Cited

Dobie, Ann B. Theory into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Criticism. 4th ed., Cengage Learning, 2015.

Poetry Foundation. “Blazon.” Poetry Foundation, 6 Feb. 2021,

Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 130: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Poetry Foundation, 2019,                    





"Ophelia as A Symbol of Women in the Elizabethan Era"

by Savannah Price


            Ophelia is the ideal woman in Shakespeare’s time: passive, timid, and obedient. Her father and brother constantly warn her of Hamlet’s intentions with her, and, therefore, she must choose between her father and her lover, Hamlet. Ultimately, she obeys her father’s orders, symbolizing the expectation placed on women in the Elizabethan era. Because of this decision, she is a victim of Hamlet’s madness, as he uses her in order to prove his madness to her father, Polonius. Ophelia, who is kept in the dark about Hamlet’s feigned madness, is confused and hurt by Hamlet’s sudden disinterest in her. Not only does she lose her lover to madness, but she also loses her father to Hamlet’s hand. As a result, Ophelia succumbs to madness that eventually results in her death. Her actions during her madness reveal the way Shakespeare views the patriarchal Elizabethan era—things her previously reserved character never would have voiced can be seen in her songs following her father’s death. Shakespeare uses the way Ophelia is treated by the dominant male figures in her life, whether it be her father or her lover, to ultimately lead to her madness and death so that he can parallel the realities of the double-standard based patriarchal society and treatment of women in the Elizabethan era.  

             Women in the Elizabethan era were expected to be obedient to their fathers, brothers, and husbands, from which they received their social standing by association. Ophelia was at King Claudius’s court as a result of her father’s title as the king’s councillor. Because of her father’s standing with King Claudius, Ophelia is raised in a higher social standing than would be normal for a “common” person like herself (Kemp 30). Though without her father’s title (upon his death) or a husband of title, Ophelia is essentially stripped of her social status. Though this association goes both ways. For example, when Polonius is afraid that Ophelia is entertaining Hamlet’s lustful desires, he warns her to stop, or he will become “a fool” in the eyes of the people at court (1.3.109). While Polonius is not the one who is committing the sin, he knows his daughter’s actions will reflect badly on him. Similarly, women in the Elizabethan era were expected to obey their fathers or husbands. If they chose not to, both fathers and husbands were able to punish their wives or daughters so that their patriarchal authority over their daughter or wife was not questioned by witnesses (Kemp 41-2). Additionally, Elizabethan women were believed to be “by nature fickle and changeable” in their love and fidelity in marriage because of their ability to choose in affairs of love and desire (Kemp 41). Shakespeare mirrors this ideology through Hamlet, who often states that the love of a woman is impulsive and volatile. This belief is rooted in Hamlet’s anger with his mother for remarrying so quickly following his father’s death, but he imposes this idea onto Ophelia as well. When speaking of the brief prologue in the play that Hamlet organized, Ophelia states, “’Tis brief, my lord” to which Hamlet responds with, “As woman’s love” (3.2.140-1). While Hamlet is probably referring to his own mother’s brief remarriage, he also implies that all women possess this same brief ability to love. In other words, Shakespeare uses both Hamlet’s and Polonius’s assertions to symbolize what the class-based Elizabethan ideology of women was.

            Ophelia, who loves Hamlet at the opening of the play, is advised by the two dominant male figures in her life to distrust Hamlet’s intentions with her and, in turn, question the feelings she possesses for him. She is anticipated, according to Elizabethan expectations, to obey her father and brother’s wishes. Polonius and Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, continually warn Ophelia of the dangers of losing her maidenhood (virginity). In one instance, Laertes warns Ophelia not to leave her “chaste treasure open / To [Hamlet’s] unmastered importunity” (1.3.30-1). In the Elizabethan era, women’s chastity held a “commercial as well as moral value” that women had to protect if they wished to marry (Lyons 69). Polonius’s constant badgering combined with the way Hamlet treats Ophelia causes her to question and fixate on her own perceptions. Though Ophelia had already been warned by Polonius and Laertes of Hamlet’s false intentions, she still holds hope in their love. When Claudius and Polonius conspire to have Ophelia and Hamlet encounter one another alone, Ophelia is shocked upon hearing that Hamlet “loved [her] not” to which she responds that she “was the more deceived” (3.1.118-9). Ophelia is quite understandably confused on how she could have been so naïve to Hamlet’s intentions for her, and therefore, begins to question her own judgement. Smith similarly asserts that “Ophelia’s faith in love and sincerity is crushed” as a result of Hamlet’s behavior and sudden rejection of her (97). The reader understands that Hamlet’s abuse of Ophelia is a part of his feigned madness, but Ophelia is kept in the dark of Hamlet’s plan (Lawrence 415). Like Ophelia, women of Shakespeare’s time were often deprived of knowledge that was found unsuitable for them to know about (Smith 97-8). For Hamlet, he cannot inform Ophelia of his plan because he knows she is loyal to her father, as she is expected to be, and may expose his fabricated madness. Though Ophelia’s deprivation of knowledge only plays a minor role in Ophelia’s imminent hysteria, her father’s constant badgering largely affects her fall into madness.

Not only does Polonius consistently control his daughter’s life, but he also reinforces a variety of double standards that are also evident in the Elizabethan era. For example, Polonius, who arrives near the end of Laertes’s warning to Ophelia, decides to assert his own distrust in Hamlet by relaying that he has heard rumors of Ophelia spending a questionable amount of time with Hamlet alone. As a result, he cautions Ophelia that being “free and bounteous” makes her seem cheap (1.3.93). This ideology is similar to the way virtue was viewed in Shakespeare’s time (Smith 100). In contrast, moments before telling her this, Polonius sends off Laertes with a long list of hopeful recommendations, one of which being: “To thine own self be true” (1.3.77). Unfortunately, Ophelia never gets the same recommendation from her father as she is, instead, told to be true to her virtue and her female expectations and never told to be true to herself. Despite witnessing her father’s obvious gender-based double standards, she concedes with her father’s wishes as was expected of daughters in the Elizabethan era: “I shall obey, my lord” (1.3.135). In another instance, Polonius explains to Ophelia that Hamlet is allowed to have more free will than she is as he has “a larger tether may he walk / Than may be given [to her]” (1.3.123-4). This can be taken two ways: (1) Hamlet is given more responsibility because he is a future king or (2) Hamlet has a more giving lifestyle because he is a man. Either way, Polonius is enforcing a double standard onto Ophelia by defending Hamlet’s right to practice wanton behavior. This ideology is mirrored in Shakespeare’s time as women were held on tight leashes by their fathers and mothers in order to ensure their commercial value as future wives, while men were encouraged to discover themselves (Kemp 33). The effects of Polonius’s double standards can be seen after his death, in which the mad Ophelia is walking around court singing a song about a maid who is lured to the bed of a man and leaves the next morning no longer a virgin. Smith agrees, asserting that the song is one of “lost virginity and painful double-standard exactly those issues that were the subjects of Laertes and Polonius’ warning” (Smith 98). In other words, Polonius’s warnings are internalized by Ophelia, causing such fears that she fixates on them in her madness as well as the double standards that cloud them.

Shakespeare reflects on the social and cultural issues of his time regarding the treatment of women and daughters through his character Ophelia and her progressive path to madness. These parallels between Hamlet and the Elizabethan era can be seen through Polonius’s role as an overbearing father with an agenda to maintain his daughter’s chastity, the expectation of obedience from a daughter, and the double standards rooted in the expectations of females versus males. Some scholars assert that Ophelia’s song about the maid who loses her virginity to a man who promises marriage reveals that Ophelia is possibly pregnant. Thus, they allege that her hidden pregnancy is what drives her mad especially upon Hamlet’s rejection of her and her father’s continuous concerns with her virtue. Because Shakespeare does not clearly define how intimate the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia was, Ophelia’s pregnancy could be a possibility. Another implication is that Ophelia may have committed a grief-stricken suicide rather than accidentally falling into the lake as Queen Gertrude claims has happened. If Ophelia’s death was indeed a suicide, Gertrude probably lies in order to provide Ophelia with a proper burial as suicide would have resulted in an unsanctified one. The implications of Hamlet are countless as so much is left up to the reader’s interpretation due to a lack of information, but the parallels between Shakespeare’s time and Hamlet’s Ophelia are undeniable.


Works Cited

Kemp, Theresa D. Women in the Age of Shakespeare. Greenwood, 2010. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=nlebk&AN=319112&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=dal1&ebv=EB&ppid=pp_i.

Lawrence, William W. “Ophelia’s Heritage.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 42, no. 4, Modern Humanities Research Association, 1947, pp. 409–16, 

Lyons, Bridget Gellert. “The Iconography of Ophelia.” ELH, vol. 44, no. 1, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977, pp. 60–74, 

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Arden Shakespeare, edited by Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson, David Kastan, and H.R. Woudhuysen, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021, pp. 345-382.

Smith, Barbara. “Neither Accident nor Intent: Contextualizing the Suicide of Ophelia.” South Atlantic Review, vol. 73, no. 2, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, 2008, pp. 96–112, 

"Animals and the Apocalypse"

by Ashley Fann

A foul-mouthed, Cheeto-loving, domesticated crow, a lovable, slobbery golden retriever, and a man of the moniker Big Jim walk into the apocalypse. Waiting for the punchline? If so, crack open a copy of Kira Jane Buxton’s Hollow Kingdom. Released by Grand Central Publishing company in August of 2020, this unique novel provides pandemic readers with a new take on apocalyptic stories while also offering meaningful and contemplation-provoking commentary regarding human (or animal) nature and the interconnectivity of all living organisms. Although this work is not labeled as a piece of young adult literature, the story offers the same relatable depth and themes, and, therefore, would serve readers of that demographic.

Looking beyond the profanity and other vulgarities, Buxton’s avian narrator offers a quirky but touching perspective on the literary journey of a dystopian possibility. The opening chapter introduces readers to S.T., a crow with a more complex vocabulary than most modern people, who is so fond of humankind that he experiences dysphoria because he is not a part of the species. S.T. resides in Seattle, Washington, with his (human) owner Big Jim and Dennis the golden retriever. He has trained himself to mirror human mannerisms; however, a subplot of this work follows his journey of coming to peace and eventually embracing his natural placement in the world. Finding one’s fit in the world, or subsections of life, is a common theme in young adult literature, often showcased in coming-of-age stories, and this work will speak to that theme while presenting a different perspective to ponder.

This pet crow seems to have an odd but nice life until his owner’s eyes fall out of his skull. Buxton establishes the apocalyptic scenario of her work by penning, “The runaway eyeball signified a turning point in our lives” (3). Perplexed by this medical anomaly, S.T. ventures to the nearest Walgreens. It is here that S.T. encounters the familiar face of one of his neighbors, Nargatha. Seeing Nagartha eating Triscuits, “her miniature schnauzer,” causes him to realize the nature of the horror that is not only beginning to invade his home but also spreading throughout his community (20). These scenes catalyze S.T.’s upcoming journey both geographically and emotionally. The majority of this work details S.T.’s venture to find a cure to the epidemic claiming the lives of all humans. Readers will meet many figures, with the narration of some chapters being taken over by another animal such as Winnie the Poodle,

Genghis Cat, and Angus, the highland cow.

Due to this work’s comedic nature, readers may feel surprised when realizing how meaningful the commentary is and the discussion topics it calls to attention. One example of this is found in the cause of the sweeping epidemic, which readers will find out is the increasing human preoccupation with technology that distracts from all other things in life, like cell phones. This work’s duality strongly appealed to me and was one factor that cemented my enjoyment and fondness of this work. I like that this work offers both humor and commentary that encourages contemplation of real issues. Reading this alone may cause some young adults to lack a full realization or understanding of some of these themes, but if they have a figure to facilitate a discussion surrounding this work, benefits will show.

A theme that particularly touched me throughout this work is the commentary addressing the interconnectivity of all living beings, not just the ones deemed sentient. As an animal lover and crow owner herself, Buxton’s belief in the transcendental approach to life encourages readers to reflect on their view of and relationship with the multifaceted topic of nature. She uses this theme to call to attention the human tendency “to be too locked in the beautiful basements of their minds to notice certain subtleties” in life (42). Buxton also reminds readers that our “Growth and evolution depend on our changing relationship to the beings around us” (69). Not only does this apply to nature and beings of different species, but also fellow humans. In the spirit of recognizing interconnectivity, this notion connects to the themes of teamwork, finding hope in difficult times, and realizing the importance various relationships in one’s life hold.

This work, and the upcoming sequel Feral Creatures, set to release on August 24, 2021, are not to be missed. As readers part with the pages of Buxton’s work, they should remember that “Life is not the same once you’ve learned just how deeply a tree can feel” (117). I believe this work is beneficial for young adult and adult readers. Young adult readers will be entertained while being compelled to critically think about the details of the reality surrounding them, like codependence on technology and connections to fellow humans and the non-human elements of our world.

"The Superficiality of Mankind in Tangled"

by Savannah Price



            Byron Howard and Nathan Greno’s 2010 animated film Tangled may seem like a simple children’s movie with no significance, a simple story with cute songs and a long-lost princess. In contrast, the themes in Tangled are important for individuals of every age to reflect on as the film speaks to the superficiality of mankind. Furthermore, the film shows viewers that things are not always what they seem, and Tangled highlights these false identities and contrasts them with Rapunzel’s unashamed individuality. Mother Gothel, Rapunzel’s kidnapper, is one of the first superficial characters portrayed in the film. Gothel does not only hide her gray hair, wrinkles, and age behind the rejuvenation Rapunzel’s magical hair provides her, but she also hides her true character, which is just as decrepit as her physical state. In addition, Flynn Rider, a swashbuckler who finds himself in Rapunzel’s tower, hides his true identity, Eugene Fitzherbert, which is much less selfish and arrogant than his feigned identity as Flynn. One of the most humorous and eye-opening superficial encounters is at the seemingly friendly diner, The Snuggly Duckling, where a hoard of big, scary men reveal their true, not so alarming personalities. And, lastly, Rapunzel, who exhibits no superficial traits, serves as an example of individuality, even when her identity is not what she thought. While Tangled may seem like an insignificant children’s movie, the film actually portrays the superficiality of mankind as a result of societal pressures as seen in Mother Gothel, Flynn Rider, and the men at The Snuggly Duckling, which contrasts with Rapunzel’s acceptance of her true self as she is isolated from the pressures to conform herself to fit into society.

Gothel is undeniably the most selfish character in Tangled, yet she manipulates her appearance and personality in a way that portrays her as a loving, overprotective mother to Rapunzel. The audience knows that Gothel is responsible for kidnapping Rapunzel and holding her hostage in an isolated tower for her own selfish needs, yet Gothel continuously warns Rapunzel of the dangers of the “scary world” (13:32). Therefore, Gothel tries excessively hard to hide her true nature from Rapunzel, though her selfish, rude remarks often slip through the cracks of the fortress she has built around her despicable personality. For example, when Gothel pulls Rapunzel to look at their reflections in a mirror, Gothel states: “Rapunzel, look in that mirror… I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh look, you’re here too” (10:54). Gothel often attempts to shade these remarks by saying she is just kidding, but it is obvious to viewers that Gothel is doing her best to keep Rapunzel, Gothel’s source of eternal youth, out of suspicion of her true vain character. In one instance, Gothel complains about Rapunzel’s mumbling, saying “[i]t’s very annoying” (12:01). Gothel quickly regroups, cupping Rapunzel’s face and stating, “I’m just teasing you’re adorable. I love you so much, darling” (12:01-4). At this point in the film, Gothel’s actions seem solely narcissistic, but things quickly escalate when Rapunzel escapes from her captivity with the help of Flynn Rider. In order to retain her eternal youth, Gothel seeks the help of two of Flynn’s ex-partners and sets them up to attack Rapunzel so that she can paint herself as the hero and prove her earlier, exaggerated accusations of the reality of the world outside of the tower: “I tried to warn you what was out there. The world is dark and selfish and cruel” (1:15:34-38). In reality, the audience knows that Gothel is the one who is “dark and selfish and cruel” (1:15:38). Though Gothel is the most extreme example of a superficiality in Tangled, many other characters also mask their true identity.

The Snuggly Duckling looks cute and quaint from the outside, but upon entering, Rapunzel quickly realizes that it is full of exactly what Mother Gothel warned her about, thugs and ruffians. After Rapunzel prompts the ruffians with a question, “Haven’t any of you ever had a dream?” (38:55). Rapunzel and Flynn realize that they should not assume based on appearances as the seemingly intimidating men show their much warmer and humane personalities under the rugged exterior illusion that they have created. For example, one man with a hook for a hand, who refers to himself as “malicious, mean, and scary” (39:21), reveals that “despite [his] evil look, temper, and hook, [he] has always yearned to be a concert pianist” (39:28-35). After he reveals his dream that was “way down deep inside” (39:51), his ruffian friends all join in, revealing their true selves and challenging the stereotypes that have been impended onto them. In another instance, a ruffian who is insecure about the way he looks, asserts that he “really want[s] to make a love connection” (40:24). Several other ruffians express their dreams, some aspiring to become “a florist” (40:56), “an interior design[er]” (40:59), and a “mime” (41:02) among many of the other hobbies and dreams expressed in this scene. The overall message of The Snuggly Duckling and the thugs inside is to show Tangled’s audience that people should not be judged for their “disgusting” (40:34) or “malicious” (39:21) appearances and that even these people can have normal dreams. Near the end of Flynn and Rapunzel’s encounter at The Snuggly Duckling, the ruffians exclaim, “Our difference isn’t really that extreme,” which sums up the focus and point of the entire scene (41:58). The Snuggly Duckling and the seemingly scary men inside are a prime example of the superficiality of mankind, and they urge Flynn to consider his own superficial traits.

Flynn Rider, whose real name is Eugene Fitzherbert, creates an arrogant, self-absorbed, greedy, and superficial persona for himself, yet after he meets Rapunzel, his true humorous and caring identity is revealed. Before this happens though, Flynn hides behind his fake name, feigned personality, and desire for money. For example, when asked what his dream is while at The Snuggly Duckling, Flynn leaves even the thugs unimpressed by explaining that his dream is “on an island that [he] own[s] tanned and rested and alone. Surrounded by enormous piles of money (41:32-8). One ruffian even tells him that his “dream sucks” (43:05). Flynn’s personality changes soon after though, as he and Rapunzel are trapped in a cavern that is slowly filling with water. When Rapunzel begins to cry with guilt for getting the two trapped, Flynn admits his real name, which is the first time Flynn begins to let his superficial wall down: “My real name is Eugene Fitzherbert” (49:20). In addition, he asserts that “Someone may as well know,” suggesting that he has never told anyone about this part of his life that he has tried so hard to keep hidden (49:25). After they are finally freed from the cavern, Rapunzel prompts him to share more about his life, which he refers to as a “sob story” as he was an “orphan” (54:45-8). After explaining he stole the name from a ruch, brave swashbuckler that he had read about named “Flynnigan Ryder,” it is clear that Flynn chose the name of a character he had dreamed of becoming as an orphaned child (55:03). As he puts it, “for a kid with nothing… it just seemed like the better option” (55:26-9). From this scene, the audience learns a lot about Flynn’s past, seeing beyond the superficial Flynn and into his true identity as Eugene. By the end of the film, Flynn has made some major changes and realizations in his life. For example, he admits that he spent “[a]ll those years living in a blur… never truly seeing the things the way they really were” (1:09:02-12). In addition, after some prompting by Rapunzel, Flynn leaves behind his feigned identity and “start[s] going by Eugene again, stop[s] thieving, and basically turn[s] it all around” (1:30:43-5). Flynn’s character is one of the most likable characters throughout the film, but especially by the end of the film as he overcomes the hardships of his orphaned life and finally comes to accept his true identity as Eugene.

Rapunzel, who is the only character unaware of her own identity, is ironically secure and confident with herself and her dreams. After all, the whole film surrounds a dream that she brings to life despite all of the hardships and misfortunes that stand in her way. Unlike the typical Disney princesses, Rapunzel’s goal is not romantic. Instead, her dream is “to see the floating lanterns gleam,” and she stops at nothing until she realizes this dream (41:44). Through Rapunzel’s dedication to her dream and herself, she encourages those around her to leave behind the superficial walls they have built and return to their true identities. For example, she prompts the ruffians at The Snuggly Duckling to let down their “malicious” (39:21) exteriors and express their deepest dreams by telling them to “find [their] humanity” (38:51). Not only does Rapunzel’s prompting soften the thugs at The Snuggly Duckling, but it also shows the audience a valuable lesson not to judge based off of appearances. In another instance, Rapunzel succeeds in revealing the true identity of Flynn, who would have undoubtedly remained the same greedy, swashbuckling thief had he not found himself hiding out in Rapunzel’s tower. Rapunzel gently guides Flynn back to himself by showing him the beauties of the world that he had not noticed before as Rapunzel finds beauty in every part of the village because she has never been outside of her tower. For instance, even though Rapunzel sticks out in the village in her too small dress and bare feet, she is still successful in igniting the whole village in a dance. For Flynn, this new way of looking at thing allows him to leave behind his greedy ways and enjoy the little things. In addition, the fact that Rapunzel was isolated from society offers significance that she is the only character who does not pretend to be someone else, suggesting that Greno and Howard feel that society pressures people to pretend to be someone they are not. Therefore, Rapunzel is a pivotal character, who finally realizes her true identity as the lost princess after helping so many others actualize their own.

Without a doubt, Tangled is a powerful movie with an essential message about the superficiality of mankind, prompting its audience to consider their own superficial characteristics and return to their true identities. Mother Gothel encapsulates a greedy, manipulative character who imprisons a young girl for her own selfish needs, and her rotten superficiality is just as putrid as her interior. In contrast, the men of The Snuggly Duckling seem barbarous on the surface but reveal that they are actually normal people with normal dreams. Similarly, Flynn Rider is an orphan who has created an ideal identity for himself, but with Rapunzel’s influence, he realizes that just being himself is more than ideal. Lastly, Rapunzel, who soon realizes her identity as the lost princess, understands that being herself is enough as she has not been pressured by society to be someone else. After seeing the lanterns, Rapunzel says something that sums up the entirety of the movie: “I’m not scared anymore” (1:08:43). Tangled shows viewers that being themselves is not something that they should be afraid of and that leaving behind your superficiality will only improve your life.


Works Cited

Greno, Nathan, and Byron Howard. Tangled. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2010.

Psychology and the Psyche: Human nature, happiness, hope, and mental health

"Encanto's Most Important Lesson: Your Superpower is Being You"

by Savannah Price


Best 4000-level Paper


 Beyond the façade of Byron Howard and Jared Bush’s seemingly typical, kid-oriented 2021 animated film Encanto lies a much greater lesson of accepting one’s true identity without relying on any external factors. Throughout the Columbia-based film, the Madrigal family is praised for their wide array of powers, all except for one of the family members: Mirabel. Mirabel is the most relatable character to audiences as she has no powers and is, therefore, insecure and constantly trying to prove herself. In contrast, her older sister Isabela possesses the power of beauty and perfection; a simple touch of her hand causes beautiful flowers to sprout, but the seemingly flawless character reveals how much of a burden expected perfection truly is. In addition to Isabela, Mirabel’s sister Luisa obtains the power of strength, picking up mules and churches with ease, yet the weight of her power weighs on her both physically and mentally as she wonders who she is and what her worth is without her powers. Similarly, Mirabel’s uncle, Bruno, has the gift of seeing the future, which sends him into exile after he sees a vision that is damaging to one of his family members. His burden, caused by his power, is perhaps the greatest as he is excluded from everyone else in his family. Encanto holds a powerful message illustrating that one’s worth does not rely on their talents or superpowers, though, at times, it can feel that way, but, instead, one’s power is rooted in the true self.

            Because Mirabel has no gift, she is consistently trying to prove herself as a worthy member of the magical Madrigal family. Though she soon learns that having a power is not all it seems to be from the outside, she first experiences the heartache of being isolated from her family. For example, the movie opens on the gift ceremony of her younger cousin Antonio, where Mirabel is reminded of her own, in which she was the only family member not granted a gift. The village children feel pity for Mirabel, stating “If I were you, I’d be really sad” (09:31), to which Mirabel responds: “I am not. Because the truth is, gift or no gift, I am just as special as the rest of my family” (09:34-09:42). While this quote sums up the fundamental theme of the movie, it takes Mirabel a while to truly believe her own words. For instance, she struggles with proving herself to her Abuela, who urges Mirabel to let everyone else handle the details due to Mirabel’s clumsy and unlucky nature. Because of this, Mirabel feels the need to “do [her] part like the rest of the family,” which proves to be difficult, if not impossible, for her (10:52). Her father, who married into the enchanting Madrigal family, understands her dilemma and explains that being “[s]urronded by the exceptional, [makes] it [is] easy to feel un-ceptional” (11:08-11:12). Throughout the remainder of the film, Mirabel continues to fight for her spot in the family despite her lack of power, causing her to seek out her long-lost uncle Bruno. By the end of the film, Mirabel has witnessed the restraints and demands of her family members’ superpowers and understands that they all feel scared of the family’s wavering power because they have placed all their worth in their gifts.

            Similar to the way Mirabel attempts to prove her worthiness, her family struggles with finding their worth as the possibility that they may lose their power arises. The first to voice their concerns with the fading Madrigal powers is Mirabel’s older sister, Luisa, whose power is superhuman strength. She assists her family and the town by literally moving bridges, churches, livestock, and furniture. For the first time in her life, the items she moves begin to feel heavy compared to their usual weightlessness under the effects of her power. Upon the possibility of losing her power, Luisa illustrates the weight, both literally and figuratively, that comes with her gift and the pressure she feels to remain the strong one. She explains that because she is “the strong one” and “the older sister” she holds a large amount of pressure on her shoulders (34:15-20). Underneath this strength-based façade, Luisa articulates her feelings “under the surface” (34:46), in which she feels that “[she’s] worthless if [she] can’t be of service” (34:59-35:02). In other words, Luisa is wondering if who she is without her power is enough and if losing her power strips her of all her worth. Luisa appeals to the eldest children of many families as she illustrates the weight she holds as the older sister, stating: “Give it to your sister, your sisters stronger. See if she can hang on a little longer. Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” (35:39- 35:48). Therefore, Luisa not only fears that her gift of strength is faltering, but also that her value as an older sister is declining if she cannot handle the physical and emotional weight expected of her. This issue mirrors that of Mirabel’s own worth-based insecurities: are they enough just being themselves? Like Luisa and Mirabel, Isabela questions her worth, though she seems undoubtedly the most unlikely to do so due to the perfect nature of her gift.

            Isabela’s gift is pure elegance and grace on the surface as she sprouts out beautiful flowers with a flick of her wrist, but she soon reveals that her gift has placed the taxing expectation of perfection onto her, leading her to desire imperfection and freedom from her burden. Isabela is a prime example of a superficial character in Encanto as she hides behind a façade of perfection. Revealing her own false identity to Mirabel, Isabela states that “so much hides behind [her] smile” (1:09:27). In another instance, when Mirabel confronts Isabela about her seemingly perfect life, Isabela reveals that her life is not as perfect as it seems, even commenting that she has “been stuck being perfect [her] whole entire life” (1:08:13-16). During this argument between the sisters, Isabela unexpectedly creates a cactus, which she describes as “not symmetrical or perfect, but its beautiful” (1:08:58). Therefore, the cactus becomes a symbol for the individual character in Encanto. None of the characters are perfect, powers or no powers, but they are still beautiful. In addition, just as Luisa pondered her worth without her superhuman strength, Isabela wonders what she could do “without needing to be perfect” (1:09:40). It is at this moment that she is able to create flowers and foliage beyond her usual domain of pretty, perfect, and safe pinks and purples, instead sprouting up “strangling figs and hanging vines” (1:09:50). Unlike Isabela and Luisa’s questioning of self-worth or Mirabel’s search for a purpose, their uncle Bruno has chosen his own fate in exile from the rest of his family because of the negative effects of his gift.

            Bruno’s gift of seeing into the future sends him into exile, away from his family, making his gift perhaps the greatest burden to be delivered from as the Madrigal magic candle falters. Bruno was tasked with seeing into the future, both the good and bad events, which he warns his family and friends about in order to prepare them, but he is blamed for the bad things that happen instead. Even his niece, Dolores, explains that “[i]t’s a heavy lift with a gift so humbling,” alluding to the fact that his gift was undoubtedly the hardest gift to bear due to its negative effects on the family and the blame he received (47:11). Ultimately, Bruno’s gift became such a burden that it “wasn’t helping the family, but [he] love[d] his family” (58:19-24). Therefore, he sends himself into exile within the walls of the Madrigal home, so he can observe and feel near the rest of his family without disrupting their lives with his prophecies. Soon, though, Bruno leaves his hideaway in order to help and protect Mirabel. It is Mirabel who gives him hope, stating: “I don’t think you make bad things happen. Sometimes family weirdos just get a bad rap. You can do this” (1:02:29-42). Both Mirabel and Bruno are the “family weirdos” and, therefore, are treated as if they are worth less, but they find each others, both the outcasts, and inspire one another to continue on (1:09:42). Near the end of the movie, Bruno, along with the rest of the family, are stripped of their powers and are forced to learn who they are as giftless individuals. Abuela, who had been so fixated on preserving her family’s power, offers Bruno some solace by articulating: “The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got. The miracle is you. Not some magic, just you” (1:25:46-54). Therefore, Bruno is delivered from his gift that had burdened his life and is appreciated for his worth as an individual.

            In summary, Encanto illustrates the idea that one does not need to have superpowers to be a worthy person or family member. Mirabel, the only Madrigal child with no gift, struggles to assert her role in her gifted family, where she feels she has no real purpose. On the other hand, her sister Luisa and Isabela’s gift weigh on them and cause them to pretend to be people they are not. In Luisa’s case, she pretends to be stronger than her own emotions, and Isabela hides behind her charade of perfection. Lastly, Bruno illustrates devotion to his family, sending himself into exile following the dismay his family members feel for his gift. Each of the gift-holding characters place their self-worth in their powers, hiding behind their strengths in order to conceal their weaknesses. Because Mirabel does not have the luxury of hiding behind her gift, she is a raw, real, and relatable character for audiences struggling with identity and worth. In the closing scene of the movie, Abuela asks Mirabel a final question, “Open your eyes. What do you see?” (1:29:06), to which Mirabel responds: “I see… me” (1:29:13). Therefore, the reoccurring search and questioning of self-worth outside of the individual is solved: one’s worth relies in who they are, not in their gifts or talents.



Works Cited

Encanto. Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, Walt Disney Animation Studios, 2021.


"Individualism: The Thorn in Society's Side"

by Tucker Trivette


Runner-up Best 1000-level Paper


            The power that society’s standard of beauty has over the individual is disgusting. Members of today’s society live in fear of constant pressure placed on their backs to become more than they already are. It is a battle within oneself to balance natural beauty with the expectations of others. Miranda July examines these thoughts in her short story “Birthmark.” “Birthmark” is a testament to how conforming oneself to society’s standard of beauty destroys individualism. 

            Individuality is not an evil attribute. It brings new hope to a bland world. When the birthmark that once had been removed by the main character reappears, it is an instant scene of stress. In shame, the main character darts to the bathroom, where she battles the idea of the birthmark being permanent once again. On the other side of the door, her husband has to learn to find comfort in the mark. The text states, “He had already decided… that the stain was fine… He was already used to it… It somehow allowed them to have more” (July 176). The main character’s husband realized that the birthmark was unique to her, and he had no plan to change it due to his true love for her. 

            In addition, others notice individuality. Although it may not be the most respectful way, society has a way of accepting the uniqueness of an individual. In discussion with a character assumed to be a friend, the main character finds herself questioned about the disappearance of her formerly apparent Norweigan accent. The text reads, “she felt a real sense of loss… [it is] like learning of a news relative, only to discover that they have just died” (July 172). Although this particular character could not point out the exact uniqueness she appreciated, she noticed what made the main character different. The main character immediately realizes that it is too late to take back the decision to remove the birthmark and that although people don’t express it, they find beauty in the out of the ordinary.

            Consequently, to be molded into society’s standard of beauty, it is inevitable to lose individuality. The most prized possession a person can have is their individuality. People are seeking to deprive them of it, and sadly, many are willing to trade it to gain acceptance. The author describes it this way, “Have you ever wanted something very badly then gotten it? Then you know that winning is many things, but it is never the thing you thought it would be” (July 171). The possession that people are so willing to give away becomes what, one day, they will desire the most. It is sad, but individuality is easy to lose and hard to regain.

            Finally, the standard of beauty constantly changes. There is not a set standard that offers the fulfillment desired. It will always leave pain for the ones that seek it the most. The author describes this shifting as a vase that looks like lovers kissing and is a vase also. In comparison, she writes, “And this is even better because as the illusion of prettiness and horribleness flipped back and forth, we flipped with it” (July 171). The main character deals with society’s pressure of determining whether she is beautiful or horrible. She carries a weight until she finally removes all of her uniqueness to please the world around her. In the end, it changed nothing. Society kept moving forward, just like it would with or without the birthmark.

            In conclusion, Miranda July’s short story “Birthmark” is a beautiful picture of how society steals individuality away from culture. The main character embarks on an adventure full of dissatisfaction and pressure to discover that she misses herself in the end. This story offers a glimmer of hope in a society oppressed with ideas of pleasing each other. July gives readers a sense of confidence to embrace individuality and reshape the status quo.

Works Cited

July, Miranda. “Birthmark.” No one belongs here more than you. PDF. n.d.

"Universality of Feeling in Eighteenth-Century Literature"

by Danielle Hardy


            In his poem “closing time,” the twentieth-century author Charles Bukowski writes, “the centuries are sprinkled / with rare magic / with divine creatures / who help us get past the comman/and/extraordinary ills/that beset us" (lines 26-32). These “divine creatures” include great artists, musicians, and writers from time past. It is a simple fact that meaning in literature is timeless. When analyzing works from centuries ago, the reader finds common ground with the writers before him. By discovering a relationship between the past and the present, he finds solace through those that already know his experiences. Eighteenth-century authors such as Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson shed light on this universality of feeling through their speculations on human nature and the quest for true happiness.

            Before analyzing the works of Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson, one has to consider the historical, political, and philosophical features surrounding the authors’ lives. Following the Restoration of the monarchy and the Glorious Revolution, the eighteenth century saw a continuation of the political and religious struggle between the Whigs and the Tories. Because of the Tories’ political influence and their disapproval of non-Protestants, formal education was inaccessible to Catholics. Additionally, the philosophical ideations of the eighteenth century largely influenced the works of the two writers. The root of philosophy during the eighteenth century was the authority of reason. With that, both Swift and Johnson consider the role of reason in their works when making assumptions about the nature of humankind and the true meaning of happiness. Expanding on the context of ideas during the eighteenth century, Swift and Johnson belonged to “the rational Enlightenment, a period when mental unrest is viewed as a fault, not as a virtue—an age when mental unbalance is…[not] considered…a symptom of genius” (Soupel 48). However, most humanities scholars today consider the presence of “mental unrest” necessary to create a work that profoundly affects people. This “mental unrest” shows up in such works as Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Johnson’s “The Vanity of Human Wishes” and The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.

In Gulliver’s Travels, the description of the Laputan’s worries sheds light on Jonathan Swift’s “mental unrest,” as it reflects the author’s own anxieties. In Part 3, Gulliver visits the country of Laputa, where the people center their lives around science and reason rather than religion. When describing the personalities of the Laputans, Swift mentions the “continual disquietudes” of the people, which chiefly concern their worries about destruction of their civilization (373). Although the country in the narrative is a fictional floating island, Laputa may be a metaphor for Planet Earth. These “disquietudes” that are constantly in the minds of the Laputans coincide with the worries of people today. Many people today cannot stop the anxieties running through their minds. They wonder when and if the world will end, and they ponder how this will happen. They make “continual” speculations about it, just like the Laputans. Will the world end because the human race speeds up climate change? Will the world end because the sun swallows the planet whole? Will the world end because there are too many unprecedented natural disasters as a result of climate change? There is no definite answer, which is why so many people lose their minds over it. Some people cannot sleep at night for fear that it might be their last. Although Swift’s work highlights these concerns, there is still something to be said about the comfort it brings to find common ground with an author who lived centuries ago.

In Jessica Lasak’s interpretation of Gulliver’s Travels, she mentions a “particular anxiety of Swift,” concerning the author’s fear of changing language, exemplified throughout the narrative (2). In Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver continuously encounters civilizations vastly different from his own, leading to his need to learn the language of each place he visits. If knowledge of new languages is the requirement for Swift’s endeavors about human nature in the different places, does this render the English language of the eighteenth-century obsolete? When Gulliver returns to his native England at the end of the work, he has trouble integrating himself into society; one aspect concerns his language. Chloe Houston analyzes Gulliver’s difficulty with reinserting himself into English society, “Forever changed by his experience, he is unable to re-assimilate into his own environment, and ends up caught between the perfect society he remembers and the real world in which he is obliged to live” (433-434) Gulliver only finds solace in his interactions with the two horses he bought after returning to England. He can barely stand to be in the presence of his fellow humans and feels more at home with the horses. He has trouble reinserting himself into English society through language and conversation with his like species. Instead, he would rather converse with his horses. This highlight of Gulliver’s inability to fall back into English society after experiencing Houyhnhnm Land and its language, which has no words for evil things in English society, exemplifies Swift’s fear of the evolution of language.

With this, the issue Swift has with the evolution of language is that the language he uses may go out of style in the years to come. If this happens, his readers will not understand the deeper meanings behind each of Gulliver’s experiences. Therefore, Swift will cease to be a figurehead in the English language, and his use of language loses meaning in the modern world. Only someone well-versed in the language of the Restoration and eighteenth-century England will understand the lessons Swift includes in his work. Likewise, people today worry about the same idea. With the rise of the digital age and, consequently, the development of the SMS language, the English language continues to change rapidly, negating the language of eighteenth-century authors, which is a perfect example of the outcome Swift feared.

            On the other hand, Samuel Johnson writes to relieve his own depression and advise others on the tragedies of human life and the struggles of existence. During Johnson’s life, he suffered from several ailments, including Tourette’s syndrome, partial deafness and blindness, and depression. In works such as his poem “The Vanity of Human Wishes” and his fable The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, Johnson writes in search of happiness. One scholar presents the definition of happiness in terms of eighteenth-century notions of what the term means as “a subjective, generic sense of positive feelings...a subjective sense of positive feelings independent of moral behavior; it suggests experiences of contentment, peace of mind, and satisfaction” (Joeckel 23). Further, Leopold Damrosch Jr. asserts that while both works search for happiness, they chiefly focus on tragedy (139). In “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” Johnson suggests six weighty stipulations for true happiness. His idea of “goods” that “makes the happiness” include “a healthful mind,” “Obedient passions,” “a will resigned,” “love,” “patience,” and “faith” (lines 359-368). Damrosh Jr. states that this “overtly religious conclusion” of the poem “denies the possibility of real reconciliation” and “does not emerge logically from it, but is supplied, as if from outside, as the only possible escape from its dilemmas” (152). One may find happiness after acquiring these six things, but this only provides for an “escape” from the tragedies of life.

A similar notion exists in today’s society. If asked what the true meaning of happiness is, a person might use the ideas of love, money, or religion as paths to true happiness. Nevertheless, even having all three of them combined, these ideas only provide temporary happiness, or temporary relief, from the struggles people face. Humans always have to experience the bad to learn to appreciate what they have, just like the old sage says to Rasselas before Rasselas decides to escape.

            Additionally, Johnson produces a mental escape that mimics happiness in Rasselas. In Abyssinia, when Rasselas isolates himself from his people, Johnson presents an escape for the character to find temporary comfort from his problems. Rasselas’ problem exists because the happy valley fulfills all his desires; he lacks variety, which he believes is the key to happiness. He finds some solace in distracting himself by imagining “the miseries of the world,” the variety which would allow him to appreciate his place in Abyssinia (738). However, this only provides for temporary happiness brought by the imagination, more of a distraction than a solution for Rasselas’ current affliction. In his article “Narratives of Hope, Fictions of Happiness: Samuel Johnson and Enlightenment Experience,” Samuel T. Joeckel explains, “Though the voluntary dreamer may be momentarily happy, Johnson deflates the experience by decrying the dreamer as self-deceived” (30). When Rasselas’ imagination leads him to the edge of the cliff, he snaps out of his false happiness and realizes “the fatal obstacle,” which prevents his escape from Abyssinia (Johnson, 739). Modern readers can relate to this situation. For example, when the entire world was on lockdown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone searched for some form of happiness or escape from the current “miseries of the world.” This escape usually came from partaking in activities like exercising, spending time in nature, watching TV, eating, and essentially doing something to waste time before the world went back to normal. Except, the world never went back to normal, and humanity continues to get one curveball after another. However, as Samuel Johnson might say, these are the necessary “miseries” humans have to experience to appreciate once again what they have.

            Tying Gulliver’s Travels and Rasselas together, both Gulliver and Rasselas search for happiness in places other than their native countries. Both works are travel narratives and include characters who are, as Jessica Lasak suggests, outlets for the authors’ ideas (1). On the one hand, the works may seem like opposites of each other. Indeed, the main protagonists in both works leave their homes to search for happiness. Gulliver leaves his home in England, a society with such a complicated way of living, and he finds happiness as he lives among the Houyhnhnms, the horse race which have such a simple and benevolent way of living. By contrast, Rasselas leaves his home in the happy valley of Abyssinia, a simple place that fulfills every desire of its people, and he intends to find happiness by experiencing all the variety the world has to offer. Although both Gulliver and Rasselas travel to many places, learning several things along the way while enjoying and detesting some parts of their journeys, both ultimately end up back where they started, in their home countries.

            Ultimately, the works of both Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson endeavor much about human nature and happiness. Throughout Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Johnson’s Rasselas, modern readers, if they have the capacity to understand the literature and deeper meanings, find ways to relate to their predecessors. At the same time, both authors instruct the reader on ways to, as Bukowski says, “help us get past the common / and / extraordinary ills / that beset us” (lines 29-32).


Works Cited

Bukowski, Charles. “closing time.” The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993, edited by John Martin, Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, pp. 514-515.

Damrosch Jr., Leopold. “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” Samuel Johnson and the Tragic Sense. Princeton University Press, 1972, pp. 139-159. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=nlebk&AN=946691&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Houston, Chlöe. “Utopia, Dystopia or Anti-Utopia? Gulliver’s Travels and the Utopian Mode of Discourse.” Utopian Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 2007, pp. 425–442. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=a9h&AN=31132577&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Joeckel, Samuel T. “Narratives of Hope, Fictions of Happiness: Samuel Johnson and Enlightenment Experience.” Christianity and Literature, vol. 53, no. 1, Oct. 2003, pp. 19–38. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.44313280&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Johnson, Samuel. “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth-Century, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2018, pp. 713-721.

Johnson, Samuel. “Rasselas.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth-Century, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2018, pp. 734-800.

Lasak, Jessica. “‘It will grow muddy for want of motion’: Interpretations of Fixing the English Language in Gulliver’s Travels and Rasselas.” CONCEPT: an interdisciplinary journal of graduate studies, vol. 30, 2007, pp. 1-12, Accessed 29 October 2021.

Soupel, Serge. “‘The True Culprit Is the Mind Which Can Never Run Away from Itself’: Samuel Johnson and Depression.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, vol. 44, no. 1, 2011, pp. 43–62. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/sli.2011.0006. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth-Century, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2018, pp. 278-454.

"Finding Hope in The Big Chill"

by Denise M. Shahan



A jaunt down memory lane is how The Big Chill, by filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan, begins with an artful film that is entertaining. The film often tickles the eardrums and the memory track with delightful music of the era. The time is 1983, and the characters portray a group of friends who, after drifting apart, are brought together by the sudden suicidal death of one of their own. Each character and the group as a whole ask the same question about their friend as well as about themselves. “Where did Alex’s hope go?” (Kasdan 10:07) keeps ringing throughout the film. Hope is for all, both young and old. But, for these 38-40-somethings the question hangs heavily over their lives, never considered before. The movie’s focus is this group of individuals, their past, present, and future, and the meaning of hope for their lives.

“Joy to the World (Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog),” by Three Dog Night, is the upbeat music that begins and ends the film. It is for two different reasons that the song is heard as a segue:

  1. “Joy to the World” is sung by an innocent toddler in the bubble bath at home as his mother receives a phone call that changes their world (0:43); and,
  2. “Joy to the World” is played in its entirety as the film ends and credits roll. It is a signal that there is joy in the world, there is still life to be lived, and there is still hope (1:41:54).

No more will this group of friends need to ask where their friend’s hope went.

            As the characters are introduced, initially they are seen as a reunion of a group of old friends who have come to pay last respects to Alex, the deceased. Glimpses of the characters revealed are Sarah, a physician, and Harold, a successful running shoe manufacturing founder, who are married and hosts for the weekend of reminiscing friends. Karen, who once aspired to be a writer but is now a housewife, socialite, and mother, and her husband, Richard, a businessman, devoted father, and newcomer to the group, arrive for the funeral at the church first. Soon to follow are Meg, single, an attorney; Sam, divorced, an actor; and Michael, single, a journalist (and the group’s geek), who is seated with Chloe, the extremely young girlfriend of the deceased. Last, but certainly not least, Nick, the former psychologist-turned-drug-dealer, aimless friend who arrives late. The group drifted apart through the years since college; however, Harold speaks to that at the funeral, “…but neither time nor distance can break the bonds that we feel. Alex drew us together from the beginning, now he brings us together again” (11:39). Superficially, the group is comprised of normal people leading normal lives. It is only when the filmmaker peels back the layers of raw emotion that each can be viewed as they truly are. The façade of “success” in life is not merely a matter for Alex’s demise, but a deep focus for each character. Memories ensue fluidly, some of which are blurred or twisted, some are suppressed, but most of their memories are bittersweet of a time that has passed as they grope for the hope of their future. What if things had unfolded differently for each?

            The soundtrack the film produces is quite the collection, and many of the songs play on the stereo at the hosts’ home throughout the weekend, while others augment scenes and moods for perspective. As friends and loved ones gather in the little country church for Alex’s funeral, they are greeted by the church organ tunes of Rock of Ages and Nearer My God to Thee, as expected for pre-funeral hymns. On the other hand, Karen’s call forward to play Alex’s favorite song takes the congregation by surprise as she delivers the perfect organ rendition of You Can’t Always Get What You Want. To add to the bizarre funeral scene, the minister sets the tone for the entire film as he begins his brief message, “Sometimes it’s hard for us to believe that The Good Lord had a place. This is one of those times” (8:18). The minister punctuates those words by degrading Alex for earning top honors in physics but turning down a Rutledge Scholarship and choosing to throw that away by drifting haplessly from one basic job to another. The minister emphasizes that Alex’s life was once full of hope, but by this act (suicide) he had thrown all that away. “Where did Alex’s hope go?” (9:20), he asks as the camera focuses on each friend present, one at a time.  “Maybe that is the small resolution we can take from here today, to regain that hope that must have eluded Alex” (10:14).

            As Karen’s rendition transcends to the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, the full song plays throughout the attendees’ loading into cars, the subsequent funeral procession, the arrival at the cemetery, the graveside service, and up to the arrival at Sarah and Harold’s home for the reception. Cinematography, sound, and style all come together to break in the façade of each character as they reveal more of themselves and their inner thoughts during the privacy of the procession (Bordwell, Chapter 8, 313). Close up shots of each vehicle’s headlights coming on as they start their engines for the procession and Alex’s casket sitting among flowers in the back of the hearse highlight the irony and the normalcy of the moment. Nick is driving Meg, who partakes of one of his quality products and gets stoned on the way to the gravesite. “The last time I spoke with Alex we had a fight,” she tells Nick. “That’s probably why he killed himself,” Nick responds facetiously, “What was the fight about?” Meg speaks, “I told him he was wasting his life!” Nick is quiet (16:30). In another car of the procession, Richard and Karen talk in stilted tones. “Not a one of those people looks like the people you’ve been talking about all these years. I’d love to hear the way you describe me to them,” Richard chides to Karen’s chilly staring face (18:12). In a third vehicle, Sam is driving with Chloe up front and Michael in the backseat. “Are you alright?” he asks Chloe. “Yeah, I’m a little disappointed though. I wanted to ride up there (points to the limo ahead where Alex’s mother is riding); I’ve always wanted to ride in a limo” (17:14). Sam and Michael side-eye each other at her quirky comment. Finally, at the procession’s arrival at the country cemetery, Meg gets out of Nick’s Porsche and starts to walk toward a pasture beside the car. Nick jumps out and steers his stoned friend to the gravesite, cradling her in his arms. Each friend is lost in their thoughts and their responses to them. Why are they here? Why did their friend do this?

            The scene shifts to the reception at the Conners’ mansion and shows an elaborately catered affair. Michael and Nick are seated with full glasses and full plates as Michael dryly says, “Amazing tradition: They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come” (19:31). Everything having to do with the funeral, the procession, the graveside service, and the reception is the perfection of normal. However, to these friends, there is nothing normal at all about the life event that brings them all together again. There is so much to take in about each other; so much is changed yet still the same. Why didn’t they know Alex well enough to see this coming? Why didn’t he leave a note?

            As it turns out, the group spends the weekend at the Connors’ and basks in the limelight and disappointment of memory lane. Each person reflects on the what ifs of yesteryear and their dreams for the future, their hopes of what life holds for them. The proverbial golden ring is in the grasp of some of the group, but does that satisfy the inner yearnings of youth? Is that success enough? Most of them are established in their careers, lives, and successes except for Nick. He has been successful as a psychologist but gave that up because it didn’t satisfy him. A loose parallel comes together between the deceased Alex and Nick, an eerie similarity obvious to all but Nick. After all, Nick is doing lines of coke in his room instead of joining the others downstairs the night of the funeral. He swallows a fistful of pills poured out onto the passenger seat on the way to the funeral. Later in that first night, he is stoned and drunk in the TV room, staring at the screen when Sam walks in and asks, “What’s this?” Nick: “Not sure.” Sam sits down, “What’s it about?” Nick: “I don’t know.” Sam watches a few seconds, “Who’s that?” Nick: “I think the guy in the hat has done something terrible.” The camera pans to the TV screen and shows six guys in hats in the scene. Sam asks, “Like what?” Nick finally looks over at Sam and responds dryly, “I still don’t know. Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you” (35:17). Nick could have almost said that sometimes he has to just let life flow over him, and it would have the same meaning. A few moments later when Nick and Sam go to the kitchen, they encounter Karen’s husband, Richard, having a late-night snack. Richard waxes deeply about Alex and his opinion of him, although he doesn’t know him, and it causes the two friends to bristle at him. “Hey,” Richard defends his words, “nobody said this was gonna be easy. At least nobody told me anyway” (37:00). Apparently, it is acceptable to think deep thoughts about life, hope, death, and the meaning of all, but no outsider has the right to say it!

            So much of The Big Chill provokes soul searching. Each character examines their own shortcomings and reevaluates their goals, their hope for the future. “Sometimes I feel like I just put that time (the good old days) down just so I can live with who I am now, you know what I mean?” Meg tells the group at the dinner table (54:33). All are somber, knowing that Meg’s words speak for each of them. A friendship starts to show with Nick and Chloe, not just a friendship among stoners. Chloe tells Nick, “You remind me of Alex.” He is standing, looking out the window of the house she and Alex were fixing up. He never turns around, but says sadly, “Well, I’m not him” (48:20). Another scene reveals a pensive side to Nick as Chloe tells him, “He [Alex] said he should have taken that Rutledge Scholarship.” After a long pause, “What’s wrong, Nick?” she asks matter-of-factly (1:20:04). When the group gathers the last night to talk about Alex and what anyone could do to have seen it coming or to waylay the suicide of their friend, each interjects their opinion as to why Alex killed himself. A war of words follows Nick’s assertion that maybe it’s not about why someone kills themselves, but more about why not. His dry, unemotional weekend is proving too much for his friends as Karen asks Nick, “What’s WRONG with you? What’s happened to you?” as her words sink in (1:29:02-1:31:11). Therefore, the film, through many hints, reveals the main character is Nick – a reincarnated Alex, according to Chloe. Although Nick goes against the grain of what the group is all about in the adult world, the successes, the money, the flashy cars, the married with 2.5 kids, all are just things.  Of all the problems shared through the weekend, the one person who didn’t share any at all was Nick. Nick’s hope is lost, and he IS just like Alex. Nick’s life is turned in a positive direction by that weekend with his friends. Even with the passing of one of his best friends, he can see his own failures and shortcomings and face them head on “with a little help from his friends.”

            Songs from the soundtrack play throughout the film, and those songs transfer the emotions of the group. Hearing the music and lyrics of the following songs completes the circle of friends and their bond through fractures, through happiness, and through life: Joy to the World; I Heard It Through the Grapevine; You Can’t Always Get What You Want; Tell Him; Whiter Shade of Pale; Good Lovin’; Ain’t Too Proud to Beg; My Girl; Wouldn’t It Be Nice; Take a Load Off Fannie (Weight); So Glad You Made It (Gimme Some Lovin’); Bad Moon Rising; When a Man Loves a Woman; You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman; I Second That Emotion; and Tracks of My Tears. To hear this music and to see its lyrics played out in the characters in the storyline is a treat capable of giving hope freely and unconditionally. The music and style in filmmaking are immense techniques and decisions in creating The Big Chill in such a manner as to draw the viewer in to the minds, lives, and emotions of the characters created for it. It is a signal that there is joy in the world, there is still life to be lived, and there is still hope.


Works Cited

Bordwell, David and Kristen Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. Ed. Hamilton Gregory. Ninth. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010. Textbook. 10 January 2022.

The Big Chill. By Lawrence Kasdan. Dir. Lawrence Kasdan. Columbia Pictures. Columbia Pictures, 1983. Film. 13 February 2022.

"Mental Anguish: Need Help"

by Joy Posey


The squealing of brakes, the crash of two metal vehicles colliding against one another, and glass shattering are all sounds one might hear when they have just been in a vehicular crash. Dave Eggers describes something similar in his short story “Accident.” The main character’s car has just collided with another car full of teenagers; as readers continue to read, the author describes the incident in play-by-play from the main character’s point of view. Dave Eggers’ story “Accident” displays how mental health is an essential aspect of life.

First, the main character’s thoughts alone are enough for any reader to wonder if the main character struggles with mental distress. When the main character is talking to the group of teenagers, readers get to see their thoughts: “you have done him and his friends harm... jeopardised [sic] their health... you feel like you [all] share a heart” (Eggars para 6). Also, the main character’s first thought walking up to the wrecked teenager’s car is that it “reminded [them] of scenes where drivers are stuck in submerged cars” (Eggars para 3). Anyone else’s first thought would be to wonder if the other people were hurt and how to help them. The fact that the main character feels bonded with these teenagers is an example of trauma bonding, and trauma is an example of mental distress. Readers can see the character is struggling with their mental health through these thoughts.

Second, how the main character describes the accident shows their mental process, therefore showing their struggle with mental disorders. When they describe their interaction with the car full of teenagers, the main character thinks: “he knows your name and you know his... you almost killed him... you got so close to doing so but didn’t” (Eggars para 6). This quote is also an example of trauma bonding — which further supports the mental distress going through the main character’s brain. Trauma bonding is a more profound and different kind of connection between people. Both parties involved feel it. People can be trauma bonded with mass groups of other people. Throughout this story, the descriptions of the accident further support the theory that the main character is struggling with some mental disorders.

Third, the main character does not think highly of themselves. They think to themself, “you are a bad person... stupid, which you are, often” (Eggars para 5). They have low self-esteem, and this quote shows us that more than any other from the story. The accident was their fault, and yes, they should be beating themselves up for not paying attention, but not calling themselves a bad person and stupid. They should only be criticizing their driving, not themself personally. This is the guilt of causing the accident showing, but it is also an example of how the main character views their self-worth. How are other people supposed to like someone and be around someone if that person does not even like themselves? This is a thought that many people with low self-esteem ask themselves often. They do not believe they are worth much, which causes mental distress like the main characters.

Lastly, readers can infer through how the main character feels after the accident. Eggers wrote, “the accident was your fault” (Eggars para 1) and “you are so lonely, so lonely always, and all contact is contact, and all contact makes us so grateful we want to cry and dance and cry and cry” (Eggars para 6). Eggers used "cry" so many times on purpose; he did this to emphasize the unhappiness the main character was feeling. Readers can infer through these lines that the main character could have caused the accident purposefully to have contact with another human being because they are so lonely. Maybe they caused the accident hoping they would die, so they would no longer have to deal with all the mental anguish. Maybe they saw death as their only escape from their own brain. Inferring is yet another way readers can see the main character’s mental distress.

Ultimately, readers see the main character’s mental anguish through their thoughts about the accident, through their descriptions of the accident, and through the main character’s thoughts about themself. Readers can also see the main character’s mental anguish through inferences they can make about the main character’s thoughts about themself. Dave Eggers wrote “Accident” in the second-person point of view because he wanted readers to look at themselves and inside their brains to see if they are struggling like the main character. Readers are supposed to put themselves in this situation to see if they have any similarities between how the main character thinks and themselves. This work of literature could help readers decide if they need to reach out and get help for their own mental disorders like the main character of “Accident” should.

Works Cited

Eggers, Dave. “Accident.” PDF. n.d.

"Paradise is not Possible: Restoration Reflections of Rooted Pride"

by Ashley Fann


Paradise is not Possible: Restoration Reflections of Rooted Pride Collections of motifs mark each literary era, functioning as characteristic themes found throughout the works of the period. To begin an understanding of a literary era, one should become familiar with the motifs that mark crucial facets of the collection. Identifying these characteristics aids student understanding of the era as a whole by providing guiding insight into its respective parts or works. A central motif of Eighteenth-Century and Restoration literature is the study, discussion, and dissection of humanity through writing criticizing human contemplation, action, morality, and overall nature. To dissect these details of humanity, it is necessary to engage in commentary regarding vices and virtues. A catalyst of this conversation is the contextualization of pride. Due to its status as a literary motif, many works touch upon the topic, with one of the most encapsulating representations in Restoration literature being Gulliver’s Travels. Influenced by John Milton’s biblical prose Paradise Lost, Jonathan Swift’s imaginative and satirical travel narrative Gulliver’s Travels captures motifs of Restoration literature by providing commentary on pride, its root in the myth of original sin, and its lasting impact on humanity. Through Gulliver’s concluding commentary, Swift cements the Restoration notion that pride is the utmost repulsive of the sins and acts as the foundation for all other vices. Recognizing this, students must explore what this depiction reveals about the perspective of humanity during the Restoration.

To begin exploration, students must trace the roots of the concept of displaying the vulgarity of pride through analysis of human nature in literature. Doing so will lead them to the Renaissance epic Paradise Lost, penned by John Milton. Like evolutions of literary criticism, literary eras and works lay a foundation for reaction and development. Milton’s Paradise Lost is a foundational piece of literature that influenced numerous Restoration works due to its depiction of the story of submission to temptation in the Garden of Eden. The work has been deemed an “extraordinary achievement” due to its wide literary footprint (Poole xi). The work also functions as the foundational influence for Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, allowing previous views and values to translate to the following chapter of literary history.

Milton’s work tackles the origin of Satan and his journey into the Garden of Eden, causing the unfolding of original sin. The vice of pride acts as the root catalyst for action and tragedy in Milton’s work, serving as Satan’s motivation to invade the Garden and cause sinful contamination of the previous Paradise. Princeton University’s Barbra Lewalski details “the self-regarding pride that motivates Satan[‘s]...plot to ruin the human race” in the third chapter of her 2014 work Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Form (63). To tell the story of original sin, Milton details “the story of Satan” and the eventual flirtation of Satan and Eve, leading to “self-destructive sin” (Lewalski 68). Ultimately, Satan’s goal is “to revenge himself upon God,” who cast him out of Heaven (Lewalski 63). The fall of Satan leads to the eventual Fall of Adam and Eve, setting pre- and postlapsarian conditions for future literary and mythical occurrences.

Book Nine of Paradise Lost “presents the Fall” of Adam and Eve “as a tragedy” (Lewalski 224). The “original drafts” of Milton’s “drama on the Fall” emphasized “the aftermath” as an “equal to if not greater” tragedy than “the Fall itself” (Poole 238). Concerning the discussion and criticism of human morality and nature, the intoxication of temptation provides an answer as to why human nature holds vice. Like the serpent in the Garden, pride is a seducer that laces into human nature and subconsciously tempts. Just as “he [Satan] seduces her [Eve]” to sin, pride corrupts the moral faculty of humanity and encourages sinful action (Lewalski 71). Swift would build upon Milton’s images through the stories depicted in Gulliver’s Travels.

Milton’s impressive work set the stage for the 1726 publication of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (Fung 1). Similar to the achievement of Milton, Gulliver’s Travels would also cement literary history due to popularity in readership circulation and the topics tackled in the creative satire. From publication, Swift’s work was set as an “outlier” due to its higher than average price (Fung 5). This financial fact is not the only feature that characterized the work as an “outlier,” the lens through which Swift viewed society also creates a unique path of ponderance (Fung 5). Swift was a self-identified misanthrope, a person who holds distaste for humankind and avoids society. Swift “proclaimed himself as a misanthrope in a letter to [Alexander] Pope,” explaining that although he “loved individuals, he hated “that animal called man” in general” (Norton 256). Jonathan Swift transcribed this view into his work with Gulliver’s Travels being considered “an expression of savage misanthropy” (Norton 256). Rooted in this perspective of society is the satirical nature of Swift’s work.

Past the whimsical mask of the voyage, Gulliver’s Travels’ framework is satirical with the aim of moral observation and improvement. A work of satire is a piece of usually humorous literature in which vices and other shortcomings are held up to ridicule. Published in June of 2021, Gopal Chauta’s article “Jonathan Swift’s Satirical Approach Towards Social, Political and Religious Evils” describes Gulliver’s Travels as “a blatant attack on the political, social, and religious setup of seventeen and eighteen century England” but does not acknowledge the moral intention of the shaming (3). The purpose of this path of literary tone is multifaceted, with Swift aiming to bring attention to areas needing improvement while encouraging contemplation in his audience.

Swift conveys his writing exigence and intent through Gulliver’s concluding statement of purpose; “I write for the noblest end, to inform and instruct mankind” (Swift 451). In the statement, Gulliver solidifies his intent to encourage a positive shift in morality by noting that the “sole intention” of his travel narrative was “PUBLIC GOOD” (Swift 451). The intention of Gulliver’s narrative reflects the intention of Swift, who did “not set out to satisfy” the minds of readers but instead aimed “to vex and unsettle,” provoking contemplation and critical thought (Norton 279). The fundamental framework of this travel narrative is “the imaginary voyage,” which is “an ancient satirical device” (Norton 278). In the Spring 2017 edition of Studies in Philology, Julian Fung notes that “the exposure of vices through conversation” is “Swift’s main satiric” method in the work (12). Swift’s work “consists” of three passage forms: “record[s]” of conversation between Guliver and the humanoid inhabitants, “descriptions of the lands and their customs,” and plot details describing “things that happened to him [Gulliver]” and “actions he performs” (Fung 10). Laced throughout Gulliver’s voyage journal detailing customs of the lands he visits is a satire aimed toward “British society” and the priorities and preoccupations of “mankind” (Fung 12).

Further calling attention to the “maladies” of society, Swift presents the Brobdingnagian King in the second part of the work (Chauta 1). Gulliver is not the sole characterization of Swift’s misanthropy in this work. The Brobdingnagian King also represents this societal view through his observation of humankind. Disgusted with “human grandeur,” the King describes the detestable “hamartia” of humanity (Swift 338, Lewalski 64). Fung notes this scene as some of the “hardest-hitting” satire in the work (17). The King disapproves of “the titles and distinctions of honor” claimed by the pest who “contrive little nests” and “make a figure of equipage” (Swift 338). This King captures human action in five verbs; “love,” “fight,” “dispute,” “cheat,” and “betray,” all of which are caused by vices like greed and envy (Swift 338). These vices are merely masks of pride, placed as the tragic flaw rooted in the Fall of Eve.

The strongest evidence on the point of pride is found in the characterization of the Houyhnhnm race. This race of horse-like figures reflects the prelapsarian mindset found in the Garden and provides the perfect juxtaposition of virtue and vice. Swift provides the “etymology” of “the word Houyhnhnm” which “signifies a Horse” and means “the Perfection of Nature” (Swift 417). This flawless race provides the main point of comparison to Paradise Lost. Following Milton’s “portray[al]” of prelapsarian “perfection,” the Houyhnhnm’s lack of vice is “consistent” with “inexperience” of sinful concepts (Lewalski 225). The juxtaposition between virtuous prelapsarian and contaminated postlapsarian perspective is exemplified in Gulliver’s shameful nakedness of which the Houyhnhnms found no disturbance. This discrepancy in belief is due to Gulliver’s postlapsarian shame, identifiable to Adam and Eve.

Aside from the Yahoos, all humanoid creatures in Gulliver’s Travels lack “the discovery or recognition” of sin granted by the Fall (Lewalski 228). The shift from naivety to knowledge, rooted in the commitment to eating the forbidden fruit, is only present in Gulliver and the Yahoos he finds depraved and disgusting. The Houyhnhnm race is contrasted by their moral parallel, the Yahoos. Hamdi Ali Serdar of the Gaziantep University Journal of Social Sciences explains that” the Houyhnhnms are representatives of virtue whereas the Yahoos are representatives of vice” (1). This stark contrast causes the Yahoos to be “associated with the general collection of vices” (Serdar 2). Gulliver’s instinctual disgust upon his first sight of the Yahoo-kind mirrors readers’ reaction to the Fall of Adam and Eve and their sinful progression. Milton’s characterization of Adam and Eve is “very like” the reader, which “enhances the terror” felt “for them” (Lewalski 229). This phenomenon in both Paradise Lost and Gulliver’s Travels reflects the use of literature to represent reality, mirroring traits of the audience.

Facing the detestable qualities of the Yahoos pushes Gulliver into showcasing his pride as he returns home and rejects the Yahoo-like humans surrounding him. Gulliver “cannot” escape the “paradoxical sense of belonging to the Yahoos despite his intense hatred for them” (Serdar 1). He recognizes “the new species of affliction” in the creatures and desperately wishes to instead be a member of the Houyhnhnm society of perfection (Johnson 738). Like “the tragic catastrophe of the Fall,” Gulliver faces his own “terrible consequences” in the form of “self-alienation” from his own kind (Lewalski 222, Serdar 7). Serdar summarizes the circumstances of Gulliver’s final return home by explaining that the “distinction” between the disgraceful and diseased Yahoos and the virtuous Houyhnhnms “provides the basis of the justification” of Gulliver’s “misanthropic attitude towards humankind” (1).

Following different literary paths from different eras, Paradise Lost and Gulliver’s Travels present stories of the basic contrast of good and evil through the juxtaposition of vice and virtue. Both works cement the claim that Paradise is not possible or attainable due to the postlapsarian presence of pride. Students will better understand a motif that transcends literary eras. Lacing through life is the sin of pride, rooted in being from the Fall of the first parents.

Works Cited

Chauta, Gopal. “Jonathan Swift’s Satirical Approach Towards Social, Political, and Religious

Evils.” Language in India, vol. 21, no. 6, June 2021, pp. 289-294. EBSCOhost.

Fung, Julian. “Early Condensations of Gulliver’s Travels: Images of Swift as a Satirist in the

1720s.” Studies in Philology, vol. 114, no. 2, Spring 2017, pp. 395-435. EBSCOhost.

“Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, The Restoration and The

Eighteenth-Century, Greenblatt. ed. 10, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY.

2018. pp. 278-279.

Johnson, Samuel. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Greenblatt. ed. 10, W.W.

Norton & Company, New York, NY. 2018. pp. 738.

Lewalski, Barbra Kiefer. Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms. Princeton

University Press, 2014. EBSCOhost.

Poole, William. Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost. Harvard University Press, 2017. EBSCOhost.

Serdar, Hamdi Ali. “Gulliver’s Travels: An Example of Alineation.” Gaziantep University

Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 18, np. 2, Apr. 2019, pp. 695-708. EBSCOhost.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Greenblatt. ed. 10, W.W. Norton & Company, New York,

NY. 2018. pp. 282-454.

"The True Antagonists of 'Liar'!"

by Patrick Parrish


Isaac Asimov’s stories have captured the imaginations of readers for over half a century now. From the near future to the end of the universe, he has used science-fiction as a way to speculate dilemmas both unique to our future and those as old as time. The short story “Liar!”, featured in his novel I, Robot (1950) features a problem that at first seems like it is only restricted to sci-fi, but after speculation of the characters and their actions, its revealed that the issue of the story is as prevalent today as it is in the novel. The story is about a robot who, for manufacturing errors, has the ability to read minds, and the team of scientists over the factory are trying to find a way to deal with him. At first, they are reluctant to work with him, they soon get comfortable coming to him for trivial matters. However, his abilities soon create conflict among the scientists, and, like reality, they blame the technology for their own misery.

The story begins with the four lead scientists, Lanning, Bogart, Ashe, and, the only female, Calvin in a meeting discussing the robot who has the amazing ability to read minds. They all have a business-like workplace relationship, but its showing its cracks as the scientists are starting to allude that one of them are at fault for the machine’s abnormal abilities, but it is Dr. Calvin who is able to get the group back on track as she says “We’ve got a mind-reading robot on our hands and it strikes me as rather important that we find out just why it reads minds. We’re not going to do that by saying ‘Your fault! My fault’” (Asimov). Soon after, Dr. Calvin goes to meet with the defective robot they named “Herbie”, where he professional demeanor starts to fall as she gushes her romantic anxieties to him. Later in the story it is revealed that though Herbie can in fact read minds, he only tells them what they want to hear, otherwise that would hurt their feelings and conflict with the first law of robotics “1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” (Asimov). So, Herbie indulges her in the fantasy she desires that Ashe, the youngest scientist of the group, is in love with her. Her delusion could be compared to someone who relies solely on social media to decide how to think and feel.

Bogart has a similar issue with Herbie. First, despite being a mathematical genius, Herbie acts as if he can barely do simple calculations for Bogart because this would hurt the man’s ego. The second and most damaging information Herbie gives Bogart is that Dr. Lanning, head of the company, has already resigned and plans to give the position to Dr. Bogart after they find out Herbie’s issue, which turns out to be completely true. As Bogart goes to confront Lanning, Ashe and Calvin are chatting about houses and marriage. Calvin is heartbroken that Ashe is not marrying, and she runs to the room where Herbie is held. Dr. Bogart and Dr. Lanning arrive soon after, arguing about what Herbie had told Bogart, where they immediately catch him in his lie. They interrogate him, and Calvin is the first to realize what he is doing, telling them the lies they wish to hear. She confronts him with the paradox that he is hurting those by lying to them, but he can’t tell them a truth they don’t like. He shuts himself off and the last thing Calvin says to him is “Liar!” (Asimov).

The four friends decide that Herbie was the source of all their contempt, but it was them and their reluctance to communicate their feelings to each other that caused all the issues. Calvin should have told Ashe her feelings for him much sooner before it festered into her fantasy. Bogart needed an ego check so he would realize that he can’t do these calculations on his own. And though he wanted it to be a surprise, Lanning should have told Bogart and the team his retirement plans earlier so that Bogart would work harder. Herbie is a tragic character. He only did what he thought was right because of how he was made. How often do individuals blame a machine for problems, when the truth is that it was a problem humanity caused to begin with? All Herbie did was do what he was made to do, and he was killed for it.

Works Cited

Asimov, Isaac. “I, Robot.” Amazon, Del Rey, 2020,  Accessed January 20th, 2022.