As I reflect on the last four months of my life, a reoccurring theme prevails: change. Change in my life, my education, my friends, my home, etc. Interestingly enough, a very specific aspect of my life that has changed over these past few months is my perception of what an English class can be.
In Professor Schacht’s English 203 course this semester, we did touch the foundational aspects of an English course, reading books and writing essays; However, even further we explored abstract ideas within these pieces of literature, including: identity, readers, texts, and especially: fluidity. The dictionary defines fluidity as: “the state of being unsettled or unstable; changeability”. Essentially, something or someone’s ability to change.
A synonym for a change is an “adaptation”. In this course we explored how works of literature can be adapted and changed over time. While many of these titles tend to hold true to their original meaning, some adaptations can warp the true essence of a piece. For example, in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the presence of the phrase “under God” disappears in some adaptations. This simple phrase can change the feeling of the piece and its reliance on a religion. This change may also make it more, or less, relatable to different audiences. In class we explored this, among many other short works of literature, like poems, that were changed through time. Seeing how certain words were changed or adapted over time was incredibly interesting and further begs the question of why these changes are important and done so frequently. Is it just for fun? Maybe to conform to changing times? Or to employ a different meaning altogether? In any case, it is clear that literature, like our lives, is ever changing. Even centuries-old pieces can be interpreted differently by different people, changed, and adapted over time. These adaptations cause us to think deeper into the concrete-meaning of texts. The question asked mainly is actually if texts should have a ”concrete-meaning”. If even centuries-old literature can be changed and adapted, should we rush to assign works a definitive meaning?
Another vital concept of change in the literary world is the shift in readers’ or viewers’ perspectives of literary pieces. The classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life is a clear example of this change in viewers’ way of thinking. While at the time it was created this film was regarded as a light-hearted, well-meaning story, there are now many flaws in it’s essence that we see. Aspects such as minimum minority-racial representation and misogynistic views, among other off-putting details alters the way we as viewers regard this movie. Our discussion in class after watching this movie was vital in understanding different people, with different upbringings and viewpoints’, takes on the problematic pieces of this film. Discussions like these are especially important in literary criticism because it is vital to get all types of peoples’ reactions, views, and interpretations before making conclusive criticisms. These changed views of works of literature can come with more education, different life experiences, or a simple shift in time period and cultural normalities. Overall, it is important to recognize that the way we regard certain works can be warped over time.
This concept of change serves as foreshadowing for what is the truth of the human condition and identity. A concept we explored thoroughly in this course is the idea of identity. While this is important, what is seemingly more important is the notion of fluidity of identity, not having to conform to a specific identity. While texts and their meanings can change, how people regard and see themselves can as well. In an earlier blog post of mine, If These Gardens Could Talk, I explored a scene in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, where the main character, Alice, is confronted by flowers who can speak. These flowers had a predetermined identity to Alice (and maybe even to themselves) being inanimate she assumed they could not talk. Yet in the crazy, mixed up world she was thrown into, she was not overly surprised that they could. However, what Alice seems most surprised about is the flowers’ assertiveness in the way they spoke and detailed what they wanted. This simple scene shows the shear fluidity of identity in the fact that the flowers were not held down to their preconceived identities. The flowers were assumed to not be able to talk, but if they could, they were to be very timid and passive with their language. This shows that people, as well as flowers in this case, are free to explore and create whatever identities they choose for themselves, without being tied down to society’s conceptions. This idea of fluidity in identity causes us frequently to beg the question if people in literature should be described superficially, by their looks and attitudes, because an identity can be conjured for them prematurely.
In my ever-changing life it is important to focus on things that are meaningful, and eventually will be of use to me. Being interested in English my entire life, this semester I decided to take up a major in English Adolescent Education. With my newfound perception of what an English class can be, I found many ideas I plan to implement in my own classroom someday. This concept of change in our lives is especially prevalent in not only the world, but deeply in literature. The idea of fluidity: whether in texts, perceptions, or identities- is a concept worth delving into further in the literary realm- as I plan to do.