What have we been doing all semester? A simple answer would be that we, the readers, have read and analyzed numerous pieces of literature and through that we have discussed our findings. But what exactly have we been doing? Yes, we discuss and interpret material as any English class does, but I think what’s specific to this class is we do it in a way that the language in which we interpret the material is analyzed along with it. For instance, an example of this would be the term “identity.” In conventional English settings, the word can be used to analyze how a character identifies or what the character identify as. However, in this class I looked at the term itself. Specifically in my second blogpost, I wrote of the meaning of identity in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Furthermore, I focused on the interpretation of identity in the real world in contrast to Wonderland. I wrote of Alice being convinced one characteristic made her a certain way, but I suggested that identity encompasses an abundance of characteristics, so her fixation on one was rather silly. Through this, I made the assertion that it is possible, or rather more likely, that the term “identity” embodies multiple attributes a person may possess. Adding to this, in my critical essay I did the same thing, but with the terms “sense” and “nonsense.” Again, with analyzing the Alice books, I evaluated the meaning of both the terms. Along with that, I evaluated the difference in the conflicting worlds of reality and Wonderland. I argued sense is what is conventional in our society, specifics can be interpreted individually, and nonsense is what is sensical for those in Wonderland. Overall, I learned that it’s beneficial when evaluating literature to consider the meaning of the term you’re using to further understand the piece of writing. Those terms also can be interpreted differently, which will cause the very piece of writing you’re evaluating to have a varied meaning.
We not only looked at the terms we use to analyze works, but also the way in which we classify the work itself. For instance, there was a debate in class in which we discussed whether or not reading the Alice books, or any books for that matter, online counted as reading the book. There were varied viewpoints on the matter, with both sides making valid arguments. Though the basis of the story is kept the same, some made the argument that to read the book, you have to have it physically in your hand; the online version of the text is simply an interpretation of the work. Indeed, this class was helpful in questioning the very basis of what exactly readers and texts are. It’s important to have a definition of what we think they constitute when discussing works because it’s essential to be on the same page with what we’re talking about. In most classes, we skip over that and start discussing the work itself right away. Before this class, I didn’t realize what an important step this was because I was ignorant in thinking that people would have similar, if not the same, definitions of what these words mean as me. With the contrasting opinions in this class, I was proven wrong.
With all the works we’ve analyzed there has been a certain thread that I noticed throughout some of them. It is evident that some of these characters have an awakening of sorts and find themselves on a journey of accepting their identities. Particularly, Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special, Nanette, focused on her accepting who she is and her sexuality. She had enormous pressures from society to identify a certain way, but as the special concludes, she remarks that she is done with worrying about society’s opinions. She mentions how the color blue is supposed to be for boys and pink for girls. With mentioning this, she moves up one level of abstraction and theorizes how damaging this can be to individuals, as it was to her. Her arguments are provided very well because they support her claim that society has these pressures on kids from a young age, regarding how they’re supposed to identify. As the final scene suggests, she is relaxing with her dogs and is going to live her life the way she wants to. Evidently, she decides that her identity will be what she is going to make it; she isn’t going to let others make the decision for her.
Henry Thoreau is going through a different identity struggle as well, however, it isn’t one that relates to his sexual identity. It is more of how he chooses to live his life. He has had criticisms from people who are confused as to why he would choose to live his life away from others. In fact, this was further discusses in the passage, Solitude. Throughout the passage, he discusses his enjoyment of being alone and how he prefers it. After he mentions this, as stated in my comment, he moves up one level of abstraction and theorizes on what the term “loneliness” actually means. Notably, this move in theory has been spread all throughout our class this semester. Here, we recognized this is what Thoreau is doing in his writing. Essentially, he makes the argument that loneliness is more of a state of mind, instead of the preconceived idea that it’s the idea of whether or not someone is near other people. Again, there’s the idea of questioning a word that has a certain meaning in society, but by questioning the word itself it results in a whole new meaning of ideas. To summarize, Thoreau is accepting his identity of his preference in solitude, even though he has plenty of critiques going against his beliefs.
Additionally, this idea is present in the Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass. Alice, a young girl, imagines a world of Wonderland that clearly presents her struggle of identifying herself and growing up. In one instance in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she is self conscience of her height and tells the Caterpillar she would like to be larger, while standing firm on the notion that she is in fact a little girl. This can indicate her being uncomfortable with her change in identity and struggle to accept who she is becoming in her actual reality, outside of Wonderland. Also, the Pigeon is convinced she is a serpent, but she is firm when she tells him she is a little girl. This proves how she’s holding onto this idea as strongly as she can, even when the facts of the situation suggest otherwise. Her neck is described to be able to bend in any direction, a characteristic that wouldn’t make sense if she was simply a little girl. Sometimes something can be so clear, but because of our stubbornness to look at the facts it can be overlooked because of our unwillingness to face the truth. I believe that is happening with Alice. She refuses to face the truth of her growing up and wants to stay in her little girl phase of life because it’s easy and it’s what she knows. If she were to move on and grow up, she would have to modify the way she identifies, and perhaps that is something she believes she isn’t ready for. Wonderland gives her a safe space to learn how she truly wants to identify in her real life, without any of the real-life consequences that come with it. By the time she wakes up in each of the stories, she has more comfortability with the changes she is going through because of the constant practice she is given in Wonderland.
Also, it is clear there is a struggle of accepting identity in the play The Importance of Being Earnest. After Gwendolen finds out that Jack’s name isn’t Ernest, her attitude towards him changes and she is unhappy with the revelation. Even though he is the same person, his name change makes her skeptical and prefers his name to be Ernest. This expresses the idea that Jack wants her to accept his identity as Jack because he feels that he is the same person, while she views him to be completely different. Also, Algernon is having the same problem with Cecily; she is interested in him in part because of the name Ernest. Both of the women prefer the name Ernest for them to identify as, even though that isn’t actually either of their names. Eventually, it is discovered that Jack’s name is actually Ernest, and both the couples are able to move on and accept each other’s identity, no matter what their names are.
In addition, Clarissa Dalloway from Mrs. Dalloway had an issue with accepting her identity. She hides behind the material things, such as her love of planning the perfect party, to cover up her true identity. She has such a fixation on the party that is worrisome. For reference she exclaims, “My party tonight! Remember my party tonight!”(72) Her voice is described to be roaring, indicating she is perhaps a little unstable and is putting a lot of emphasis on the party. Her obsession with the party definitely suggests she has a more personal, internal struggle occurring at the moment. Furthermore, it is stated, “Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself, and that either one was unreal in one way; much more real in another.”(259) This line proves the point that she isn’t herself when she has parties, it’s more of a coverup for her real emotions. Evidently, she has trouble accepting her identity as an upper-class woman in high society and questions if her life would’ve been better had she chosen a different path, for instance, by choosing to marry Peter Walsh.
Additionally, George Bailey is having the same struggle in It’s a Wonderful Life. His life turned out a certain way, which isn’t exactly what he always pictured. Indeed, he wanted to travel and dreamed of seeing the world, but instead, he became stuck in his hometown. This leads to him questioning his life choices and he isn’t sure of his identity. After being shown what life would be like without him in the world, he comes to the realization that he is needed and eventually accepts his identity in his life and society.
Theory naturally emerges from these works because it has to. We are presented with facts and details surrounding characters lives. With the information we’re given we have to determine the reasoning behind why some instances are the way that they are. We theorize that Alice is going through an identity struggle because of the details present in the text. Given her age, circumstances, and the her repetition of the idea that she believes she is a little girl, when the reader is shown how she actually isn’t. It’s important to move up one level of abstraction because otherwise what’s the point? If we don’t come to a conclusion as to why it matters, then there’s no substance in reading these works in the first place. We would just be reading material that doesn’t have any real purpose. Hannah Gadsby theorizes because it’s a way to make a larger point and support her thoughts to her audience. Henry Thoreau theorizes because he is proving his ideas to his readers. Basically, moving up one level of abstraction is necessary for any writer to be taken seriously. If writers aren’t connecting their claim to some larger idea than they lose the reader’s interest. As readers, it’s also fun to imagine different reasonings as to why things are the way that they are. There’s no one right answer to interpret a piece of literature, so if you can prove your theory with evidence, then it’s probable.
Hence, the pieces of literature that we’ve read in this class have a common thread of a character struggling with their identity, but eventually come to a realization and accept themselves. Identity is a concept that is open to interpretation, as well. This is true for many words used in considering the meaning of different pieces of literature. Words in general have a dictionary definition and based off that, people use it on their own terms. In this class, we have been taking these words and asking ourselves, “but what does that really mean?” Another instance of this is our discussion on the word “about.” “What is this piece about?” Any other English class would simply ask the question, but we took our time with trying to understand the language contained in the question itself. This is what we’ve been doing all semester. Due to that, I have learned a lot of essential tips for analyzing literature because of this class and I will carry them onto my future studies, as well.