Reflections on Readers, Texts, and Personal Arrogance

I will admit that over the course of this semester I may have occasionally dominated the conversation. Through no fault of my own, I will concede that I tend to come across as something of a know-it-all. My thoughts, especially where critical discussion of literature is concerned, can often race at a mile a minute, and oftentimes I’ll say my piece, remember something I meant to say, and then raise my hand again to share my invaluable information with the class.

I tend to enter English classes with an admittedly arrogant confidence in my ability to theorize. From the first day in this class, however, I was surprised at every turn with how much I was challenged by both the material and the discussion. Particularly with works I had read before, such as Alice in Wonderland, I was excited about their inclusion on the syllabus because I thought that would be a period of the semester where I could relax as far as working hard went. I had even read both Alice books more than once — More evidence that when it came to the classes where we would discuss them, I could kick back and relax, retread the same territory I’d gone over when I’d discussed the book through other venues. However, once we’d gotten into groups and began discussing the Alice books, I was surprised at how much of the story I’d not even thought about at all.

The commonality between various texts also surprised me. At first glance, many of the texts on the syllabus wouldn’t appear to have very much, if anything, in common. In particular, I was confused about exactly what parallels could be drawn between Mrs. Dalloway and The Importance of Being Earnest, both texts that I’d never read before but thought I knew a fair bit about. However, the idea of identity was an apparent theme in both of these texts, especially concerning homosexuality and the hidden-away nature of certain parts of one’s identity. In both works, the characters hide certain parts of themselves from even their closest friends, and in doing so both damage and repair the relationships around them.

Metatextuality¬† is another important theme we discussed in this class, and I’ve always had a particular interest in adaptation, whether intentional or not. Despite the seemingly opposite plots, It’s a Wonderful Life is a clear attempt at doing a ‘spinoff’ of the classic story of A Christmas Carol. Despite the fact that A Christmas Carol has had so many adaptations, or perhaps because of this, It’s A Wonderful Life is not a standard 1 to 1 version of the book, but rather takes the themes Dickens put forward (particularly the ideas of family and the economic themes) and puts them to use in a similar story of a man who through supernatural intervention becomes a better person and learns to appreciate the holidays. Though, I would venture a guess that the holidays are just the backdrop to the story — I think they’re an invaluable part of them, but at the end of the day the stories aren’t really about the literal holiday of Christmas, but the feelings that we associate with it, and what it means to us.

In short, I think that this class has taught me an unexpected lesson about the arrogance with which I tend to approach subjects that I know I’m proficient in. I tend to treat English courses like a guaranteed A, with little to no effort put into the class because I know I can skate by. However, I think the works we studied and the discussions we had about them both taught me something important about the impact that a class like this can have on me, and the importance of approaching texts with fresh eyes no matter how good at this sort of thing I think I am.

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