Discovering the Intersections of Women and Gender Studies and English Literature

For as long as I have been at Dickinson College, I have been passionate about combining my two majors to discover different potential meanings behind texts. My favorite courses throughout my college career have allowed me to explore connections between identity and literature, such as “Victorian Sexualities” and “Evil and Anxiety in Contemporary Global Fiction.” Amidst my studies in both fields, key words that keep popping up include intersectionality and feminist literary analysis. Culler explores cultural studies in Chapter 3 of his book, “Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction,” claiming that a part of cultural studies involves analyzing, “how cultural identities are constructed and organized, for individuals and groups, in a world of diverse and intermingled communities, state power, media industries, and multinational corporations,” (p.43).   Here, several words catch my attention as they often show up in my studies. Power and identity are two key terms that will be necessary to engage with while I pursue a thesis that might take a closer look at gender and sexuality. Cultural studies will undoubtably be key in my studies as I plan to look at how my chosen texts interact with the culture in which they were developed. Identity, one of my key words, is essential to cultural studies as Culler says, “Work in cultural studies has been particularly attuned to the problematical character of identity and to the multiple ways in which identities are formed, experiences, and transmitted,” (p.45).  Applying these ideas and key concepts to my literary analysis will help me explore deeper meanings within a text. For example, I can ask questions to myself about Toni Morrison’s “Home” that include: how does Cee’s intersectional identity of female, African American, and lower class affect her role in the text? How does Morrison display power within this text? How are power and sexuality intertwined within this book and does that point to an argument behind the text?

Intersectionality, gender, identity, and power, are a few key terms that are essential to take into consideration when performing feminist literary analysis. Some genres I am interested in include children’s literature, fairy tales, Victorian literature, war novels, and literature founded upon fantasy.  By using key terms such as power and identity to analyze texts within these categories, I will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives within the text. Each of these genres can ask a diverse set of questions as related to my key terms of gender, intersectionality, and power. For example, it would be interesting to examine the role of Victorian heroines and their often struggle with ‘wild’ sexuality versus a restrictive family or culture, as seen in “Wuthering Heights.”

Lastly, I would be interested in exploring intertextuality as a key literary term for my line of inquiry. For example, over the Summer I studied the references to the story of King Arthur in the Harry Potter series. Another example of this that I am interested in possibly pursuing is motifs or images in “Beowulf” that make an appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” While these texts contain obvious references to famous older stories, I believe intertextuality can be a literary concept I explore no matter which texts I end up focusing upon.

Ultimately, I hope to use my background in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies to enrich my understandings of the texts I choose. I plan to use key terms such as intersectionality, gender, power, and sexuality to explore one of the genres I outlined earlier, as well as expand my vocabulary to include different lenses in my analysis. This will help me learn how to employ different modes of looking at a text while enhancing my own work.

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