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.

Inside vs. Outside in Good Bye Lenin!

Throughout the film Good Bye Lenin! there is a constant split between  the inside and the outside as the main character, Alex Kerner, attempts to deceive his mother into believing that the Socialist party is still in control over Germany. Outside their small apartment in East Berlin exists a new world with new products, companies, and structures. Whereas the outside world contains reality, the inside rooms and buildings within this film represent an escape mechanism whereas the characters are somewhat untouched by the conflict happening outside their walls. In fact, Alex’s mother, Christiane, remains bed-ridden for the majority of the film, allowing Alex and his sister Ariane to manipulate their mother into believing that her beloved socialist party has not fallen.

I began to realize this dichotomy of inside versus outside during the scene where Alex and his girlfriend Lara wake up together in a pool of light at 49:58. This scene opens with a fresh branch full of leaves framing the new apartment they found together. The camera then pans over to Alex and Lara who are in each others’ arms, their heads and arms touching as they lay in a sea of white. A soft light shines upon them as well, brightening the scene even further. My first thought when watching this scene was that the two of them being young and in love stands in for a symbol of hope and positivity amidst a world that is still trying to mend deep wounds. The fact that the scene starts with fresh green leaves on a tree hints that revival is occurring, along with new life. Furthermore, the soft natural light and the whiteness of this scene points to a sense of serenity and purity, which the two characters seem to feel as they are both asleep and intertwined. Alex and Lara being asleep and waking up together also points to a sense of freshness, despite the hard time both characters have been going through. The music that plays behind the scene also contributes to the blissfulness of this moment as it contains high notes that give off a whimsical feeling. The audience also can hear birds chirping in the background, a universal sign for peace and serenity.

The scene with Alex and Lara quickly cuts to Christiane snoring in her own room, a snore that is loud and cutting. The camera tilts up to show an unenthused Alex bringing his mother morning tea and her other needs (50:45.) Here, it is clear the inside does not always symbolize the same world of bliss as Alex experienced with Lara, however it is still a place where his mother is alive and well, believing in the world he created for her.  Alex gives off a small smile at his mother who wakes up groggy and a little confused, indicating that this inside space is still a space that is positive compared to the outside world. Later in the film, Alex even describes his world as becoming faster and faster and says “sheltered from the fast pace of the new time, was an oasis of calm,” (1:18).  He describes the apartment with his mother as a place of peace and serenity, furthering this notion of the inside being a place of bliss or even ignorant bliss.

What I have not yet made sense of is the large hole in the wall of the apartment where Alex and Lara spend the night together. This may appear to be farfetched, but perhaps it shows that Alex and lara have a window into the outside world, or reality. However, they have the ability to escape into a place where only they exist. Unlike Christiane, Alex and Lara are able to view the outside world but still exist with one another in a positive space.