Connecting Narratives of Food Work Through Labor Studies and Migrant Studies

In order for my vision of my Senior Thesis to become clearer, I have begun compiling a reading list that is influenced by the presence of food labor in literature.  Narratives on food labor are often less about the actual work being done, and more about the various forces, conditions, and injustices underlying the very nature of this work.  It is the academic analysis of these (often intersecting) issues in narratives of food labor that I have sought out in my field work. Seeking these analyses, I have come across two noteworthy texts discussing literary depictions of food labor.  The first is featured in the Summer issue of the journal Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S. (MELUS), titled “Lands of Entrapment: Environmental Health and Well-Being in Literature about the US Southwest and Chicana/o Communities” by María Isabel Pérez-Ramos.  The second text is “Beastmen and Labor Experts: Fiction and the Problem of Authority from 1900 to 1917”, the fifth chapter of the book Labor’s Text: The Worker in American Fiction by Laura Hapke.

In “Beastmen and Labor Experts”, Laura Hapke introduces her analysis on early 20th century labor narratives by explaining the history behind the United States’ increasing reliance on immigrant labor in industry.  In accordance with this reliance on mainly Slavic labor, Hapke also details the unjust rules and conditions these workers were forced to accept. This rise of injustice coincided with the establishment of the Socialist party in the United States in 1901, and Hapke contends that both instances created a literary culture that was rooted in the ‘social protest’ of exploitative labor.  But in analyzing this specific culture, Hapke argues that ““Even as the new social protest authors relied more heavily than did their nineteenth century predecessors on the authority of experience, they filtered the work through an authority all their own” (121) To support this, she touches on the subject of Upton Sinclair and his 1906 novel, The Jungle.  Initially, Hapke explains that Sinclair- a prominent Socialist of his time- wrote The Jungle with the intention of revealing the cruel injustices faced by the worker that have resulted from Capitalism’s parasitic nature.  And to many readers, as Hapke argues, his writing truly “captured the terrors of workers” (123). However, Hapke takes her analysis one step further by arguing that Sinclair’s writing style, in its “excessive focus on degradation” in the Chicago meatpacking industry, ultimately “has a dulling effect” (124).  To Hapke, Sinclair’s writing style and manipulation of language actually served to dehumanize the laborers he hoped to represent and ‘brutalize’ his novel’s central character, the Slavic meatpacking worker Jurgis Rudkis.

Source: Ebay

In “Lands of Entrapment”, Pérez-Ramos focuses on Chicanx narratives about the relationship between Chicanx communities in the United States, their relationship with the land they inhabit, and the environmental racism many of these communities- especially Chicanx farmworker communities- face.  To Pérez-Ramos, theses narratives hold a deeper meaning beyond representation, and reach into a collective ideology that is intrinsic to Latinx native histories. “Chicana/o culture and literature, in its pursuit of socioenvironmental justice, strives for well-being by conjoining economic, environmental, and social issues.  In Latin America, this holistic perception of socioenvironmental well-being is referred to as Buen Vivir.  The philosophy of Buen Vivir is in turn influenced by indigenous ways of living and interpreting the world” (130)  Through this concept of Buen Vivir, Pérez-Ramos presents her argument that the environmental racism that violates Chicanx bodies and communities simultaneously imposes violence on an idea that is foundational to the Chicanx and Latinx mind, and the depiction of these violations in literature is crucial to attaining justice and redemption.  To illustrate these depictions and their passionate themes of justice, Pérez-Ramos writes about the plays and novels, Heroes and Saints by Cherrie Moraga, Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes, and Cactus Blood by Lucha Corpi.  The three plays and novels depict Chicanx farmworking communities in the States, centering their narratives on characters who either work directly in the fields or are related to these workers.  As Pérez-Ramos explains, the narratives all follow the characters as they navigate the physical and psychological devastation that has been imposed on them due to polluted water, pesticide poisoning, toxic waste, and other environmental hazards that have been redirected to their community.  She emphasizes the psychological devastation in these narratives by describing them as “toxic traumas”, and notes that by this toxic trauma being explored further in depth by Chicanx writers, we can understand the gravity of the oppression Chicanx farmworking communities endure.

In terms of the central arguments both sources make about the implications of labor in their respective texts, there is a definite divergence.  For Perez-Ramos, it is clear that her analysis of Moraga, Viramontes, and Corpi’s works seeks to reveal certain themes on racial and ethnic identity, collective indigenous philosophies, and how this all affects the Chicanx diaspora in the American agricultural South.  Hapke’s analysis on Sinclair’s The Jungle, however, shows a shift towards themes of socialist interpretations of literature, authorship and the ‘authority of experience’ (121), and language manipulation.

While these sources touch on very distinct experiences of labor during very different periods of American history, I have found them both to be invaluable in my research and understanding of labor within the food industry and how this impacts the humanity of the immigrant laborer.  Both Hapke and Perez-Ramos use their research and analysis of different texts to highlight literature’s abilities in bringing attention to the worker exploitation that can occur during the production of the food we eat. Specifically, both sources and the texts they discuss work cohesively within the field of Literary Labor Studies, which explores different kinds of depictions of work in literature, often through Socialist or Communist frames.

My thesis will be looking intently at the fields of Food Studies, Ethnic Literature, Labor in Literature, and Migration in Literature, as well as being framed by the terms: food production, immigration, labor exploitation, and authorship.  “Beastmen and Labor Experts” has raised the issue of authorship within Labor in Literature by revealing how class and race often clashes with good intentions when it comes to writing the immigrant working individual and the communities they live in.  I have been aware that audience reaction to The Jungle has focused more on outrage over food conditions rather than labor conditions, and attributed this to a trend of many Americans prioritizing their plates over people.  However, Hapke’s argues that this reaction can also be attributed to Sinclair’s brutalized depiction of workers consequently made it difficult for audiences to connect with them.  This argument has made me more aware of perhaps even the exploitative nature in socialist literary depictions of labor in food production.

Additionally, “Lands of Entrapment” has raised what I feel is an oversight in Latinx depictions of food labor.  Perez-Ramos emphasizes the roles of racism and citizenship in the exploitation of the workers in the texts she analyzes, and while this emphasis is vital- I do believe her analysis can also benefit from a framework that also acknowledges the roles of capitalism and industry in this exploitation.  As The Jungle shows, exploitation in food has held a history in the United States that has involved numerous marginalized and undocumented groups, and this can be attributed to industries taking advantage of these groups’ inability to legally advocate and organize for better wages and conditions.  Therefore, I am hoping that as I continue to study narratives of the Latinx agricultural laborer, I will come across scholars who acknowledge these forces as well.

These two sources have immeasurably helped me in my navigation of the thesis research process.  Admittedly, I had been intimidated by the prospect of studying literary depictions of Slavic immigrant meatpacking workers in the early 20th century alongside depictions of Latinx immigrant/migrant farmworkers in a contemporary sense.  These sources have shown me the extensive history of immigrant exploitation in the food industry, and the pivotal role literature can play in making this exploitation visible to those who are unaware. Specifically, Hapke has helped me learn to pay attention to the language and writing style used to describe laborers, as well as knowing who is behind these words, and the role their own identity and experiences plays in representations of immigrant laborers.  Now, as I dive further into my central texts, I will be looking into my first impressions of characters, and dive deeper into: why I have come to certain conclusions, what forces are at play in my perception of their representation, and how do I think this representation is interpreted by other readers?  Additionally, I am asking questions about the challenges of capturing experiences and conditions of exploitation- is the text I’m studying voyeuristic? Valid in its attempt to raise awareness of injustice? Reducing these stories simply to make a political point?

In terms of Perez-Ramos’ work, I have been reminded to pay close attention to the mental conditions of the workers in the texts I analyze.  It is easy to write about the painful physical consequences of exploitative labor, but by also giving the psychological consequences of exploitative labor a platform, I will be able to reiterate the humanity in the characters I write about for my thesis.  This is something that is of utmost importance to me. The narratives I am studying are interpretations of actual experiences of oppression, exploitation, and trauma, and it is important to analyze how these experiences affect the mental wellbeing of the laborer by paying closer attention to their words and actions.

Blog Post #5


Hapke, Laura.  “Beastmen and Labor Experts: Fiction and the Problem of Authority from 1900 to 1917” Labor’s Text: The Worker in American Fiction.  Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, 2001.  pp. 121-4.

Pérez-Ramos, María I. “Lands of Entrapment: Environmental Health and Well-Being in Literature about the US Southwest and Chicana/o Communities” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.  Vol. 43, No. 2.  2018. pp. 129-50

Language, Class, and National Identity in Irish Literature

The development of national identity is a product of a worldview born relatively recently. In the following article, Elizabeth Gilmartin discusses linguistic identity and reclamation, while Markus Kornprobst discusses the role of the social and economic elite in the development of nations. In conversation with one another, the two pieces highlight the tensions between English and Irish, the lower classes and the elite, and tradition and modernity in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

In “The Anglo-Irish Dialect: Mediating Linguistic Conflict,” (2004) Elizabeth Gilmartin maps the tension between the Irish and English language during the Victorian era, the period where the most common language spoken at home in Ireland transitioned from Irish to English. Gilmartin argues that this linguistic tension resulted in the “Anglo-Irish” dialect, which was “‘sufficiently Irish’ [enough] to give appropriate voice to the identity of the new Irish nation that was emerging early in the twentieth century” (Gilmartin 2). This “new Irish English,” termed “Hiberno-English or Anglo-Irish,” followed distinctly Irish syntax and accent while using English vocabulary (Gilmartin 2-6). This dialect became the result and marker of class, as Irish-speaking parents encouraged their children to learn English so that they could access social and economic status that would otherwise be denied to them (Gilmartin 4). This trend is representative of “auto colonization,” a process in which the “punishment for using the native language does not come from the colonizer but from the colonized themselves” (4). Therefore the dialect that emerged from Irish speakers imposing English on their own children was distinctly Irish in syntax and accent (Gilmartin 4). Anglo-Irish therefore gave authors a language adequate for describing the culture of the Irish Renaissance, as it was an english adapted for the use of the lower class Irish (Gilmartin 13).

In discussing the linguistic trends of the lower classes, Gilmartin also describes the linguistic nationalists and english-supporting modernists elites who were debating the linguistic path of the nation during the Victorian period, and who gave Anglo-Irish legitimacy through their works. In “Episteme, nation-builders and national identity: the re-construction of Irishness,” Markus Kornprobst focuses on these literary and political elites, analyzing their desire to create a national identity and the process of doing so. Kornprobst presents Foucault’s understanding of “the episteme [as] an ideational force that makes us interpret the world in a certain way, often without an active interpretation process,” and expands upon it, drawing on similarities to “theory” as a whole (Kornprobst 408). Episteme becomes important in delineating “which identity narrative is plausible,” therefore validating the elite’s understanding of nation (Kornprobst 409). Kornprobst connects strategies of episteme to Eamon de Valera, revolutionary and later Taoiseach (Prime Minister); and literary figures William B. Yeats and Douglas Hyde directly (410). For these early elites “gaelic language and culture, Roman Catholicism and the rejection of modernity were constitutive to identity” (417). Kornprobst argues that immediately following British occupation, Irishness was created with the understanding that to be a nation was to be homogenous, unique, and fighting against intervention by colonialists, however the elites of the nation began to see plurality in identity and motivation as non-threatening to the Irish state beginning in the 1970s (417)

The useful past of Kornprobst argument in conversation with Gilmartin, is his belief that elites recognized the “uniqueness” and “difference” of the Irish population to the English colonizers. The elites therefore inact rhetoric reinforcing this difference, even though the Irish population had taken aspects of English culture and restructured them to make them distinctly Irish—as Gilmartin argues that the lower classes did with the english language. These articles highlight the importance of language and commerce in the creation of culture, yet challenge the concept of a “worldview” that is central to the nation-state. Both pieces present academic elites who wish to impose an episteme on the greater population, without understanding the full nuances of local identities. Moving forward, their works will be useful in understanding how this tension gets translated to the page, using language not created for or by the literary elite.


Gilmartin, Elizabeth. “The Anglo-Irish Dialect: Mediating Linguistic Conflict,” Victorian Literature & Culture, vol. 32, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-16

Kornprobst, Markus. “Episteme, nation-builders and national identity: the re-construction of Irishness,” Nations & Nationalism, vol. 11, no. 3, 2005,  pp. 403-421.

Biracial Identity and Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Studies

To gain a better a understanding of the multiracial experience and identity in the U.S., I focused on doing some brief background information by reading “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth” in the Journal of Asian American Studies. Published by Grace Kao, an assistant professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, this article examines the experiences of young biracial Asian and African Americans to determine if they suffer the psychological difficulties that have been mentioned by past social scientists. Kao highlights how biracial youth members face various challenges that other people do not, such as choosing one racial status on official documents, feeling marginalized by not being fully welcome in either racial group, physical appearances, ambiguity over racial status, isolation, and having two racially & culturally different parents. While these difficulties can certainly cause biracial youth members to struggle, Kao concludes that this does not prove that biracial children are more prone to problems of low self-esteem, emphasizing how each person has their own experience, depending on their circumstances.

With this knowledge in mind, I then specifically focused on biracial struggles in Asian American literature by reading the chapter entitled “Ambiguous Movements and Mobile Subjectivity: Passing in between Autobiography and Fiction with Paisley Rekdal and Ruth Ozeki” in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Written by Jennifer Ann Ho, an associate professor in the English and comparative literature department at the University of North Carolina, this book chapter explores the theme of “passing” and how such movement is a strategy for biracial people to “dislocate one’s racial and ethnic identity” because “to be mixed race and hence racially ambiguous means that passing is a strategy of identification as much as disidentification” (Ho 97). Ho argues that people of mixed race can choose multiple identities of race and ethnicity, highlighting how biracial writers such as Rekdal and Ozeki use the theme of passing to challenge and reimagine racial identification. For instance, Rekdal “writes about her many different selves growing up mixed race in Seattle” in her collection of autobiographical essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee (Ho 98). Such works bring attention to the theme of not fitting in and how this feeling of isolation reveals racial ambiguity in both fiction and nonfiction.

Both of these sources highlight the struggles of being biracial and the challenges that come with creating an identity. Kao and Ho focus on similar themes of marginzaliton, isolation, physical appearances, and racial ambiguity. However, Kao is addressing these issues from a sociological perspective while Ho delves into these matters through a literary lens. Ho in particular chooses to examine a specific theme (passing) to challenge. By reading these two sources, I am able to understand how different academic perspectives function within the same field of Asian American Studies. I am now more aware of the common topics of this field and the problems that it faces, such as how there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the psychological and socioeconomic outcomes of biracial people in America and if such realistic struggles are properly portrayed in literature.

After reading these two sources, I now want to gain more relevant information on my focus of studying the biracial experience in literature and its relationship to real life issues. While I am aware that there needs to be more of a literary focus, I wish to continue to look at sources such as the one by Kao to understand the relatisc struggles of people of mixed race. Reading the chapter in Jennifer Ann Ho’s book has also made me wonder if there are other specific themes and tropes in Asian American literature that can help contribute to my research.


Works Cited

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Kao, Grace. “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth.” Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 2 no. 3, 1999, pp. 223-249.

Emasculation of Soldiers post-WWI

Image is WWI propaganda poster from the Imperial War Museum

I am fascinated by the emasculation of men—particularly soldiers—that occurred in post-World War I Britain. Though right now I am looking at Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway as my primary text, there are other options such as Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier which I may choose to focus on instead.

One document that directly relates and supports the claim of “emasculating soldiers” is the War Report of 1922Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry Into “Shell Shock”. This report has pieces from both parliamentary and medical officials in Britain in 1922. The entire purpose of the report is to denounce the claim that ‘shell shock’ was both real and a disease that the WWI veterans were suffering from. The report moves from the various written beliefs of military, parliamentary, and medical officials such as Dr. William Aldren Turner and General Gilbert Mellor. Moreover, this report explicitly frames the expectations of men within this time period—they are meant to be both stoic and repressive by nature. The report makes statements such as “a man instinctively masks his emotions almost as a matter of routine” (The War Office Committee, Squadron Leader W. Tyrrell, 30) to support its further claims that shell shock is “the exhaustion of nerves” similar to “hysteria” and indicative of “cowardice”. However, the report goes further to state that “cowardice should be regarded as a military crime to be punished when necessary by death” (The War Office Committee 139). It incites fear in its male readers, for they are acutely made aware of the strict social expectations for their sex. The idea of “masculinity”, particularly British “manliness” is central to this report, and is useful to me in that it clearly defines expectations of men and the post-war British mindset towards nervousness—i.e. shell shock.

An article, which relates to the aforementioned report, that I am also interested in is Tracey Loughran’s Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories. This article looks at ‘shell shock’ and ‘trauma’ through both literary and historical approaches to understand shell shock and how aspects of the disease have has come to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Broken into four separate sections, the article maps how the shell shock has been perceived, how it came to be, how it was perceived during and after the war, and finally how it has evolved to eventually be legitimized and classified as an actual disease. The article specifically mentions the academic journal The Lancet and its 1915 publication which first used the term ‘shell shock’. More importantly, the mention of this British medical journal includes reference to the academic psychologist Charles Myers, who is frequently mentioned throughout the War Report of 1922. Dr. Myers was the first to publicly oppose notions that shell shock was ‘treatable’ and simply just a manifestation of ‘cowardice’. In this way Loughran’s article elucidates a history of the disease, and its perception that is necessary for my research.

The two documents overlap in their content, and in the way that Loughran’s directly speaks to the notions propagated in the War Report of 1922. Though I am curious about how the disease developed to eventually gain legitimacy, I am more curious about the perceptions of nervousness—specifically shell shock—during and directly after WWI. Indeed, these two sources are not literary, but I believe they hold importance to my research, as they situate themselves directly within the nervous disorder and its historical context. My aim is to use these two sources as a means of supporting my analysis of my primary text—be it Mrs. Dalloway or The Return of the Soldier—so that I may demonstrate how the emasculation of soldiers through nervous disorders like shell shock came to be.

I began this process researching “male hysteria” but I have come to realize that this is more a side-effect—almost a result—of the strict guidelines of “manliness” set out and reinforced by officials of Britain during and post-WWI. Nervousness and anxiety, mainly through manifestations of shell shock in literature, were debilitating to masculinity because anxiety was perceived to be inherently feminine. This idea is supported in the War Report of 1922 and similar documents, which have potential connections to the idea of the ‘stoic’ man that is present even today. Though I want to stay specifically within the early 19th Century, these sources are very applicable to the contemporary construction of “manliness” in and outside of literature. Going forward, I hope to find more literary sources to support my ideas, and not rely so heavily on the sociological, historical, and medical sources I have found.


BP 5

Works Cited

The War Office Committee. Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry into “Shell Shock”. London, 1922.

Tracey Loughran. “Shell Shock, Trauma, and the First World War: The Making of a Diagnosis and Its Histories.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, no. 1, 2012, p. 94.

Questions of Queerness in Comedy

My thesis centers around how humor and issues of queerness interact within the medium of stand-up comedy. Rebecca Krefting’s book All Joking Aside aims to classify a type of stand-up comedy as “charged humor,” and places that type of humor within different concepts of identity (Krefting 3). The first chapter, for example, focuses on “cultural citizenship,” specifically how comedians with an immigrant background use comedy to either question or assert their own position within American culture. Another chapter analyzes how comedy addresses gender politics, while another focuses on a generational identity (that is, comedy after the year 2000). Her arguments center around posing contradictions. Krefting will introduce a concept, then provide two examples, a positive and a negative. She compares, for example, a straight comedian’s joke about “gay ghosts” redecorating a house, with a Mexican comedian’s joke about Mexican field workers taking revenge on white oppressors by inserting e. Coli into crops. She claims that while one comedian takes advantage of someone else’s stereotypes, the other one is a reappropriation of stereotypes for humor. She explains “charged humor” by defining it as more biting than satire, and more focused on carving a spot for disenfranchised people.

The Trouble with Normal Cover Art

The Trouble with Normal by Michael Warner is a study of queer theory as a whole, which questions how the LGBT movement functions. Although a lot has changed since the book’s publishing in 1999, many of the concepts introduced are integral to studying queer stand-up comedy. One of the major arguments of the book is that shame surrounding sex permeates our society, but is especially prevalent within the queer community. He argues that only when we accept shame (instead of trying to push away or pretend we don’t have shame) can the movement more forward. The other key argument of the book is that the attempt to normalize queerness is regressive. Warner specifically uses the fight for “gay marriage” as an example of a harmful attempt for “normalization.” The Trouble with Normal therefore primarily deals with how we as a society (and how queer communities) should talk about queerness. Each chapter begins with many specific examples of queer media (such as certain gay marriage protests and magazines like Hero), and close-reads comments surrounding those examples. The author then consolidates his analysis into critiques about the queer community obsession with normalcy. The book uses close-reading to study the politics of shame and queerness.

Both sources deal directly with how queerness should be discussed. All Joking Aside lays a framework for how stand-up throughout history has covered topics of identity. From satire, to “charged humor,” to bigoted belittling, to personalized storytelling, the book details the various methods by which identity can be covered. The Trouble with Normal argues how queerness specifically should be talked about. He argues that shame should not be ignored, but owned. Shame is often used as a punchline in stand-up comedy. Although All Joking Aside does not directly mentioned shame, politics of normalcy are confronted in many of the comedians exemplified in All Joking Aside (though specifically in a chapter discussing Hari Kondabolu comedy critiquing racial inequality in the United States). From both of these sources, it seems that comedy about shame (whether the jokes are meant to cause shame, hide shame, confront shame, etc) is a key feature in debates about queer comedy.

All Joking Aside argues that humor is a tool for social justice, but I want to focus more on why social justice is a tool for humor. In the same way that The Trouble with Normal criticizes certain topics (i.e. gay marriage) as regressive or unhelpful for queer movements, I want to study more about what aspects of queerness make stand-up funny, or how comedians use their queerness for humor. Instead of talking about how social justice is served by a humorous telling, I want to base my arguments in why my primary texts are funny. While texts such as All Joking Aside provide a history of “charged humor” and give excellent examples of comedians who have used social justice in their work, I want to read more about comedy theory in general. Then I’ll be able to incorporate the close analysis from queer studies texts like The Trouble with Normal, and write more effectively about how one discipline (queer studies) serves another (comedy).


Works Cited

Krefting, Rebecca. All Joking Aside : American Humor and Its Discontents. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal : Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2000., 2000.

The Intersections of Trauma Theory Post Colonial Studies

I choose to root my understanding of Trauma theory in the seminal work Trauma: Explorations in Memory edited by leading trauma theory scholar, Cathy Caruth. The book is divided into two sections titled “Trauma and Experience” and “Reclaiming the Past” which contain articles from a wide array of scholars. In Caruth’s introduction to “Trauma and Experience” she claims that “The aim of this volume… is to examine the impact of the experience and the notion of trauma on psychoanalytic practice and theory, as well as other aspects of culture such as literature….”(4). Within the first section of the book, the topics of the scholarly essays range from the proper way to teach trauma narratives in an academic setting to the lasting effects of trauma on the human psyche. Further, this book introduces key terminology to the field of trauma theory such as “belated”, “intrusive”, and “repetition”. Each of these words are essential in understanding the ways in which trauma manifests in the human psyche as well as the ways trauma is written about in literature. These grounding terms and theories provide a scaffolding for what to look for in novels about trauma. Furthermore, they allow for a new set of guidelines with which to analyze literary devices, word choice, and more.

The second section of the book titled “Recapturing the Past” wrestles with the impact of traumatic memory. This section introduces the idea that trauma is “largely inaccessible to conscious recall and control” (151). The scholars in this section of the book focus on a range of topics such as traumatic memories inability to be incorporated into “narrative memory”, the conditions that evoke traumatic memory, and the phenomenon of “depersonalization”. However, the two sections of the book are united by the key claim of the importance of telling owns one and witnessing other’s traumatic stories. On this topic, Caruth states that “the history of trauma…can only take place through the listening of another” (11). In general, this book introduces key scholars and terminology in this field and has given me a foundation for how to view trauma in literature. However, one blind spot I noted in this book was the lack of diversity in experience of trauma represented. Though the book does introduce a feminist understanding of trauma, none of the essays deal with colonial or racial traumas besides the Holocaust.

In an effort to find links between trauma theory and post colonial studies I conducted a year long survey of The Journal of Post Colonial Writing focusing on the year of 2016. This volume contains 6 separate editions titled “Beyond Britishness”, “Al-Andalus” ,“The Worldliness of Cricket and Its Literature”, “Trans/Forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and Postcolonial Identity”, “Asian Australian Writing” and one untitled edition. Each of the editions explore different specific facets of post colonial literature, however each mention key thinkers such as Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, and more. Additionally, almost every article in the year long survey utilizes key terms such as “Cosmopolitanism”, “multiculturalism”, “migration”, “globalization”, “racism”, and “hegemony”. One facet of the year long survey that struck me was the breadth of scholarship that exists within incredibly specialized fields. For example, the special edition “The Worldliness of Cricket and Its Literature” contains many distinct scholars speaking to numerous different novels using a huge variations of lens. The huge diversity of study within this minute subdivision of study communicated to me the vast potential that post colonial studies allows and hasinspired me to find a specialized topic.

Though each edition contains useful information for my exploration of the post colonial studies, the special edition “Beyond Britishness” is particularly relevant to my interest in the novel White Teeth and the concept of transgenerational trauma. One article in this special edition titled “Tell me a story Dad: (Post)memory and the archeology of subjectivity in Hanif Kureishi’s My Ear at His Heartfocuses on transgenerational trauma and explaining the complex effect cultural trauma has on the identity formation of second generation migrants. This edition also includes an article titled “Coming unmoored: Old and new ways of belonging in Caryl Phillips’s In the Falling Snow” that explores the progression of British national identity across generations of immigrants in England. Finally, the edition contains an article titled “Approaching space: Zadie Smith’s North London fiction” that analyzes the shifting use of North London as setting in Smith’s novels. These essays both validate my interest in exploring the work of Zadie Smith and give examples of transgenerational trauma and post colonialism coexisting in analysis.

Further, an essential take away to the year long survey was the importance of telling post colonial stories. In the special edition “Al-Andalus” scholar Tariq Ali explains his project of post colonial scholarship as an effort to tell “the whole bloody story” (189). This statement invokes that similar sentiment in trauma theory of bearing witness to horrific moments of the past, whether they be colonial traumas or intimate personal traumas. Both lens communicate that it is only through telling stories that one can begin the healing process. However, an important question still looms at the intersection of post colonial studies and trauma theory. In my further research I am interested in discovering what the limitations of trauma theory may be in relationship to post colonial studies, as Caruth’s books lays out theories largely based in the work of Freud. Many of Freud’s theories have been proven false today, and often do not account for the complex and intersectional identities that are at the center of post colonial novels. Therefore, I will be interested in exploring how trauma theory must be reconfigured to meet the specific needs of post colonial studies.


BP 5

Works Cited

Athanasiades, Andreas. “Tell Me a Story Dad: (Post)Memory and the Archaeology of Subjectivity in Hanif Kureishi’s My Ear at His Heart.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016, pp. 26–37.

Cilano, Cara. “Highlighting the Sceptical Strain: An Interview with Tariq Ali.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 2, May 2016, pp. 189–194.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special issue of Beyond Britishness vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of Al-Andalus, vol. 52, no. 2, Jun. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of The Worldliness of Cricket and Its Literature , vol. 52, no. 3, Aug. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of Trans/Forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and Postcolonial Identity , vol. 52, no. 4, Nov. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, special edition of Asian Australian Writing, Migration and Postcolonial Identity , vol. 52, no. 5, Dec. 2016.

Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 6, Dec. 2016.

Pirker, Eva Ulrike. “Approaching Space: Zadie Smith’s North London Fiction.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016, pp. 64–76.

Tournay-Theodotou, Petra. “Coming Unmoored: Old and New Ways of Belonging in Caryl Phillips’s In the Falling Snow.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 52, no. 1, May 2016, pp. 51–63.

Trauma: Explorations in Memory, edited by Cathy Caruth, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.


Blog Prompt #5: Field Report Draft

Blog Post #5 Due: Tues 11/6, 12noon // Comments #9-10 Due: Tues 11/6, 11:59pm

In preparation for your Field Report, you’ll be using this blog post to draft 3 focused paragraphs reflecting on 2 different sources from your reading list. If you find it necessary to write more than 3 paragraphs in order to do justice to the requirements for this prompt, please feel free to do so. Please note that this post will be necessarily longer than the usual word limit allotted for blog posts.

Friday Night Lights Meme

Meme courtesy of Academic Coach Taylor. If you haven’t watched Friday Night Lights, you really need to get on that.

You can pick any combination of sources (e.g. 1 journal article and 1 book, or 1 book chapter and 1 journal article, etc.). These three paragraphs must cohesively and fluidly accomplish the following:

1. Introduce and provide critical summaries of the two sources. These summaries should describe (a) the text’s main argument, (b) the logic or process by which the text proves this argument, and (c) the main terms and concepts central to the argument.

2. Describe how these sources speak to one another. in other words, how do they reflect on related concepts or problems within your field, or how they illuminate two very different aspects of your field?

3. Map what you’ve learned about the fields / key terms that frame your project based on these two sources. Consider the following questions: What questions or problems do these sources raise about your relevant fields / key terms? How do these sources point to specific debates / blindspots within your fields? What kinds of methods / theories do these sources rely on and/or critique?

4. Describe how reading these two sources have shaped your sense of your emerging research interests. What specific questions and ideas have these sources brought to the forefront for you?

The Language of Belonging

The need to belong, and be part of an “in” group, is something every person has felt. This longing becomes complicated when the power dynamics of empires and social hierarchies come into play. The relationship between former colonizers and the formerly colonized during the 20th century demonstrates this nuances and difficulties of this desire.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), follows the experiences of a young houseboy adjusting to University life after leaving a rural village, his master’s lover who becomes a sociology lecturer at the University of Nsukka, and her twin sister’s lover, an English writer who moves to Nigeria to learn about Igbo-Ukwu art. Throughout the chapters that center on Richard, the Englishman living and writing at the University of Nsukka, the narrator emphasizes the tension between him and Major Madu Madu, a close friend of his lover, Kainene. The tension between Richard and Madu finds equilibrium as the two battle over their opposing identities.

During their conversation on whether or not a second coup is probable at Kainene’s parents’ home in Lagos, the two men engage in a linguistic battle of sorts. Richard responds to Major Madu’s denial by saying: “I went to Zaria last week, and it seemed that all everybody was saying was second coup, second coup. Even radio Kaduna and the New Nigerian” (Adichie, 172). It is important to note that Richard said this in Igbo, to which Major Madu responded: “What doe the press know, really?” in English (Adichie 172). Richard believes that Madu responds to his Igbo in English in order to force the conversation back into English (Adichie, 172). This choice in dialogue, happening across languages, highlights a social interaction that places Madu firmly within the “in” group and Richard firmly outside of it. This shift, in which Madu refuses to engage in his own language with the foreigner—who is able to move to Nigeria as a result of his country’s conquest and destruction of the region—forces Richard to revert to the language of a colonizer.

The allusions in this passage to the media also underline the tension between the men. Richard is an academic, who believes in ideological debate and the importance of information. By mentioning “radio Kaduna” and “the New Nigerian,” Richard is presenting his sources. He makes an argument based on media-supported reports and statements. These specific sources also demonstrate Richard’s desire to integrate fully into Nigeria and Igbo culture, because he is using local sources, instead of the “Colonies Magazine” which offered his first look into Igbo art and culture. Madu, on the other hand, dismisses the media due to his position in the army. He knows that there is information that the press does not know, and understands that the press is looking for stories and therefore capitalizing on the tension that he claims has always been present.

This scene is punctuated with a letter from Richard’s cousin, following the outbreak of the second coup. The passage begins with: “Is “going native” still used? I always knew you would!” (Adichie 172). The narrator makes note that “Martin had… that superior smile of people who were born to belong and excel” (Adichie, 173). This passage highlights the condescension of the British towards the Igbo in Nigeria, but also establishes that Martin—the image of the British “in” group—does not believe that Richard ever belonged to the English as it was. Therefore the writer navigates his interactions with Madu with the understanding that his own nationality does not uphold his English-ness.



Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Anchor Books, Random House, Inc, 2006.

Richard’s Love (?) of Kainene

Before there is love, there is the preliminary stage of infatuation.  It is in this stage where attraction and affection are first carved out between two people, as they navigate these feelings both together and as individuals.  In Chapter Three of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, readers are introduced to this stage of infatuation and navigation within the budding romance between protagonists Richard Churchill and Kainene, recalled in the perspective of Richard.  Romantic love plays a vital role in the dynamics between several of the novel’s characters, however, it is Richard’s recollection and interpretation of his early stages of love with Kainene that stand out in its unmistakable intensity.  

Meeting for the first time at another nondescript cocktail party they were both brought to- Richard by his cavalier girlfriend Susan, Kainene by her enterprising father Chief Ozobia- they share a brief moment of connection.  Following this brief meeting at the party, the two transition towards regularly meeting in a private suite of a hotel owned by Kainene’s father. And it is Richard’s experience of these private meetings that resonated particularly with me, as their dynamic seems to be completely established after only a few meetings.  “Her silences were brooding, insular, and yet he felt a connection to her,” the passage reads, “Perhaps it was because she was distant and withdrawn.  He found himself talking in a way he usually didn’t,” (Adichie 78) Initially, we are given an instance where Kainene’s detachment and indifference from others isolates the people around her, as viewed through the eyes of her twin sister, Olanna.  However, for Richard, Kainene’s disposition is something he connects to and is animated by, allowing him to change. Yet it is the lack of change in Kainene’s disposition that highlights the lack of balance between the two, and makes Richard’s infatuation appear all the more intense and engulfing.  


To illustrate Richard’s perspective more effectively, Adichie employs two literary devices following the quote from above.  The first is an example of hyperbole and continues, “and when their time ended and she got up, often to join her father at a meeting, he felt his feet thicken with curdled blood,” (Adichie 78)  This sentence evokes a sense of dread from the reader, as Richard’s emotional state catalyzes into this description of his physical state.  There is the automatic association between Kainene’s departure and a feeling of being immobilized by dread at this. The image of Richard’s feet being thickened with blood is a grim, dramatic one, with ‘curdled blood’ sticking out in its extreme usage in a passage that has been relatively composed until this point.  Through Richard’s physical state seeming to reflect his emotional state, however, we begin to understand his increasing dependence on Kainene, as he is both upset and physically feels like he cannot move his feet when it is time to leave their meetings. Soon, Richard reveals another layer to his infatuation with Kainene as he becomes absorbed in their meetings.

Through the specific diction chosen to describe Richard’s changing relationship with Susan, readers can begin to see how Richard’s meetings with Kainene have created a division between his reality with Susan.  “He did not understand why Susan suspected nothing,” Richard continues to reflect, “why she could not simply look at him and tell how different he felt, why she did not even notice that he splashed on more aftershave now,” (Adichie 78)  Previously, Richard indifferently notes his status as an outsider and keeping his emotions on the inside, but here, he appears to be perplexed when Susan does not notice his transformation since meeting Kainene. The specific words Richard uses to explain his confusion, however, only raises suspicion on his own mental state.  He expects Susan to simply ‘look at him’ and smell that he has put on ‘more aftershave’ and automatically assume how he ‘feels’. However, looking and smellingare two actions that can only be applied to the external, therefore, by using these words in conjunction with an internal action, feeling, Richard contradicts himself. His infatuation with Kainene has led him to know a transformation has occurred within himself, however his investment in this transformation and in Kainene cloud his perception of how the rest of the world interprets this transformation.  And as shown by Susan, they can’t interpret something that occurs within the mind of someone else, no matter how different they think they look or smell. Through Richard’s interactions with Kainene, he assumes his exterior reflects his interior, highlighting the general way this dynamic has absorbed him to the point that he does not understand other perspectives. His consciousness is suspended in a dream-like state, focusing on their private suite, his memories of Kainene, and his inner self. This, in conjunction with his dependence on Kainene already established, illustrates Richard’s absorption into their relationship.  As the novel progresses, we see how this dynamic allows Richard to transform into a more established ‘man’. However, it is important to note that a transformation of this nature does not occur within Kainene. It highlights the imbalance in their relationship, and almost makes Kainene a method for Richard’s personal growth, rather than an individual he’s come to love over time. And this imbalance, while mainly innocent in this passage, sees itself transform into tension between the two as the novel progresses.

Blog #4


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi.  Half of a Yellow Sun.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.  p. 78

Language as Beautiful as Magic

Sometimes meeting a new person is so unexpected that you don’t know how to react. You may be at a loss of words or find it extremely difficult to stop staring at your new acquaintance due to surprise, infatuation, or some other intense emotion. It’s as if your body is temporarily unable to function properly. Ugwu’s first meeting with Olanna in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is one that yields such a result: he is spellbound by her manner of speaking because he has never heard such beautiful English before.

Prior to moving in with Odenigbo, an eccentric university professor, Ugwu has limited experiences with the English language as he had to drop out of school to work on his family’s farm in a small rural village. But once he moves to the town of Nsukka as a houseboy, Ugwu rapidly improves his English, observing Odenigbo and his frequent party guests, who all converse in English. This habit of making mental notes about a person’s skill in speaking English becomes a prominent trait of Ugwu’s character, so it is no surprise that this action is exhibited when he meets Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover. And when Ugwu hears her voice for the first time, his view of the English language is changed forever: “He stood still. He had always thought that Master’s English could not be compared to anybody’s…Master’s English was music, but what Ugwu was hearing now, from this woman, was magic. Here was a superior tongue, a luminous language…it reminded him of slicing a yam with a newly sharpened knife, the easy perfection in every slice” (Adichie 27 – 28).

This first interaction between these two characters is the beginning of a friendship full of affection, learning, and trust. Ugwu’s initial impression of Olanna is one of admiration and fascination, as he finds her voice and command of language to be so lovely that he calls it “magic.” This is an example of metaphor since Ugwu compares Olanna’s style of speaking to magic, a concept that is not related to English, but shares the characteristic of being captivating. By labeling her voice as “magic,” Ugwu is emphasizing how charmed he is by Olanna’s voice and speaking abilities. Furthermore, there is the comparison of Olanna to Odenigbo: while Odenigbo’s voice is “music,” it cannot be compared to something as fantastical, otherworldly, and intriguing as “magic.” Ugwu even states that she has “a superior tongue” and speaks “a luminous language,” highlighting the amount of distance there is between the qualities of their voices.

The other literary device that is present in this passage is analogy. This is shown when Ugwu compares the smooth flow of Olanna’s voice to the ease of slicing a yam with a new knife. Instead of simply stating how pleasant Olanna’s voice is, Ugwu goes into great detail by transforming the experience of listening to something completely different: food preparation. However, this is a familiar activity to Ugwu, which is why he made such a comparison. By doing so, it is easier for us readers to fully understand the level of satisfaction Ugwu feels when he hears Olanna speak English. Thus, these two literary devices work well together because of their similarities. Metaphor is closely related to analogy since both devices create comparisons to highlight a concept, such as Olanna’s English being compared to magic and easy yam slicing to show how enticing and pleasant her voice is.

These descriptions of Olanna by Ugwu are significant because they provide insight on the relationship between the two characters. The metaphoric and analogical language used to describe Olanna’s English shows how much Ugwu respects and admires her because his observations are full of praise. As the story progresses, we see Olanna noticing his affection and the shyness that he feels when around her. She also realizes how much he wants to speak English to her: “He always responded in English to her Igbo, as if he saw speaking Igbo to him as an insult that he had to defend himself against by insistently speaking English” (Adichie 59). Though it seems as if Ugwu is jealous of Olanna, this is just proof of how highly he regards her English abilities and how much he wants to improve and sound like her, demonstrating the power of language as a way for these two characters to learn how to appreciate and respect one another.


Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. Anchor Books, 2007.