At the beginning of the semester, my class was asked why we were there. Why did we study literature? We came up with a few meaningful yet generic answers such as “it makes you a better person” or “we learn more about ourselves through literature.” I believe that both of these statements are overwhelmingly true, but they weren’t personal to me. Why did I study literature?
Over the course of writing six essays on two different plays this semester and then reflecting on my experience in this portfolio I found my answer, which had really been there all along now that I think about it. I study literature because I hold an unshakeable belief that stories can change the world if we open ourselves up to them. They can open our eyes to the diversity of the world, take us out of our own little bubble. They make us more compassionate and empathetic to the people around us.
As a double major in English with a Creative Writing emphasis and Fine Art, my everyday life is permeated with story. Being an artist means creating visual stories, something I love to do because it lacks the barrier of language; it can speak across borders. But not everyone connects with a story visually. Sometimes language can open up someone’s eyes in a way images can’t. That’s where literary theory and analysis comes in for me.
I see literary criticism as a way to crack open a story like a nut. Stories can be powerful on their own without much analysis, but to truly be responsible when experiencing a story, we must reflect on what a story is actually telling us, both the good and the bad. This type of reflection takes time and effort.
This portfolio serves to show you that time and effort; all of the work that brought me to the realization of my why.
The six essays I wrote for this class each had a unique perspective or skill that we were tasked with trying on in order to glean different meanings from the text. These skills included close-reading, historical contextualization, entering the critical conversation, and three different ways of reading a text through the methodologies of external academic spheres: psychoanalytic critique, social critique, and poststructuralist critique. The specifics of what each of these skills entail are discussed further in both my process and presentation portfolios.
My presentation portfolio shows the my best work of the semester; the best four of my six essays polished and presented for your viewing pleasure. These four essays were chosen because they each represent the best aspects of my ability as a writer, and each of them showcases something different.
The first essay, “A Hypocritical Treatment of Hierarchy in The Tempest” illustrates my thorough grasp and execution of the ability to close-read a text, the building block of all literary analysis.
The next essay, “Masked Meanings: the Historical Importance of Masques and their Role in The Tempest,” is a dynamic representation of my ability to effectively employ and maintain the clarity of several different literary sources and skills at once: close-reading, historical contextualization, and entering the critical conversation by responding to other literary critics.
Essay three, “Mommy Issues,” spotlights my ability to examine Hamlet through a psychoanalytic method, referencing the work of Freud to do so.
And finally, “God: an Absent Presence in the House of Denmark” showcases my skill in reading a text through a poststructural-bordering-on-deconstructionist lens, as well as what I consider to be one of my most exciting skills: speaking about themes abstractly through the analyzation of language itself. This skill is certainly still a fledgling, but the essay is a solid start on a sophisticated skill that holds immense promise for the future of my writing.
On top of these individual literary skills, each of these essays also shows how I can take something as intellectually intimidating as literary criticism and make it relevant and interesting to a less specific audience. By taking an antiquated text and relating it to themes prevalent in current events, whether it be sexism, political systems biased against cultural minorities, mental health, or the social and philosophical impact of God, I open up story to the reader so they can connect with it, showing them that even historically aged texts can be relevant today.
The essays in my presentation portfolio put up a polished front, but I didn’t get there easily. Each of those essays required a lot of hard work, second guessing, and revision. My process portfolio gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how I got to the end results of these essays. It is there that I speak about how my process has grown from being virtually non-existent, into a methodical yet fluid system that has the potential to produce extensively revised essays, as in the case of my close-reading essay, and my poststructural essay.
The process portfolio is important to the presentation of myself as a writer, because I want to be clear that I’m not perfect. To present myself so would be false and irresponsible. While I have some extreme confidence in my skills as a writer, especially to produce a clear claim with valuable consequences, I still have room to grow. For instance, I highly value historical contextualization, but to a fault. While this skill provided successful drafts when applicable, my love for this skill prevented me from creating a clear social critique essay—a method that doesn’t come easy to me. I recognize these as limitations, but I also see those limitations as opportunities to grow and improve. I find it comforting that I don’t have it all figured out yet. Where is that satisfaction in that?
Through all of these exercises I have increased my ability to speak and write sophisticatedly about relatable human stories. The skills I’ve learned as a literary critic allow me to be more responsible as a storyteller and discuss what a story is truly saying, and relay what the consequences of those statements are.
By engaging in consistent hard work across the semester I have expanded my notion of what it means to write and be a writer. No longer do I evaluate myself by solely the finished products I produce, but recognize that it is the midnight epiphanies, the early morning frustrations, the ability to think critically about a problem that truly makes a writer. And although these essays focus particularly on analyzing and critiquing literature, my critical thinking, organization, and clarity skills will be able to translate across disciplines, aiding in my goal to tie my dual love of art and English together.
So, please, go explore my portfolio and see if I put my money where my mouth is. I think I might even make you laugh a few times.