Oh don’t worry. This won’t be a post about some literature student starving on the streets because she chose to major in an unusable subject with little career success. We’ll save that for when I graduate, alright?
No, this is going to be a post about how studying literature has made it impossible for me to see the world the same way. Because while we might see literary critical lenses as a pair of glasses to slide on and off, they’ve really become more like permanent eye surgery.
My Literary Foundation of Women’s Studies class so far has been the best example of how being an English major can be difficult for me at times.
I went into the class excited to learn more about a feminist literary perspective. I identify myself as a feminist, but am still learning a lot about the history and other important elements. So I was looking forward to taking a class solely from that viewpoint. My excitement grew when I noticed that one of my favorite novels of all time was on the reading list: Jane Eyre.
I had always been told this book was an example of early feminist literature. I mean Charlotte Brontë was an early female writer, and how impressive is that? So I assumed we’d be looking at it from that perspective. Reading and saying “Wow this was so progressive for her time!” was what I had pictured. I was startled to instead find myself in the realm of criticism and skepticism; fellow female classmates shook their heads at the end and said they were unsatisfied with how things had turned out. Even my professor, who I had initially thought liked the book, seemed to be showing some disdain for certain elements. And our next book on the reading list didn’t help matters.
When I was in junior high we had a school assignment to read a children’s book through a certain critical lens. I can still remember it clearly because it was the first time I ever used the feminist lens which was especially unusual considering at that age I would never have classified myself under a feminist category and in fact probably ventured the opposite way.
I read Comet’s Nine Lives by Jan Brett. It was an old childhood one that I still had around. While I didn’t really expect to find much at first I was eventually surprised by what I found. Though the characters were animals females were always dressed in skirts and dresses. There was also unequal representation for example the number of females playing instruments or working at the docks were both significantly lower. One wife was giving her husband a back rub. Anyhow, it amuses me to look back at that, but it also gets my brain thinking about how my views have changed over the years.
I’m definitely a feminist now and in fact when I write critical essays I often have to force myself to not use the feminist lens. All I want to do is look at how the author is portraying woman and what he or she is ultimately saying. And yet back in that ninth grade class I had to force myself into that viewpoint. Today I have to force myself out of that viewpoint because it’s so easy for me to fall back on. When I write a paper all I want to do is write about how women or gender interactions are portrayed. I have to take a step back and force myself to not do so.
This year I wrote my major critical paper on Moby-Dick. And as it is a male dominated book I determined it was best to just avoid trying to do anything gender related. I ended up reflecting more on religious undertones and found it beneficial to force myself to look at the book in a new way from the one I’d been using before.
It’s important as readers to keep an open mind while reading, but it’s also important to be critical. However, it’s hard to find a balance in these sometimes. I know people who are overly critical of everything in their own particular way, and then I know others who just read things mindlessly without stopping to consider implications at all. It’s important to do a little bit of both. Sometimes we need to remember to enjoy things as entertainment, other times we should consider things carefully. And more than anything I advise trying to look at the world through different lenses, because you never know where it might take you.
This was an old post I decided to fix up and publish. Hope you might find some value in it. Does anyone have any good stories of looking at anything (books, movies, life, people, etc.) from a different point of view? I always love when people share their common experiences.
Filed under Reading, Writing
I found this cartoon amusing. One of my old English teachers used to keep it on her wall. Of course, I believe that good literary criticism is worthwhile, but to be honest you can occasionally BS it if you’re with people who don’t really understand. Nonetheless, found this amusing.