Honours Students Presentations
A Tribute To Our Honours Students
Each year in late March, students present their thesis research and coursework option experience to their peers and the faculty of the department. Due to the Covid19 shut down, we were not able to gather to celebrate this year. However, the seven students have kindly prepared a brief summary of what they might have presented to us, and although we can’t enjoy our usual discussion, we can enjoy the diversity, intelligence, and zeal of these fine students. Below, they describe their experiences.
We give a monetary thesis prize each year to the student whose thesis earns the highest grade. This year’s winner is Margaret Finlay—hearty congratulations to Margaret.
Margaret Finlay 2020 Thesis Prize
“Qui(n)te Queer: Ordinary Queer Identities in Chaucer's Ordinary Canterbury Tales”
In my thesis, I argue that as the Canterbury Tales is a work of fiction written about ordinary mediaeval life, from characters to types of tales to subject matter, Chaucer would have included all sorts of ordinary mediaeval characters – even those who are nonheteronormative. I argue this not through the pilgrims, as previous scholarship has done, but rather through characters in the tales that the pilgrims themselves tell: the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale, and the Man of Law’s Tale. While I found it difficult at times to find relevant scholarship for my thesis, as my thesis topic is not popular in Chaucerian criticism, I enjoyed reading and engaging with scholars, as well as developing my own arguments and writing (and rewriting!) each chapter.
"Lights, Camera, Fate Versus Action: Human Agency and External Persuasion in Film Adaptations of Macbeth."
When I set out to complete the project, my goal was to explore how film adaptations of Macbeth address the pivotal question of the play: do people have control over their own lives or are they pawns of fate? I explored three contemporary films and examined how they portrayed pivotal characters and if these characters had agency or if they were controlled by external forces. The entire process was a challenge, primarily given that I had never written something so big. I also had to fight through many bad writing habits that I have gathered over the years and try to correct them as I wrote. The experience was incredibly rewarding, however, as I learned so much about myself as a writer and got the chance to explore a topic that I have been interested in for a long time.
“Self-Fashioning as Mythmaking in 1 Henry IV, The Winter’s Tale, and Macbeth.”
With my work, I sought to investigate the use of classical allusion in Shakespeare’s plays and how these allusions can enrich our understanding of the texts. Most significantly, I wanted to explore how these allusions affected our understanding of how a character’s identity is formed. Writing my thesis was an incredibly rewarding process, but it was not without its challenges, and I’m incredibly grateful for the guidance of many faculty members. I struggled most with creating and sticking to self-made deadlines, but the skills that I gained throughout this experience will stick with me in all my future work.
“Slash Back: From Final Girls to Final Mothers in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare Elm Street and Scream”
My thesis is an exploration of the Final Girl character in the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series, how she goes against type and evolves into a character I call the Final Mother. I initially set out to interrogate the Final Girl as a character trope because I believed there was more to her than the characterization of being a stand-in for sadomasochistic male fantasy. I believe she actually presents a strong-willed and mentally capable female figure for identification among female audience members. The most challenging part of my thesis was synthesizing my reformulation of the Final Girl trope with Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, which I believe is a primary motivator in the Final Girl’s fight against male violence. I most enjoyed getting to delve into a film genre that interests me, and the satisfaction of creating an original piece of scholarship.
“Redefining Second-Person Narration Demonstration Through the Address Function in Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City”
It always seemed strange to me that second-person narration was very uncommon and was always dismissed as a gimmicky style of writing. I never understood why I had never learned about it or encountered it, so decided to investigate second-person narration for my thesis. As I began to do my research and became more familiar with the concept of second-person narration, I found myself unsatisfied with any of the definitions I had encountered. It became my goal to develop a new definition that captured the essence of second-person narration, which turned out to be the address function - a two-way relationship between author and reader that allows the reader to insert themselves into the realm of the text. However, since I was being very nit-picky with pre-existing theory, I was always concerned that there would be some holes in my own theory that would undermine my arguments. I concluded that even if my definition was not perfect, it could still stimulate discussion on second-person narration and contribute to a more precise definition by someone else. I thoroughly enjoyed creating my own definition and I hope that my thesis will bring more attention to a writing style that deserves to be taken seriously.
“Suite for Cathonia” (Creative Thesis)
What I set out to do was equal parts a personal goal for myself as it was an academic endeavour. I had been planning out ideas for novels and entire series since I was eleven years old, but I had never actually gotten very far in writing one, so when I saw the option to write one—albeit a novella rather than a full novel—I jumped at the chance, using an idea for a story that I had come up with just the previous year, and so it was still fairly fresh in my mind. Many of the challenges that I ran into were definitely a product of my inexperience, such as finding a solid internal motivation for my characters and keeping the scope of the fantasy world big enough to inspire awe and wonder in the reader while not overshadowing the story, themes and characters. Another major struggle was keeping focus and motivation—both things which have kept me from completing a novel heretofore—and it was a tough road getting the novella into a coherent and presentable final product. That said, I still immensely enjoyed the experience; growing up I was pretty obsessed with Lego, where I would try to build these intricate things that I had in mind while working with the lack of pieces I had, figuring out which piece fit where, whether or not these parts would fit with one another, taking out parts that didn’t work, trying to tie things together coherently. The satisfaction that I got from Lego is very similar to that which I get from writing, except rather than buildings and vehicles I’m building entire worlds and characters and stories. The story I wrote, while certainly not perfect, is something I am immensely proud of, and I am so glad that I was able to have this opportunity.
Maddy Johnston and the Course Work Option
I chose the coursework route because I hoped to continue to explore a wider range of literature. The benefit of this is that you are permitted to take more higher-level courses with smaller groups, allowing for more detailed discussion and analysis. Though it is difficult to manage larger assignments, the environment is really freeing in that you are allowed to write on what you find interesting, so the work is not as cumbersome.