In the summer of 2016 I had a decision to make. What, the heck, was I going to write my senior thesis about?
I had been an English major for the past three years, and without tooting my own horn too loudly, I was doing pretty darn well. I had gotten exceptional grades in my literature classes, had been appointed a teaching apprentice, and was well on my way to graduating a semester early cum laude. I’m not bragging (well, not a lot), but rather trying to communicate that I did actually care about my thesis and I wasn’t just trying to troll academia.
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Due to extenuating circumstances, I had to apply to take my senior capstone as an independent study, rather than a traditional class in which I would be surrounded by my peers. This is important, because I do not know if my thesis would have taken the same shape had I been made to face the judgement of my classmates every week. Instead of meeting with other students and my professor for three hours a week, I instead met with my professor for about two hours every other week. This left me with an abundance of time in which to write my paper, and also gave me very valuable one-on-one review time with my professor, to whom I owe many thanks for making the time to meet with me twice a month and put up with my trackless trains of thought.
Because independent studies take time to apply for, I began preparing for my thesis in the spring. That spring, I had been taking a class on postmodernism, and one of the tenets of postmodernism is the blending of high and low cultures. That is, taking material that “should not” belong in high art, and making high art out of it anyway. Partially out of intellectual intrigue, partially out of spite. The more I mulled over the possibility of taking the objects of my middle school literary obsessions and using them to summate the entirety of my undergraduate study, the more justified I began to feel, as I thought of writers and artists who had made incredible work out of crude material.
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So I went whole hog. I came to my professor and I told her that I wanted to write about mid-2000s young adult fiction and the misfit complex. My original thesis was going to be about how this era of young adult fiction presented us with all of these strikingly beautiful white people and then tried to pass them off as hopeless misfits that just didn’t belong anywhere, which, of course, meant that they were the “chosen one” of whatever fictional universe they resided in. I still think this would be a great paper, but my professor quickly and kindly informed me that to read every young adult fiction novel published in that era and then write a comprehensive analysis of protagonists in each would be, um, a lot for a paper I needed to finish in three months.
So I had to whittle. Then one day, a cursed thought, perhaps long burrowed in my gray matter, expressed itself.
what if i just wrote about twilight lol
But then of course I had to ask myself, “What if I wrote my thesis about Twilight?” And then the prospect was simply too enticing not to pursue.
I altered my thesis to now be about Twilight and… something postcolonial. I hadn’t quite figured out that second part yet. Postcolonial theory had become, pretty much by accident, my bread and butter. Almost every single class on literature I had taken had been “______ and Postcolonial Theory” and I loved it. By the time I was a senior, I was reading everything through the lens of “how did the colonists fuck this up?” and for those of you wondering: yes, I am that Matt McGorry-type of white person that I encourage you to cringe at.
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At my school, you were permitted to write your senior thesis about anything you wanted to, however, the senior capstone classes were always themed, so as to guide students struggling with writer’s block. In my senior year, the class was on Gothic Literature. The first text on my professor’s syllabus was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and as per the agreement made by me and my professor, I would follow the syllabus she was teaching the main class until my thesis was fully conceptualized.
I found, while reading Frankenstein, that there was a lot in there that I could make comparisons to in Twilight. As I was reading Frankenstein and Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny,” my professor was reading Twilight for the first time, and while I wish I could say I feel guilty about that, I still get a thrill from the fact that someone with a PhD read Twilight because of me.
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Through discussion, my professor and I realized that while written for and published in a very different era, the content and general aura of Twilight is not terribly dissimilar from classic Gothic literature, like the works of Ann Radcliffe and, of course, Frankenstein. Gothic literature in its early life was massively popular, yet not taken very seriously by literary critics; a fact to which I immediately latched on and clutched for dear life as I wrote this paper.
Ultimately, I used Twilight, Frankenstein, and Freud’s theory of the uncanny to develop a theory of the definition and construction of home in literature. Here’s an excerpt from my thesis statement:
One could think of gothic literature as a kind of experiment: you take an average (or seemingly so) person, add a few paranormal motifs, and play out the logical conclusion of that combination. Gothic literature is a vehicle for exploring how human beings behave in uncanny settings; it is a way for us to understand the way we construct our reality by showing us what we do when faced with the degradation of that reality.
Yeah, it morphed quite a lot from the postcolonial screed I had set out to write. But the paper I ended up with is one I’m still quite proud of. And I graduated! With this paper! As far as I remember I got an A, but honestly I’m not sure, that last semester was something of a blurred smear on my hippocampus.
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