Research Proposal

For my research paper I will be working with gothic young adult (YA) literature. The texts I will be reading in conjunction with my research are: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. These works will help me explore the following research questions: (1) Why is gothic literature a popular genre among children? (2) How does gothic literature reflect the psychological struggles, conflicts, identity, and advancements of young adults? (3) How do portals, time loops, and other magical passages convey the “unknown”? (4) How are adults perceived in YA novels and how does this change with the passage through the unknown in each text?

My secondary sources will analyze the texts is a few ways. I will start by analyzing the genres that are prevalent to my research. I will navigate gothic literature using Elizabeth MacAndrew’s book, The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. This book will be specifically useful in analyzing the conventions of gothic fiction. In addition I will work with Farah Mendelson’s Rhetorics of Fiction to analyze the use portals in the texts. Michelle Pagni Stewert’s essay: “Joseph Bruchac’s “Dark” Novels: Confronting The Terror of Adolescence” will lay a strong foundation for my argument and allow me to connect gothic literature to children’s literature. While speaking about children’s literature I will use Professor Carrie Hintz’s textbook (written with Eric L. Tribunella) Reading Children’s Literature to discuss the conventions of children’s literature. I found some essays that discuss identity as well as the uncanny appeal found in the goth subculture and I will use these essays to develop the gothic YA structure formed in Gaiman’s book, as well as Riggs and Juster’s works (the essays are: “An Eye for an I: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Questions of Identity”, by David Rudd and “Kid Goth” by Dana Goodyear). To support the rite of passage idea, I will use Emily Stier Adler and Roger Clark’s essay “Adolescence: A literary Passage.” I will need to find more sources that speak about the effects of children’s literature and maybe some psychological sources that deal with the effects of combining fear and literature. (In addition I found a book called The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders that is a compilation of essays but it is not available through online sources or the library, so I am not sure if I will use it yet). Through those sources I will attempt to create a thorough understanding of the underlying psychological and fantastical uses of gothic children’s literature.

Through my research I would like to explore the trope of the “unknown” in gothic YA literature that is used to create a rite of passage for the character(s) to pass through. This marks the metaphoric journey of the ambiguities associated with maturing. I would like to analyze the texts using sources on genre and discuss the books’ adherence to the conventions set forth by the genres. My research will explore the many conventions of YA literature, such as talking animals, the rite of passage, and the perception of adults as phonies. In addition, I believe it is important to address the texts from a psychological viewpoint. YA literature shapes the minds of many children around the world. With the dystopian genre on the rise it is curious why so many young adults are drawn to such dark literature. Therefore, it is important to understand and analyze the theory and purpose behind these texts.

It Started Out With a Kiss, How Did it End Up as a 24-Page Analysis, It Was Only a Kiss.

Disclaimer: I misunderstood the prompt and chose a supplementary reading from our course website rather than the Norton Anthology because I didn’t realize our editions were Norton Anthologies until after I wrote my post despite the fact that it says on the cover “A Norton Critical Edition.”

After reading Dinshaw’s “A Kiss is Just a Kiss”, I was honestly a little more confused with my reading of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight than I had previously been. The essay seemed to fluctuate a lot as to the sexuality of Gawain. The essay’s main focus was supposed to be on kisses but then spent the bulk of the essay speaking about almost every other instance in the book, and then seemingly remembered it was supposed to speaking about kisses, which the author would then sporadically bring up in conjunction with the other events.

One point that this essay did raise, and I questioned this point as well while I was reading, was the seduction in the poem. The women always did the seduction and the men seemed helpless. This is an unusual depiction of a strong patriarchy. Allowing the lady a kiss is an interesting assertion of power in a reversed gender and identity situation. The hunting scene was a keen reminder of the males’ need to demonstrate order over the world around them. It is obvious that the men adhered to strict chivalric and honorable rules. This was further clarified by Dinshaw’s reading. The kisses symbolize both power and chivalry. Their obsession with honoring their word was so strong that Gawain allowed a man to try chop off his head because he had agreed to it a year ago. And then the Green Knight doesn’t actually knock Gawain’s head off because of other promises, but still keeps to his word and slices Gawain slightly because Gawain didn’t return all the material he was supposed to. So clearly there is a strong idea of power relations, specifically patriarchal ones, which define honor and chivalry in the men’s lives. Is that heterosexual? I don’t really think that defines homosexuality or heterosexuality. Sexuality doesn’t really define people’s actions outside of their sexual preferences. So, based on the information we are given I don’t think it’s really possible or necessary to label our characters’ sexuality.

I definitely do hear what Dinshaw is saying though. There are some curious moments that could be analyzed, for example, when Gawain and Bertilak kiss but as Dinshaw notes, “we read the text from a new perspective and contribute to a more accurate history…” (21). While homosexuality was very pertinent (and dangerous) in the 12th century, I think we might be reading into the text a little too much in that aspect based on our own reading of modern day texts. I think that even if homosexuality were present in the text, it wouldn’t have been the main focus of the text because it doesn’t really change the value of the text. Until we get a sequel in which The Green Knight and Gawain are in a happy and stable marriage, I think most of our reading of the text from that angle would be based heavily on unnecessary speculation.

(Also, it was really frustrated that Dinshaw ended the essay titled “A Kiss is Just a Kiss” with “after all, when is a kiss ever just a kiss” (21). I’ll tell you when: WHEN YOU DECLARATIVELY STATE IN YOUR TITLE THAT IT IS.)

Mindreading isn’t all Zunshine. It’s Dead Letters too.

In Savarese and Zunshine’s work on Autism, Savarese loosely defines the concept of mindreading as “what a theory of mind test actually gauges is the ability to read a highly particular kind of mind, a mind that has put itself at the center of the universe—above all other organisms and entities.” This applies to many groups of people with dividing lines: neurotypicals/autistics, different ethnic groups, gender, etc. It is argued that people on one side of the dividing line are unable to process thoughts the same way those on the other side of the line process their own thoughts. Therefore a schism is created pushing and strengthening this dividing line.

In Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” it can be argued that most of the characters seem to have dividing lines between one another and therefore have issues processing the other’s emotions and thoughts. Bartleby, a strange copywriter, makes his boss uncomfortable with his odd passivity and lack of drive. As the narrator, the boss spends the duration of the short story commenting on Bartleby’s action and acts baffled whenever Bartleby is his strange self. After a particularly annoying “I prefer not to” conversation with Bartleby the narrator infuriatingly notes:  “I staggered to my desk, and sat there in a deep study. My blind inveteracy returned. Was there any other thing in which I could procure myself to be ignominiously repulsed by this lean, penniless wight?—my hired clerk? What added thing is there, perfectly reasonable, that he will be sure to refuse to do?” (73). The narrator, who is on the other side of the work divide, is unable to process or comprehend how Bartleby could be so unenthusiastic and apathetic about his work.

It isn’t until after Bartleby’s absence that the narrator seems to be able to understand Bartleby. After he learns about Bartleby’s previous job with dead letters and weighs the ramifications that come with such a job he laments, “Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames?” (250). He realizes the effects that handling dead letters might have had on Bartleby and begins to understand why he might have been such a weird dude. The narrator concludes, “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity” (251). And to me that’s exactly the point. The narrator was not able to understand Bartleby’s idiosyncrasies until he was able to take a step back and humanize the subject. Giving context and potential emotion to Bartleby’s past significantly impacted the way the narrator viewed present (well, past but present-past) Bartleby.

This aspect of humanizing is important in being able to mind read. Obviously one race can never truly feel the emotions of another and the same with genders, but until when one is ready to contextualize and humanize mindreading becomes a lot more plausible. It’s not really my place to decide whether an autistic has the ability to humanize others outside of their own thoughts. I’d suppose that some autistics could and some could not, just like some men understand the mindset of women better than others (and vice versa). I think with his aspect of relating things back to humanity an individual has a better shot of being able to empathize effectively.