Graduating English literature students present capstones

On Wednesday, April 17, members of the Senior Seminar in English Literature (ENG 600) presented their capstones in Main Hall 201. The class took place in Winter Term, where students engaged in discussion about and peer edited each other’s projects. According to senior Lainie Yank, the theme of the capstone this year was “identity.” The following are samples of the many projects presented, and it is far from an exhaustive list.  

Fifth-year Dana Abbo’s capstone was a musical analysis of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” dedicated to explaining how sound in the book is used to link the lives of two seemingly unrelated main characters who never meet, interact or even know each other. Abbo said she was inspired to look at sound because of her background as a double-degree student majoring in both English literature and vocal performance. Her interdisciplinary knowledge in both fields and her love of the book led her to pursue the topic.  

“[Woolf is almost] like a composer in the way she takes the sound and weaves it together […] so what I was arguing is the way she treated the sounds in the book is the way those characters’ lives were intertwined,” Abbo said in an interview. “It was not the topic I originally thought I was going to write about, but […] it was really fun and rewarding.”  

Fifth-year Evan Ney looked at Emily Dickinson’s American Civil War poetry. He had read Dickinson’s poetry in previous English classes and was interested in her use of sound as a literary device. 

“I always felt like there was so much going on with sound in her poetry but had a lot of trouble using formal elements like rhyme, alliteration, meter, etc. to say something meaningful about a poem,” Ney said. 

Also a double-degree student, Ney combined his knowledge from musical and literary fields in his approach to the topic. He said he hoped audience members at the presentation would gain additional insight on both Dickinson and poetic sound in general.  

Yank’s paper was on the retrospective focus on the complex mother-daughter relationship in Joan Didion’s memoir “Blue Nights.” Yank said she always knew she wanted to choose a Didion work for her capstone and had always been interested in the theme of motherhood in literature, having analyzed it many times before in her classes. Didion’s work reflects on her time as a lacking mother and the loss of her daughter, so Yank decided to explore the relational identity between the two women.  

“To me, Joan Didion is like my patron saint,” Yank said. “I have such a high view of Didion as a writer, and then to […] write a critical piece on her was something tough but important.”  

Senior Mary Boyle explored the concept of community identity and risks of individuality in Toni Morrison’s “Sula” through the titular main character’s pursuit of an unconventional lifestyle that did not reflect traditional 20th century racial and gender norms, that ended up “othering” her from the townspeople. Hailing from a tight Irish-Catholic community herself, Boyle said she was interested in how group identity influenced her own individual identity.  

Abbo expressed gratitude for her classmates in the seminar, whom she claimed helped foster much productive conversation.  

“I’m really grateful — we had a really great capstone class,” Abbo said. “From the very beginning, we all got each other […] it was just a fun group of people to work with. I [was] really excited to hear everyone’s presentation because some people — you edit their works throughout [the class] — and then other people you don’t really hear from until they’re done.”