Woes of a Graduate Student of English Literature

The blogger prepares for her first official conference that will take place in two weeks–making a crucial decision over whether or not to display nude bodies on her Powerpoint slide.  She swears that there is a point to be gained by it (and it’s part of the text, so what’s the problem!), but relents because others may shudder…or associate her religion with the ways of a true libertine.  

Oh, the woes of representation in modern society! Be gone! She thinks to herself.

The blogger ponders on her conference paper, and the fact that she hasn’t started writing it yet. In her despair, the blogger swoons dramatically on a chaise longue. And, after a sudden awakening, the blogger falls yet into a second swoon upon finding her MA reading list beside her. 

Old & Middle English:


Prose poems: “The Wanderer”, “The Seafarer,” “The Dream of the Rood,” “The Wife’s Lament,” “The Battle of Maldon,” “Deor”

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


Pier’s Plowman (B text)

Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal

Ancrene Wisse

Gower’s Confessio Amantis

The Book of Margery Kempe

Drama: Abraham and Isaac, Second Shepherd’s Play and Crucifixion

Medieval lyrics

Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur

Early American:

Jonathan Edward’s Personal Narrative

Benjamin Franklin Autobiography

Brockden Brown’s Wieland

Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry

Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

Melville’s Moby Dick

Thoreau’s Walden

Douglass’ Narrative

Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” “Song of Myself” “Crossing Brookling Ferry” “Out of the Cradle” and “When Lilacs Last”

Emily Dickinson’s poetry

Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady

Wharton’s House of Mirth


Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury and Absalom Absalom!

Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Forster’s A Passage to India

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

Henry James’ The Ambassadors

Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

G. B. Shaw’s Major Barbara

Hellman’s The Children’s Hour

Poetry of Auden, Hart Crane, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and W.B. Yeats

Critical Theory:

Plato’s Republic

Aristotle’s Poetics and Longinus

Wordsworth’s Preface to the Lyrical Ballads

Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry”


Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps and Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History

Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble

Gloria Anzaldua’s “La consciencia de la mestiza” Toward a New Consciousness”

Edward Said’s Orientalism

Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction

Mikhail Bakhtin’s “Discourse in the Novel”

Susan Lanser “Intro. to Fictions of Authority”

The second black-out takes the blogger into a dream of the nightmare-ish kind. She dreams about Dooms Day; that is, the day of her MA exam. While she waits for her committee to settle, she worries about her veneration for old white Eurocentric male writers–the problematic Conrad-Melville-Hemingway-Faulkner kind. The dreaming blogger suddenly remembers Zora Neale Hurston, relieving her of her predisposition and guilt. Yes!, she isn’t a conditioned literary-racist-misogynist after all! She remembers the amount of work she has done on Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God and begins to feel better about her condition. She reminds herself that she loves Tony Morrison and Langston Hughes!

The blogger dreams that she is sitting in a dark room with a spotlight onto her pale face when the interrogation begins. What theories have you encountered, Ms. M____, that you find helpful in taking a postcolonial approach to Hemingway? Or, what critical pieces would make an interesting read from a disabilities studies perspective to Le Morte D’Arthur? The blogger silently curses the fact that she spent too much time watching the Food Network instead of reading theory.

Realizing that she hadn’t thought about the possibility of these questions, the blogger suddenly falls at the feet of her Literary Masters and begs them to have mercy on her.  “I, I, I…!” She stutters between sobs. Her committee, quite pleased at her Pamela-style performance,  reward her Virtue with a standing ovation.

In confusion, the dreaming blogger swoons (with elegance–as all true heroines do) and awakens from her stupor only to find herself drooling among Hemingway criticism, Craig Thompson’s Blankets and a bump on her head.


2 thoughts on “Woes of a Graduate Student of English Literature

  1. Beautifully written, masha’Allah, and a pretty funny. Not sure you meant it to be funny though. And I hope to God that isn’t a picture of your study area, cause if it is, I got just one word for you sis: DAMN!

  2. It was meant to be satirical, so worry not. If I can’t laugh at myself, then grad school woes are worthless, no? I’m also taking a class on the English novel, which may be self evident by this twisted sense of humor, lol.

    Brother, thank God I don’t drool over my books, but yes, my room is a royal mess of papers, book and post-it notes. 🙂

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