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Friday, April 24th

Lust, Hunger, and Class in Émile Zola’s The Belly of Paris

Margaret Davis

Faculty Mentor: Anna Igou, Ph.D.

Emile Zola’s nineteenth-century novel The Belly of Paris gives a rich commentary on the relationships between people, using food as a medium to illustrate socioeconomic values and gender dynamics. In this paper, I will closely examine how Zola breaks his characters into two groups, les maigres (the Thins) and les gras (the Fats), whose socioeconomic differences and political views are also reflected in the foods with which the author associates them. This also plays into how Les Halles, the marketplace which is also the eponymous setting of the novel, is illustrated as a belly in which the characters may be consumed in order to uphold the status quo or be expelled as revolutionaries.

Seen, yet Unknown: The Growth of a Boy in The Sky is Gray


Anslie Vickery, Winthrop University

Faculty Mentor: Leslie Bickford, Ph.D.

In The Sky is Gray, Ernest Gaines chooses to narrate from the perspective of eight-year-old James, who has little understanding of either the world he lives in or the challenges he faces because of his race. Since he is unable to profoundly grasp what he sees and hears, he often shares his love for his mother and his dreams of nice things to give to her instead of offering opinions on his experiences. Through his eyes, ears, and thoughts, we watch James learn more about his mother’s seemingly strange, prideful actions, and we observe as he develops into a young man willing to take action for her sake. To reduce his story to merely a cautionary tale of the effects of segregation would be to ignore the intricacies of his relationships with his mother, her pride, and his surrounding world, and it would further weaken the impact of James’ growth into manhood through his sensory experiences. This paper will approach the purpose of Gaines’ narrative style by focusing on James’ senses and the way he interprets what he sees, hears, and remembers. This paper also intends to draw connections between what he sees and hears his mother doing in the beginning of the story and the actions he takes to care for her in the end in an attempt to show how James has, through his sensory experiences, grown into the man his mother wants him to be.

Songs for the People: Music’s Recreation of the Black Identity in the Works of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin

Faith Rush, Winthrop University

While many critics acknowledge the important role of music in Ralph Ellison’s and James Baldwin’s works, they do not fully consider the importance music plays in developing the protagonists’ black identities. Music has embedded itself into African American culture since enslavement. While the sound of black music has changed over the centuries, music still poses a transformative power within the community, allowing their voices to take up space in a world that seeks to suppress them. This paper argues that music, specifically in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man and James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues,” highlights the importance of music to the development of the black identity. While the invisible man in Ellison’s novel only recognizes music’s importance in his reflection of recent events, Sonny fully places his identity in his music which is misunderstood by the narrator. The genres of jazz and blues, old folktales, and spirituals allow the protagonists in each text to define themselves in a society where assimilation is preferred. In looking at the history and development of blues and jazz within American and more specifically the black community, it will be argued that both texts merge music with psychological conflict to allow the protagonists to reveal that their transcendence of oppression begins when they recognize who they truly are.

Switching Suitcases: Holden's Novel for the Proletariat


Beth Warnken

Faculty Mentor: Leslie Bickford, Ph.D.

J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye has a difficult structure to pin down. This paper argues that this is because Holden exists outside of society’s superstructure, and although he has familial ties to the bourgeoisie, he longs to be a part of the proletariat. He makes this novel in an attempt to participate in Louis Althusser’s concept of production theory, and to establish an alternate hegemony. Holden’s rejection of prep schools, phoniness, and all the things that are representative of the bourgeoisie solidify his longing to become a member of the proletariat, and his symbolic swapping of suitcases highlights his desire to detach from his possessions. Although society’s control is ultimately too strong for Holden to overcome in the end, it is an enlightening novel on the reality of the intense struggle between the dominant hegemony and those attempting to revolutionize an alternative one.

The Man Who Cried Whale

Bailey Babb

Faculty Mentor: Kelly Richardson, Ph.D.

Captain Ahab from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is an enigmatic character. Perhaps even more enigmatic are the “forces” surrounding his obsession with the Whale. Is Ahab a pawn of fate? Is he a victim to God’s wrath? Is the Whale the embodiment of evil, a supernatural force that curses Ahab? Or is it Ahab’s “monomania,” his madness, that drives him to pursue Moby Dick? If any of these are true, Ahab is not completely at fault for the deaths of the crewmen of the Pequod and instead is a victim to forces beyond his control. This essay seeks to prove that Ahab is in control of Ahab and that he is solely to blame for the tragic ending of his men, his ship, and himself. Each claim to innocence (fate, God, prophecy, curse, the Whale’s supernatural ability, and madness) is called into question. Using the text as well as scholarly research, each of these is vindicated as being the puppeteer behind Ahab’s drive to hunt and kill the Whale. Instead, Ahab is left exposed to the reality that it is his actions and his arrogance that lead to destruction, and that each of these “forces” are truly only shields, used to deflect the full extent of the blame.

Tracking Trauma: An Analysis of Sula

Lyric E. Knuckles, Winthrop University

Faculty Mentor: Leslie Bickford, Ph.D.

This paper analyzes how racism constructs the characters in Toni Morrison’s Sula and how discrimination can lead to corrupt traits. Through a New Historical lens and a tracing of family history within the text, it becomes clear that the characters are shaped by discriminatory policies such as segregation. In this paper, I trace the characters’ lineage to assess how racism infiltrates generation after generation. Although critics such as Ali Salami and Naeem Nedaee argue that the characters are free from their context, my paper demonstrates how trauma functions as an heirloom by creating negative traits, and in turn also causing the traits to affect each descending family member. In conclusion, by analyzing the history of the Black community in America, more recent causes of discriminatory incidents become connected through the context. Viewing Sula through this point of view, I demonstrate how it is impossible to view the characters as solely corrupt individuals. Their circumstances, created by an arbitrary concept such as racism, cannot define them alone. Through these means, Sula herself becomes a victim rather than the perpetrator.