Musing: On Analysing English Literature

Enjoying a classical work of literature is an enjoyment. Analysing the said classical work of English literature is a pain.

First and foremost, I don’t do well in terms of writing 10 pages of critique and analysis on classical works. If I have to write another academic essay on the concept of the sublime in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (which I admit, it was one of the few classical works of many-a-hundred pages that I enjoyed reading), I will scream.

Hundreds of other scholars have already written about the sublime, or any literary concept at all in the classical works – and most of my attempts at integrating a contemporary spin on the said literature has ended up with a convoluted, misdirecting mess. You are encouraged to make and state your argument differently, so I might as well cite scholarly source A against scholarly source B. Simple enough right? Wrong. You have to tie this example to the text, which sounds easier said than done, but paying special attention to not digress into a badly-done parodic thesis of scholarly source A+B. My past professors have advised me to not let the scholarly sources take rein of my arguments, but yet, at the same time I am expected to fit five different scholarly sources into a paper. When you are pitching your paper up against hundreds and thousands of other people who are writing on the similar subject, the expectations for your paper to shine would be drastically higher. The prof will probably read and grade your work with a more “been there done that” attitude. In your desperation to shine, you defeat the purpose of your thesis under confusing nuances and interpretation. Too many cooks spoil the soup, and too many academic lenses will blur and complicate your thesis.

I prefer writing about works in the contemporary sphere. I prefer writing about stories detailing the day-to-day lives of people. I like to commit myself to analyzing how people in our contemporary society act, and how the lifestyles of people can be translated into fiction. These works are more accessible to me, and with the said accessibility in mind, I can approach contemporary works and do better at it.

Hence, one of my favourite novels include Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For. Understanding the plights of protagonists who seek to live the western life against their first-generation-refugee parents’ means to preserve their traditional lives of their home country a la Dionne Brand’s novel is much more accessible and comprehensible to me. I have struggled without consulting Sparknotes when trying to understand Jane Austen’s titular Emma’s naiveté with respect to social class differences and her meddlesome matchmakery antics. I have taken classes in contemporary Sociology while completing my Sociology minor, and that has served to further my interest in reading and analyzing contemporary English literature in relation to the ebbs and flows of the very society we physically and socially surround ourselves in.

I personally will appreciate modern renditions of classic novels, i.e. with similar characters and a plotline that is translated to contemporary society. If I can’t make a connection to the text, I will be at a disadvantage in forging an academic argument. I like analyzing fast-paced, dynamic situations more than stagnant, “dead” situations.

“Musing: On Analysing English Literature” was published on June 15, 2013, which is part of my muses. Read more about Vincent Wong’s work at .

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