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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


The Department of English Honors Program is designed for English and American Literature and Culture majors interested in pursuing the extra challenges and rewards of the honors curriculum--a course of study that culminates in a substantial critical paper, the honors thesis. After the thesis is completed, the faculty advisor and a faculty reader review the thesis and award it highest honors, honors, or no honors.

Cover page of Preliminary Materials for a Theory of <em>Gossip Girl</em>

Preliminary Materials for a Theory of Gossip Girl


My thesis examines the ways in which gossip, intertextuality, and fashion intersect with affect, relationality, and the “Young-Girl” figure to form various discursive networks both within the world of Gossip Girl and extradiagetically, generating meaning on multiple levels. My analytic techniques include explicating the show, comparing it to outside texts, many of which it references onscreen, and examining the show’s impact on an increasingly digital, surveilled, and “connected” world and its lasting cultural imprint. I aim to find a middle ground between those people who critique Gossip Girl from a very specific theoretical and critical position, and its existence as a highly successful and popular television show in which many people, myself included, find value and artistry. I hope to contest the dichotomy of either condemning or valorizing a media relic that one may form strong feelings about due to its subject material, aesthetics, or the cultural moment it depicts, and instead represent Gossip Girl as an amalgamation of form, content, and rich theoretical ideas that engenders pleasure, value, and conflict in its audience members. I suggest that the show stands out in the genre of teen soap operas because of its dual relationship to a) art and critical theory and b) popular consumer culture.

Cover page of Emotional Objectification: Implications of the Consumer Object in Romantic Poetry

Emotional Objectification: Implications of the Consumer Object in Romantic Poetry


British Romanticism is commonly conceived as a turn to the interior and to nature in the midst of the major economic and social changes associated with the Industrial Revolution. Yet, the British Romantics also aimed to connect with one another and the reality of their age. As part of their grappling with industrial and consumer culture, the Romantics attempted to adopt the object as a mechanism of emotional expression in their poetry in order to create a new mode of communication which would allow them to best express themselves in an era which was fundamentally defined by the industrial object. In this thesis, I analyze how Keats, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, as representatives of the British Romantic poets, utilized the object as a form of personal expression. The object’s function as a figurative device was to act as a semiotic representation of the sentiments of the poet as the poet would displace their emotions onto it. Furthermore, the shared experience created by this emotional displacement served as a basis for a perceived connection between the poet and the object. The Romantics ultimately expanded the practice of emotional displacement beyond inanimate objects to marginalized bodies. However, the use of an object-oriented framework to use marginalized peoples to characterize Romantics’ experience served only to further marginalize them as it emotionally objectified them.

Cover page of A Social Disruption: The Decentering of the Individual in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction and its Challenges to Humanism, Posthumanism, and Neoliberal Individualism

A Social Disruption: The Decentering of the Individual in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction and its Challenges to Humanism, Posthumanism, and Neoliberal Individualism


This thesis carefully considers the presence of neoliberal individualism in contemporary dystopian fiction, paying particular attention to its influence over the characterizations of dystopian protagonists. Considering the emphasis on the individual’s perspective in both dystopian fiction’s formal legacy, as well as the prioritization of the individual above all else in neoliberal society, this thesis reads Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013), Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory (2013), Lin Ma’s Severance (2018), and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) as case studies the decentering of the individual’s position in dystopian narratives. This marked shift in focalization simultaneously disrupts the logic of neoliberal individualism, a form of individualism unique for its encouragement of society’s hyper-individualization, while taking cues from posthuman understandings of the human and nonhuman. Thus, the narrative space left by the decentering of dystopian protagonists is utilized by these four texts to imagine socially cohesive futures built around notions of interconnection and interdependence rather than isolation and separation. These novel forms of futurity do not conform to the isolating nature of the contemporary realities they are responding to. Instead, they present modes of existence that transcend both dystopian fiction’s as well as neoliberalism’s structures to present fluid understandings of humanity’s interrelationship with the human and the nonhuman alike.

Cover page of Historical Retrospection and Ambivalence in <em>A Tale of Two Cities</em>

Historical Retrospection and Ambivalence in A Tale of Two Cities


Although the origins of the historical novel could be traced back to seventeenth century France, the genre did not begin its rise to prominence until the nineteenth century as authors began to utilize the historical novel as a way to mitigate the confusions of a world ridden by revolutions and political changes. This thesis argues that, rather than mitigating historical perplexity, Charles Dickens’ historical novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859) further exposes the contradictions of the French Revolution, creating an ambivalent depiction of the period at large and ultimately revealing that historical retrospection itself must be ambivalent. This thesis will be discussing how Dickens amplifies a sense of ambivalence about the most important historical event of his age through acts of historical retrospection. Through his repeated use of parallels of time and space, of events, and of the characterization of his characters, Dickens doubles the reader’s vision of history. In particular, I look at how through the use of metaphors, such as Dr. Manette’s letter, Dickens strengthens the ambivalence of his historical novel by using the letter as a way to mimic his own novel, creating a scenario that proves how historical recollection lies within human memory. Furthermore, I show how the ambivalence of A Tale lies in Dickens’ usage of the unnamed narrator and this narrator’s ability to exert himself into the detached, omnipresent persona who functions as the historian of the novel.

Cover page of Experimenting on Oriental Women: Tracing Oriental Women's Representations in Western Discussion of Bodily Autonomy and Desire in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Experimenting on Oriental Women: Tracing Oriental Women's Representations in Western Discussion of Bodily Autonomy and Desire in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries


This thesis traces the Orientalist foundations of Western feminist discourses on women’s bodily autonomy and desire. The figure of the Oriental woman plays an integral role in Englishwomen’s discussions of Western women’s rights. Through Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s epistolary travel writing in her Turkish Embassy Letters (1763) and Charlotte Dacre’s novel Zofloya (1806), I explore the manner in which Oriental women are represented through different literary forms and at different stages of English feminist development. This leads to an examination of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and its relation to Lady Mary’s travel letters and Dacre’s novel. All three texts employ Oriental women to discuss how English and Western women can or cannot gain a form of autonomy within patriarchy. I argue that this discourse begins with Lady Mary’s observations of Turkish women’s alternative lives and the bodily and sexual autonomy that grants them a kind of mobility within patriarchy. Wollstonecraft uses the East-West binary in her treatise’s argument to depart from Lady Mary’s empowered Oriental woman figure; she claims that restriction of the body and of desire will enable Western women’s authority in patriarchy. Dacre then utilizes an East-West binary in her novel’s experiment with a Western woman’s transformation into an Orientalized woman. Dacre demonstrates that her Oriental woman character consequently becomes the enemy of, and brings about the downfall of, Western identity.

Cover page of Doomed Voyage: America's Evolving Relationship with <em>Moby-Dick</em>

Doomed Voyage: America's Evolving Relationship with Moby-Dick


In the years following Melville’s induction into the literary canon during the mid-twentieth century, scholars have dubbed Moby-Dick the “Great American novel” because of the endurance and malleability of Melville’s themes, especially those that praise or critique the core values of American democracy. Since World War II, rhetoricians have been resurrecting Melvillean political symbols—particularly the Pequod and the White Whale—to comment on the ideals and trajectory of the nation during nearly every national crisis that has arisen since the 1940s. Yet, in order for a nineteenth century text to evolve with America herself, either Melville’s abstract prose must lend itself towards perpetual modernization, or readers are subconsciously editing the text by extracting its timeless bits while ignoring its archaisms. To prevent the cultural revision of Moby-Dick, we must interpret Melville’s American allegory holistically, rather than isolating its situationally relevant aspects. By comparing interpretations of this thread of uniquely American symbols and themes found in over six decades of scholarship, this paper contemplates the benefits and dangers of forging a perpetually relevant text, as well as identifies a lack of scholarship that discusses the thematically integral ending of the novel, where the Pequod (America) falls to ruin. What core truths about American politics does Melville capture within the text? Why is it so easy to read ourselves and our modern world into the story, 170 years later? And, most importantly, what essential parts of the text are irrevocably lost when we do?

Cover page of Transmutation



This collection of poems aims to follow my ever-changing identity through its stages of growth and discovery. Each poem represents a step in the process of accepting and embracing my true self. The collection carries pieces ranging from focus on my family to my passion for various interests. Through them, I argue that I, like many others, am simultaneously a product and rejection of my environment. Together, these poems divulge snippets of my life and self as an individual. Tidbits of the various hardships I have overcome thus far intend to illustrate the physical, mental, and emotional journey I have traveled to better the lives of myself and my loved ones. Alongside self-discovery, the goal of these pieces is to call attention to societal stigmas of the communities I identify with (namely LGBTQ+ in this specific collection). I focus on using symbolism, alliteration, and recollections of childhood to realistically define myself.

Cover page of Fascination: Sixteen

Fascination: Sixteen


The first year in the United States would render a significant meaning to most immigrants. It is a time where strong adaptability is demanded, language barrier is palpable, and constant comparison with their homeland is inevitable. This autofictional novella describes a Korean family’s first full year in America. The year is 2002, the post-911 era, where the notion of immigration and the American dream felt different from before. This was also the time when CDs were gradually replaced by MP3 devices and “Rock is dead” sounded fitting due to the diminishing rock and roll band music. Gunn, a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, is hopeful for a new beginning but quickly meets a severe challenge of speaking English as a second language. He searches for help but instead faces the bullying inflicted on Korean-speaking newcomers who are disparagingly called “fobs.” At home, he helplessly watches his mother struggling financially while working for a difficult owner couple in Koreatown, his ten-year-old sister who says she wants to go back to Korea, and his father who comes and goes between Seoul and Los Angeles while fighting cancer. Falling in love with rock CDs especially of The Cure, Gunn finds emotional comfort in America that seems to give only hardship and suffering. Through his first-person point of view, this novella aims to express the voice of poor immigrant families, struggling English learners, victims of bullying, brokenhearted youth, and the fatherless.

Cover page of Blood as Reference to Fear in <em>Dracula</em>

Blood as Reference to Fear in Dracula


My research project intends to examine the function of blood in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Blood, in terms of the novel’s plot, functions as a way to either end, corrupt, or save an individual’s life. Its multi-functional status reveals its importance in the novel’s plot. However, this definition ignores the underlying function blood holds. The following paper explores blood in Dracula and how Stoker’s presentation of blood reveals fears surrounding religion, sexuality, xenophobia and social degradation, and disease. I intend to focus on the relationship between blood and these five specific anxieties. The immense popularity surrounding Stoker’s Dracula led to an array of literary criticism examining various aspects of the novel offering a multitude of theories. However, not many critics have explored blood on its own despite its significant role in the novel. An emphasis on blood and establishing a firm understanding of the symbolic meaning behind its usage offers a deeper and more insightful understanding which would further aid existing scholarship.