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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 Utopia by a Thousand Cuts: Melodrama and the Queer Art of Self-Harm in Hanya Yanagihara’s <em>A Little Life</em>

Utopia by a Thousand Cuts: Melodrama and the Queer Art of Self-Harm in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life


This thesis analyzes the 2015 novel A Little Life’s numerous connections to melodrama, drawing links between Hanya Yanagihara’s writing and historical characteristics of the melodramatic mode. Beyond a basic conception of melodrama as exaggerated and over-the-top, there lies a complex history dating back hundreds of years. Yanagihara does not, however, simply provide an overview of melodrama’s past in A Little Life ; she also looks forward into melodrama’s future. The central argument of this thesis concerns our traumatized main character, Jude: what if we dare read his repeated self-harm as a kind of art that pushes the limits of melodrama to the body? Backed by close readings of Jude’s cutting, I will propose that his daily private acts of masochism can and should be read through the lens of artistic creation, as he navigates an aesthetic realm defined by both immense pain and utopian possibility. I will suggest Yanagihara queers melodrama by imagining Jude’s cutting—an act of intense feeling he deliberately performs without an audience—as an anti-theatrical, yet melodramatic art form. In making this argument, I will touch upon multiple facets of art history ranging from the body-art movement of the 1960s and 70s, to the earlier history of the modernist closet drama originating in the 19th century. By theorizing Jude’s self-injury as art, we allow for the queer possibility of a nonnormative, audienceless melodrama that ultimately allows Jude to glimpse a utopian world where he is no longer afflicted by his childhood trauma.

Cover page of A War of Roses: An Examination of Tudor Mythography in Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy of History and George R.R. Martin’s, <em>A Song of Ice and Fire</em> Series

A War of Roses: An Examination of Tudor Mythography in Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy of History and George R.R. Martin’s, A Song of Ice and Fire Series


The matter of how much George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series drew from William Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy of History is a debate among critics and academic scholars. George R.R. Martin defends the darkness of his work with the claim of historical accuracy, particularly concerning the Wars of the Roses. What becomes overlooked is the influence of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI (Parts I, II, and III) and Richard III in the perception of the Wars of the Roses. A few critics accuse Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy of History of diminishing historical complexities to promote what is known as the Tudor myth. The Tudor myth is a form of realist mythography that takes historical figures and makes evil of them by painting them as larger than humans. They achieve this by generating discourses on supernatural creatures. The Tudor chroniclers then attach these discourses to historical figures like Richard III and Margaret of Anjou. Thus, academics often accuse Martin’s, A Song of Ice and Fire series of promoting a form of historical mythography. My thesis examines this reductionist framing of William Shakespeare and George R.R. Martin, specifically regarding Richard III and Margaret of Anjou and their parallels to Tyrion and Cersei Lannister. Despite the Tudor influence, Shakespeare and George R.R. Martin demonstrate how families and dynasties become forums for creating power. The construction of these powerful systematic forums ends up breaking people. My thesis will look at some of these characters who end up on the sidelines rife with anger due to the stark ethical schema of evil forced upon them.

Lividity in Pink


My thesis project is a video game.

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Cover page of Sadomasochism in <em>Jane Eyre</em>: A Psychological Exchange of Power

Sadomasochism in Jane Eyre: A Psychological Exchange of Power


At first glance, the concept of a sadomasochistic relationship seems to be relatively modern as its presence often co-exists with the practice of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Sadism/Submission, Masochism) in the 21st century. However, as this thesis argues, the nineteenth-century roots of the term demonstrate that the practice of sadomasochism is not only apparent in Victorian fiction but central to its discussions of power. By examining Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, this thesis will explore the ways in which different characters in the novel gesture towards performing sadism, masochism, and sadomasochism in their relationships. The analysis of these practices will take place through a psychological lens, thus reflecting on how sadomasochism occurs in Jane Eyre as a psychological exchange of power instead of a sexual one. Furthermore, by looking at different institutions in Jane’s life, including Gateshead, Lowood School, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and Ferndean Manor, I will investigate how they helped her come to terms with suffering, find pleasure in pain, and develop sadomasochistic desires.

Cover page of Evergreen



Evergreen is a collection of poems about many things: mothers, Korean women, tragic love, and trees, both evergreen and not. It traces a line through the women, real and imagined, who have shaped my family, and whom I deeply desire to know, because their lives have led me to where I am now. May these voices of dancers, musicians, court ladies, and others be a way to remember my ancestors, and more deeply and fully know myself.

Cover page of (Re)Creation



In this autofiction novella, a young Chinese and Korean-American girl goes to college with a strong protestant Christian background. Hoping to take more ownership of her faith, she joins Genesis Church, a hip Asian-American church in Los Angeles during her freshman year. She quickly makes friends, finding the community and sense of belonging that she’s always searched for and enters her first relationship with a Chinese-American student involved in the college ministry’s leadership. As this seemingly perfect Christian relationship progresses, her religious boyfriend pressures her sexually, while also blaming her for not preventing this “sin.” After painful experiences a therapist later defines as rapes, she finally leaves her boyfriend. The novella opens after she’s left the relationship; she goes to the church’s pastor and his wife, but their support is flimsy and non-committal. She seeks comfort from her family as well, but her parents are judgmental about her lapsed virginity. Her roommate, a non-believer, becomes her main source of support. The novella follows her recovery and her attempts to integrate the ideas she inherited from her upbringing about virginity, femininity, and Christianity, with the person she’s now becoming.

Cover page of “I’ve Never Heard Silence Quite this Loud”: The Complexity of Taylor Swift’s Neutral Star Text

“I’ve Never Heard Silence Quite this Loud”: The Complexity of Taylor Swift’s Neutral Star Text


Taylor Swift has secured her place as one of the most dominant stars in pop music by maintaining a diverse fanbase. I argue that she has achieved this diversity by constructing a neutral star image that is widely palatable and refrains from repelling certain demographics. Numerous things help form a star image, and Swift has particularly cultivated a neutral image across her music, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts, Netflix specials and documentary, interviews, and her apparent refusal to feud with other celebrities. This cultivated neutrality results in Swift’s star image being more complex and contradictory than her peers in pop music. Traditionally, people would not think of neutrality and complexity as interrelated. The Oxford English Dictionary defines neutrality as “an intermediate state or condition, not clearly one thing or another; a neutral position, middle ground,” and complex as “consisting of or comprehending various parts united or connected together; formed by combination of different elements; composite, compound. Said of things, ideas, etc.” Yet, Swift’s neutrality ironically makes her star image particularly multifaceted. These techniques contribute to Swift’s pop presence as an anomaly: unlike her peers, Swift’s neutral persona has allowed fans across the political spectrum to embrace her. I will look at her alt-right fandom and her young, queer fandom to compare and contrast their attraction to her. In this thesis, I will explore the sociopolitical complexity of star texts and the increased ambiguity that Swift’s strategies of neutrality have brought to her star image.

Cover page of Neurodivergent Diagnoses Explained in Abstract Metaphors in Lauren Slater’s <em>Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir</em>

Neurodivergent Diagnoses Explained in Abstract Metaphors in Lauren Slater’s Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir


A metaphor can be used to simplify complex ideas and make them more palatable to readers. It is a tool that can bring words to life—literally. The use of a metaphor is not just a literary technique, but a psychological one because a writer can manipulate words in order to connect to their reader, controlling the way their readers perceive what they have written. Metaphorical language takes imagination, to write, and understand. This allows a writer to convey their emotions in a much more creatively historical way. This technique reveals emotions and experiences when no standard vocabulary exists, enabling abstract readings. This is what Lauren Slater does in her book, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir. Slater takes a neurodivergent disorder, epilepsy, and uses it as a metaphor to describe the tumultuous relationships and traumas she has experienced. Using a cripistemological lens, I will explore how this technique inspires readers to grasp the complex relationships that she has, and how it helps them gain a greater understanding of a disorder that is difficult to appreciate and comprehend without metaphor.

Cover page of Summer’s Dawn

Summer’s Dawn


Summer’s Dawn is a fantasy novella set in the fictional world of Lothrium, which is modeled after Late Medieval England. The novel follows the protagonist, Quinten Wesker, a wine merchant from a once prominent house whose fortunes have so diminished that now their greatest asset is a single rickety wagon, which Quinten uses to travel through the bandit ridden forest of Hilgard. With him are two escorts: Draven, a quiet, yet fierce guard hailing from the icy northern tip of Lothrium, called the Frost; and Percy, a fiery youth sent by Quinten’s potential business partner at the Alwyn Estate. But along the way, Draven proves himself to be a dark force that threatens Quinten’s life. Summer’s Dawn is a low fantasy novella, as it takes place in an ordinary world where magical forces are minimal–yet they do intrude at times, often to disastrous results. The novella explores the themes of heroism and redemption in the face of overwhelming adversity, as they are navigated by a psychologically atypical protagonist.

Cover page of “Between Gloom and Laughter”: Female Longing, Unhappiness, and Structures of Absence in the Works of Virginia Woolf

“Between Gloom and Laughter”: Female Longing, Unhappiness, and Structures of Absence in the Works of Virginia Woolf


This thesis begins by asking: How does Virginia Woolf contend with the positionality of the ignored woman within literary narratives, structures, and histories? What about the yearning, unhappy women that reside on the plot's edges of Woolf’s fiction, who find themselves displaced and suspended – by their own longing– from the narratives in which they reside? In a series of readings of Jacob’s Room, her first experimental novel but still one of her most undertheorized, I argue that while Woolf’s work uncovers this absence, she refuses to patch up its damage on literary history by merely filling it, or relocating these disappearing women back into our line of sight. Instead, she asks what limitless structure might arise from the discomfort of a woman’s heaving sobs. By laying out the truncated desires of the forgotten women who disappear from the novel almost as soon as they’re introduced, I demonstrate the narrative potential Woolf locates in the absence found by female characters who vacillate between abandoning their unfulfilling position in the marriage plot and untethering their desire from narrative altogether. What results is an examination of what is unwritten and how women absent themselves from a fixed narrative and time through reading and sleeping. Finally, through tears and laughter, I propose an argument that finds both the productivity and loss offered by disappearance and absence. Ending with “A Woman’s College from Outside,” a chapter cut from Jacob’s Room and published as an independent short story, I argue that Woolf’s reproduction of the very thing she critiques about literature, that is, this disappearance, becomes the site of queer possibility.