This project involves the analysis of three novels — Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Ann Petry’s The Street, and Toni Morrison’s Sula — featuring main characters who are forced to navigate realistic socio-economic environments rooted in racist, sexist, and classist systems of oppression in the United States of America. Through the process of completing close-readings of the novels, conducting extensive secondary research on historical contexts, and examining other scholarly criticisms and interpretations of these novels, I develop new insights into the main characters’ plights. To transfer this conceptual understanding into a more personal and empathetic one, I focused on the following questions when analyzing their actions, choices, and situations: What access do these characters have to agency, mobility, and other forms of control over their bodies, perceived identities, and daily lives? To what extent are these characters able or equipped to subvert, push back against, and work within these oppressive systems based on their particular historical and geographical situations? Keeping the previous questions in mind, how successful are these characters? Consideration of these questions and novels through a combination of socio-cultural lenses has allowed me to transition from being frustrated by these characters to being frustrated for them and more sensitive to their individual situations. My own exploration and development of a reading that emphasizes empathy and understanding provides me with insight into how incorporating such interpretations into secondary classrooms may help foster productive methods of recognizing various forms of prejudice.
Gioffre, Sophie, "Understanding the American Subaltern: An Exploration of Complex Literary Characters Through Socio-Cultural Lenses" (2018). English Summer Fellows. 17.
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