Twilight and the Dilemma of Desire

Original writing by Mary Kate Murray
Reading Response to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight
Submitted for ENG 324, Studies in Adolescent Literature
Professor Barbara Tannert-Smith
Winter 2015, Knox College

TwilightbookWhen Bella Swan, the plain, clumsy heroine of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, falls head-over-heels for the mysterious, omnipotent, all-powerful Edward Cullen, she might as well be having a love affair with a god. In fact, she refers to him several times as a portrait of Adonis, her angel, her savior. However, Edward Cullen is anything but the Christian ideal. He is a vampire–not only a murderer, but an inhuman monster. Traditionally, vampires are portrayed as Satan incarnate; they are charming, manipulative, and play on the temptations of their prey, making it seem as though their victims had an equal part in their own demise (not to mention the fangs, akin to that of a venomous serpent). The moral confusion of the vampire in Twilight creates conflict for the protagonist, Bella, who is unable to fulfill the literary tropes of virgin or whore, and thus, exists in a state of moral stagnation. Continue reading “Twilight and the Dilemma of Desire”


A Mask, a Veil, a Coffin: Abjection and the Female Body in German Literature, Art, and Film

Original writing by Mary Kate Murray
Submitted for German/Gender & Women Studies: Masks & Veils
Professor Lena Heilmann
Spring 2015, Knox College

“Know that it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you!…Look, I am not laughing now, crying, crying for you, Christine, who have torn off my mask and who therefore can never leave me again!…Oh, mad Christine, who wanted to see me!”
-Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera

Behind a mask, a body that lacks a face lacks the subjectivity of personality and facial expression. In German literature, art, and film, masks and veils serve to separate the subjectivity of a person from the body, making the body—particularly the female body—into an unfamiliar façade under which linger corporeal remains. The female body becomes a spectacle to be viewed, but lacks the subjective agency of anything more than an inanimate piece of art, a carnival act, or a freak show; the masked body is seen but cannot see, despite its inherently human capability to do so. That which is “neither subject nor object” becomes abject, as defined by Julia Kristeva, or that which one expels but cannot separate from entirely (1). One reacts to the abject through avoidance, the inability to stomach what the abject represents, and the simultaneous inability to look away. Kristeva refers to the abject as an “exclusion” or “taboo,” and the liminality of the abject body makes it unsettling, horrific, or uncanny. Viewing the female body as abject—without subjectivity or objectivity—causes the masked woman to be burdened with sexual taboos—those tendencies toward corporeal pleasure and pain that lurk beneath the surface of Western civilization despite its attempts to expel them. The masked body both intrigues and disgusts; the woman becomes a sexual freak show: mesmerizing and monstrous. The following essay explores how different German texts affirm and subvert the notion of the masked female body as an abject spectacle. Continue reading “A Mask, a Veil, a Coffin: Abjection and the Female Body in German Literature, Art, and Film”

Dangerous Words: Popular Rhetoric, the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Rise of U.S. Hegemony in East Asia

Original writing by Mary Kate Murray
Submitted for East Asian International Relations
Professor Michael Schneider
Winter 2014, Knox College

The United States had not yet reached a state of hegemony in the East by 1924, but there was a definite overarching presence of “American” cultural values in international diplomacy. Wilsonianism was an American approach to international relations which promoted free trade, democracy, self-determination, and openness among nations, as opposed to the European imperialist vision of exclusivity, neo-mercantilism, and secret alliances.[1] Because of the open nature of Wilsonianism, diplomacy itself was colored by public opinion when, in the past, the public had been uninvolved in political happenings.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, racial differences between the West and East awakened cultural anxiety in Americans as East-Asians began immigrating to the United States.  Past oppression by the West fueled agitation in Asians, who rightly believed the restriction of immigration and trade laws to be unjust. In 1924, America’s tenacity in upholding the values of openness proposed by Wilsonianism diminished with the ratification of the Anti-Japanese Immigration Act, which prohibited Japanese from entering the United States.

In the sphere of international politics, the credibility of American policy was under scrutiny due to its contradictions; namely, its promotion of friendly international relations in contrast to its racist legislation. Nevertheless, diplomatic correspondence between America and Japan often referenced the previously sheltered public as a force for change, signaling the increased universality of Wilsonian values and the burgeoning of American cultural hegemony in the East. Continue reading “Dangerous Words: Popular Rhetoric, the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Rise of U.S. Hegemony in East Asia”