In my previous post, I mentioned that I’m taking an online course in Fantasy & Science Fiction through Coursera. This course helped remind me that I am a Great Procrastinator and can only do anything at The Very Last Minute (if at all).
And yet, I’ve now met two deadlines. Hurray for me!
It’s actually been a bit of a struggle. The course is flying by, the reading list demanding, and it would appear that my critical reading has slowed to a snail’s pace. How on earth did I do this in university?
Oh right, I mastered the art of writing essays on books I haven’t finished.
The second week of the course brought me to Wonderland, through the eyes of Alice. I finished that book, though only the day before my essay was due. I came up with a decent (I think) thesis, wrote my piece sometime in the wee hours of the night, and, feeling pretty good about myself, went to submit it.
At this point, I learned that I’d muddled the maximum word count, writing just under 600 words. The submission form would accept no more than 320 words.
I had two options and five hours. Option A: edit and cut mercilessly. Option B: start over.
Since I’d fallen horribly in love with my piece, I decided to go the route of Option A. I took to task with Stephen King’s advice ringing in my ears: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” (King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.)
I cut and I slashed and I murdered those darling ideas mercilessly. And somehow, with three hours left on the clock, I got that piece down to 320 words (exactly), and could click submit. Thank goodness. I was a blurry mess, aching to sleep and finding no meaning in the written word anymore.
It was received pretty well via the peer evaluation process (maybe I’ll talk about this one day in some depth). Phew.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a tale in which a young girl struggles to define her sense of self. Our protagonist is repeatedly asked to explain who she is to a varied cast of characters. Most memorably, the Caterpillar, rather than greeting Alice, asks “‘Who are you?’”. Alice never supplies a satisfactory reply.
Since Carroll lets the reader know that both forays into Wonderland were the dreams of this little girl, this reading has reconciled Freud’s dream work into Adventures and presumes that as Alice slept, her unconscious mind grappled with what her conscious mind found too difficult to reconcile.(1)
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development also comes into play. This describes seven-year-old Alice within the Competence stage, wherein the child develops a sense of self-esteem with regard to her peers(2). The Wonderland community constantly confuses and questions her, and though she tries to defend her sense of self, she resigns easily to her designated role. The White Rabbit thinks she’s his housemaid; she doesn’t correct him. The Sheep tells her “‘… you’re a little goose;’” she doesn’t protest further. The Unicorn declares her “‘a fabulous monster;’” Alice quickly gets “quite used to being called ‘the Monster’”.
Since these are dream companions, using Freud’s work, we see that it is not these animals questioning Alice’s claim to self, rather, it’s her own unconscious mind, since these peers are manifestations of her “repressed conflicts”(1). Her unconscious mind has generated a society within which she can evaluate her sense of self.
Alice also questions herself: “‘Who in the world am I?’”. These moments of self-interrogation are accompanied by some unusual event and it is these unusual events that remove the fear accompanying a crisis of self. Through this motif, the text goes beyond existing psychosocial work, suggesting that while Alice’s conscious mind is using community to develop a sense of self, her subconscious mind has moved on psychosocially, trying to determine who she is.
This week was a whole other story.
The reading was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I quickly realised that I’d never read this book before. So I settled in. This story is the grandpa of vampire tales. It’s amazing to see how Stoker lays out the things that we take to be “true” of vampires: the pointed teeth, no reflection in the mirror, sleeping in a coffin. Apparently, Dracula also had hairy palms, which I’ll admit to having a little bit of a giggle over (yes, I’m apparently 12). This story is the original — no stupid twinkling in the sun and similar.
I didn’t finish it.
The essay was due Tuesday morning. Monday night, I decided to plough through the book, read as much of it as I could, rather than try to write an essay based on the first 116 pages of the novel. I could get up early today and easily scribble out 320 words.
When my alarm went off this morning, my lamp was on and the book was in my hand, thumb holding my place on page 137. Oops. No matter, I wrote my essay. I had a couple of hours to come up with something.
This essay was not my proudest work. I blathered a bit to fill space, and still only came up with 302 words. I ended up writing something about how Stoker uses Dracula to grapple with the concept of death and mortality. It was fine, but not great. Some (most) of the comments I received mentioned that there didn’t seem to be a conclusion, and truth be told, there really wasn’t. I just sort of stopped writing and clicked the submit button.
It’s a shame really, because this book is great. If I had more time (er, if had managed my time more effectively), I would have finished the book. Written an essay with my original idea. Made it great. Or you know, finished the one I wrote.
Stay tuned: you never know when I’ll finish the book and/or the essay …
Books This Post:
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll.
- Dracula, Bram Stoker.
- McLeod, S. A. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Sigmund-Freud.html .
- Erikson’s Stages of Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.learning-theories.com/eriksons-stages-of-development.html .