GCSPrank Is Here

For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ms. in MS

The problem with Advanced English Literature, or any Advanced Literature course, is that it implies mastery or strong familiarity with the “basic” literature. Since nobody agrees what “basic literature” is, who’s to say what “advanced literature” is? The upshot of this is that then you’re a victim of the professor’s whims, notions and preferences within a framework that relates to literature like a camel resembles a horse.

My case: She was a feminist. Long-skirted, peasant-bloused, stubbled legs, no makeup and no bra. Many guys would have called her a word similar to “Dutch seawall,” but that would have been jumping to conclusions. My objection to her wasn’t the fact that she was a feminist, but her insistence that everything we read could be viewed only through a feminist lens.

By the second week of class, I took umbrage, a fancy phrase for “acted out.” When she remarked that she’d be teaching a course on “Great Women Authors,” I asked “A one-hour seminar?” Her reaction was a paragon of suffering patience. From that point on, not a class would go by without my challenging her statements.

It came to a head when we were discussing Jane Eyre. She assigned a paper on the topic of “Abused Jane.” Our professor insisted on seeing Jane as a puppet, downtrodden and emotionally-starved by a cruel society centered on Rochester. I went at the subject from another angle: Jane as the expression of free will.

I read dozens of commentaries and analyses of the novel (before the Internet, folks, so this was library-time galore.) I made sure to include views that supported her position along with excerpts that supported mine. My paper was a 12-page examination that framed her viewpoint while clearly stating the reasons for rejecting it in favor of my own.

I got a “C.” I shrugged, annoyed but not combative; I could take criticism half as well as I could dish it out. (Maybe less.) Until I read some of the other papers the students shared with me. A two-pager that misspelled “Eyre” four times and “Jane” twice got an “A.” But it called Jane a “poor suffering woman” and Rochester an “evil monster.” Another confused Jane with Rochester’s wife and remarked that “Rochester caused Jane’s madness like she caused the fire.” That one’s three pages, one of which was the title page, got a “B.”

In her office, the conversation was strained. I pointed out that my paper, if graded by the same standards as the rest, deserved more than a “C.” She said I had “flawed reasoning.” I asked her to point out where and how my reasoning was flawed. Silence. I placed the paper in front of her so she could refresh her memory. She shook her head and remained silent. I pointed out that I had all day, that I really wanted to hear where and how I’d gone wrong in my analysis of Jane Eyre.

I asked if my paper was disorganized. No. Was I off-topic? No. Did I use improper or irrelevant sources? No. Had I seriously misquoted or misrepresented any source? No. Did I commit major grammatical or spelling mistakes? No. Did I hand it in late? No. Was my paper’s tone disrespectful or sarcastic? “Not really.”

I looked at her. She had barely moved since I’d stressed how much I wanted to hear where I’d gone wrong. “I got a ‘C’ because you don’t agree with my opinion.” She nodded as if her neck was iron. “And that’s the only reason.” Another creaky nod.

I stopped going to the class and skipped the final. I was in college for my own reasons, not hers.

My final grade for Advanced English Literature was an “A.” When I dropped by to see her, she handed me my paper. She had written notes along the margins and on the backs of most of the pages. And she had changed the grade to an “A.”

I had to say it. “I don’t deserve this.” She gave me a sour look. “I’m through with you.” She walked past me, down the corridor and I never saw her again.


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