Characteristics of an English Major
Would you consider being an English major?
I am an English major.
When I say that I have a Bachelor’s degree in English I get an almost universal response: ‘Are you going to be a teacher?’ ‘No’ I tell them. Well, maybe? My reasons for becoming an English major were as follows: I've always had an interest in the subject yet I felt as though I wasn't learning. Let me say, I will spell this word out since it might raise a few eyebrows. I didn't learn sh*t in my high school English classes and I felt as though there was more to literature than obsessing over the symbolism or writing in a way that fits a mold, but lacked creativity. But my writing skills did need some more improvement, not to mention my favorite authors were English majors and I had a secret desire to be a best selling author.
One of the things we learn in our writing classes is to not quote from the Internet. Urbandictionary.com defines an English major as follows:
“Along with Philosophy and International Relations, English is arguably the most difficult college major in the Humanities. This is largely due to the fact that being an English major encompasses the study of several other fields, including, but not limited to philosophy, psychology, history, sociology, law, and political science. English majors read and write far more than any other major, and often suffer from severe caffeine addiction (or worse), insomnia, and manic depression. Despite what lobotomized Business majors believe, English majors (like many humanities majors) seek graduate school enrollment and end up with J.D.s, M.B.A.s, L.L.M.s, or Ph.D.s. Thus, they end up in lucrative careers with sexy ass women. But best of all, they actually learn how to think and generally live rewarding lives because of that.” I am still in the infancy of my own career path. As of today, I cannot verify whether this statement is true. However, if I travel a journey filled with sexy ass women and men, I will let you know.
Readers and Opinionated
What makes an English major, you may ask. English majors are avid readers. The number of reading assignments feel as though we are reading a novel a week, except this literature does not always include writing with a narrative, but essays, tracts, as well as literary criticism, that provide background information behind our assigned reading.
English students take this copious reading, analyze it for meaning, form an opinion and communicate our ideas, in voice and in writing. We act as lawyers on paper, transitioning smoothly from prosecutor to defense in our effort to persuade the audience. The thesis in the essay is the anchor to our prosecution, the heart of our papers. The supporting arguments act as battlements providing defense against the contrary opinion to our own. We have been known to be ‘too opinionated’ or ‘read too deeply into the text’ to the point that it could be argued as, dogmatic. As an example, as I was researching, I came across a blog titled: 20 things an English major would understand. At number 10, the author wrote that as English students we are encouraged to think that "Everything must have a deeper meaning" and she included a diagram to illustrate this concept. The picture shows a venn diagram where one circle is labeled “What the Author Meant.” The circle on the right is labeled “What your English teacher thinks the author meant”. Underneath the circles, there is an example passage and a comparison between what the professor believes what the author implied in that passage versus what the author actually meant. The passage says: "The curtains were blue". The professor believes that the curtains imply the author’s “immense depression and his lack of will to carry on.” What the author meant: "The curtains were f***ing blue”.
Curiosity and an Eclectic education
But I feel that the quality that makes an English major an English major is not whether they can come to a conclusion if Hamlet was insane, or not insane, neither is it having an ability to type an essay into the wee hours of the night with a deadline for tomorrow. I feel that students who decide to study English are curious people. What do I mean by curious. The best literary analysis comes from a comprehension of not just the work at hand but having an understanding of the historical context in which it was written. The political events which occurred during that time period, to the power of the church, insofar as the intellectual movement in Europe all play an influence in a deeper understanding of literature. Take for example, John Milton's Paradise Lost. Paradise Lost is written in an epic poem, similar in style to the Classical epic poetry such as the Illiad and the Odessey. It traces the Fall of Mankind as well as Satan's fall from an archangel to the dark side. The war in heaven ignites because Satan feels envious that the Son became God's chosen one and declares war. Satan's actions and his rhetoric that God rules as a 'tyrant' could be a historical reference to the reasons behind Parliamentarians overthrowing the increasingly unpopular Charles I. Biblical and Classical mythological references pepper throughout the piece. In the opening to Book Seven, Milton asks Uranina the muse for his own protection as well as the poem's pleading that in his attempt to write the great English epic poem, he feels that he may become like Orpheus, who used his gifts to better the world but ultimately lost his life when Bacchus’ followers tore his body apart.
Truth with a capital "T"
An English major seeks to understand meaning behind the text. Going back to Milton's example, Milton was known as a political commentator during his lifetime. He wrote treatises expressing his opinions on kingship, regicide and divorce among others. During a time when marriage was meant for economic stability, Milton argued that the purpose of marriage should be for companionship and not for politics or continuing a lineage. Reading this text we ask ourselves: Why does Milton think the way he does? When Milton argues for ‘ideal marriage’ does he actually mean a Platonic friendship? Does Milton’s views on marriage influence how we should interpret Adam and Eve’s relationship in Paradise Lost? What does he mean when he writes "conversation is the chiefest and the noblest end of marriage?" As we read literature, we learn about the author’s time and place but not only that, we expose ourselves to many disciplines in the humanities. We learn ways of thought that may be different from our own and we get to experience reality through the author’s eyes.
The English major likes the challenge to question and to think. The reason why we read so ‘deeply’ in the text is because we want to discover a certain ‘Truth’, what it means to live the human experience. As “secret” writes, “Science… may have the key to understanding our existence and improving our livelihood, but language and art (both the study of English students) humanizes our lives. Humans are separate from animals because they can think, feel, hope and love. They do not want only existence, but yearn for more, for a meaning.” The critical thinking skills we utilize during literature analysis and especially poetry analysis, allow us to discover what is common among human relationships, if thoughts and feelings that motivated men and women from say, the 17th century could still resonate with people today. The curious mind and aspiring philosopher I'm sure will salivate at this chance to learn a broad education. English majors are more than just readers and writers, they are complex and inquisitive people, ready to tackle the toughest questions, a fire burning inside.
Characteristics of an English Major by StellaSee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.