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Name: Kelly Grab
Honors in: English
Hometown: Bainbridge, PA
Major(s): English with a photography minor
Title of project: A Different Kind of Same Thing: The Continuity of Women’s Issues in 20th Century American Drama as Analyzed in Trifles and Fefu and Her Friends
Abstract or brief descrption: Through the exploration of two twentieth century American plays, this project underlines the continuity of women’s issues in America. The texts that have been examined for this project are Trifles, by Susan Glaspell and Fefu and Her Friends, by Maria Irene Fornes. They have been examined thematically—focusing on the destructive potential of societal pressures, the devaluation of women by men, and women’s combative measures, specifically the importance of gender solidarity through shared experience. The texts have also been historicized in order to complicate the relationship between theatrical form and content. In addition, this project examines performative practice, and how female playwrights represent women in their work.
How did you get interested in your topic: This project has evolved drastically over the course of the past year. I was originally inspired by a paper I wrote in Dr. Tabor’s American Drama class about a Revolutionary War text, The Contrast by Royall Tyler, and a Civil War drama, Shenandoah by Bronson Howard. In those two texts I examined the American woman’s identity and specifically the need for female solidarity. When I proposed my honors project I had intended to examine six texts—The Contrast, Shenandoah, and Trifles in addition to Getting Out by Marsha Norman, Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, and The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. These are quite diverse texts and at the time, I was ambitious enough to think I could adequately examine and represent the American woman’s identity in all six plays, which span almost 300 years. In an effort to streamline and focus on what I am most interested in, I chose to look at two texts situated against the backdrop of the twentieth century. The twentieth century marked an era in which female playwrights began to document their own experience unlike the dramas written by men before them. Characterized by the Great Depression, various international wars, the Civil Rights movement, and industrial, sexual, and technological revolutions, the twentieth century was a time of drastic social change. Both of these texts focus on the importance of gender solidarity to resist social, patriarchal, and marital pressures on women over the course of the twentieth century.
Do you intend to research your topic further? If so, how? I will be attending IU Bloomington to pursue a MS in Higher Education. I hope to use literature as a point of entry in my research—specifically the skills I have maintained as it pertains to character analysis, historical, and cultural analysis. Cultural literacy and canon formation is important when discussing undergraduate curriculum choices—specifically for the evolving college student and the millennial generation. I would also like to expand this project by adding other 20th century texts—perhaps some of the ones I originally cut from my proposed project, such as Getting Out by Marsha Norman (1977) and Machinal by Sophie Treadwell (1928) and The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl (2004). This project could also later be expanded to include the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—linking the continuity of women’s issues as an evolution of feminine identity since the Revolutionary War.
How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? My honors project taught me a lot about academic curiosity, persistence, and endurance. At first, I didn’t think I could write 100 pages, but slowly I began to ask more thoughtful questions as a result of my research, and I could have written another 500 if I had had the time. This project also reaffirmed the importance of self-imposed deadlines and sticking to them no matter what. Procrastinators beware—the honors program is not for you.
How has the department (or faculty advisor) prepared you for the future? The English Department faculty, specifically Dr. Tabor, provided me with the critical thinking skills, oral and written competency, and inspiration through thought-provoking questions that engage my curiosity. I’ll always be grateful for the potential Dr. Tabor and the other faculty saw in me, and their willingness to be at my disposal.
What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? Pick a topic that you are truly passionate about. Do not pick something solely because there is a lot of research on the topic or you already know something about it. You will need to be engaged with this project for the next year, so make it interesting. Don’t be afraid to pick something obscure. Have a good working relationship with your advisor. Plan ahead, make a schedule and stick to it—no matter what. Front load work in the first semester. It will make for a more enjoyable second semester. And most importantly, have fun—an honors project is a lot of work but it’s not worth it if you don’t enjoy it.