Snape: The Abject Hero

In chapter 7 of Karen Coats’ book entitled Looking Glasses and Neverlands, we are exposed to the culmination of the book as a whole. In each chapter, up to this point, Coats has been unfolding her study of children’s literature, using Jacques Lacan as a foundation for her work. In the last chapter, called, “Abjection and Adolescent Fiction,” Coats moves away from her usual format of including and explaining multiple Lacanian themes and instead focuses on one primarily: abjection, and its prevalence in adolescent literature.

Coats jumps right in, in chapter seven, immediately illustrating her thesis on page 138, using the bone-chilling example of the Columbine shootings in 1999. According to Coats, both Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the shooters at Columbine, embodied what it means to be abject; an outsider. In Coat’s own words, abject individuals are those who have “an intensely ambivalent relationship toward the walls that prevent him or her from fitting in.” (138) Coats goes on to add that, often times, the constant tension of hating those who possess social connections, at the same time as desiring those connections for oneself, results in violence or aggression. Essentially, abjection means to “operate at the social rim.” (138) Additionally, those who push others into the realm of the abject tend to view those individuals as not “clean and proper,” but anathemas to their own social realm.

But in chapter 7, Coats does not simply define abjection, painting it like an inherent unhealthy thing. Instead, she focuses on its prevalence in adolescent fiction and the ways by which those who are abject can escape the confines of abjection. One of her examples of abjection in adolescent literature is the story called Whirligig. Written by Paul Fleischman, Whirligig follows a character named Brent Bishop, a teenager who could be considered both “socially abject…and psychologically abject” (152). In the story, Brent Bishop embodies abjection. As is common with most abject adolescents, Brent has moved from state to state, and finds himself continually in doubt as to where he is. As Coats puts it, “With every move, he checks to make sure the proper ear is pierced, the proper clothes available, the proper hairstyle effected.” Brent embodies abjection, and is even visually abject when he shows up to a party dressed in the “wrong” attire. When his attempts at winning over a girl he likes fail, Brent reaches his limits of humiliation – of not fitting in to that social realm in which he desires to fit – and leaves the party in anger. On his way home, Brent closes his eyes while driving his car, in an attempt to commit suicide. He crashes into another car, but ends up surviving. The other driver, a girl named Lea, however does not. But this is where the transformation takes place.

As restitution for his act, Lea’s mother asks Brent to construct four whirligigs and to take them to the four corners of the U.S. In doing so, Brent encounters Lea through his artwork, and ends up breaking through the realm of abjection and into acceptance by other artists and eventually shares his story with others, accepting his place in the human community.

Though Coats focuses much on the realm of abjection, she also offers, as we see through this piece of fiction, avenues through which the abject individual can escape abjection. Among others, art and religion are the most prolific, Coats says.

Coats then uses the rest of her chapter to give other examples, and finally to posit that adolescent literature is filled with the abject, to not only appeal to adolescents, but to also help them cope with their own abjection.

But abjection goes beyond Coat’s study, and can be found, also, in countless modern works of fiction. Take, for example, the Harry Potter series. For anyone who is familiar with the series, the first assumption would be to label the title character Harry as abject. His parents died long ago, he was raised but an unloving, spiteful family, and the world of Magic is so unique and unknown to Harry that he is essentially abject, especially in the first few books of the series. But as we read through the series and encounter other important characters, we see that Harry is not, at his core, abject. Instead, I would propose that it is Snape, the (in)famous professor at Hogwarts that is one of the most abject characters of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe.

When he was at school himself, Snape thought he had found a new life. He was in a place where his kind – wizards and witches – were not only accepted but were the norm. But as he manoeuvred his way through his studies, Snape not only grew dreadfully apart from his friend Lily Evans (Harry’s mother) but was made into a spectacle by many of his Gryffindor rivals. Through this constant rivalry, Snape grew up apart from friendship, only forming relationships with a select few. His abject nature continued throughout his whole life, primarily during his double-agent duties that made him both a heroic stalwart and hated, back-stabber (the latter being falsely labelled) to many. In the end, Snape not only gives his life in service of Dumbledore and Hogwarts, but proves that one cannot judge solely based on perception, and that abject individuals, though outsiders in their own right, not only serve their own purpose in fiction, but help to prove the point that being different is indeed not entirely a bad thing.

Advertisements

English Courses (2014-2016)

Below is the schedule of literature courses (and faculty assigned to those courses) that we plan to offer from Fall 2014 to Spring 2016. The schedule is tentative and may change.

Fall 2014

ENG 100: Darrohn

ENG 100: Johnson

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Hughes

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Krueger

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Case

ENG 250 Shakespeare: Decker

ENG 251 British Texts and Contexts I: Krueger

ENG 252 British Texts and Contexts II: Hughes

ENG 265 African American Literature and Culture: Johnson

ENG 272 American Texts and Contexts: Klein

ENG 283 Fiction by Women: Case

ENG 341 English Renaissance Literature: Brown

ENG 366 Early American Novel, 1780-1900: Klein

ENG 377 The Within: Darrohn

ENG 455 Literary Theory and Cultural Studies: Johnson

ENG 462 Philosophy and Modern American Literature: Case

Spring 2015

ENG 100: Case

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Krueger

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Johnson

ENG 277 Topics in English: Brown

ENG 250 Shakespeare: Krueger

ENG 252 British Texts and Contexts II: Darrohn

ENG 272 American Texts and Contexts: Case

ENG 273 American Poetry to 1900: Klein

ENG 291 Contemporary Fiction: O’Donnell

ENG 300 Critical Concepts: Johnson

ENG 346 Victorian Literature: Darrohn

ENG 370 The Splendid Drunken Twenties: Johnson

ENG 377 Advanced Topics in English: Case

ENG 477 Seminar Topics in Literature: Krueger

ENG 477 Seminar Topics in Literature: Brown

Fall 2015

ENG 100 Writing Seminar: Case

ENG 100 Writing Seminar: Johnson

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Krueger

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Gunn

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: TBA

ENG 250 Shakespeare: Krueger

ENG 252 British Texts and Contexts II: Darrohn

ENG 272 American Texts and Contexts: Klein

ENG 263 Studies in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century American Literature: Case

ENG 277 Topics in English: Gunn

ENG 279 Multicultural Literature and Film: Johnson

ENG 300 Critical Concepts: Case

ENG 344 Eighteenth-Century English Literature or ENG 350 English Novel: Gunn

ENG 377 Advanced Topics in Literature: Johnson

ENG 377 Advanced Topics in Literature: Klein

ENG 449 Twentieth-Century British Literature: Darrohn

ENG 481 Early European Literature: Brown

Spring 2016

ENG 100 Writing Seminar: Krueger

ENG 100 Writing Seminar: Darrohn

ENG 100 Writing Seminar: Gunn

ENG 100 Writing Seminar: TBA

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Case

ENG 181 Literary Analysis and Interpretation: Johnson

ENG 250 Shakespeare: Krueger

ENG 300 Critical Concepts: Gunn

ENG 251 British Texts and Contexts I: Krueger

ENG 2xx Course in American Literature: Johnson

ENG 277 Topics in English: Case

ENG 277 Topics in English: Brown

ENG 277 Topics in English: Klein

ENG 362 American Environmental Writing: Case

ENG 377 Advanced Topics in English: Brown

ENG 377 Advanced Topics in English: Darrohn

ENG 477 Seminar Topics in Literature: Gunn

ENG 477 Seminar Topics in Literature: Johnson

 

Why English?

Past Events (Jan 2014)

UMF Answers the Question “Why English?” with Three-Day Farmington Forum Series, Jan 29-31

Press Release (UMF Media Relations)

FARMINGTON, ME (January 22, 2014)—In continuing tribute to the University of Maine at Farmington’s distinguished academic life over 150 years, the University proudly presents “Why English?” a three-day celebration of English at UMF.

The third academic discipline in the 2013-14 Farmington Forum Series, “Why English?” explores, through a host of engaging events, how studying literature enriches peoples’ lives. Events take place from Wed., Jan. 29, through Fri., Jan. 31, and are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

Featured is Sir Christopher Ricks, a British literary critic and scholar, who will present the keynote address, entitled “More Than One Waste Land.” Ricks is Warren Professor of the Humanities and co-director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University. Previously, he was professor of English at the University of Bristol and at Cambridge. He was the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford from 2004-2009. A member of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.

In addition, notable writers Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes will offer a “Literature for a Living” workshop and readings from their works. Waldman’s recent book, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” debuted this past summer to exceptional reviews. It has been called one of 2013’s best books by The New Yorker, The National Post, Slate and many others. It was named a New York Times Editor’s Choice and a Notable Book by the Washington Post. Waldman’s writings have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

Hughes tells Brooklyn’s story through the eyes of its greatest storytellers with his 2011 book, “Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life.” A Fort Greene-based critic and journalist, he has written articles about literature for such publications as The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, n + 1 and the London Review of Books.

Complete schedule of events in the “Why English” series:

Wednesday, Jan. 29

Faculty Roundtable on T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
11:45 a.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

Reading Methodologies: Approaches to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
This panel, which will include papers by students and faculty, will explore a range of methodological approaches to Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Daniel P. Gunn, UMF interim provost and vice president for academic affairs will respond.
2:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

A Collaborative Performance of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
7:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

Thursday, Jan. 30

Literature for a Living workshop
Interactive workshop with notable writers Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes
2:25 p.m., , The Landing, UMF Olsen Student Center

Reading by Adelle Waldman and Evan Hughes
7:30 p.m., The Landing, UMF Olsen Student Center

Friday, Jan. 31

Keynote Address “More Than One Waste Land” with Sir Christopher Ricks—British literary critic and scholar
11:45 a.m., Lincoln Auditorium, UMF Roberts Learning Center

“What Can You Do with an English Major?”
UMF alumni in fields such as broadcasting, education, law and graphic design discuss how they navigated the transition from UMF to their current professional lives.
2:20 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

“Pursuing an Academic Career in English”
UMF alumni currently in Ph.D. programs in English describe their experience.
3:30 p.m., Performance Space, Emery Community Arts Center

English Alumni Reception
5-7 p.m., UMF President’s House. Open to UMF alumni.

Throughout the year, UMF’s Farmington Forum Series will feature a host of special events in the six key academic disciplines of education, psychology, English, biology, mathematics and history. Events will include in-depth lectures by visiting scholars, film and research presentations, art exhibits, panel discussions and alumni receptions.

The “Why English?” Farmington Forum Series is sponsored by the UMF Department of English.

For additional details, please visit the calendar of events on the UMF 150th Anniversary website at http://150.umf.maine.edu/.

UMF’s Sesquicentennial Celebration is supported in part by the generous donations of area businesses and organizations including Franklin Savings Bank, at the Doctorate Level; Sunday River, at the Master’s Level; and Hight Chevrolet Buick GMC, Kyes Insurance, Shiretown Insurance Agency, University Credit Union and Unity Foundation at the Bachelor’s Level.