Four students from Tusculum College’s English Department were presenters on Friday, March 25, at the Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference, held at Maryville College.
All of the papers were the product of a literary theory class the students took with Dr. Sheila Morton, assistant professor of English, and were focused on an interpretation of Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” Each paper employed different theoretical lenses in their study.
Students presenting were Elizabeth McDonnell, a senior from Memphis; Abigail Wolfenbarger, a junior from New Market; Kenneth Hill, a junior from White Pine, and David Roncskevitz, a senior from Franklin.
“The variety of their arguments illustrate just how much literary theory can enrich our reading of a single text, offering various and compelling readings that yet ring true,” said Morton. “In her paper, for example, McDonnell approaches the text as a new historicist, drawing parallels to other discourses contemporary with Christie’s novel, most notably film noir. Though very different in their realization, she argues, both are propelled by similar social feelings of isolation and alienation.”
Both Wolfenbarger and Hill approach the novel from the standpoint of reader response critics, Wolfenbarger arguing that the failure of the novel to surprise many twenty-first century readers is due in part to our changing “horizon of expectations” that has grown to accommodate the idea of a dishonest first-person narrator. Hill, by contrast, focuses on the shifting role of the “narrattee,” a role the reader is asked to play as they enact the drama of the novel.
Roncskevitz’s presentation showed how he deconstructs the novel, likening the piecing of “clues” in whodunit novels to the linguistic piecemealing of everyday language.
According to Morton, the panel was a huge success, garnering considerable praise and attention, including an email from the coordinator of the conference.
The Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference is designed to encourage undergraduates in colleges in the Appalachian region to conduct research projects by providing a high-quality, low pressure forum for presentations. More than 80 undergraduate students from eight colleges in East Tennessee and Kentucky attended the 2011 conference.