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The Great American Novel- Literature enrichment with the University of York

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Dr Kingston-Reese addressing our JC2 Literature students

The ACJC Literature department is proud to have developed an ongoing relationship with the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. This January we were honoured to have Dr Alexandra Kingston-Reese, Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at York present a brief lecture on The Great American Novel. Dr Kingston-Reese also addressed questions about undergraduate education in the UK in general and at York in particular.

We would like to thank Dr Kingston-Reese and the University of York for their ongoing support in helping to provide our students with enriching opportunities to gain a wider literary awareness and a deeper understanding of Higher Education options.

One of our students, Vasuda Mukundan (2AH) shares her thoughts on the session:

Americanah. The Great Gatsby. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Three extremely diverse texts, all of which has been hailed as a Great American Novel. Yet, Dr. Alexandra-Kingston Reese managed to find common ground between these three highly acclaimed novels. All three novels involve an individual striving for something more after experiencing both social and personal trauma. All of the protagonists yearn for a sense of freedom.

In 'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Dr. Reese paid close attention to the prose style used by the author to convey ideas of foreignness and estrangement. She pointed out how, even though the introductory paragraph of the novel talks about Ifemelu, the protagonist, loving the atmosphere of the States after moving there, the trochaic pentameter, replacing the conventional iambic pentameter more usual in English writing, conveys her lack of belonging. Additionally, she explained how Ifemelu's mention of her hair acts as a symbol for her struggle with identity.

Dr. Reese connected this theme of isolation and identity with Jay Gatsby's struggle to achieve the American dream in 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of our set texts at 'A'-level. She mentioned how even though political commentators use Jay Gatsby's life as a touchstone for the American dream, the author explores the idea of ambivalence because Gatsby's ultimate failure is an inversion of the American dream. Dr. Reese noted that the static struggle of Gatsby as he tries to follow the quixotic American dream signals that the novel takes on a cautionary tone and satirises American ideals as the novel insinuates that social judgment, not individual merit, ultimately matters most to the establishment.

Lastly, Dr. Reese touched upon the poetry of Ocean Vuong as well as his newly released epistolary novel, 'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous,' written in the form of a letter from a Vietnamese American son to his illiterate mother. She, again, related this text to the theme of identity as well as the sense of belonging. Dr. Reese concluded that all three texts explore the idea of identity as well as the feeling of estrangement that stems from it- an interesting perspective for our consideration of The Great Gatsby this term.