As I sat in my Victorian literature class last week, and as we were arguing about who governs what morality means, who decides what is considered ‘mad’, whether or not our characters fulfill or complicate gender stereotypes, I began thinking about the privilege I have to be surrounded by all these other very smart people that allow me to intellectually, morally, and spiritually grow as a person. The 26 of us sit inside this literary sanctuary for a total of forty hours, where we can forget about whatever atrocities are ringing in the world, and we can focus on becoming more enlightened members of society. Not only do I get to study the characters in the novels we read, but also how those lessons relate to my own life.
As an English major, we get to pick what kind of relevant topics are applicable to today’s society. While the rest of you are working very hard building roads and transportation systems, supplying restaurants with food stuff and alcohol, fixing bulldozers and chippers, we are discussing whether or not the latest technological innovations are ruining our society, where we see instances of discrimination and genocide repeating themselves, why humans continually get trapped in bad situations. We get to sift through hundreds of pages of articles, novels, stories, poems, and decide which ones are the best for other people to know about.
And then, we consider how we can infiltrate our own communities with these thoughts, these ideas, these solutions. We get to be disciple of literary proportions. Because, you see, reading literature is not just about dissecting symbols and analyzing syntax. It is also about learning about human interactions, about societal constructs, about life. All author’s root stories in experience, no matter how fictional or absurd it may seem.
As an English major, we know how to argue. We know that all claims must be supported with evidence, so rarely will you find us arguing an ignorant claim (this is why, as an English major, we are always right). You think global warming is causing cancer? You think arming teachers will decrease gun violence? You think the marijuana law will cause an surge in hard drugs? We will find evidence to evidence to refute your claim; we are filing cabinets, full of facts, statistics, laws, stories, global, historical, and current events to use as examples to prove, or disprove, any point we may encounter.
As an English major, we have a wealth of knowledge that is not just literature and writing, but also history, government, science, psychology. In order to understand what we are reading, we must also understand other discourses. We seem really smart in this aspect, but we really just have a well rounded acumen from a variety of sources.
As an English major, we may not have a beach side condo to invite you to vacation at. We certainly do not own a private jet to fly you across the world. We can probably barely afford to invite you over for a nice steak dinner. But, what we do have is the gift of words. We spend hours dissecting meanings, connotations, historical contexts of linguistics and where words come from. We consider how the use of punctuation and prepositional phrases enhance the meaning of a work. So, you can bet that any letter, any card, any text message you get from an English major was carefully constructed to convey a specific meaning. We have the ability to make you feel like a million dollars, the most special person ever, the king of the world. And, because it is written, you can re-visit at any moment. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
As an English major, we understand life. We use literary character’s as examples to guide our own decisions, and those potential outcomes. We understand the human condition, that life is complex, has multiple meanings, and people have feelings. We search for meaning and significance in everything. When we send you a bouquet of roses for Valentine’s Day, we understand the connotations behind yellow, pink, and red roses. When someone passes away in our community, we understand the paradox of the beauty and pain often associated with death. When people are in an identity crisis, we recognize it as a journey, we can list off many others who went through a similar fate, and still came out alive, stronger than ever. And, our children will have to live up to some kind of incredibly meaningful name.
Sometimes, we may over analyze, we may suffer from strong book hangovers, we may philosophize, romanticize, and live in an unrealistic, idealistic world. Sometimes, we may know too much. We may speak in tongues that no one on the outside understands. We may invent irrelevant ideas and have strong opinions about everything. But, much like the world needs firemen, mechanics, doctors, the world also needs English majors. We struggle, we tackle some of the metaphorical harshnesses of the world to allow you to live your life, blinded, innocent, and protected.
What an absolute gift it is to be an English major.