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The artist hero trope in Faulkner’s works

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Features, Top Stories

March 31, 2017

During her last semester at Brandeis, Sarah Levy ’17 is in the midst of writing her senior honors thesis. An English and creative writing major and art history minor, Levy is involved on campus as a tour guide for admissions, serves as the public relations director for student events, is a Roosevelt Fellow and is hard at work writing the first full draft of her thesis.

Levy’s focus is on the American modernist author William Faulkner and the “artist hero trope” that she has discovered is present across his works. Levy said that she loves modernism and chose to focus on this type of character that emerged from his coming-of-age stories. She researched the way that the artist hero trope appears in his works chronologically. Her main argument adds to the well-supported idea by other scholars that Faulkner writes mainly on sex and race. Levy argues that the third main theme is the development of this character and how it interacts with the world in his books.

“Faulkner is famous for pretending that he was anti-intelligence,” but through the artist hero, he can express the poeticism within himself and allow it to shine through, Levy explained. She said that she wanted to write a thesis her senior year to “have something to show after four years.” She was excited about the literature she was reading and noticed patterns within it. Since she is passionate about Faulkner’s work and reading it in depth, she knew that Faulkner was the proper theme for her thesis.

A senior thesis is a full-year project, and while there is a 60-page minimum, Levy’s will be over 100 pages long, with her broad topic of the artist hero trope explored in depth using close reading skills and intensive research. To prepare in her junior year for the challenge ahead, she spoke with professors to scout out potential advisors. She picked Prof. John Burt (ENG) as her thesis advisor and Prof. David Sherman (ENG) as her second advisor.

The summer before her senior year, she reread seven of Faulkner’s novels to refresh her memory and begin her research. When she came back to school, she met with her advisor once a week and worked on her secondary research. In October, she actually began writing the thesis, which she said was relatively early compared to other students. Levy hopes to have her full first draft done by next Thursday before beginning to edit it extensively with her advisors.

Levy’s favorite books by Faulkner are “The Sound and the Fury,” the first book she read of his, and “Sanctuary,” which she says is “pretty grotesque and vulgar,” but also “super parodic” of his own style. For a reader unfamiliar with Faulkner, it is not the easiest read, but as someone who is well-versed with his work, Levy said it is fun for her to study these pieces of literature.

While Levy likes that writing the thesis is a challenge, especially since Faulkner can be a difficult read, she had a word of advice to those interested in writing a thesis in the future. She recommends, “Pick something you’re passionate about and excited about,” because if you don’t love the topic, it could feel like a “huge chore.” She also said that if she could do the process over again, she would be stricter with her schedule, “set time everyday to work” and avoid waiting until the last minute to write full chapters.

After she graduates from Brandeis, Levy hopes to work for a few years, gaining experience before earning a master’s degree. She is currently applying to jobs, preferably within publishing and marketing or curatorial work, while interning at a gallery. Either path she hopes will further her education, whether through a master’s in art history or by becoming an English professor.

When Levy graduates from Brandeis, she will have the skills to succeed and a full-length thesis developed on a topic she loves. While it is a serious and rigorous process, the end result is something to be incredibly proud of. In addition to graduating with honors, theses can be submitted to the Brandeis library!

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