First-year English student chosen to present at Undergraduate Literature Conference

First-year English student chosen to present at Undergraduate Literature ConferenceSamantha Tirrell has wasted no time making the most of her college career. A first-year student in the English program at Russell Sage, she is copy editor for student newspaper The Quill, a member of the a cappella singing group The Sagettes, and also works with children at a local community center.

The New Hampshire native wrote a paper titled “Formidable Femininity: The Stigmas of Gender in Roald Dahl’s Matilda,” and it was accepted for presentation at the 29th Annual Undergraduate Literature Conference (NULC) at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah in April and the New Critics Conference at SUNY Oneonta also in April.

Describe your paper and its premise: It is essentially a feminist critique of Matilda by Roald Dahl. I looked a lot at the conventions of gender within the text and the oftentimes problematic way that the author presents them to what is supposed to be a very young audience of readers. I explore things like gender subversion and its vilification, the glorified presentation of traditional femininity, the patriarchy, heteronormativity, and as a running theme, gendered oppression.

What did you conclude? I ultimately decided that even though Roald Dahl presents some incredibly problematic and troubling material related to gender and sexuality, there is outcry of feminine empowerment by the title character. Her uprising in the novel's closing pages caused by a domineering institutional oppression of youth and femininity is really rather moving, so I decided that Matilda is a feminist text.

What inspired you to write this paper? I've always loved Roald Dahl, and as a bibliophile, I identified with the character of Matilda as a child. Matilda: The Musical just transferred from London to Broadway last year, and seeing it gave me a fresh perspective of the material. I'm also very interested in gender studies and the idea of subversion was a fun construct to explore, especially in something like children's literature.

It is very impressive to be chosen to present as a first-year student. How do feel about that? I'm a first-year at Sage as I entered with no credits, but I went to college in New York City last year. Of course, I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to have my writing cultivated at this institution and to work under a faculty which encourages submission of student writing to conferences like NULC. I am really looking forward to this experience.

What made you decide to major in English? I love language and its fluidity. I love reading and writing, and I think that the study of literature is necessary to heighten our understanding of the human experience. It's also why I've adopted Theatre as my second major – I love studying theatre as text and I find the analysis of dramatic literature particularly challenging and rewarding as it is almost exclusively dialogue.

What do you love most about English and why do you love studying it? I love the subjectivity. I don't think I would feel comfortable in a course of study where everything was definitively black or white. I thrive in the gray space that the study of literature provides me with and I can't imagine studying anything else.

Where do you see yourself five years from now? I'd like to enter an English graduate program following my time at Sage. Ideally, I'd like to go to school as long as I possibly can and get a terminal degree in this field. I have a passion for writing, but further, I have a passion for literature and I want to share that with others.