English professor and students represent Judson at ACETA Conference | Judson College


English professor and students represent Judson at ACETA Conference

A Judson College English professor and three upperclassman students presented at the recent Association of College English Teachers of Alabama (ACETA) Conference held at the Capstone Hotel on the Tuscaloosa campus of the University of Alabama. Dr. Stacey Parham, Associate Professor of English, Rachel Ray of Homewood, Ala., Mary Milliron of Alabaster, Ala., and Sara Jean Lane of Conyers, Ga., represented Judson at the ACETA conference, which was held on February 26 and 27, 2016.

The theme of the 68th annual ACETA conference was to celebrate the life and work of Harper Lee, celebrated Alabama author who passed away in February.  In their panel entitled “Engaging Contemporary Literary Theory and Harper Lee’s Works,” the Judson students applied three disparate but complementary literary theories: ecocriticism, queer theory, and African-American criticism to Lee’s two novels.

ACETA Conference presenters-1

In her consideration of ecocriticism’s application to Lee’s novels, Rachel Ray focused on the setting of Maycomb as both environment and place or home in To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) and Go Set a Watchman (GSAW). Her discussion sought to establish how humans and the natural environment are intricately linked but determinately bound and how Lee manifests those linkages and boundaries through the depictions of Maycomb, Boo Radley’s tree, swept yards, red clay, and Ms. Dubose’s fallen “Snow on the Mountain,” among other images.

Mary Milliron explored queer theory’s relation to the novels by engaging the concept of forbidden love in TKAM. Moreover, in GSAW Milliron posited that depictions of social constructivism and essentialism exist that represent characters’ differing understandings of individuation and identity formation: Jean Louise Finch representing the social constructivist view and Aunt Alexandra representing the essentialist view.  In expressing her thoughts on the conference, Milliron said, “”I really enjoyed having the opportunity to present at the ACETA conference; it was an incredible experience—the opportunity to learn from the other presenters as well as having the chance to present ourselves was wonderful.”

In the final portion of the Judson College panel, Sara Jean Lane explored Lee’s novels’ connection to African-American criticism.  By representing blackness and whiteness on a continuum or spectrum, Lane investigated and discussed characters who defy or disrupt racial categorizations, while also questioning whether the social situation is Maycomb is less oppressive in TKAM than it is in the Maycomb of GSAW. Her answer was that “the racial dynamic in Maycomb is no less oppressive in TKAM than in GSAW” because Lee shields the reader from oppressive issues in TKAM by using the narratorial voice of a child who is ignorant of a number of pervasive racial inequities. Lane also posed the question if the Atticus Finch of TKAM is the same Atticus of GSAW, arguing that the Atticuses of both novels bear striking similarities and that upon closer examination are consistent in that Atticus in TKAM merely minimizes political discourse in the presence of his children that is revealed in GSAW. Lane also considered Calpurnia’s representation of “double-voicedness,” a construct consistent with African-American criticism, in that Cal speaks differently when she is around the Finch children than when she is with her church family and personal friends.  Lane said of the conference, “The conference was a very useful experience for all of us. It was particularly rewarding to hear other readers’ interpretations of the material we had been working with at Judson, to hear completely different approaches to the literature and theory we’re studying as well as opinions and comments on our own. I think it did a lot to broaden our views for future work.”

The presenters’ objective in addressing these issues was to add to the ongoing conversation about To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.  By applying these theories as lenses to enrich our conceptualization and appreciation of Lee’s ethos, the panel sought to elucidate Lee’s genius as a writer through her depiction of Maycomb, love relationships, and racial tensions that evoke our greater appreciation of her works.  According to Parham, these presentations provided an opportunity for participants to reflect on the rich depths of Lee’s canon, and Parham stated, “It was a joy to see my students shine, as they shared insights and answered questions in a way that demonstrated their careful consideration and appreciation of Lee’s novels.”

Article by Dr. Stacey Parham
PHOTO: ACETA Conference presenters, from left-to-right, Mary Milliron, Stacey Parham, Sara Jean Lane, and Rachel Ray. Photo by Dr. Stacey Parham.