To give a short synopsis, my thesis is on the evolution of morality in children’s fantasy literature, starting with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and ending with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). When interwoven with historical context as well as critical analysis of the texts, my thesis examines how morality in children’s fantasy lit has evolved from something that largely centered around manners and politeness – actions that were communally driven – to something that is far more independent; a personal experience for every child that emphasizes good in the defeat of evil.
That’s the super short version.
I originally decided what I wanted to write my thesis on about two years ago, just before leaving to study abroad in England, where I was then able to do research using grant money, reading about my chosen authors and novels. Initially, my thesis was going to be about the evolution of character, theme, and morality in children’s fantasy literature, but unfortunately this project grew far too large for an undergraduate thesis (it looked like it was going to take the shape of a dissertation instead!) So, in order to focus my thesis, I picked the topic I was most interested in and which I had done the most research on. Most importantly, however, I wanted to choose the topic that I had discovered had the fewest critical analyses done on it; something I felt that, by doing my own analysis, would benefit the literary community as a whole.
Thus, I selected morality.
I have always been interested in how the idea of morality has been understood by people over the eras, and the changing ways people have attempted to teach younger generations about “what is moral.” I put that in quotes because what is considered morally important for some people may be very different for others – a truth that is equally prevalent in today’s society as it was in the past.
While studying abroad in Oxford, England, I was able to utilize the library at Brasenose College to explore the authors I had chosen as well as to direct my research in a more specific manner. This led me to discovering a couple of things: the importance of manners in relation to morality in the late 19th century, and how extremely this changed over the course of 130+ years. I won’t go into too much detail because then I would just be reciting my thesis to you, but my research at Brasenose steered me in a new direction. The question then became: in what ways did morality shift from being largely defined by politeness, and what prompted this change?
The greatest portion of my analysis was done through my own readings of the seven texts I chose (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Little Princess, Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). I read each of the books several times and derived my arguments through my own interpretations of the works, while simultaneously incorporating historical influence. I also read some other scholarly analyses on my chosen texts and applied some of them to my own research.
Blah, blah, blah.
Basically, there was a lot of reading!
After having to narrow down my thesis and make it more specific, the next challenge I faced was giving my thesis historical context in a way that did not distract from my analysis of the texts. Rather, I needed to incorporate it in a way that made these changes in morality more understandable. It took me two entire revisions of my thesis to interweave these revisions in a way that read fluidly with my analysis.
My suggestion for anyone who is attempting to write a thesis with a similar subject matter and/or format is to keep historical context in mind when you are writing your first draft. It wasn’t that I left it out completely, but it took my mentor (an English professor at my university) to point out that the significance of historical context needed to play an even larger role in my thesis. For me, I think that I became too absorbed in my own analysis of the books to remember that they needed to be contextualized in the real world.
Huh, a writer getting too wrapped up in a fictional universe? How odd…
The actual writing of my thesis was another struggle. Why? I think it was because subconsciously I was intimidated by the task of writing something so large that needed to encompass so many things. My thesis was also a requirement for my graduation from the Honors College and I would have to give a presentation on it at the end of my final semester. I’m not really one for public speaking, and definitely not for boring and/or disappointing others, so I think this was probably weighing on my mind a little bit too.
In the end, I found the easiest thing to do was to set a schedule and small deadlines for myself. I would write the introduction by this date, the first chapter by this date, etc. (I knew my thesis was going to be chaptered because of the wide range in time, but there are a lot of undergraduate theses that are not chaptered.) I found this to be a really efficient way to do things.
Also, another tip: keep track of what references you are citing and what ones you are referencing as you go – keep these in separate lists! This will be a lot easier than trying to separate them all out at the end.
I did most of my writing at my university’s library, which worked really well for me because I’m really easily distracted when it comes to things like YouTube, Netflix and Tumblr. Basically, I like anything that I can pretend I’m only “sort of” paying attention to while working, but in actuality I’m only barely working while mostly paying attention to something else that I find more entertaining. This makes my production level very low. Going to the library (without headphones!) allowed me to get rid of these distractions and really focus on my work.
Overall, I really enjoyed this project and I am proud of the result. Although, my hypercritical editor-self is probably going to want to rip it apart and rewrite it in two month’s time. What can you do?
I am going to leave a contact box below so feel free to ask me if you have any questions about your own academic writing, tips for academic writing or research, or undergraduate theses in general!
Best of writing to you all ❤