by Victoria Pan

The Belmont Undergraduate Research Symposium, often shortened to just BURS, is a series of presentations to showcase student work. Moderated by an advising faculty member, students form a panel to share their critical analysis in front of their peers. It’s a highly flattering honor, but also nerve-wracking situation.

Not that you would be able to tell, had you attended “Structuring Voice and Identity: How Narratology Informs Power and Suffering,” just last Thursday, on April 20. The panelists, which included Alexandra Huff, Elliott Neal, Amanda Nicklaus, and Rachel Petty, were all utterly composed and ready to share their thoughts.

All four students shared their work from Dr. Caresse John’s Special Studies in Critical Theory course just last fall, focusing particularly on narratology. Narratology is a structuralist approach in which form is divorced from context. Narratologists examine elements like narration, authorship, speech representation, chronology, metanarration, and narrative space.

For example, Huff examined the portrayal of women’s speech in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, focusing on characters like Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Myrtle Wilson. She argued that since Nick Carraway’s narration is in itself an interpretation representative of the policing male gaze, female speech in The Great Gatsby forms a kind of subterfuge. Meanwhile, Neal focused on the fractured chronology of Nick’s narration. Because the narration is fragmented, he posited, Jay Gatsby is himself fragmented, and since he is representative of the human condition, the human condition is fragmented as well. Human existence as seen through Fitzgerald is a chaos that cannot be completely expressed through art with any sense of resolution.

The second half of the panel shifted from The Great Gatsby to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Nicklaus analyzed the appalling silence of the main character in the telling of her own story. Her critique had stunning implications about the abilities of those who are not privileged enough to be fluent in normative discourse to be even heard. Petty, however, used her examination of multiple narrators to question how suffering is portrayed.

BURS presentations aren’t intriguing just because they are a way to hear some of your peers’ best thoughts on what may be already familiar works, but also because they’re a way to spark profound conversations. These panelists don’t just highlight the effectiveness of narratology as a critical theory, but make us question whether or not experience can be completely conveyed in art.  All four had different answers, and all four had equally eloquent arguments for their answers that I found myself puzzling over on my way home. Look out for the BURS panels next year; you never know what questions they might stir up.

Victoria Pan is a Sophomore BU English major.