“Hi, my name is Jaquelin and I am an English major,” is usually not my first-choice opener. Typically, announcing my major leads to an abundance of questions and often a confused and awkward, “Oh… how cool…” comment. If you Google “highest paying degrees,” English definitely doesn’t make the list. So, compared to the business and engineering graduates, we English majors don’t typically get to walk down their yellow brick road to a six-figure salary. The low wages we are assumed to receive post-grad creates a stigma against the entire practice of studying English literature and was initially my biggest hesitation in pursuing it. But, alas, here I am. I realized, what’s money worth if it’s earned doing something you don’t absolutely love?
On the last lecture of my History of English Literature course, my professor closed with a statement to boost our confidence and reassure us of our abilities. Professor Fanning said, “By studying English, you are the moral and existential superiors of the university; nobody else is like you, so go on to do great things.” I was so inspired by his words; English majors are regularly overlooked and often assumed to be quirky, introverted and overall weird people. While that may be true for some, and while those aren’t necessarily poor traits to have, I wanted to break down the barriers to show that English majors are equals to everyone else, including the business students and engineers. Whether you’re choosing English as your major, minor or medial, or even just taking a course, I hope this article helps you see us English students for the cool and wise people we (mostly) are.
The first misconception English majors often face is that we don’t do anything. Everyone already knows how to read and write; what could possibly be left to learn? While I’ll admit that I once thought studying English would not only be incredibly bland, but also a walk in the park, I can now say that completing English exams and assignments is no easy task. It’s near impossible to get a 100 percent on anything because of the subjectivity of writing – but practice does make perfect, eventually. When I began my first-year English course, I was amazed at not only how much I learned by reading, but how much my writing began to improve. The more you read, the better writer you become, because you’re exposed to so many different styles and genres. Aside from the more obvious, I gained an incredible attention to detail. The most prevalent task in English is learning how to close read. Close reading is taking a given passage from a poem, novel, etc. and making a claim about what the passage is saying. Here is an example:
“Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality” and Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode” reflect authentic romanticism poetry because of their commentary on immortality which they connect to nature’s elements. Both men are reflecting on their alienation from nature and unity of the universe due to their inevitable aging, yet, the resolution of the two differ greatly. Wordsworth is romanticizing the relationship that children have with the universe and inserting himself into nature to seek out reintegration.” – Jaquelin Hollo ENGL200
By doing this over and over again, I trained my brain to pick out minor details in reading and in life. I improved quickly and greatly, which will significantly benefit me in many areas of my life. By learning to articulate yourself well in writing, you improve the way you speak and gain an increased ability to convey yourself to others, like in a job interview, for example.
Additionally, every piece of literature assigned in an English class is assigned because it represents a great and inspiring piece of history. The way the speaker, narrator or author presents it can give insight into the human mind and varying perspectives. Through majoring in English, I have been able to closely follow the evolution of human nature, expressions and thoughts through different cultures and time periods. I have gained an immense understanding that we all crave a connection with nature as a result of our growing alienation to it while we age.
Aside from my “nerdy” passions of reading and writing, I have loved learning more about different perspectives and cultures. Although there is a common theme of “OWM” (old white men) in literature, I have gotten to know the courageous first female writers, as well as the first African and Asian writers, among others. English has allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and experience new things that I would never have come across before. For example, I took a Chinese-Canadian fiction course this semester which developed my understanding of Chinese-Canadian communities around Canada, the social experiences they tend to face and how that impacts their literature. By reading works from all around the world, I have developed an increased sense of humankind and various people’s similarities and differences. As well, by briefly studying literary theories, I have increased my open mindedness to many different opinions in writing. Now, I am able to view texts while being aware of different perspectives, like that of a feminist, someone with a disability and others.
Believe it or not, literature makes the world go around. It’s the base of what we know today, and therefore it’s extremely useful to understand its origins. I now know that I can do anything I put my mind to by using the knowledge and skills I have gained from being an English major. The reading and writing I do in English courses have allowed me to discover my voice and express myself through writing and speech. I am lucky enough to walk into class every day and love what I learn, be excited for my assignments and look forward to my future. I’m not a nerd; I just chose my passion over the number of digits expected on my cheques or the judgmental looks OWM give me. I hope this has made you consider English a legitimate discipline, or even better, consider looking into it for yourself.