RWC tutor Hannah Grace Leece uses her personal experience as an English literature major to chronicle some of the ups and downs of the major.
First, acknowledge the foreboding reality that you will never, EVER, get enough exposure to Shakespeare in your entire educational career. Yes, we know that you’ve read 67 of his sonnets, 10 of his plays, and 10 plays by other authors that were inspired by Shakespeare’s works and incorporated them into basically everything they have ever written and that he died over 400 years ago. Still, you will never hear the end of his reign over the English literature field. Oh, you’re reading Christopher Marlowe’s works instead of Shakespeare now? Yes, you will soon learn that he and Shakespeare probably traded notes while downing a pint of ale in the bar while laughing about how frustratingly predictable all of their stories are and how much they would be cursed by students in the English field for centuries to come.
Speaking of things to look forward to, look around! You will most likely be looking at the same exact faces every single semester from now on in your English classes. There are so few of you that actually exist that you all end up taking the same classes at the same time, so every semester you spend being an English major will be a semester of dealing with the same people day in and day out. And on that same note, remember that teacher from your first semester that you couldn’t stand, the one who made you read the entirety of The Faerie Queene in one week? Surprise! You will be in her class probably three more times before you walk across that stage (if you make it that far before going full King Lear in Act 5).
One of your graduation requirements is to be asked no less than 1,556 times if you plan on becoming a teacher. Although reading and writing are everywhere (television, film, advertisements, manuals, the news, those crappy magazine articles you can’t get enough of) but teaching is the only job out there. There isn’t anything else. You can’t find it. It’s not worth trying.
Also, prepare now to never be able to pick your own schedule. Though you seem to have five different options for the 17th-19th Century Literature requirement you need for graduation, only one of them is actually going to be offered the semester you can take it, and unfortunately, it is a Monday / Wednesday 8-9:50 AM. Also, good luck getting to your next class on time, which does start 10 minutes later on the other side of campus. On the bright side, all that running will make sure you don’t get that freshman 15!
Gotten tired of the essays yet? I sure hope not! In addition to writing 5 essays or more every semester, I hope you are aware that your teachers will assign them all to be due on the same exact day every time, so you have not one but two papers to tear out your hair in frustration trying to get done in the same week.
Living in the 21st century? Heck no! Even though we all have computers and are perfectly capable of using them easily to grade assignments, and it would be a thousand times easier to do so, please turn in a hard copy of every paper you write so that those of you who don’t have printers at home can freak out and print it out in the library 5 minutes before class starts. No, I don’t have a Canvas page, and I don’t believe in that hoober-gooberish stuff, so besides me giving back your papers a month after you turned them in and you sacrificing a lamb to have the mental capacity to do math, you won’t be able to know what your grade is for this course until I have submitted them to the registrar’s office a week after I was supposed to, well after the semester has ended. Yeah, it won’t be until then that you realize you didn’t pass that Mythology & Folklore Literature course and have to retake it again next semester.
What will also help with the previously mentioned freshman 15 is the fact that you’ll be carrying those 15lbs every single day in your backpack because all your teachers have required their 5-pound books to be taken to class with you. No, you can’t use the e-book; it’s not the same thing. And the Broadview Anthology of British Literature we jokingly call the “compact edition,” does indeed have every single text of British literature ever written so that by the end of the semester, you are resembling someone a lot like the Hunchback of Notre Dame with all the books you’re trying to carry. Thought a $75 Applied Science textbook was expensive? Oh, my sweet summer child, you have so much to learn (and about $300 worth of textbooks to buy for this semester).
Ecce signum. Thought you were learning English over these 10,000 years you spend trying to get your degree? You thought wrong - you’ll probably also be reading just as much Latin since our classical authors thought it was simply the bee’s knees. Those half-page-long footnotes that aren’t about anything significant or meaningful will sure come in handy. They will be helpful when the authors you read incorporate some literary or cultural reference in every single sentence they use that you won’t understand the meaning of at all.
If you need some help, I might recommend looking at SparkNotes or LitCharts - your teacher will spend every single second of their 2-hour lecture twice a week essentially telling you the same exact material that you could read there in 20 minutes anyway. And no, Kimmy, you can’t pack up; I still have 1and a half minutes before you can be dismissed, so don’t even think about putting away the 5th pen you’ve used this semester because the rest of them have all run out of ink (especially when you’re in the middle of a midterm and didn’t think to bring a 3rd emergency backup pen in addition to the 5 you already had in your backpack).
It’s okay - you’ll only have to write probably 697 essays before you can graduate, and a lot of them being over 5 pages long with 5+ references and an annotated bibliography of 10 pages minimum. You’ll get used to it. And when you get to grad school.... well, good luck is all I have to say for that.