ASRAR Journal (Volume 8)

Page 1



V O L U M E 8 FALL 2 0 2 3

Front cover:

Decaying Interiors by Aziza Kachache

Letter from the Editors

When we think about gender in contemporary times, it’s common to associate it with the multitude of mired and emotionally charged narratives scattered around online communities. Asrar’s 2023 issue presents a more thoughtful exploration of gender, one that the American University of Sharjah’s students crafted to express their complex relationships with gender through photography, research papers, and literary analysis.

The essays and visual artworks showcased in the section “Featured Pieces: Gender” engage in a compelling conversation regarding the constraints imposed by societal norms on individuals. This conversation underscores the need for freedom and individuality as a means for the oppressed to resist their oppression.

Students have also written remarkable research papers, engaging poetry, and creative non-fiction extending beyond the theme of gender. Whether or not you are familiar with the topics being addressed in the section “Academic and Creative Writing,” you will definitely find a text that will resonate with you. The 2023 issue concludes with a section on “Visual and Multimodal Works” that demonstrates both creativity and scholarly exploration, transcending the limitations of written text.

We thank and appreciate all the writers and photographers who have submitted their work to Asrar; it was a pleasure to dive into the creativity of the students among us.

This issue includes explorations of James Joyce’s short story “Eveline,” Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of A Doll’s House, and a close reading of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again.” These are just a few examples of the diverse selection of texts that await you in this issue. Asrar provides university students with an opportunity to present their work to the broader community, and we hope that you feel as enlightened as we do reading these works.

Dana Alrowaih

Ghofrane Lahib

Huda Imran

Jahnavi Dangeti





Aziza Kachache


Yahia Elsawaf


Vighnesh Prasad



Maria Ajith


Jahnavi Dangeti


Ahmad El-Anas


Hameed Alhilo


Israa Alshalabi


Lojain Ahmed


Konstantina Spyropoulou



ENG 210: Introduction to Literature students

(Fatima Abdulrahman Abdulhaq, Hanan Abdullah, Safiya Afaq

Ahmed, Hessa Ebrahim Almheiri, Dana Faisal Almonai, Shamma

Mahmood Almurid, Mouza

Salem Alnuaimi, Moza Faisal

Alqassemi, Sonia Azher, Line Ben

Thaier, Fatima Mohammed Raza

Damji, Farah Mohamed Diab, Riman Amer El Sayed, Gloria

Saleh Hanna, Maryam Omar

Lootah, Snikita Moka, Jowel

Walid Watfa, Rania Yadegari)


ENG 185: Playing with Texts students

(Nourhan Ibrahim, Manal

Nadeem, Nusaibah Hasan, Rayyan Burney, Sarah Jassim)


Izzdeen Abu Yousuf

5 I F E A T U R E D P I E C E S : G E N D E R



Decaying Interiors

In exploring the interplay between domestic spaces and the allure of the outdoors, these photographs encourage us to reimagine our relationship with gender. They challenge gender norms associated with domesticity by juxtaposing decaying interiors with the beauty of the natural world.

The decaying interiors symbolize the limitations and expectations imposed on individuals based on their gender. However, through the apertures in the background, we catch a glimpse of nature, offering hope and the possibility of breaking free from these constraints. Nature also symbolizes freedom, growth, and a connection to the broader world, inviting viewers to reflect on transcending societal expectations and embracing personal self-expression beyond traditional gender roles.


The Case for Gender-Based Affirmative Action in STEM


The staggering underrepresentation of women in the STEM industry is well-documented. Through an investigation of the effects of specific gender-based affirmative action, this paper combines quantitative and qualitative analyses to argue that gender-based affirmative action must be implemented in the STEM industry in order to address existing discrepancies in gender representation. When designed correctly, gender quotas are found to be effective tools for improving gender diversity, and so are other policies like women-specific mentorship programs. Gender diversity, in turn, is found to have a positive local and regional economic impact and to correlate strongly with good decision-making and problem-solving. In addition, gender-based affirmative action can serve as a major stepping stone on the road to greater social sustainability. Finally, this paper offers a variety of moral justifications for gender-based affirmative action.

Keywords: STEM, gender quotas, affirmative action, women in STEM


The Case for Gender-Based Affirmative Action in STEM

Of the 613 laureates ever awarded a Nobel Prize in science, only 23 have been women (Wetzel, 2021). This statistic, though troubling in its own right, is but a reflection of the steep gender inequality that characterizes the global science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industry. According to data gathered by UNESCO (2019), women make up just 29% of all industry researchers globally; in developing regions like East and South Asia, the share of women is particularly low, at 24% and 19% respectively.

Even among developed countries that are often portrayed as being at the forefront of feminist movements, women in the STEM industry remain underrepresented. In the United States, for instance, women comprise just 25% of those working in computer-related positions and just 15% of engineering positions (Fry et al., 2021); these numbers are especially alarming considering that the computer and engineering fields are two of the best-paying and fastest-growing in STEM (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Moreover, in healthcare, one of the few sectors where women in the US are overrepresented (Fry et al., 2021), women nonetheless remain a minority in higher-paying jobs, including as practicing physicians (Brooks, 2015) and in executive positions (Russell et al., 2019). This trend is evident in the EU too, where in countries such as Germany and Finland less than a third of scientists and engineers are women (Sykes, 2018), and where the healthcare sector is predominantly female but suffers from job insecurity and a significant gender pay gap (Pillinger, 2010).

In addition, the share of women in the STEM industry is disproportionately small in comparison to the share of female STEM graduates and students. In fact, a recent report by UNESCO (2021) has shown that while women make up roughly 45% to 55% of students at all levels of higher education, they constitute barely a third of active researchers worldwide, and while 20% of all US engineering graduates are women (Silbey, 2016), only 11% of active engineers are female (Fleur, 2014). In Scotland, studies also show that a whopping 73% of female STEM graduates abandon their STEM careers (The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2012). This specific type of female underrepresentation, sometimes referred to as the leaky STEM pipeline, is prevalent across the STEM industry (Mueller, n.d.). Thus, the evidence is clear: women in the STEM industry are severely underrepresented, and taking steps at the industry level is essential to challenging the problematic yet long-ignored status quo of a male-dominated STEM industry.

To that end, this research paper aims to help combat gender inequality by exploring different gender-based affirmative action policies. Gender-based affirmative action, which includes policies such as gender quotas, is defined as a set of policies intended to include underrepresented gender minorities (AAAED, n.d.). Gender-based affirmative action must be implemented in the STEM industry because it is effective in achieving gender diversity, can boost economic output, and will contribute toward greater social sustainability.

For the purposes of this research paper, the STEM industry will refer to computer, mathematical, engineering, natural and social sciences, architecture, and the healthcare sectors (Martinez & Christnacht, 2021). The following question will serve as the primary research question: Should gender-based affirmative action be implemented in the STEM workplace? It is answered through a comprehensive study of the effects of specific gender-based affirmative action policies. In addition, secondary research


questions include “Which policies are most effective in increasing women’s participation in the STEM workforce?” and “What are the benefits of a workplace with gender diversity?” The paper will address these questions by accounting for metrics such as gender diversity of the workplace and the economic productivity of the STEM industry. Qualitative analyses will also be used to determine the contribution of gender-based affirmative action toward achieving social sustainability and to assess the moral and ethical grounds for such policies. Answering these questions is imperative, especially in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which has already exacerbated the conditions for women in STEM (Moes et al., 2021).

The Effectiveness of Gender-Based Affirmative Action Policies

Gender Quotas

Gender-based affirmative action can take several different forms, many of which have proven effective in achieving gender diversity in their respective fields. One such policy is the gender quota, which works to increase the representation of women directly, typically by designating a minimum number of positions for women (Paxton & Hughes, 2015). In past decades, the effectiveness of gender quotas in increasing women’s participation has been consistently demonstrated in case studies all around the world (Paxton & Hughes, 2015).

In many representative democracies, gender quotas have been employed to successfully increase the representation of women in politics. In Belgium, for example, implementing gender quotas led to an increase in the percentage of parliament seats held by women, from 16% to over 40% (Long, 2019); this is despite only 33% of seats being mandated by the government’s quota (IPU, n.d.), suggesting that gender quotas can facilitate the organic participation of women. Even more remarkable is the impact of gender quotas in Latin America, where they have allowed countries like Ecuador and Bolivia to achieve near-total gender parity in government (Piscopo, 2020).

Education is another sector where gender quotas have been successful in increasing female representation. In one case study, researchers found that implementing gender quotas at college engineering programs in India caused an upsurge in college attendance for women (Bagde et al., 2016). It is therefore reasonable to assume that, as in government and education, gender quotas can significantly improve gender diversity in the STEM workplace. Furthermore, gender quotas have been shown to increase long-term female representation in the STEM industry, too. In Denmark, for example, “voluntary gender quotas were introduced by political parties in the 1970s, but were removed two decades later as gender-balanced candidate pools became the norm” (Zahidi, 2014, para. 10). Prime examples also include post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe, which tend to excel in most metrics of STEM gender equality compared to their Western counterparts (“Why half the scientists,” 2019); this is in large part due to socialist policies that actively and aggressively encouraged the participation of women in the STEM workforce (Ghodsee, 2019). Although said policies are no longer enforced, extensive evidence points to these Soviet initiatives as the root cause behind the continued STEM gender diversity in these post-Soviet states today (Friedman-Sokuler & Senik, 2020, para. 6). As an article in the Economist puts it, “the coercion has gone, but the habit of women working in labs has


remained” (“Why half the scientists,” 2019, para. 2). Today, the former socialist countries of Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Latvia stand out among EU member-states for having the greatest share of female scientists and engineers, exceeding 50% (Thornton, 2019). Finally, while opponents of gender quotas criticize 50-50 quotas for their perceived impracticality, they disregard that quotas can be designed specifically to be compatible with the fields they are introduced in. To illustrate, Saadia Zahidi (2014), a managing director at the World Economic Forum and a long-time proponent of gender quotas, has argued that quotas in the STEM industry must first match the available female talent pool, with larger quotas being gradually introduced. Since women in the STEM industry are generally underrepresented in relation to the available pool of female graduates (UNESCO, 2021; Fleur, 2014; The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2012), quotas that reflect existing talent pools can serve as effective starting points for achieving greater gender parity in STEM.

Beyond Gender Quotas

In the absence of gender quotas, however, there are several initiatives that the STEM industry can still take to increase the representation of women. For one, companies in the STEM industry should design their hiring process to be gender-blind, with exceptions only when absolutely necessary, such as during face-to-face interviews in the final stages of the process. By censoring the gender of applicants, companies can counteract the implicit male preference that studies show is prevalent in the STEM industry (Kong et al., 2020; Asare, 2018).

Moreover, companies should introduce women-specific mentorship programs that simultaneously develop women’s relevant skills—allowing them to climb the corporate ladder—and create support systems for women in hostile, male-dominated sectors. Researchers Hund et al. (2018) describe this form of mentorship as a “key component of academic and career success” (p. 9962) as it substantially improves mental health as well as industry retention for women in STEM. Further, mentorship programs have already been implemented with demonstrated success at multinational companies like Sanofi, where an annual, women-targeted leadership program has enabled the promotion of a third of its participants (Fuhrmans, 2020).

In addition, companies and organizations can increase the representation of women simply by spotlighting the achievements of other women in STEM, which can encourage more and more women to view STEM careers as viable and attainable (Kong et al., 2020). A study has found that merely including images of female scientists in STEM textbooks can boost the performance of female students (Good et al., 2010). This issue is especially pressing since women in STEM are severely underrepresented in popular culture. According to an international study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute, women in STEM appear with significantly less frequency in popular films than men do; overall, only 12% of characters with an identifiable STEM job are women (Smith et al., 2015). Therefore, by showcasing the achievements of women, the STEM industry can begin to reverse these deep-rooted biases, thereby mitigating the resulting gender discrepancies.


The Effects of Gender Diversity in the STEM Industry

Economic Impact

Gender diversity can increase economic output and productivity. In fact, in a study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, researchers found that enforcing gender quotas leads to an increase in human capital (the net economic value of workers) by motivating qualified women to apply to positions they otherwise would not have considered (Stark & Hyll, 2014). In addition, a meta-analysis published by MSCI has shown that firms with more women in senior leadership roles tend to have higher productivity growth (Eastman, 2018). This correlation between female representation and efficiency can be explained by a failure of companies to utilize available female talent: Companies failing to employ women – at any level – in numbers proportional to their availability are by definition limitin the size of their talent pool. In contrast, higher numbers of women, especially in senior positions, might indicate a savvier approach to talent – one that just might promote productivity and economic growth along with gender equality. (Eastman, 2018, para. 3)

Moreover, gender diversity in the workforce can also have a far-reaching impact that extends not only to the companies employing women but also to entire national economies. Indeed, Pollitt et al. (2017) estimate that more gender diversity in the EU will generate up to 10.5 million additional jobs by 2050 as well as an increase of up to 10% in GDP per capita. Tatli et al.’s (2013) research led to similar findings, indicating that gender quotas can unlock wasted female potential in developing economies. Notably, there is also a wealth of evidence to suggest that gender diversity, in and of itself, can have a positive impact on the efficiency of a STEM team. For example, gender-diverse teams tend to have better decision-making and problem-solving skills, which in turn translates into better quality science, technology, engineering, and math as well as greater economic output. This social phenomenon is more deeply explored by authors David Rock and Heidi Grant (2016) in the Harvard Business Review, where they write that:

enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential. Creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep your team members’ biases in check and make them question their assumptions. At the same time, we need to make sure the organization has inclusive practices so that everyone feels they can be heard. All of this can make your teams smarter and, ultimately, make your organization more successful, whatever your goals. (para. 14)

Although metrics like intellectual potential cannot necessarily be quantified, this expert assessment serves as further evidence of the positive impact a gender-diverse workplace can have.

Gender diversity as such can also drive innovation. In a study of more than 18,000 firms across 15 developing countries, gender diversity was shown to increase innovation; research shows this is the case in developed countries as well (Ritter-Hayashi et al., 2019). Likewise, a team of ten distinguished researchers from several US universities has argued that “gender diversity may also


spark new discoveries by broadening the viewpoints, questions, and areas addressed by researchers” (Nielsen et al., 2017, p. 1741).

In other words, achieving gender diversity in the STEM workforce can intrinsically improve the quality of science being produced while also contributing to economic growth.

Social Impact

In addition, gender-based affirmative action is extremely relevant to the common, global goal of sustainability, and social sustainability in particular. In fact, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has listed gender equality as a major goal towards achieving sustainable societies that will, in turn, produce social, economic, and environmental sustainability (UNDESA, n.d.). This is because gender equality is positioned at the intersection of several other sustainable goals (Dugarova, 2018).

For one, promoting gender diversity in the STEM industry will help sustain economic growth (Tatli et al., 2013). Promoting women’s inclusion in the workforce will also help redistribute unpaid care work, which has long hindered women and societies at large from achieving their full potential (Dugarova, 2018). Furthermore, there is evidence that including women in boards addressing climate change, whether through science or science-driven policymaking, can lead to more robust environmental protection (Dugarova, 2018).

Increasing gender representation in STEM can directly reduce gender discrimination in the workplace (Segal, 2015). Also, while opponents of gender-based affirmative action cite the possible propagation of negative gender stereotypes, research by Bagde et al. (2016) suggests otherwise. Overall, gender-based affirmative action, if implemented, will enable better-integrated and more sustainable societies.

Is Gender-Based Affirmative Action Unfair?

Many of affirmative action’s opponents claim that policies intended to increase the representation of women are inherently unfair (Menand, 2020). However, a deeper analysis of the ethical and moral foundations of gender-based affirmative action reveals that the opposition’s claims are generally superficial and built on shaky grounds. Gender-based affirmative action is at least compatible with, if not driven by, several schools of moral philosophy.

From a utilitarian perspective, for instance, where emphasis is placed on the overall utility or happiness produced as a result of an action (Gillon, 1985), the answer is clear: utilitarianism favors gender-based affirmative action for the overall net positive utility it generates (Broxill, 2010). In this case, the positive utility takes the form of the aforementioned economic growth (Stark & Hyll, 2014; Eastman, 2018; Pollitt et al., 2017), better-quality science (Rock & Grant, 2016), and greater social sustainability (UNESDA, n.d.).

Others object to gender-based affirmative action on the grounds of protecting meritocracy, a social system where individuals are selected and elevated into positions of power based on their accomplishments and merit (Merriam-Webster, n.d.); such opponents include entrepreneurs David Sacks and Peter Thiel (1996) who once argued against affirmative action writing that gender


is a “trait, not [an] achievement” (para. 10). However, what David Sacks and Peter Thiel ignore is the harsh reality that the world is not a meritocracy (Mark, 2020). In the STEM industry, where male bias in the selection process is prevalent, where women have faced decades of suppression and exclusion, and where traditional gender roles and societal expectations continue to restrict women, it is hard to argue that equal opportunity truly exists for women in the first place (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2021). On the contrary, introducing gender-based affirmative action will only serve to counteract the barriers that prevent women from accessing equal opportunities in STEM. In the words of the business psychologist Chamorro-Premuzuc, “the bigger problem is not the potential drawbacks of quotas, but the assumptions of quota-skeptics that our current system is mostly gender-, race-, or class-blind — and that it already produces optimal results” (para. 15).

Still others argue against affirmative action, and gender quotas in particular, on libertarian grounds; they claim that gender quotas are intrinsically unethical, as they bar men from opportunities they supposedly deserve (Meshelski, 2016). Yet, many proponents of gender-based affirmative action are themselves libertarians who believe gender quotas are perfectly compatible with libertarian notions of individual freedom (Sandel, 2009). There are several reasons for this.

For one, many appeal to liberal Rawlsian ethics, which dictate that merit alone does not necessarily entitle an individual to a reward, at least no more or less than do other traits like gender (Wenar, 2021). To illustrate this view in the context of university admissions, political philosopher Michael Sandel (2009) writes:

What right . . . has Hopwood [a student rejected due to affirmative action policies] been denied? Perhaps she believes that people have a right not to be judged according to factors, such as race, that are beyond their control. But most traditional criteria for university admission involve factors beyond one’s control. It’s not my fault that I come from Massachusetts rather than Idaho, or that I’m a lousy football player, or that I can’t carry a tune. Nor is it my fault if I lack the aptitude to do well on the SAT. (“Do Racial Preferences Violate Rights,” para. 3)

In the context of the STEM industry, this means that, at least according to Rawls, merit alone gives you no inherent right to any specific STEM position.

Therefore, Rawlsian liberals argue that the hiring criteria should instead be determined by the purpose of the hiring process (Sandel, 2009), which in STEM is generally to produce the best quality of science, to find the most effective engineering solutions, or to build the most efficient technology. As such, if as previously established there is an objective need for diverse teams to produce the best quality of work (Rock & Grant, 2016; Ritter-Hayashi et al., 2019; Nielsen et al., 2017), it is not inherently unfair to set gender quotas to hire the best and most diverse scientists and engineers. Meshelski (2016) makes a similar argument: affirmative action is compatible with liberalism because it leads to desirable outcomes, such as productivity and integration, without corrupting the procedure in question, like the STEM hiring process, for a purely merit-based system is, according to Rawls, no more or less just than one that accounts for gender in reaching the desired outcome. In other words, even in a true meritocracy, merit alone does not necessarily entitle individuals to employment opportunities.

A common objection to this line of reasoning is that it could potentially be misused to justify gender segregation, as long as the purpose of the hiring process aligns with such goals driven by bigotry. However, this objection is flawed for the simple reason


that Rawlsian ethics does not condone bigoted segregation, which is unethical for different reasons. Grounded in individual freedom, Rawlsian ethics only arise in this context in response to objective needs (Meshelski, 2016). One of the most prominent 20th-century philosophers of law and a proponent of affirmative action, Ronald Dworkin (1977 as cited in Sandel, 2009) made the same point many years ago, commenting that racial segregation was driven by “the despicable idea that one race may be inherently more worthy than another” (para. 7); this is in contrast to gender-based affirmative action, which is driven by no such prejudice.


Gender-based affirmative action should be implemented in the STEM industry in order to achieve gender diversity. Policies like gender quotas, coupled with women-specific programs and incentives, are effective at increasing the representation of women in the STEM workplace. By extension, implementing the aforementioned policies can boost the economic output of the STEM industry while building more socially sustainable societies. Finally, gender-based affirmative action is justifiable on utilitarian, libertarian and communitarian grounds.

With all of this in mind, it should be apparent that gender-based affirmative action is the way forward. After decades on the margin, it is time women gained an equal foothold in the STEM industry. By supporting gender-based affirmative action, you support not only women in STEM but also advancing the well-being of society as a whole and the long-term sustainability of humanity at large.



American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity. (n.d.) What is affirmative action? firmative_Action__Diversity_and_Inclusion.asp

Asare, J. (2018, October 16). How to increase female representation in the STEM field. Forbes. janicegassam/2018/10/16/how-to-increase-female-representation-in-the-stem-field/?sh=5f428e39466a

Bagde, S., Epple, D., & Taylor, L. (2016). Does affirmative action work? Caste, gender, college quality, and academic success in India. The American Economic Review, 106(6), 1495-1521.

Boxill, B. (2010). Discrimination, affirmative action, and diversity in business. In G. Brenkert & T. Beauchamp (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of business ethics (pp. 535-562). Oxford University Press.

Brooks, M. (2015, August 24). Women, minorities still underrepresented in medical specialties. Reuters. https://www.reuters. com/article/us-health-healthcare-diversity-idUSKCN0QT23I20150824

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2021, April 5). How valid are the arguments against affirmative action?. Forbes. https://www.forbes. com/sites/tomaspremuzic/2021/04/05/how-valid-are-the-arguments-against-affirmative-action/?sh=45389cd84aca

Dugarova, E. (2018). Gender equality as an accelerator for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. UNDP. https://www.

Dworkin, R. (1977, November 10). Why Bakke has no case. The New York Review of Books. ticles/1977/11/10/why-bakke-has-no-case/

Eastman, M. (2018, March 6). Women on boards: One piece of a bigger puzzle. MSCI. women-on-boards-one-piece-of-a/0872932779

Fleur, N. (2014, August 12). Many women leave engineering, blame the work culture. NPR. considered/2014/08/12/339638726/many-women-leave-engineering-blame-the-work-culture

Friedman-Sokuler, N., & Senik, C. (2020, October 14). Once women embrace STEM, there’s no going back to the old culture of ‘pink-collar’ jobs. London School of Economics and Political Science Blog. view/2020/10/14/once-women-embrace-stem-theres-no-going-back-to-the-old-culture-of-pink-collar-jobs/ Fry, R., Kennedy, B., & Funk, C. (2021, April 1). STEM jobs see uneven progress in increasing gender, racial and ethnic diversity. Pew Research Center.

Fuhrmans, V. (2020, February 6). Where are all the women CEOs?. The Wall Street Journal.

Ghodsee, K. (2019, November 13). What the US can learn from women in the Soviet workforce. Quartz. https://

Gillon, R. (1985). Utilitarianism. British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Ed.), 290(6479), 1411–3. 10.1136/



Good, J. J., Woodzicka, J. A., & Wingfield, L. C. (2010). The effects of gender stereotypic and counter-stereotypic textbook images on science performance. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150(2), 132–147. https://doi. org/10.1080/00224540903366552

Hund, A. K., Churchill, A. C., Faist, A. M., Havrilla, C. A., Love Stowell, S. M., McCreery, H. F., Ng, J., Pinzone, C. A., & Scordato, E. S. C. (2018). Transforming mentorship in STEM by training scientists to be better leaders. Ecology and Evolution, 8(20), 9962-9974.

IPU. Belgium. Inter-Parlimentary Union.

Kong, S., Carroll, K., Lundberg, D., Omura, P., & Lepe, B. (2020). Reducing gender bias in STEM. MIT Science Policy Review, 1, 55-63.

Long, H. (2019, March 29). 80 nations set quotas for female leaders. Should the U.S. be next?. The Washington Post. https://

Mark, C. (2020, June 22). A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you. Princeton University Press Blog https://press.

Martinez, A., & Christnacht, C. (2021). Women are nearly half of U.S. workforce but only 27% of STEM workers. United States Census Bureau.

Menand, L. (2020, January 13). The changing meaning of affirmative action. The New Yorker. zine/2020/01/20/have-we-outgrown-the-need-for-affirmative-action

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Meritocracy. In dictionary. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://www.

Meshelski, K. (2016). Procedural justice and affirmative action. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 19(2), 425-443. https://doi. org/10.1007/s10677-015-9633-1

Moes, L., Prichard, N., & Chang, Y. C. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 on women in the STEM workforce: Asia Pacific. Australian Academy of Science.

Mueller, A. (n.d.). The leaky pipeline: Women in life sciences. University of Maryland Graduate Student Association. https://www.

Nielsen, M. W., Alegria, S., Börjeson, L., Etzkowitz, H., Falk-Krzesinski, H. J., Joshi, A., ... & Schiebinger, L. (2017). Gender diversity leads to better science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(8), 1740-1742.

Paxton, P., & Hughes, M. M. (2015). The increasing effectiveness of national gender quotas, 1990-2010: increasing effectiveness of gender quotas. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 40(3), 331–362.

Pillinger, J. (2010). Pay and the gender wage gap in health and social care: Report of EPSU study on pay in the care sector in relation to overall pay levels and the gender pay gap in different countries in the European Union. EPSU.



Piscopo, J. (2020, October 22). When do quotas in politics work? Latin America offers lessons. Americas Quarterly. https://ameri Pollitt, H., Billington, S., Mantouvalou, K., Caisl, J., & Villosio, C. (2017). (rep.). Economic benefits of gender equality in the Euro pean Union. European Institute for Gender Equality.

Ritter-Hayashi, D., Vermeulen, P., & Knoben, J. (2019). Is this a man’s world? The effect of gender diversity and gender equality on firm innovativeness. Plos one, 14(9), e0222443.

Rock, D., & Grant, H. (2016, November 4). Why diverse tams are smarter. Harvard Business Review. why-diverse-teams-are-smarter

Russell, M., Krentz, M., Abouzahr, K., & Doyle, M. (2019). Women dominate health care—Just not in the executive suite. BCG Global.

Sacks, D., & Thiel, P. (1996, October). The case against affirmative action. Stanford Magazine. the-case-against-affirmative-action

Sandel, M. (2009). Justice: What’s the right thing to do?. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Segal, J. (2015, January 7). 10 tips to fight gender discrimination. SHRM. pages/010215-gender-discrimination.aspx

Silbey, S. (2016, August 23). Why do so many women who study engineering leave the field?. Harvard Business Review. https://

Smith, S. L., Pieper, K., & Choueiti, M. (2015). Gender bias without borders: An investigation of female characters in popular films across 11 countries. Annenberg Foundation. out_Borders_Executive_Summary.pdf

Stark, O., & Hyll, W. (2014). Socially gainful gender quotas. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 105, 173-177.

Sykes, S. (2018, February 11). The EU countries with more female than male scientists. Euronews. https://www.euronews. com/2018/02/11/which-three-eu-countries-have-more-female-than-male-scientists-and-engineersTatli, A., Vassilopoulou, J., & Ö. Mustafa. (2013). An unrequited affinity between talent shortages and untapped female potential: The relevance of gender quotas for talent management in high growth potential economies of the Asia Pacific region. International Business Review, 22(3), 539–553.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh. (2012). (rep.). Tapping all our Talents. The Royal Society of Edinburgh. content/uploads/2022/01/Tapping-talents-report_FINAL.pdf

Thornton, A. (2019). Gender equality in STEM is possible. These countries prove it. World Economic Forum. https://www.wefo

UNDESA. (n.d.) Goal 5: Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations.

UNESCO. (2019). Women in science. UNESCO. UNESCO. (2021). . UNESCO.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Employment projections: 2020-2030 summary. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.

Wenar, L. (2021). John Rawls. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Wetzel, C. (2021, October 8). No Nobel Prizes in science went to women this year, widening the awards’ gender gap. Smithsonian Magazine.

Why half the scientists in some Eastern European countries are women. (2019, July 18). The Economist. https://www.economist. com/europe/2019/07/18/why-half-the-scientists-in-some-eastern-european-countries-are-women

Zahidi, S. (2014, March 7). Why we need to get smarter about quotas. CNN. why-we-need-to-get-quotas/index.html


Tanika Gupta’s A Doll’s House: Different Symptoms of the Same Experience

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a significant example of a theatrical production that challenges conventional perceptions of gender roles, specifically within the domestic sphere. Nora and Torvald are representative of common household stereotypes: the submissive “spendthrift” wife who needs to be taught, guided, and controlled by the authoritative and patriarchal husband. Although their relationship appears to be characterized by mutual trust and respect, Nora’s apprehension towards Torvald learning about her borrowing money for a trip to Italy suggests otherwise. Her attempts to conceal the truth from Torvald eventually fail, prompting him to reprimand Nora on the grounds of disobedience, incompetence, and even a lack of morals. Ultimately, Nora leaves Torvald and their children in order to understand her identity and position in society. Nora’s decision has been pivotal in shaping perceptions of gender roles in society, prompting various adaptations of Ibsen’s work aimed at translating the Norwegian experience from 1879 to a larger audience, across generations and cultures. One particularly compelling adaptation is Tanika Gupta’s version of A Doll’s House, which introduces the character of Niru as a counterpart to Nora. This version, also set in 1879, transports the setting from Norway to British colonized India. While the core story remains the same, there are various changes made to the social, cultural, and religious contexts. These changes enable Gupta’s adaptation to contribute to Ibsen’s exploration of gender roles. In particular, Gupta’s version navigates the complexities of gender roles in an era of colonization, wherein different cultures and religions intermingle, resulting in societal models distinct from the European and Christian framework of Norwegian society. In this paper, I explore Tanika Gupta’s A Doll’s House in order to understand how the adaptation successfully advances the ongoing conversation about gender roles in the household.

Gupta’s adaptation reimagines Ibsen’s story with notable changes made to characters and setting. Niru is a young Bengali woman who is married to Tom Helmer, a British lawyer. The play also features a range of other characters, including Dr. Rank, Krishna Lahiri/Mrs. Lahiri (Mrs. Linde), Kaushik Das (Krogstad), and Uma (the maid). The events are set in Calcutta, in 1879, a time when the city served as the administrative capital of the expanding British Raj, a colonial empire with global reach. This setting highlights the intricate interplay between Indian and British cultures, as represented within the Helmer household. Niru and Tom’s relationship can be interpreted as a representation of colonized India, where the British figure has authority over an Indian, and this dynamic mirrors the conventional hierarchy of the authoritative husband and subdued wife.


In the context of the colonial era, there are multiple historical events which need to be taken into account when analyzing the play. In 1879, Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India, a monumental decision that influenced perceptions of women’s roles in society (BBC Radio 4x). With a woman inhabiting a position of administrative power, the subdued role of women in marriage, as well as society at large, was increasingly scrutinized. At the time, mixed race marriages were also commonplace, highlighting how two very different upbringings interact within a marriage. In the case of Niru and Tom, the inequalities within their marriage are not only based on gender roles, but also on perceptions of individual cultures and religions. For example, despite growing resistance to conventional gender roles, Mrs. Lahiri remarks that certain conventions still remain, notably in how it is still very difficult for women to work in India (19:54-19:58). Amidst the historical forces shaping India, Niru is situated at the center of the conflict between patriarchal norms and the growing resistance towards them. Gupta’s work does not undermine Nora’s story; rather, it places itself alongside Ibsen’s text to present women’s struggle with gender roles as a universal theme spanning across different continents. Cultural attitudes are very prominently featured in Gupta’s work. For example, while Ibsen’s Helmer addresses Nora as “skylark,” Gupta’s Helmer specifically addresses Niru as his “little Indian skylark” and “exotic palm squirrel” (05:42-05:52). These terms reveal a perception of Indian culture as inferior and the derogatory label of “exotic” situates Tom in a position of cultural superiority over Niru. Tom’s sense of superiority is seen in many more instances: for example, Tom mentions that financial greed is “hereditary” among Indians (08:10), and when confronted with the possibility of having his reputation destroyed, he laments his predicament as being at the mercy of a “monstrous, unscrupulous, ill-bred Indian man” (1:36:06-1:36:11). Kaushik also uses Tom as an example to highlight a general British attitude towards Indians, mentioning that Tom would do anything to sit on his “high horse and look down on dirty Indians” (1:08:34-1:08:40). Tom perceives Indian culture as a product, or even a service, that needs to be consumed, controlled, and most importantly, owned. Along with associating Niru with skylarks and other creatures of prey, Tom makes it a point to remark that she is a “plaything” and “an expensive pet” (07:40-07:47). In Ibsen’s work, the association merely highlights a patriarchal control over a woman, but in Gupta’s work, situated in the context of colonization, it also encapsulates a British desire to control Indian culture. The play features numerous examples of Indian culture. In addition to English, Hindi and Konkani (native to Calcutta) are briefly used across Gupta’s adaptation. The tarantella is replaced by a classical Indian dance, accompanied by a percussionist instead of a pianist (1:14:09-1:15:55). The vastly diverse representation of Indian culture is juxtaposed with overbearing British attitudes and their quest for control in order to highlight the cultural interplay that also plays a part in Niru’s decision to leave, an aspect that Ibsen’s version does not focus on.

Along with cultural attitudes, religion is much more prevalent in Gupta’s adaptation. While Ibsen’s Helmer makes a general remark about how morals and religion go hand in hand, Gupta expands on the idea of religious differences in the mixed marriage between Niru and Tom. Tom associates morality with Christianity, citing how, in order to be married to him, Niru had to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. It is interesting to note that while Nora had to change at the end of the play in order to discover her identity, Niru had already undergone a significant change before her ultimate decision to leave Tom and their children behind. During the confrontation preceding her decision to leave, Tom dramatically asserts that despite her conversion, Niru will always remain a “heathen” who had wronged him—hinting that in his eyes this core aspect of her identity is immutable (1:35:51-1:35:58).

The simplistic notion that Christianity is a moral and peaceful religion is immediately undermined by Tom’s premature outburst,


which enables Niru to rethink religious belief as a whole. Ibsen does not elaborate on religious morals and Nora only mentions religious morals in passing. However, in a colonized Indian society, where Hinduism and Christianity are in close contact with each other, the question of religious morals is a lot more complicated for Niru, especially given that she has practiced the two religions. After having been a doll-child for her father and a doll-wife for Tom, she grapples with the challenge of understanding religious morals in a colonized society. In Niru’s justification for why she has to leave Tom, the influence of religious morals practiced in society holds significantly more weight than in Nora’s case. Although Gupta’s version has been staged in various theatres, I specifically chose to focus on a radio broadcast of the play—a BBC Radio 4x broadcast, directed by Nadia Molinari—in order to highlight how the message is still delivered, even in the absence of visual elements. With a radio broadcast, the lack of visuals is compensated for by an enriched sound design. Tabla maestro Shahbaz Hussain plays a very prominent role in this production by lending a culturally accurate sound. Apart from being featured in Niru’s performance, the tabla is also used as a transition to highlight Niru having taken off her “fancy dress,” thus stepping into a new sense of self (1:40:30-1:41:15). The tabla is performed in a specific manner, paying attention to a rhythmic crescendo that highlights a slow transformation of Niru from being submissive and subdued to gaining authority over herself. Additionally, there are ambient sounds across the play, ranging from the crackling of fire that accentuates the conversation between Niru and Mrs. Lahiri, to the sound of crickets chirping at night when Niru and Tom have their final conversation. Along with a judicious use of instruments, sound is also pertinent to gaining access to the characters. Niru, Kaushik, Uma, and Mrs. Lahiri speak English with very particular intonations and tonalities, separating them from the more “refined” English spoken by Tom and Dr. Rank. By enhancing sound design, Molinari makes Gupta’s text more accessible without the need to visually stage it. Along with sound design, theatre is almost always associated with visuals, in terms of wardrobe, makeup, set design, and lighting. While these aspects are important in theatrical productions, Molinari’s attention to detail in the absence of visuals highlights how the message is the most fundamental aspect of theatre. Emotions are not compromised in the absence of visual cues such as facial expressions, and the atmosphere and setting are not inaccessible in the absence of a stage. By enhancing sound design, Molinari manages to imagine Gupta’s text as a theatrical production lacking visuals that can still be placed in conversation with Ibsen’s text.

In conclusion, I have explored various aspects of Molinari’s direction of Gupta’s text, and how the adaptation advances the conversation initiated by Ibsen. In Gupta’s text, the perception of gender roles in a household is complicated in a colonized society. However, this complexity in Niru’s pursuit of empowerment does not imply that Nora’s struggles can easily be dismissed. Both characters represent a strong response to the status quo, dealing with various circumstances and overcoming a host of obstacles in order to be recognized as individuals who are not predisposed to be controlled by male authority figures. In fact, the conversation is more fruitful when Gupta’s Niru and Ibsen’s Nora are juxtaposed. This also highlights the importance of considering an adaptation as a work in its own right. Indeed, the act of adapting works translates the message to a wider audience. Even though Niru and Nora face different societal conventions in 1879, ultimately they are both women responding strongly to patriarchal control. Gupta not only successfully translates Ibsen’s work to a colonial context, but also manages to highlight the universality of women’s struggle.


Works Cited

Gupta, Tanika. “A Doll’s House.” Tanika Gupta, Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Project Gutenberg, March 2001,

Molinari, Nadia, director. “Ibsen’s – A Doll’s House.” BBC Radio 4x, 2012,


Two Readings of James Joyce’s “Eveline”

Ambiguity and Oppression: The Illusion of Choice in Joyce’s “Eveline”

In his complex short story “Eveline,” James Joyce explores the relationship between choice, oppression, and interpretation. The main character Eveline’s dilemma regarding whether to stay with her father or to leave with her lover is further complicated by her subjugation to these men. On a larger scale, this complication reflects, as Lesli Mortenson puts it, “the meta-political theme of British imperial oppression towards Ireland” (5). Moreover, Joyce’s narrative approach accentuates this complexity via deliberate ambiguity in phrasing and punctuation that leaves room for interpretation. As a reader, you can either conclude that Eveline chose to stay with her father or to leave with her lover. However, I contend that this deliberate ambiguity and the oppression she faces upend both Eveline’s and the reader’s autonomy over that choice, and ultimately render choice irrelevant. Therefore, I argue that the portrayal of choice in the text, via both content and form, is fundamentally compromised. The omnipotent oppressive forces of patriarchy and colonialism create the illusion of choice for Eveline, whereas the reader experiences the same illusion of choice via the ambiguity of interpretation. Therefore, any choice made by either the reader or Eveline is untenable.

The text showcases the oppressive influence of the patriarchy through Eveline’s relationship with her father. Even though Eveline is a grown woman, she still feels herself to be in danger from her father’s violent behavior. The constant need to be wary of her father’s bad moods has even led to her poor health, and she mentions her heart palpitations and the constant weariness she experiences because of their arguments over money (Joyce). These instances paint a picture of her hard life at home, one in which she can never put her own needs first. She is the one who needs to take care of the household by sacrificing her own emotional needs and enduring her father’s difficult personality.

By contrast, Eveline’s relationship with her lover Frank appears to be liberating. However, Frank is self-centered and reflects another facet of the patriarchal oppression that stifles Eveline. He takes her to the opera and meets her outside The Stores (where she works) every evening to see her home (Joyce). In these ways, he appears intent on courting Eveline in a public manner. He tells her stories of his travels and wants to take her away to live with him in Buenos Aires (Joyce). These grandiose gestures seem designed to sweep Eveline off her feet and could be an indicator that Frank is an unscrupulous seducer, which makes him self-centered in his pursuit of Eveline. But even if he is a genuine suitor, regardless of how in love he believes himself to be, Frank is still inconsiderate of Eveline’s paralysis. He has established Buenos Aires as the home he has waiting for her, “and had come over to the old country just for a holiday” (Joyce). This statement illustrates his unwillingness to entertain the prospect of living in Ireland with Eveline. Perhaps this alternative has not even crossed his mind. As an emigrant who left Ireland to find better opportunities, he probably expects Eveline to follow suit. This expectation again reveals his self-centeredness in his pursuit of Eveline. Therefore, Franks’ priority is his


need to leave Ireland, and, in this way, he puts his needs first over his supposed love for Eveline. He expects Eveline to upend her life for him.Thus, Frank’s romantic pursuit stifles Eveline’s emotional needs and acts as yet another patriarchal force that oppresses her. Eveline’s choice to stay or leave hinges upon her reliance on the men in her life. Regardless of the choice she makes, Eveline faces emotional anguish, and thus, her paralysis is understandable. In choosing to leave with Frank, she faces unknowable hardships. The stress of leaving the only home she has ever known, leaving behind her family, and assimilating into a new country are what lie ahead for her. If she chooses to stay, however, “she had to work hard, both in the house and at business” (Joyce). By staying, she faces a predictable future filled with her current sacrifices of handling her father’s temper, being a caretaker for two young children and being subservient at her job at The Stores. Regardless of whether she decides to leave or stay, she does not experience any great freedom from her oppression by patriarchal and colonial forces nor any autonomy for herself. Either way, there is emotional anguish for Eveline. She is constrained by her dependence on her father and her lover.

Eveline’s plight is symptomatic of the larger struggle for Irish autonomy in the face of British rule. This view is put forth by Mortenson, who claims, “Just as Eveline was unable to separate herself from her persecutor, Joyce argues that Ireland has never been able to cut itself off from the colonial influence of England” (5). I concur with Mortenson’s assertion, and I find that Joyce’s work was greatly influenced by his lived experience as an Irishman trying to maintain a national identity under British rule. There is not much real choice in the matter for people in Ireland. They are granted the illusion that they still possess autonomy, but ultimately British rule dictates their decisions. Eveline’s paralysis mirrors Ireland’s plight in the futility of the choices available to her. Yes, she can technically choose and put into effect a life-altering decision, but it is only under the dictates of the men in her life that she can experience either possibility. If Eveline chooses to stay with her father, it is his unpredictable mood and her weariness and fear of him that will govern her life henceforth. If Eveline chooses to leave with Frank, it is the unknowable reliability of his character and the extent of his love (or goodwill) that will govern her fate on a whole new continent. Therefore, either way, her choice does not grant her any peace or even guarantee a happy ending. Similarly, Ireland has no real choice in governing itself. Any real control lies with the British. Eveline’s fear of leaving the familiar behind and venturing into the unknown can be seen as a representation of Ireland’s struggle to break free from the political, economic, and cultural constraints imposed by England. By presenting Eveline’s dilemma as emblematic of the broader struggle faced by Ireland, Joyce highlights the difficulties of asserting independence and making decisions free from the constraints of colonialism.

Until now, I have emphasized the role of the characters and plot in highlighting how oppressive forces like patriarchy and colonialism can render one’s available choices redundant in the face of their circumstances. To further comprehend the illusion of choice within the text, the ambiguous interpretive possibilities of Joyce’s narrative form need to be considered. Readers experience an irrelevance of choice in their own reading practice when it comes to ambiguous interpretive possibilities.

The significance of Eveline’s relationship with her mother and the phrase “Derevaun Seraun” in influencing her choice is one such moment of ambiguity within the text. “Derevaun Seraun” is a significant phrase in the text as it is the key to the epiphanic moment Eveline experiences. The sound of an organ playing triggers Eveline’s epiphany. On remembering these last words her mother uttered, she makes her choice (Joyce). Scholars have offered a wide array of interpretations for the phrase, ranging from it having many meanings to being gibberish. Just as the phrase itself could mean anything and nothing, similarly, in the context


of Eveline’s relationship with her mother, the phrase is open to interpretation. In this way, the phrase is a formal feature which mirrors the ambiguity of the text. Eveline recollects her mother’s life as a pitiful life of commonplace sacrifices, concluding in a final madness with the phrase “Derevaun Seraun” (Joyce). The use of phrases like “pitiful” and “commonplace sacrifices” reinforce the interpretation that Eveline views her mother’s life with disdain. She is afraid of facing a fate like her mother’s, wasting away her life in accommodating and adjusting for the comfort of others. Therefore, Eveline’s strong feelings regarding her mother’s life and subsequent fate could have played a major role in her choosing to stay with her father or to leave with Frank. Staying with her father to take care of him and his household means succumbing to the same life of commonplace sacrifices as her mother and acting as her replacement. In this context, it is understandable if Eveline chooses to leave, horrified at the thought of becoming like her mother. However, leaving with Frank, keeping his house for him, and dedicating her life to being his partner is also a sacrifice of her autonomy and self. Moving out and living at the mercy of a man she married is another way in which she fulfills her mother’s fate. It is understandable if she wants to avoid that, by choosing to stay home and continue facing the known rather than an unknown, potentially worse fate. Hence, the interpretation of this important memory is ambivalent to the reader; there are two equally possible interpretations. If the meaning Eveline attaches to her recollection of this specific phrase were clearer, the reader could confidently predict what Eveline chose as a result of her epiphany. Yet, all we know is that the memory of “Derevaun Seraun” is what catapults Eveline into suddenly making her choice. This ambivalence in interpretation reveals that neither choice could have been truly epiphanic for Eveline. The epiphany lies in the ambivalence; no matter the interpretation, she is trapped. Therefore, the ambiguity of this phrase and its context is an important example from the text for two reasons: it indicates the irrelevance of the choice Eveline faces, and it also highlights the ambiguous interpretive route the reader could take. Hence, it is clear from the text that Eveline has made a choice at this point, to stay or to leave. However, Joyce has left it up to the reader to interpret what this choice could be. A key example of this ambiguity that is often cited occurs at the end of the story and involves a voice calling Eveline to follow. Most commentators on the text agree that Eveline has chosen to stay and the voice is thought to be Frank atop the leaving ship, desperately calling out to her to change her mind (Joyce). However, Edward Ben-Merre argues that it is equally likely that the voice calling her to “Come!” is her father, and that Eveline has chosen to leave. Ben-Merre posits that specific choices Joyce makes in narrative content and form and the very structure of the story give us room to interpret in this manner (460). To support his interpretation, Ben-Merre offers certain textual evidence. One such piece of textual evidence is the pronoun “he” at the end of the story which Ben-Merre believes refers to Eveline’s father and not to Frank. Ben-Merre argues that the “he” who is holding Eveline’s hand, the “he” who is speaking to her, the “he” who would drown her, and the “he” who calls her to follow can all be interpreted as being her father (462). This interpretation of the text could be as follows: As Eveline ponders the upcoming passage with Frank, she wonders if she can still draw back after all he has done for her (Joyce). This could be her wondering if she can still leave and betray her father, after he has given her a home and parental support all her life. The “he” who is speaking to her is her father on the dock, saying something about the passage over and over, perhaps begging her to reconsider her decision to leave with Frank. Her father’s repeated demands that she stay may be the reason she feels “he” will drown her (Joyce). This could have been her moment where she decides to break free from “him” and board the ship, her hands clutching the iron of the ship in a frenzy (Joyce). In this case, her father is the one on the dock, rushing beyond the barrier, calling for her to come back and follow “him” home (Joyce).


However, the same “he” can equally be read as referring to Frank, which completely changes the situation with Eveline having chosen to stay behind in Ireland. Before the ambiguous “he” pronouns are employed by Joyce within the text, Eveline is thinking about her passage with Frank. Thus, it is natural for the reader to assume that the subsequent “he” pronouns are used in reference to Frank. A second interpretation of the same text could be as follows: Eveline wonders if she can still draw back after all he has done for her (Joyce). This could be her wondering if she should stay behind and betray Frank even after he has offered her a chance at a new life and made future plans which revolve around their life together elsewhere. The “he” who is speaking to her is Frank on the dock as they are about to board the ship, saying something about the passage over and over, perhaps telling her some details about the passage which she is not registering in the moment. Frank has boarded the ship and is holding out his hand now to Eveline, urging her to board the ship as well. At Frank’s insistence, she overwhelmingly feels “he” will drown her, and she grips the iron railing of the dock, refusing to board the ship (Joyce). Frank is helplessly watching from the boat as the entryway is closed, rushing beyond the barrier, and calling for her to follow “him” (Joyce).

The reader is aware that Eveline’s dilemma regarding whether to stay or to go has been established as the central conflict and emotional crux of the story. However, as I have shown, the reader can equally extrapolate either of these outcomes from the text. If Eveline’s central conflict is shrouded in such ambiguity, this means that the choice was never really a choice in the first place. The reader is also constrained in their choice as different readers may interpret the same text in different ways, and so, ultimately, there is no correct choice for the reader either. The reader should start to feel that any choice Eveline or they themselves possess in the matter is irrelevant.

I find that the aforementioned issue of ambiguity in narrative form further complicates the current critical conversation on “Eveline” in a very significant way. It shifts the focus of the conversation from Eveline’s choice to questioning if the choice was ever hers to begin with. In engaging with the text, Joanna Luft highlights how any interpretation of Eveline’s choice is ultimately dependent upon the morals of the reader (51). I agree with this analysis, and I believe, therefore, that Eveline’s paralysis of choice is intrinsically connected to the reader’s paralysis of ambivalent interpretation. The paralysis in both cases is because there is no concrete choice available for Eveline or the reader to make confidently. The choices available are muddled by the omnipotence of the oppressive forces of the patriarchy and colonialism which plague Eveline and, via Joyce’s ambiguous narrative form, plague the reader. In this way, oppressive situations greatly diminish the autonomy to make a choice as well as the value of a choice overall. Eveline has less autonomy to make her choice due to the patriarchal and colonial norms she is subject to. Therefore, any choice is redundant and completely irrelevant to any outcome that Eveline could face. Ultimately, “Eveline” reflects how illusory choices can be in the face of oppression. Patriarchal norms and colonial influence can stifle individual choice to the point where no outcome is satisfactory or beneficial to the individual. Ambiguous narrative similarly stifles agency and strips the reader’s autonomy to make an informed choice. A situation may appear to offer a choice, but if there are great constraints upon your autonomy to decide, the choice is ultimately out of your control and that renders the choice irrelevant. A further study may approach the text in the context of the religious loyalties of Eveline, Joyce, and - on a larger scale - Ireland, and explore how viewing the choices made through this lens shapes the critique of the illusion of choice. Regardless of the new approach, one must acknowledge the intertwined role of interpretive ambiguity and oppression in illegitimating choice which is at the heart of the text.


which passage with Frank, she wonders if she can still draw back after all he has done for her (Joyce). This could be her wondering if she can still leave and betray her father, after he has given her a home and parental support all her life. The “he” who is speaking to her is her father on the dock, saying something about the passage over and over, perhaps begging her to reconsider her decision to leave with Frank. Her father’s repeated demands that she stay may be the reason she feels “he” will drown her (Joyce). This could have been her moment where she decides to break free from “him” and board the ship, her hands clutching the iron of the ship in a frenzy (Joyce). In this case, her father is the one on the dock, rushing beyond the barrier, calling for her to come back and follow “him” home (Joyce).

However, the same “he” can equally be read as referring to Frank, which completely changes the situation with Eveline having chosen to stay behind in Ireland. Before the ambiguous “he” pronouns are employed by Joyce within the text, Eveline is thinking about her passage with Frank. Thus, it is natural for the reader to assume that the subsequent “he” pronouns are used in reference to Frank. A second interpretation of the same text could be as follows: Eveline wonders if she can still draw back after all he has done for her (Joyce). This could be her wondering if she should stay behind and betray Frank even after he has offered her a chance at a new life and made future plans which revolve around their life together elsewhere. The “he” who is speaking to her is Frank on the dock as they are about to board the ship, saying something about the passage over and over, perhaps telling her some details about the passage which she is not registering in the moment. Frank has boarded the ship and is holding out his hand now to Eveline, urging her to board the ship as well. At Frank’s insistence, she overwhelmingly feels “he” will drown her, and she grips the iron railing of the dock, refusing to board the ship (Joyce). Frank is helplessly watching from the boat as the entryway is closed, rushing beyond the barrier, and calling for her to follow “him” (Joyce).

The reader is aware that Eveline’s dilemma regarding whether to stay or to go has been established as the central conflict and emotional crux of the story. However, as I have shown, the reader can equally extrapolate either of these outcomes from the text. If Eveline’s central conflict is shrouded in such ambiguity, this means that the choice was never really a choice in the first place. The reader is also constrained in their choice as different readers may interpret the same text in different ways, and so, ultimately, there is no correct choice for the reader either. The reader should start to feel that any choice Eveline or they themselves possess in the matter is irrelevant.

I find that the aforementioned issue of ambiguity in narrative form further complicates the current critical conversation on “Eveline” in a very significant way. It shifts the focus of the conversation from Eveline’s choice to questioning if the choice was ever hers to begin with. In engaging with the text, Joanna Luft highlights how any interpretation of Eveline’s choice is ultimately dependent upon the morals of the reader (51). I agree with this analysis, and I believe, therefore, that Eveline’s paralysis of choice is intrinsically connected to the reader’s paralysis of ambivalent interpretation. The paralysis in both cases is because there is no concrete choice available for Eveline or the reader to make confidently. The choices available are muddled by the omnipotence of the oppressive forces of the patriarchy and colonialism which plague Eveline and, via Joyce’s ambiguous narrative form, plague the reader. In this way, oppressive situations greatly diminish the autonomy to make a choice as well as the value of a choice overall. Eveline has less autonomy to make her choice due to the patriarchal and colonial norms she is subject to. Therefore, any choice is redundant and completely irrelevant to any outcome that Eveline could face.


Ultimately, “Eveline” reflects how illusory choices can be in the face of oppression. Patriarchal norms and colonial influence can stifle individual choice to the point where no outcome is satisfactory or beneficial to the individual. Ambiguous narrative similarly stifles agency and strips the reader’s autonomy to make an informed choice. A situation may appear to offer a choice, but if there are great constraints upon your autonomy to decide, the choice is ultimately out of your control and that renders the choice irrelevant. A further study may approach the text in the context of the religious loyalties of Eveline, Joyce, and - on a larger scale - Ireland, and explore how viewing the choices made through this lens shapes the critique of the illusion of choice. Regardless of the new approach, one must acknowledge the intertwined role of interpretive ambiguity and oppression in illegitimating choice which is at the heart of the text.

Works Cited

Ben-Merre, David. “Eveline Ever After.” James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 49 no. 3, 2012, p. 455-471. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ jjq.2012.0033 . Accessed 11 May 2023.

Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Dubliners, Project Gutenberg, 21 May 2021, . Accessed 11 May 2023.

Luft, Joanna. “Reader Awareness: Form and Ambiguity in James Joyce’s ‘Eveline.’” The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 2009, pp. 48–51. JSTOR, Accessed 11 May 2023.

Mortensen, Lesli A. “Is Literature Above Politics? James Joyce as an Author of ‘Political Enthusiasm’”” 2015. Brigham Young Uni versity Student Works. 136. . Accessed 11 May 2023.


Seizing Agency: Oppression and Feminine Resilience in James Joyce’s “Eveline”

James Joyce’s “Eveline” underscores the burden of misogyny and gender hierarchy on women in colonized Ireland. Throughout the text, the eponymous character’s resilience despite paralysis symbolizes the hope through which oppressed women overcome patriarchal setbacks. During her identity crisis, Eveline contemplates whether to relinquish her one opportunity of escaping a violent life in Dublin by leaving her father to join her lover, Frank, in Buenos Aires. I contend that she ultimately pursues liberation from both Frank and her father. Eugene O’Brien notes that even though Eveline views her gender role as a blessing because her father never “went for her like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl” (27), it ultimately limits her choices, actions, and personal growth in patriarchal Ireland. Eveline’s father and the surrounding society confine her within the boundaries forged by misogyny. She is not allowed to follow her desires, a reality she resists. Although Eveline’s voice against oppression is considered marginal by most scholars, her agency becomes evident through her desire for freedom. By exploring Eveline’s experiences as a woman in colonized Ireland and her sense of identity resulting from these conditions, I claim that Eveline is both a victim of and a warrior against the injustices she suffers. Ultimately, these experiences and her internal yearning for freedom drive Eveline towards an independent life instead of choosing between an uncertain future with Frank or being trapped with her abusive father.

Ambiguity in “Eveline” allows for various interpretations of the story’s themes and climax. For instance, Joanna Luft claims that imagery and allusion in the story create an extreme vagueness surrounding Eveline’s ultimate decision on whether she should leave Ireland with Frank (49). This literary feature of ambiguity creates a visual image of Eveline’s entrapment and the reader’s hermeneutical conundrum (Luft 48). The reader is paralyzed by the story’s ambiguity, just as conflicting feelings of obligation paralyze Eveline. The use of ambiguity in the text invites readers to engage with “Eveline” at a deeper level and discover new interpretations. According to Luft, there are only two options available to Eveline, but my argument suggests a third option: that she embarks on her own path without her father or Frank. By closely analyzing the story, the reader can uncover a feminist reading highlighting Eveline’s independence. Her decision to escape alone instead of staying with her father or leaving with Frank to Buenos Aires underscores her agency and self-determination. The ambiguity in the text supports this reading and encourages readers to consider feminist interpretations of the story’s ending.

When we consider the context of the women’s suffrage movement for equal rights that was taking place in colonized Ireland, together with Joyce’s intention to write about women’s role in society, Eveline’s decision to separate herself from the ties that bind her gains more significance. According to Michael Wainright, Joyce’s writing can be read as a commentary on the importance of women’s rights and equality in the way that it challenges traditional gender roles and expectations (676). For Wainright, Joyce’s work is an essential contribution to the ongoing struggle for gender equality. His writing often portrays women as strong and independent characters, challenging traditional gender roles and expectations. Additionally, Joyce’s narratives highlight the im


ortance of women’s rights and equality, and his portrayal of women reflects the struggle for gender equality during the suffrage movement in Ireland (Wainright). Furthermore, Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness narration allows readers to access his female characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings, giving voice to women’s experiences in a male-dominated society. In this sense, Eveline’s desire for freedom and independence from her abusive father and unreliable lover is a feminist stance that resonates with the suffrage movement.

Considering Joyce’s deliberate exploration of the lives of women in Dublin, the oppressive nature of the patriarchy plays as a crucial factor that propels Eveline towards choosing independence over living with her abusive father. The narrator explains how Eveline felt “in danger of her father’s violence” and feared the way that “he had begun to threaten her” (Joyce). Here, the father wants Eveline to be like her mother, a submissive woman. So, as a patriarch, he threatens her. Her father’s violent and threatening behavior towards her reflects the toxic and domineering nature of the patriarchy. Furthermore, Eveline’s financial autonomy is systematically curtailed: Eveline always gave her entire salary to the household, “seven shillings,”; meanwhile, her brother “Harry always sent up what he could” and “the trouble was to get any money from her father” (Joyce). The contrast between the treatment of Eveline and her brother highlights the limitations placed on women within patriarchal structures. Harry has the freedom to move out and send whatever money he can. Meanwhile, Eveline is stuck in her hometown with her violent father and must work and handle domestic chores; her father takes away all her earnings, and she must beg her father for her own money to buy groceries. The absurdity of this situation highlights the harmful effects of patriarchal beliefs on women. However, despite these challenges, Eveline manages to win the battle with her father by persistently saving money to escape. By choosing to leave and forge her own path, Eveline challenges the gendered power dynamics of her society, highlighting the need for broader social and political change to combat the pervasive and corrosive impact of the patriarchy on women’s lives.

Building on our previous discussion, it is clear that Eveline’s upbringing within a patriarchal system has shaped her. Her mother, involuntarily complicit in the domestic abuse that she suffers at the Hill house by her father, highlights the problematic nature of patriarchal violence and its misogynistic internalization by victims of domestic abuse. The narrator recounts her mother’s last words before her death: “Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!” (Joyce). These words are ambiguous, and many translators cannot decipher their meaning. The figurative language creates ambiguity, metaphorically showcasing the incarceration of women–both Eveline and her mother–within family responsibilities. Even in death, Eveline’s mother thinks of her family, as Eveline indicates that her mother is asking her to stay. The narrator describes Eveline’s feelings as she remembers her mother dying: “Escape! She must escape!” (Joyce). Eveline’s need for escape intensifies as soon as she remembers her mother dying, highlighting the profound psychological impact of her mother’s death on her sense of self and her desire for autonomy. The sudden recollection of her mother’s passing brings to the forefront the weight of her responsibilities as a daughter and the realization that her life has been defined by duty and sacrifice rather than by her desires and aspirations. Her mother’s death serves as a catalyst for her to confront the reality of her situation and to acknowledge her unhappiness and unfulfilled longings. Thus, Eveline’s need for escape is a desire to break free from her oppressive environment and a desperate attempt to reclaim agency over her own life and assert her identity beyond the confines of her familial obligations. This marks a pivotal departure from the cycle of abuse, which her mother could not escape. Eveline successfully breaks the chains of the perpetual cycle of violence by choosing to emigrate from Ireland. This decision


not only indicates to the reader that Eveline wants to leave, but also substantiates the contention that her decision is profoundly shaped by the trauma she has suffered under the misogynistic upbringing at her patriarchal home. Eveline’s motivation to escape her abusive household is driven more by her longing for freedom than her affection for Frank. The narrator describes Eveline’s conflict: “She would not be treated as her mother had been” (Joyce). This statement portrays that Eveline wants agency, equal rights, and freedom, which her mother did not have. Eveline wants to be treated with respect and not be scared by misogynistic acts of violence at the hands of men like her father and lover, Frank. Despite Eveline’s violent upbringing and the constraints of her social context, her persistent desire for a different life reflects her resilience and determination to overcome her traumatic family relationships and pursue freedom.

The following paragraphs will explore the themes of patriarchy, agency, and identity in more detail by analyzing Eveline’s relationship with her father and Frank.

While understanding why Eveline would not return to her abusive home clarifies one side of this crisis, it is also necessary to consider why she wouldnot leave Dublin with Frank. Doing so will reveal how Eveline’s motivations for leaving Ireland arise from her need for respect and agency over her own life and not from her love towards Frank. Therefore, Frank assumes the role of a catalyst for her true desire for respect and agency because the patriarchal upbringing of Eveline has conditioned her into believing that the only way she can attain freedom from her abusive father is through her lover Frank. In terms of her abusive family relationship, O’Brien argues that Joyce explores the themes of gender identity and postcolonialism through the character of Eveline and her relationship with her father (205). In this sense, Eveline metaphorically represents all marginalized women in Dublin. O’Brien argues that Eveline’s father represents a patriarchal and colonialist figure who controls Eveline’s life and identity. Eveline’s struggle to break free from this control reflects more significant societal issues related to gender and colonialism (208). My arguments regarding Eveline’s oppression align with O’Brien’s discussion of the subaltern and the silencing of marginalized voices, particularly those of women in postcolonial societies (211).

Eveline’s realization of her true desires causes an identity crisis that leads to her paralysis, suggesting that she has come to recognize the possibility of living a life of her choosing. The life she dreams of transcends her relationships with Frank and her father. She demonstrates her agency and resilience through paralysis. Frank is defined by his occupation, which suggests he has a clear sense of identity and purpose in life, while Eveline is gender-defined, indicating that societal expectations of women limit her (O’Brien 210). This conflict suggests she has limited agency because she is defined and restricted by the expectations imposed on her gender. These expectations further limit her desires, such as her desire for freedom. Therefore, eloping with Frank is the only rational way to project her desire for freedom. The ultimate realization that she does not require Frank to start a new life away from her father triggers an identity crisis because being independent goes against everything she has been taught since birth. These realizations and identity crises lead to her paralysis, and by staying immobile, she seizes agency over her life.

Given Eveline’s upbringing in a misogynistic environment, her inclination to use Frank to achieve freedom from her father’s abuse becomes understandable. The narrator provides us with a deeper understanding of Eveline’s feelings when a memory of her mother triggers her paralysis, “She stood up in an impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in


his arms and fold her in his arms. He would save her” (Joyce). These statements reveal Eveline’s inner turmoil as she wrestles with her fears and desires. She is terrified by the prospect of staying in Dublin and continuing to live a joyless existence. Her desire for escape is so strong that she believes Frank, a man she barely knows, can provide her with a better life. She believes he can save her, not only by offering her love but also by freeing her from her oppressive circumstances. Eveline’s desire for freedom is intertwined with her desire for happiness. She believes she has a right to be happy and is willing to take a chance on Frank to find it. She yearns to be folded in his arms, to feel safe and loved, and to escape her current life of pain and misery. Her reaction toward the climax proves that she realizes this complex inconsistency in her desire for Frank, which is not for love but for independence. Therefore, this realization of her true desires throws her into a crisis of identity which manifests as paralysis.

In light of these findings, it is clear that Eveline’s struggle for agency and independence reflects more significant societal issues related to gender and colonialism. Her desires for freedom and happiness are intertwined, and her realization of these desires leads to a crisis of identity and paralysis. Furthermore, the conflict between Frank’s clear sense of purpose and identity as defined by his occupation and Eveline’s gender-defined identity further illustrates the limitations placed on women by societal expectations. Ultimately, “Eveline” serves as a compelling narrative encapsulating proto-feminist ideals and it provides us with a glimpse into the resilience of oppressed women in Dublin. The eventual realization of Eveline’s seeming lack of agency paradoxically functions as a subtle form of showcasing agency. Although she suffers at home, Eveline’s desire for freedom is never thwarted and it is enlivened by Frank. However, the story’s ambiguous ending gives us the responsibility of rooting for Eveline to choose herself over her family or Frank and eliminate the regressive sentiment that women have to end up with a man. A further study of Eveline’s resistance could shed light on how oppressed women navigate their circumstances, potentially leading to a better understanding of the implications of patriarchal oppression on women’s lives.

Works Cited

Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Dubliners, Project Gutenberg, 1914,

Luft, Joanna. “Reader Awareness: Form and Ambiguity in James Joyce’s ‘Eveline.’” The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 21 May 2021, Accessed 20 April 2023.

O’Brien, Eugene. “‘Because She Was a Girl: Gender Identity and the Postcolonial in James Joyce’s ‘Eveline.’” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 93, no. 370, 2004, Accessed 20 April 2023.

Wainwright, Michael. “Female Suffrage in Ireland: James Joyce’s Realization of Unrealized Potential.” Criticism, vol. 51, no. 4, 2009, Accessed 20 April 2023.


The Miscommunications of Gender

In this series, I aim to capture the complex phenomenon of gender disputes, specifically focusing on miscommunication. Through intentionally hazy and unfocused compositions, I convey the experience of misinterpreting a situation.

Emphasizing the power of storytelling and unfolding narratives within each frame, I transcend traditional compositional norms. Through careful composition and subtle visual cues, I guide viewers on a visual journey that encourages empathy, introspection, and reflection. By shifting the focus from sharpness to narrative depth, I invite viewers to question their assumptions and preconceived notions, fostering a deeper understanding of the intricate web of communication between genders. Miscommunication between genders is a common aspect of human interaction, influenced by various factors such as societal expectations, cultural differences, and individual experiences. In these photographs, the scene is set first, then we see the viewpoints of both male and female characters. Although the characters seem to be giving their full attention to one another, we get a glimpse into their minds and see what they are seeing. The intentional haze serves as a metaphorical representation of the fog that often surrounds communication between genders, leaving room for multiple interpretations and highlighting the subjective nature of perception.

This series was created for Prof. Jason Carlow’s course ARCH 316: Photography and Visual Representation at the American University of Sharjah.



38 II

A Close Reading of Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again”

Langston Hughes’ 1936 poem “Let America Be America Again” is a work carved out of its time; at a dark time in American history, defined by economic suffering, racial discontent, and anxiety about events unfolding in Europe and Asia, Hughes emerges with a powerful ode to the country not as it is, nor as it once was, but as it can and will be. At a time when the promises of America seemed most hollow, and questions abounded about its merits, Hughes delivers a message of hope and redemption, most powerfully asserted in the poem’s closing lines:

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

We, the people, must redeem

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

The mountains and the endless plain—

All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again! (80-86)

Hughes’ concluding stanza serves as both a microcosmic summary of the poem’s message and a powerful call to action. Hughes names the land, rivers, and other natural bodies alongside the mines and power plants, as that which the people must work to redeem, to make America again. The concluding call to “Make America again!” comes at the end of a three-line sentence, with previous lines ending on dashes– building anticipation for what is to come–as an energetic call to build a new America, to save it both as a land and as a cultural entity.

The idea of “making America again” may, for readers in 2023, evoke echoes of previous Trumpite (and, to a lesser extent, earlier Reaganite) rhetoric of “making America great again!” This well-known slogan shares a formal resemblance to Hughes’ call, as both are based in a recognition of the fallen present state of America and propose a project of national rejuvenation as a solution. However, the crucial difference lies in a single word: “great.” To make America great again implies a past state of greatness, a Golden Age that the country has supposedly departed from, and the project of rejuvenation thus becomes a project of restoring what was in the past, despite how impossible it is to perfectly recreate the past in a world that has changed socially, technologically, politically, and economically. This notion of restoration can lead to pitfalls for the conservative project. However, Hughes’ project is of a different nature.


Langston Hughes did not have naive dualist views of a blessed past against a wicked present. He did not see America as an inherently great country in the past, and he dedicates a significant portion of the earlier part of his poem to the failures and cruelties of America’s past. At the beginning of the poem, Hughes complicates the initial speaker’s patriotic call by inserting the character of a mumbler, who answers the speaker’s optimistic rhetoric with phrases such as “America never was America to me” (5) and “There’s never been equality for me / Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free’” (15-16). When asked who he is, the mumbler responds that he is the poor white, the slavery-scarred Negro, the red Indian driven from his home, the disappointed immigrant, the exploited young man, the farmer and worker (19-38); in other words, he is the embodiment of the downtrodden and exploited, the people whom America has abused in its past. His presence completely dismisses any notion of an American Golden Age and initially seems to disturb the call to make America again.

In order to understand why Hughes is seemingly subverting his own message, an analysis of the biography of the poet, as well as the context and intended audience of the poem, may be in order. Langston Hughes, an African-American man born and active in early twentieth-century America, carried the weight of a living memory of slavery and grappled with its legacy of racism and structural inequality, which persisted well beyond the ratifying of the Thirteenth Amendment. Furthermore, the backdrop against which “Let America Be America Again” was published was 1930s America, a time of widespread suffering and despair among workers, farmers, and the poor, whose lives had been devastated by the indulgences and gambling of the rich who were not as touched by the Great Depression that they had a great hand in causing. It was a time of cultural weariness and ennui, but curiously also a time when revolutionary ideas lit a fire among the working people of the US, as this was one of the strongest eras for the American labor movement. It is this latter direction that Hughes is tapping into for his poem: Hughes, himself a communist, drew on traditions of workers’ struggle to craft a revolutionary work of American revival. Crucially, his ideal America is not one that existed in the past; it is one that has not ever existed but can exist in the future. This future-oriented ideal makes America something that must be made by working towards it, not by retreating into an idealized (perhaps it might be appropriate to say “Disneyfied”) version of America’s past. It is in this spirit that Hughes boldly proclaims, “America never was America to me/And yet I swear this oath—/America will be!” (77-79). Hughes confronts the fact that America’s past is marred by injustice but he does not advocate for its outright dismissal; instead, he propels it forward as a collective aspiration–an idealized future that must be fought for and realized through the concerted endeavors of the people.

This fight to realize America is the theme of Hughes’ poem, and the final line a dramatic call to action. A final question remains: Who is being called on to make America, and who must they struggle against? The answer to the first part of the question is stated as “We, the people” (82), and from the preceding stanzas the reader knows that the people are Hughes’ people: the downtrodden and abused and exploited, the honest factory worker and the steady farmer and the hopeful immigrant, people of all races and colors. Opposing the vibrant and hardworking masses are the people who have corrupted America: the exploiters and oppressors who stand opposed to the mission of making America what it should be by keeping America as is (that is, clinging to the status quo that serves their interests alone). “We, the people” must redeem America from its current state of “rack and ruin [...] rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies” (80-81) as perpetuated by the greed of the wealthy elite. Again, the resonance with Trumpian populism is there, but Hughes’ rhetoric is fused with the spirit of universalism, revolutionism, and class struggle, thus making his


poem a ballad of resistance for all people struggling for a way out of the Great Depression.

Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” is a bold call not to restore a bygone America, but to work towards building the America that has always been an elusive ideal This can only be done by those who have been disenfranchised in the past, who must unite across racial and occupational divides to redeem America and lift it out of its dark past and present into the bright future that Hughes assures us will, against all doubts and odds, be the true America.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “Let America Be America Again.” 1936. Poetry Foundation. ems/147907/let-america-be-america-again


Toxic Body Positivity: Navigating the Controversial Debate between Fat Acceptance and Anti-Obesity

In June 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially classified obesity as a disease, despite the protests of its own Public Health and Science Committee (Stoner & Cornwall, 2014). Following this decision, mainly two responses would ensue. Lee Stoner and Jon Cornwall (2014) succinctly summarized the first position in their response article titled “Did the American Medical Association make the correct decision classifying obesity as a disease?”, published in the Australian Medical Journal. They analyzed the rationale behind the decision and predicted the physical and psychological ramifications, with their most daunting prediction being: “Arguably of utmost importance, labeling obesity as a disease may foster a culture of personal irresponsibility, whereby individuals are absolved from practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors… This shift away from personal responsibility may encourage a ‘hands-off’ approach to health behavior” (p. 463). The counter-response disagreed with labeling obesity as a disease, though for a completely different reason: they believed that labeling obesity as such is degrading and fatphobic, and would undo the progress that the body-positivity and fat acceptance movements had accomplished in the past decade.

As of today, the above-mentioned stances persist and continue to engage in ongoing debates about this issue. Countless Tweets and TikTok videos endlessly recycle the same arguments within this discourse, with no end in sight. The fat acceptance movement, otherwise known as Fat Pride, advocates for self-love and acceptance regardless of body shape and protests against any form of anti-fat bias, otherwise known as fatphobia. Anna Kirkland (2008, as cited in Severson, 2019), an associate professor of Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Michigan, defines fat acceptance as a “social justice movement aiming to make body culture more inclusive and diverse, in all its forms” (para. 3). Following the proliferation of social media activism, this movement has exponentially gained traction over the past few years and has become part of mainstream media culture. On the other hand, the health-critical stance, also known as the anti-obesity movement, argues for prioritizing health above all and challenges the acceptance of overweight bodies. It is mostly comprised of health specialists and previously overweight individuals who want to benefit others from their experiences. This stance has considerably less supporters than the fat acceptance movement, because it is often perceived as being fatphobic and biased. However, these two stances are not as polarized as they seem to be. There exists a middle-ground in which obese individuals do not have to live with perpetual self-loathing, but are also mindful and conscious of their health.

The main argument for fat acceptance is that this mindset promotes mental wellbeing, as it significantly raises self-esteem and body appreciation levels and therefore lowers the risk of mental illness. By challenging societal beauty standards rooted in unrealistic expectations, fat acceptance aims to undo the damage and brainwashing done by the media and to normalize common body types.


Avalos et al. (2005) prove the healing attributes of body-positivity in a study published by Body Image, a peer-reviewed journal that analyzes body perception, which reports that “women with a positive body image had higher levels of optimism, self-esteem, and coping via positive rational acceptance and lower levels of self-presentational perfectionism and coping by avoidance and appearance fixing” (“Introduction,” para. 2). Conversely, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, body dissatisfaction is strongly correlated with low self-esteem, substance use, and depression (Satghare et al., 2019), which emphasizes the need for body positivity. Another argument commonly invoked by fat acceptance activists is that obesity is the result of obesogenic factors rather than individual choices. They claim that these factors make obesity uncontrollable and irreversible, and therefore it is better to accept it rather than fight it. This argument aims to erase all the unconscious negative connotations that are associated with obesity by reframing it as a symptom of unalterable factors rather than a choice that individuals actively make. These factors include not only genetic factors but also the availability of food options. For example, in the United States, at least 95% of shoppers actively seek out healthy food, yet only 28% are able to find healthy options, and 11% have no idea where healthy options can even be found (IFIC, 2019). This is due to the fact that the most accessible food options are generally unhealthy since some governments subsidize foods that are not nutritious for the human body when processed and converted into other forms. A study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other institutions discovered that more than half of the calories consumed by citizens of the US come from subsidized goods, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock (Siegel R. et al., 2016), all of which are, ironically, foods that the government itself discourages eating in its dietary guidelines (USDHHS, 2015). Siegel R. et al. also found that people who ate the largest amount of subsidized foods had a 37% higher risk of being obese, a 41% greater risk of having belly fat, a 34% higher risk for having signs of elevated inflammation and a 14% higher risk of having abnormal cholesterol. Moreover, they observed that individuals of lower socioeconomic status and younger persons have diets high in subsidized food and are therefore the most at risk for the abovementioned health issues. Another claim to support this argument is that behavior, environment, and genetic factors all contribute to the weight of an individual (CDC, 2018), and therefore, even for individuals who are able to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, the possibility of being overweight is still very present. By citing all this evidence, fat acceptance activists assert that for many people, losing weight is simply not as easy as it is commonly thought to be. Therefore, they believe that becoming accepting of overweight bodies is much better for the psyche than thinking of obesity as a matter of individual choice and striving for a result that might not be attainable.

On the other hand, the health hazards that come with being overweight indicate that a healthier body is worth struggling for, no matter how difficult it is to achieve. Normalizing overweight bodies carries the risk of normalizing the risks that come with them, which would call forth an epidemic of ensuing health issues. The CDC (2022) lists heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, various types of cancer, and death as just a few examples of the effects of obesity. Moreover, individuals with obesity are 55% more likely to develop depression (Luppino et al., 2010) and 25% more likely to develop mood or personality disorders such as bipolar disorders and panic disorders (Simon et al., 2006). Health experts (Nicholls, n.d., as cited in Worth, 2010) say that developing complacency about obesity “could suggest that we underestimate what its implications might be” (“Is body image as important as health?”, para. 12). This is further supported by a study which found that there was a 5% drop in overweight people trying to lose


weight throughout 26 years (Snook et al., 2017). The lead author Dr. Jian Zhang (n.d., as cited in “Fewer Overweight”, 2017), who is a public health researcher at Georgia Southern University, said the following: “Socially accepted normal body weight is shifting toward heavier weight. As more people around us are getting heavier, we simply believe we are fine, and no need to do anything with it” (para. 3). Unfortunately, this perception has been proven in a study that discovered that 8% of its participants did not think they were obese whatsoever, 50% thought they were healthier than most people their age, and 44% had not seen a doctor at all in the past year (Victor et al., 2004). With the rise of fat acceptance comes a concerning form of dissociation from the health issues that encompass being overweight, which is all the more reason for this movement to be resisted. Additionally, the rising obesity epidemic has taken a damaging toll on nearly all economies. Wang et al. (2009) estimate that the United States spent $147 billion on obesity alone in 2008, with Medicare and Medicaid, two insurance programs backed by taxpayer money, covering roughly half of the cost. This means that in 2008, the cost of obesity alone was covered by $73.5 billion of taxpayer funds. This amount increased to $210 billion in 2018, of which about $105 billion was funded by taxes (Cawley & Meyerhoefer, 2012). Additionally, in comparison to those of average weight, obese people spent 42% more on medical care overall in 2006 (Finkelstein et al., 2006, as cited in Harvard, 2016). Furthermore, according to a study done by the World Obesity Federation and RTI International, obesity is estimated to cost the GDP of 161 countries around 3.3% by 2060 (World Obesity, 2022). In addition to increasing healthcare expenses, obesity imposes costs in the form of lost productivity and postponed economic growth due to missed work days, poorer job productivity, mortality, and permanent disability (Tremmel et al., 2017). Accordingly, there is an urgent need for governments and individuals all around the globe to push back against fat acceptance and invest resources in preventing obesity in order to avoid future economic losses. Perhaps most importantly, the fat acceptance movement is antithetic to many other forms of activism. The emphasis on loving one’s physical attributes above all can reinforce the notion that beauty and appearance should be of utmost importance in society. Webb et al. (2017) conducted a study published by Body Image in which they compare 400 image-based fat acceptance posts on Instagram based on various criteria. They note that the core strategy of promoting fat acceptance in these posts “involves intentionally augmenting the visibility of higher weight individuals (e.g., in selfie poses) and exemplifying how beauty and style are attainable and not privileges reserved only for thin women” (p. 60). They hypothesize that “while these images could be expressions of body positivity”, they also “could be conceptualized as constituting body objectification and reflecting a high degree of appearance orientation and investment, which are all well-established factors for negatively impacting women’s experiences of embodiment” (Webb et. al, 2017, p. 61). Moreover, Swami & Smith (2017) compared the mood of three groups of women: i) a group who watched a show aiming at promoting body positivity through the usage of normal-sized actors, ii) a group who watched a modeling competition with abnormally skinny bodies, iii) a group who watched a nature series with no human body related content whatsoever. Interestingly, both group (i) and group (ii) experienced “negative body-focused anxiety and body weight dissatisfaction in the posttest session” (para. 1). This is due to the fact that all body-related content, even the positive examples, focus on the beauty of a body, therefore inadvertently exacerbating issues of body perception and image.

To conclude, some advocate for the unconditional acceptance and love of overweight bodies, while others believe that health should be prioritized over comfort and sedentary satisfaction. Fat acceptance activists argue that fat acceptance preserves


mental health and even boosts it. They also believe that it is sometimes the only option for some people, especially marginalized communities, who are unable to do much about their weight. On the other side, anti-obesity advocates argue that overweight bodies are much more prone to a wide range of life-threatening health issues, and therefore being complacent to fatness would increase the rate of diseases and lead to higher mortality. They also insist that the economic repercussions of obesity are too drastic, and therefore supporting fat acceptance would have dire consequences on global economies. Lastly, they stress the fact that the foundation of the fat acceptance movement contradicts other forms of activism by supporting a form of objectification of bodies and prioritizing appearance. Nonetheless, there is a factor that unites these two sides: the fact that they may both be acting in the best interest of overweight individuals even if they have vastly different approaches.

Dr. Tiffany M. Powell (n.d., as cited in Harding, 2010), a researcher and chief of the Social Determinants of Obesity at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, talked about how difficult it is to bring awareness to the issue of obesity: “You walk a fine line, because you don’t want people to necessarily have an unhealthy body image, but you also want people to understand that they need to lose weight.” (para. 4). This does not mean that there is no hope of actualizing a society where overweight people strive for better bodies without any emotional or mental burden. One of the proposed solutions is to encourage healthier lifestyles and habits in general, rather than encouraging weight loss. Shana Spence (n.d., as cited in Hosie, 2021), a registered dietician who runs the blog The Nutrition Tea, said the following: “Focusing on a number, whether on the scale or your clothing size, leads to being obsessive with eating and exercise and losing the enjoyment” (“How to lose weight in a healthy, positive way,” para. 2). Dr. Natasha Larmie (n.d., as cited in Hosie, 2021), a general practitioner who operates The Fat Doctor, a blog about her own weight issues, advocates against intentional weight loss. Instead, she advises people to concentrate on developing healthy behaviors rather than trying to lose weight. By advising people in general and not just overweight individuals to strive for healthier lifestyles, two goals are accomplished: a) overweight people will be encouraged to lose their excess fat without feeling shame or pressure, because the message is not just directed at them, and therefore will not come across as an attack, and

b) average-weighted people will have substantially richer and better lives, because they too will be inspired to adopt healthier habits. Additionally, a more psychologically reformative measure can be taken. At the core of this dilemma is a dire need for a rebirth of the definition of body love and body positivity. For the past few decades, most activists have been defining body love as loving the aesthetics of the body. They have been advocating for perceiving any body shape as beautiful, and therefore, they have focused exclusively on the outer shell of the body. Contemporary perspectives have suggested that body love should be more intrinsic and inherent than loving the outline of the body. They have urged for loving the body wholly as an embodiment of the soul rather than an expression of beauty, and consequently, loving the body genuinely and wholeheartedly. Such a perception will put this issue into a new perspective: loving a body means making the best decisions for it possible. Zoe Morosini (n.d.), a senior nutritionist at Food Standards Australia New Zealand, said the following: “When weight loss is an act of love and care for your body, the results can be transformational for your identity and your views on life and health - a notion that is missed by many in the body positivity movement” (para. 11). By implementing these solutions concurrently, obesity will be fought in a manner that is inoffensive to overweight people, and fat acceptance activists will no longer feel like they are betraying their self-love principles by aiming for changing the form of their bodies.



Avalos, L., Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. (2005). The body appreciation scale: Development and psychometric evaluation. Body Image, 2(3), 285–297.

Cawley, J., & Meyerhoefer, C. (2012). The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach. Journal of Health Economics, 31(1), 219–230.

CDC. (2018, January 19). Behavior, environment, and genetic factors all have a role in causing people to be overweight and obese. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC. (2022, September 24). The health effects of overweight and obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://

CBS News. (2017, March 7). Fewer overweight Americans trying to shed pounds. texas/news/fewer-overweight-americans-trying-to-shed-pounds/

Hampton, R. (2018, April 11). The Fat Pride movement promotes dignity, not a “lifestyle.” Slate Magazine. human-interest/2018/04/fat-pride-movement-is-for-dignity-not-recruitment.html

Harding, A., & Reuters Health. (2010, October 16). Many obese people see no need to lose weight. Reuters. https://www.reuters. com/article/idUSTRE69F1AN20101016

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2016, April 8). Economic Costs. Obesity Prevention Source. https://www.hsph.

Hosie, R. (2021, January 22). Health professionals are divided over whether obese people should be encouraged to lose weight or not. Insider.

International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, & American Heart Association. (2019, January). Food labeling survey [Data set]. International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. loads/2019/01/IFIC-FDN-AHA-Report.pdf

Luppino, F. S., de Wit, L. M., Bouvy, P. F., Stijnen, T., Cuijpers, P., Penninx, B. W. J. H., & Zitman, F. G. (2010). Overweight, obesity, and depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67(3), 220.

Mastroianni, B. (2019, February 6). Only 28% of Americans Say They Have Easy Access to Healthy Foods. Healthline; Healthline Media.

Morosini, Z. (n.d.). How to love yourself enough to lose weight: The self love weight loss method. Zoe Morosini Nutrition. https://

Satghare, P., Mahesh, M. V., Abdin, E., Chong, S. A., & Subramaniam, M. (2019). The Relative Associations of Body Image Dissat isfaction among Psychiatric Out-Patients in Singapore. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24), 5162.

Severson, A. (2019, June 6). Why I’m Trading Body Positivity for Fat Acceptance. Healthline; Healthline Media. https://www.


Siegel, K. R., McKeever Bullard, K., Imperatore, G., Kahn, H. S., Stein, A. D., Ali, M. K., & Narayan, K. M. (2016). Association of Higher Consumption of Foods Derived From Subsidized Commodities With Adverse Cardiometabolic Risk Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(8), 1124.

Simon, G. E., Von Korff, M., Saunders, K., Miglioretti, D. L., Crane, P. K., van Belle, G., & Kessler, R. C. (2006). Association Between Obesity and Psychiatric Disorders in the US Adult Population. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(7), 824. https://

Snook, K. R., Hansen, A. R., Duke, C. H., Finch, K. C., Hackney, A. A., & Jian Zhang. (2017). Change in Percentages of Adults With Overweight or Obesity Trying to Lose Weight, 1988-2014. JAMA, 317(9), 971–973. https://doi. org/10.1001/jama.2016.20036

Stoner, L., & Cornwall, J. (2014). Did the American Medical Association make the correct decision classifying obesity as a disease? Australasian Medical Journal, 7(11), 462–464.

Swami, V., & Smith, J.-M. (2012). How not to feel good naked? The effects of television programs that use “real women” on female viewers’ body image and mood. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31(2), 151–168. https://doi. org/10.1521/jscp.2012.31.2.151

Tremmel, M., Gerdtham, Ulf-G., Nilsson, P., & Saha, S. (2017). Economic Burden of Obesity: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4), 435. ijerph14040435

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, & U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015, December). 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.

Victor, R. G., Haley, R. W., Willett, D. L., Peshock, R. M., Vaeth, P. C., Leonard, D., Basit, M., Cooper, R. S., Iannacchione, V. G., Visscher, W. A., Staab, J. M., & Hobbs, H. H. (2004). The Dallas Heart Study: a population-based probability sample for the multidisciplinary study of ethnic differences in cardiovascular health. The American Journal of Cardiology, 93(12), 1473–1480.

Wang, Y. C., Pamplin, J., Long, M. W., Ward, Z. J., Gortmaker, S. L., & Andreyeva, T. (2015). Severe obesity in adults cost state medicaid programs nearly $8 billion in 2013. Health Affairs, 34(11), 1923–1931. hlthaff.2015.0633

Webb, J. B., Vinoski, E. R., Bonar, A. S., Davies, A. E., & Etzel, L. (2017). Fat is fashionable and fit: A comparative content analysis of Fatspiration and Health at Every Size ® Instagram images. Body Image, 22, 53–64. bodyim.2017.05.003

World Obesity. (2022, September 21). Economic impact of overweight and obesity set to reach 3.3% of global GDP by 2060.

World Obesity Federation.

Worth, T. (2010, January 6). Is the fat acceptance movement bad for our health? HEALTH/01/06/fat.acceptance/index.html


Unessay Poem

Exalted, I host every string of callous remarks that trickles out of your mouth, line them up against previous wounds I have not yet sutured, and hold myself still in the remaining space of my brain that will have me.

I’m your magic marionette, a sizable trophy, the kind you do not touch but store in a glass encasing, the kind beyond the beam of your love. And yet, I beg for no crumbs. I let the words boil and evaporate on my tongue, hold my dignity closer than your body ever was and will it to be enough to sustain me.

For what else are women like me allowed to possess that is free from the claws of a man?


I see Adaku by the recliner, a batik tapestry in Timilehin’s ashen hands, Ezichi and Jol

and sunken Zikora by the window, warm sunlight against their cheeks.

We do not speak here, in the shared gray misery, scrambling to patch up any cracks in this well of words that we’ve housed for decades.

I want to utter love, want to shelter you in a refuge of positive affirmations. But where do all the howls go? The mourning cries? The wails of a mad woman who’d swallowed loss until it silenced her?

Language coils round and round in my stomach, warped and pestilent. In the time between one redeeming word and another, we fall back on what we know.

Skin pressed against skin.


Colors of the Sea

What charms me most about the sea is that she always changes her dress. June’s sea shimmers under the scorching sun, wearing a lace dress colored like oil-pasted fishing boats. July’s sea appears crystal clear, adorned with multicolored pebbles on the shore. The majestic August-sea is forever charming lovers with the full moon dissolving in her waters like honey. The sea of September holds her breath while summer takes its last. Winter’s sea bites the rocks with steamy exhalations ascending to the frozen sky. For centuries, the sea licks the beaches indolently, often vehemently, but tirelessly and without complaint.

It’s blue. It has always been blue, when you stare at it from the seat of an airplane and when you try to find it on a map. Deep blue, cerulean, azure sometimes, sapphire if you’re lucky. Cobalt the deeper you go, navy when you say goodbye.

The Aegean—a sea as old as human history itself, its ancient waterways to this day awe-inspiring and unexplored. It is the sea of kings and epic heroes, a passage to brave new worlds, bridging East and West. Scented with the morning breeze of Zephyrus over its crystal waters and the fragrance of spices from the Levant falling like silver morning dew on the placid water veil, signaling the dawn of a new day.

Long before its serenity was disturbed by the oars of passing ships, before the treasured cargo of nard, myrrh, and linen from Egypt reached every bustling Mediterranean harbor, adding colorful sprinkles to its expanse, it was simply known as “The Water.” No one had thought of painting it; no painter had signed it off with their name. When humans heard the wind whispering its secrets and learned about the beauty and power it possessed, they made a vow to tame it, and they built vessels, and for the first time sailed its waters to a new, untrodden, and fertile land. It was then it appeared to them as golden, luminous against the scorching morning sun, and as pearl-white as the night, radiant with moonlight. And so it was seen for centuries, a sea of gold yielding to the power of humankind. The seaways of the Triremes blazing a trail to rich new places, filling ships with textiles, crops, metals, and other luxuries. The time came, according to ancient legend, when the gods assembled on Mount Olympus and allotted areas of governance among the heavens and earth. When Poseidon was chosen to reign over the sea, it devotedly surrendered to his authority, and whatever he commanded, it obeyed. At times, it raised waves as high as Acropoles, wiping away civilizations and drowning islands; most times, however, it remained calm and let traders reach the corners of the world undisturbed.

King Aegeus of Athens thought highly of “The Water” too. He encouraged citizens to learn the trade of the merchant, master the crafting of Triremes, become skilled rowers conquering the seas like Odysseus, or embark on voyages to uncharted lands like the Argonauts. His kingdom’s prosperity and stability very much relied on the sea of his city and its golden waters. The gods were pleased with his achievements as a ruler, and the people worshipped him and sculpted his statues, and sang songs and wrote poems


about him. They prospered because Aegeus didn’t forget to thank the goddess Athena every morning, recognizing her favor as crucial to his success. Rarely did he ever thank the sea. His neglect in acknowledging Poseidon constantly reminded the sea-god of his defeat by Pallas and of his rejection by the Athenians, who had favored her gift of the olive tree over his foaming and bitter waves. The waves were still bitter, yet patiently rippling as the boats went through, revealing their displeasure to those who cared to listen and to the seagulls nestling against the rocks, Leucothea’s devoted messengers instructed to never leave their sight. But it wasn’t long before its waves were upset by war. The day dawned when the Cretans, seeing the gold in the seaways, declared war on Athens and Aegeus’ loyalty to his city’s ideals was tested. The king of Crete, Minos, wasted no time and arrived at Megara with his fleet to besiege Athens. The loss of his son at the hands of Athenian soldiers fueled Minos’ thirst for revenge. In response to the civilians’ pleas to respect their holy city and its temples, Minos demanded a heavy toll: Athens must offer seven young men and seven young women of noble birth every nine years as a sacrifice to the Minotaur, the vicious monster living in a maze at his palace. Left without an alternative, Aegeus accepted the conditions. For decades, the sea was darkened by the black sails waving on the Athenian Triremes as a sign of mourning for the death toll imposed on their people. Still, the sea had no colors of its own. It was scarcely heard and was comforted by the thought that the seagulls always returned, like the calm after a night of storm. Such were the nights Aegeus’ son, Theseus, passed at sea, when enraged and offended by the behavior of the Cretans, he proposed to sail to Crete, kill the Minotaur, and release his city from its bondage to Minos. Aegeus, distressed at the thought of the possible fate awaiting his son, hoped to lift the dark veil clouding the sea by giving Theseus white sails to put on his ships as a sign he was coming home alive and victorious. No one asked, and despite its disapproval, the sea led his fleet safely to Crete.

Guided by the wisdom of the goddess Athena, Theseus killed the Minotaur and rescued the young prisoners from certain death. On his return, however, excited as he was with his success, and while celebrating with his comrades aboard the ship, he forgot to put up the white sails for his father. Aegeus, awaiting anxiously the return of his son from the highest point in Cape Sounion, saw the black sails coming from afar and gave way to mourning, believing his son had been devoured by the Minotaur and lost forever. For the first time, in front of Aegeus’ misty eyes lay only the vast expanse of water that appeared not golden, not silver, not pearl-white, not sapphire, but blue. Just blue, an endless blue extending to the sky with numerous black dots on the horizon. It was too late, he thought, realizing how wrong he’d been about the sea before him, but she understood. It had always been a she—mother, goddess, Fate, Charis, Nereid. She was welcoming him and had forgiven him. Without hesitation, he let himself fall from the rock at Sounion and drowned his sorrow in her blue. It was the kind of blue that gives life and takes it ruthlessly away. Not cyan, not cerulean; just blue. His son, grandsons, generations long after him, and people around the world today, remember the blue of the sea he fell into, the one that adopted him and kept his name–the Aegean Sea. He gave her his name, and she gave him life, not only as a son of Poseidon to be worshipped by the Athenians at the Acropoles but also as a spirit-guardian of her waters. And so he continues to live through her to this day. Travel with the winds and crush against coarse rocks, kiss sandy beaches, and stir up the currents on the seafloor. Though he no longer has eyes to see, you can perceive the sea in any color you choose to paint it. As you lean closer to the sound of the waves, you can hear his soft whispers: “But it’s blue, it’s blue… She’s blue…,” his voice ultimately dissolving in the air, becoming one with the cries of the seagulls flying among masts and broken sails and the creaking of fishing boats as they enter the harbor. These faithful witnesses carry his eternal echo, having known it all along.


They can still be heard as they fly above the unending mass of blue, signifiers of the whiteness that never fails to complement it. That’s why the modern-day bewildered traveler encounters Cycladic alabaster houses adorned with cobalt-painted shutters, cerulean roofs, and azure-colored doors. For most tourists, in their straw hats against the blazing sun, the sea is nothing other than cyan and turquoise, because that’s what looks good in photographs. For the solitary fisherman waking up at the crack of dawn and the seasoned mariner whose clothes are saturated with saltiness, it is not painted in one but in various shades of blue, with occasional touches of burgundy, yellow, pink, and mauve on its canvas.

Its color is a canvas painted in your mind, shifting with the pulse of the waves. It’s no wonder it has never been described in the same way by anyone who has seen it. We know it’s blue; this the seagulls know best of all when they dive shrewdly as they spot a seabream sliding and glistening in the deep and resurface victorious.

Frequently inaccurately described, often misrepresented, its color remained yet another symbol in the eyes of a constant observer, a passerby, an artist gazing upon it for inspiration. It is rather the impression it made in the ecstatic eyes of the poet Odysseus Elytis when he found it little and green, like a thirteen-year-old girl going to school, full of life. It was rather the longing of Homer’s Odysseus for Ithaca and his love for Penelope and his son Telemachus that made him call it a “wine-dark sea,” sparkling against the sunlight, alluring and beguiling to the senses like unspoiled pure wine. Some three thousand years ago, it was described as polie by Homer in the Iliad when the Achaeans sailed its waters to Troy. Polie, white, colorless; it lacked nothing and possessed nothing in excess. It promised a lot, and they could paint their legacy on its blank canvas in any colors they desired. Maybe Homer was right, because history has often tinted its waters with dark and somber shades. Few remember the ashgray and muddy-green of stormy nights when it raged and wept for its lost souls. What color did it glimmer in the eyes of thousands of refugees who hopelessly roamed its waters defenseless and desperate? It was flaming red back in 1922 when the Great Fire of Smyrna devoured a hundred thousand, deprived over three million of their homes and forced them into the sea. It was ebony and menacing when the City of Cities fell in 1453 and Constantinople’s Bosporus became Istanbul’s Boğaz. It was as azure as the sky when the shipwreck of Antikythera was found, and with it—one bright morning in 1902—the first analog computer, the famous Antikythera mechanism, which saw the face of the sun for the first time since 205 BCE.

In 2023, it still glimmers sapphire, turquoise, indigo, silver, and green, observed through the various colored sunglasses on clammy heads during a hot summer afternoon. Its color changes constantly in the imagination of children building sandcastles on the shore, the change noticeable to the eyes of a lifeguard who knows how to scan his territory well. It is not the same to the wandering merchant diligently making his way through the stretched and tanned bodies of bathers, selling refreshments with one hand and seashell necklaces with the other.

It is not the same to the ex-ferryman either, diving deep within his sea of memories from the top of his lighthouse, with no watch on his wrist or on the wall, for his experience has taught him to tell time based on the sea’s colors. You can see him now as he puts on his old sailing cap and runs his wizened hands through his rough white bristles. He always has one window open, to look straight into the sea, to hear her whispering. Not an unnamed mass of water anymore, it never fails to bring Aegeus’ voice back to his tired ears. Yes, she is blue; but only a few are privileged to know. She is the same sea he has known all his life and yet she is not. Maybe it is just his old and bleary eyes, but he has never seen her bluer. On the horizon, he can faintly spot some seagulls following


the waves back to the harbor. There is going to be a storm. His snowy beard is reflected on the transparent glass as the first raindrops fall and he shuts the window. The seagulls have now taken refuge at the lighthouse. She is thanking him for looking after them so well. He thanks her with a motion of his pale head, as she waves back and he feels the throb of her pearl-white waves foaming beneath his feet. Whiteness had always complemented the blueness of the sea, he thinks, as he gazes once more at the deep blue laid before him, and smiles.



54 III

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: A Study Guide

Literature students

(Fatima Abdulrahman Abdulhaq, Hanan Abdullah, Safiya Afaq Ahmed, Hessa Ebrahim Almheiri, Dana Faisal Almonai, Shamma Mahmood Almurid, Mouza Salem Alnuaimi, Moza Faisal Alqassemi, Sonia Azher, Line Ben Thaier, Fatima Mohammed Raza Damji, Farah Mohamed Diab, Riman Amer El Sayed, Gloria Saleh Hanna, Maryam Omar Lootah, Snikita Moka, Jowel Walid Watfa, Rania Yadegari)

This reading guide was put together by students taking the course ENG 210: Introduction to Literature at the American University of Sharjah in the Fall 2022 semester, taught by Dr. Maya Aghasi. The purpose of the collaborative project is to provide a reading guide for the rich historical novel, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The guide provides chapter summaries, analyses, and historical context and can be accessed here:

From their introduction, “Homegoing is a historical novel written by Ghanian-American author, Yaa Gyasi. It is set in Ghana and the United States, spanning over three hundred years and seven generations. Throughout the three centuries, Gyasi writes about important historic events such as the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, the American Civil War, the Heroin Crisis, the Jazz Age, the Mining Boom, the Anglo-Ashanti war, and more.”


The Satire Museum

with Texts students

The Satire Museum is a class project undertaken by students enrolled in ENG 185: Playing with Texts at the American University of Sharjah in Spring 2023, taught by Dr. Kristen Highland.

The project traces the evolution of satire through various time periods and mediums, exploring the power of satire to shape public discourse and offer social commentary. To showcase their findings and creative interpretations, students have created an interactive Instagram account that you can find here: From their description, “scrolling through the account should feel like strolling through a museum–stopping to savor each work and giving it its due attention with the promise of more ahead.”



Even in people’s absence, the evidence of their presence lingers in subtle marks left on the environment. Over the course of two weeks, I experimented with various methods to demonstrate the spirituality of the interactions of humans with their surroundings.

My initial approach was to create images through corridors, aiming to capture how people relate to the spaces they inhabit. However, as I took more photos, I began to perceive a supernatural quality in people’s interactions with the home. Their actions are like ghosts touching or moving things, leaving behind only traces of their true identity. In each photograph, I made a conscious effort to frame doorways, allowing them to act as portals into the past. The only photo not taken from a door frame was designed to depict the entrance to the house, a monolithic moment that serves as the gateway to other fascinating areas within the structure. I also experimented with artificial light and the use of various light sources to capture the unique ambiance of each room. This allowed for distinct experiences while also allowing me to be lit at different positions throughout the space. To achieve this, I left the shutter open for thirty seconds at a time, capturing everything in one shot.


Editorial Board 2023

Ghofrane Lahib is double majoring in English Language and Literature and International Studies. She loves to read eccentric fantasy novels, and she loves to learn about different cultures and all their little wonders. Her favorite part about literary analysis is how one’s reading not only increases their understanding of the text, but also increases their understanding of themselves through uncovering the reasons why their reading of the text manifested itself. In her spare time, Ghofrane loves to play platform video games.

Dana Alrowaih is a Junior majoring in English Language and Literature. She loves reading pieces that steal your attention and evoke an emotional response. Having taken a variety of classes in the English department, she particularly loves learning about other cultures through her readings’ context. Dana values the feeling of connection literature and writing bring to people. Other than reading novels and poetry, she is also an avid music listener who collects trinkets and loves films.

Jahnavi Dangeti is an English Sophomore minoring in Journalism. Her interests are in literature and critical theory. She is a writing center tutor and enjoys interacting with students. She spends her time reading and writing about literary texts and encourages others to do so. Jahnavi is a talented singer and enjoys listening to music in her free time, which is why she is a part of the AUS choir. Jahnavi wants to teach literature one day and make her parents proud.

Huda Imran is a Junior I pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. She absolutely loves analyzing a variety of literary texts, from classic novels to undiscovered poetry, and learning invaluable lessons from them. In particular, Huda is really passionate about inspiring and empowering other individuals through literature, so she aims to continue her academic journey in the fields of literature and education. Through teaching others, Huda endeavors to broaden their horizons and perspectives, but also hopes to always continue learning and feel fulfilled on a personal level.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.