Comparative Literature Personal Statement

Fiction is attached to life at all four corners, as Virginia Woolf says; writing is something that comes out of our minds, but our minds are products of their environment, so fiction necessarily reflects the world in which it is written. I've enjoyed writing and reading since I was three years old and would be happy in any degree program that allowed me to continue that, but I think Comparative Literature is uniquely suited to my interests because it studies not only the use of language but the impact of context upon that language.

The classes I took my junior year of high school reinforced this idea. I took both US and European History, and it was interesting to see both how a European background has influenced US history as well as how the two regions frequently contrast. Topics covered in History often played into the texts we studied in English. For instance, Malcolm X's "Message to the Grassroots," which I chose to analyze for a project, calls for unity, but the theme is expressed as much through X's diction and use of parallelism as it is through his discussion of rising cultural pluralism, decolonization, and eurocentrism. Other texts we studied, like Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye, were not obviously linked to a specific time period; I was surprised at how Morrison's work rang particularly true despite my never having personally experienced anything she describes in the novel. To me, this shows that while individuals are obviously dealt different circumstances, there is still a wider human experience to which we can all relate.

In 2015, I attended the screenwriting program at Stanford's Pre-Collegiate Institutes, and while I appreciated being able to write and receive feedback from instructors, I most enjoyed meeting people that, despite coming from different countries, were united by a passion for the written word. We spent a lot of time reading each other's work, and I was taken aback at how a wide range of backgrounds and interests could be expressed through a single medium. I always find it interesting how people with diverse interests approach similar challenges. This summer, I volunteered with my school district tutoring rising ninth graders. The students had varying skill levels and reasons for being there, but this only made for better discussion when they shared their unique perspectives during literary circles. I've had similar experiences at school in National French Honor Society, through which I tutor other students. French class tends to attract students that are already bilingual, and many that I tutor speak Spanish, Korean, or different Indian languages; it is fascinating to see how students go about learning French if they are already familiar with romance languages or if they are ESL. I personally decided to study French after reading Les Mis, which itself describes fictional characters with diverse backgrounds and connects its narrative to the real world through topical essays. Les Mis remains my favorite book, as it illustrates how literature can address persisting issues like inequality through universally relevant themes like love and courage.

Living in London would further my understanding of cultural context and the importance of place and time, and I can't think of another place that has been as historically significant or where you can meet people of as many walks of life. International moves are also common in my family. My maternal grandmother moved to the US from Tokyo, as did my father from Amman; my mother moved from Michigan to San Francisco, and my brother lived for several years in Japan. Spending time in San Francisco has in some ways taught me the importance of context as well; having to physically interact with hills and wind and cold reminds me that one is never just a single person, but a working part of something larger in the same way that Woolf's spiders web takes its shape from the way it is connected to other objects.

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Author's Comments

I tried to give it a central thesis, so I put a lot of emphasis on historical context and cultural background. I'm not sure if I talk enough about outside reading, or if I should put more focus on extracurriculars.

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