Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are English Majors All Hippies and Cliches?

 In short, no. We're not all hippies and cliches. In fact, I flinch when people call me a hippie. Though, I do accept bohemian or gypsy or free-spirited.

Here's the longer, rambling answer:

Myself and other English Majors get a lot of flack for being in what is considered a useless major. I could give you dozens, maybe hundreds of websites that tell you all English majors will be working in McDonald’s after graduation. I could, but I won’t. I could also give you websites telling  you what jobs are available (See Links Below). However, we can possibly at least agree that college should NOT always be about finding a well paying job, but about gaining something that gives us self fulfillment, whether it’s the gaining of knowledge, the start of a career, the challenge, or any number of other viable reasons. If we can agree on that, then I can we can get down to real brass tax: What English majors actually do!

We know that mathematics majors study harder and harder math, language majors become fully immersed with the language and the culture, and that any science major learns not only how to conduct an experiment, but while conducting them learn the laws of the physical world. Almost any liberal arts major has a bad rap compared the the “harder” majors like these. What’s the use? What do you study? Are all English majors hippies and cliches?

Really, an  English major could be compared to Sociology major, which is basically the psychological study of a culture or group of people or  Anthropology major, which is like the Sociology of the past, because as an English major we study the development of  human culture. Reading Beowulf  teaches us about how Anglo-Saxon culture: how they communicate, what’s important to them, the roles throughout society, etc. Sometimes books and folklore are the only looks into our former culture that we can find. Clothes rarely survive and bones, as well as other artifacts, can only tell us so much. In reading the literature we can find out the roles of men and women, the type of speech used, the morals of time, and the attitudes of different classes of people, all of these which cannot be found with just bones and dust.

We also get to learn how to communicate effectively on a variety of levels as well as gain the skill of quick thinking/understanding. Reading Shakespeare is much different from reading Slyvia Plath or George R.R. Martin, but reading any of them teaches us about the importance of nuance and quick wit. While learning the important of nuance can lead us to question everything and nitpick on words, it also allows us to gain compassion and even the chance to manipulate the world around us. Take “the right to bare arms”  for example, is it the right to have naked arms or the right to have guns? Or even the right to own a pair of bear arms? We play with words to make them our own, to take them for ourselves, and to find to the perfect set to match our meanings just right.

It’s not just nuance of course, we also tend to have to play hide and seek with our pieces. Ubu Roi by Jarry references Hamlet. Heck, almost everything references Shakespeare, especially Hamlet.  Even modern media, like The Simpsons, makes literally references, everything from Hamlet (of course!) to Neil Gaiman to Harry Potter to almost anything you could have read (See the link below!). Since literature, really stories, have been such a large part of our culture for thousands of years, it’s impossible to escape even on TV.

While yes, some of our classes are a bit unusual (I’ve met in bars, I’ve performed pieces we’ve read, I’ve debated the meaning behind fish in a poem, I’ve picnicked on the grass discussing whether a character is a man, a woman, or gender neutral as well as the difference between sanity and insanity, I’ve come to class in an assortment of costumes and props, etc), but really, most class days are like any other: we read something, we generally blog on it, we discuss it  and then write a big paper discussing it. Not much different from any other class I’ve taken, besides the fact that we really have tests after the 3000 level courses. Being an English major may have some bad stereotypes attached to it, but in actuality, there is much more than the stereotype. I won’t be a jobless burden on society and I’m not too “dumb” to study something more “useful”. In reality, I can do a variety of jobs that society needs while still having studied something that is enjoyable for me.

Job Links for English Majors:

10 Careers to Consider with an English Major

Jobs for English Majors,

Jobs for English Majors,

What Ten Jobs Can You Do With Your English Degree

Career Opportunities for Majors in English (Best Site of the 5)

Fun Links:

11 Literary References People Make Without Realizing It

A Visual History of Literary References on “The Simpsons”


  1. I missed this post before, maybe because it was between class posts. I like your defense (and description) of being and English major, and I really find these links useful. Are you on Facebook? If so, would you consider posting these on the English page?

    1. Thank you. Yes, I am on Facebook. I'll happily post it on the English page. Just let me know the page name.