Does Studying English Literature Really Limit Your Options?

Posted on June 4, 2015 in Campus Watch

By Krupa Joseph

Anyone who has even picked up the Ulysses will understand that unlike popular belief, majoring in English Literature is not a piece of cake.

Every major phase in history is marked by its literary content. Understanding the Great Depression, the Apartheid and the Civil Rights Movement of the Jazz Age from the literary works of the period is much more alluring than one thinks. As someone who just graduated with an English Literature major, I think it is a really wonderful path to follow with a keen interest. It wasn’t always a cake walk but I have learned a lot and enjoyed it thoroughly.

english literature

Cramming a variety of beautiful poems by numerous poets for your exams isn’t as easy as you think. You must be willing to stomach the long, mundane essays that the University thinks will enrich you enough to grant you a degree. In between understanding Post-Structuralism; Virginia Woolf’s ideas of feminism, and Modern Fiction; the poetic works of Milton and his contemporaries, I barely got a chance to even pick up a novel of my choice. While everyone I knew was raving about how “The Fault In Our Stars” is the most beautiful book ever written, I was trying to understand Barthes. But all that being said, I must admit I would never have discovered poets and authors like Milton or Albert Camus, who I now love, had it not been for this major.

Many Universities like Delhi University offer a bachelor’s degree in English Literature which offers you 6 papers each year. The course pattern that Mumbai University offers is slightly different. The first two years you have three subjects, and in the final year you get to choose your major. So, in the first two years we were introduced to the basic concepts of a Literature, Indian and American, and even a little bit of drama and poetry. We explored literary works varying from Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aurobindo Ghosh, Amitav Ghosh to Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw. And in the final year, we delved into the depths of literary analysis. Along with works of Hardy, Marlowe and Tennyson (to name a few), we learnt theories of criticism and popular culture that would help us analyze texts in greater depth. While it may sound boring, you won’t believe the amount of things (from Game of Thrones to ‘Chikni Chameli‘) you could link to these theories. One of the best part about these papers were the number of movies we would watch in these classes! We even watched ‘Midnight In Paris’ and ‘Roman Holiday’ to understand how cities can be represented in texts.

Of course, the decision to pursue literature could be frowned upon. While my parents have always been supportive of my decisions, every time I visit my relatives I find it extremely hard explaining that my life isn’t over and that there is more I can do with my life than be an English teacher (with all due respect to teachers). All you need is the passion for reading, writing and a hunger for literary excellence. I found learning about Psychoanalytical criticism and Laura Mulvey’s views on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ interesting because once I understood them, I realised that the idea of applying them to novels and other texts really excited me. It’s simple. If you are passionate about something you shouldn’t let anything come in your way.

Many don’t realize that English Literature doesn’t limit you career-wise. As a literature major who can quote Plato and make references to existentialist theories, you are more than just a creative mind. By being a jack-of-all trades, you are an asset in this super competitive world. Literature is probably the only subject that encompasses within itself all other subjects. This leaves you with options to switch professions. There are many versatile options for you, from travel blogging, to being an English teacher in non-English speaking countries. Even within a writing career you are free to switch from one field to the other. And who knows, maybe even go on to write the script for a Broadway play or for the next award winning movie!

Unlike specific majors like BMS or B.Com, it doesn’t prepare you for any particular career. There are chances that you might be unsure of what you want to do next. I think the best way to deal with it is to simply explore your options. You could intern in places you have been fascinated by. Because you weren’t trained the specifics of the profession you choose, you might spend a while trying to learn it. However, this can be overcome by pursuing a Masters or a Diploma course and always remember that even all the well-known writers and journalists started at the bottom.

It might be a while before you make the big bucks or earn the approval of your relatives. But I know that making a lot of money would never give me the satisfaction of seeing my name listed as a writer for a magazine or seeing my byline in a newspaper. That alone was good reason for me to take up this major.