Anne-Sophie at UEA

An International Student of Literature in England.

Cultures of Suburbia: Essay

Joy! Miracle! Relief!

I got my Cultures of Suburbia essay back aaaaaaaaaaand I GOT 73%!!!!!!!!!! (Second best university grade.) Level of pride: 500%!

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The proof!

I can’t say how happy I am about it. I tried not to think about this essay any more after I’d finally submited it, two weeks into the Christmas holidays. Ideally, I would have finished my first draft before going home for the holidays. That didn’t happen. After an entire semester of hard work, stress and after ages spent on job applications that took me nowhere, and after my Nervous Narratives essay, I’d almost reached my limit. I then hoped to finish this project before Christmas (my biggest project ever written, around 5,000 words — but I had over 7,000 in my very first draft!) . Being ill did not stop me from working on it — even the day I had barely slept and had a lot of fever — but progress was extremely slow. Finding the time and motivation to work while being home with my family was tough. Anyway, it was painful but I did it! 😀

I’m usually more or less happy with my essay ideas but for this one, I was VERY happy from the beginning. I had the feeling it had the potential to be a very good project and a 1st (not something you’ll hear me say often). Usually, finding ideas and making an essay outlines is a painful process for me… But for this one, things came so naturally.

I’d adored the novel Bullet Park by Cheever and really connected with its themes, so I was quite confident I wanted to work on it. I remember going frantically through all my seminar notes for this module to find ideas one afternoon in the library. I was so stressed because the following day, I had a tutorial with my seminar leader to discuss essay ideas and I had literally nothing. I was so stressed about it and didn’t want to make a fool of myself with bad and unclear ideas (perfectionismmmmmm). But suddenly everything clicked and I wrote a very quick and basic essay outline at the bottom of a piece of paper. This project was going to be huge, both in terms of length but also in terms of all the topics I wanted to cover. I was quite excited though.

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At the beginning, I had these two ideas and was really torn apart. I think I chose well 🙂

And then everything was left to stagnate for a while. To be fair, I was just focusing on my Nervous Narratives essay – I wanted to get it done and out-of-the-way as soon as possible (I wrote about it here).

Three weeks before the end of the semester, we did a Project Conference for Cultures of Suburbia which was really cool! I’d never done anything like that for any other modules and I found it really useful. I usually really dislike formative tasks because I often find them useless and a waste of time (and additional source of stress) but this one was great because it forced me to think more about my project. We had to prepare a Power Point presentation with our ideas, questions to raise and secondary sources we wanted to look at. I really enjoyed seeing the wide range of ideas people had come up with — which reflected the variety of things we did on this module! (It was an amazing module, that all I can say about it. So many awesome novels about so many different themes – all set in suburbia, obviously.)

There’s no point in me going through all my ideas. Here are all my presentation slides! This was all I had. Not that much, but it makes more sense when you know the texts.

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These were just ideas, I hadn’t actually done any further reading at that stage (which bothered me a lot).

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The other day, when I got an email saying the coursework was back, I suddenly felt so anxious. It was finally back. But what if I’d failed? What if I’d passed but had got a really disappointing mark? I also remember telling a friend and my boyfriend a week earlier that I was happy with my grades (usually high 2:1) but I felt like I couldn’t work any harder or push myself any more and yet, I still rarely got grades above 70. I logged into Evision as quickly as possible and… 73% ! I couldn’t believe it. I went to see my housemate with my phone in my hand to tell her and I just sat on the floor cause I almost wanted to cry from reflief. That entire morning, I kept checking Evision to make sure I hadn’t misread something. When I finally picked up my essay at the Hub I realised it wasn’t a dream. 😀

If you are interested, here is my introduction:

“Shivani writes that ‘the American Dream was inseparable from its suburban manifestation. The desire has always been to escape the urban nightmare.’ To McBurnie suburbia continues to be imagined as ‘an iconic environment and perceived as the repository and fulcrum of the American dream.’ Both describe the suburban dream as an alternative to the alienating city. However, since its rapid development after the Second World War, American suburbia has been rejected in popular culture and literature. The texts under study engage in this cultural debate and present suburbs as places of malaise. This essay focuses on the sixties, with the series Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner, and John Cheever’s Bullet Park, ‘The Swimmer’ and ‘The Housebreaker of Shady Hill.’ This essay argues that these works represent suburbia as a battleground between authenticity and artificiality. I will study the creation of the suburban ideal and the importance of norms. Through the lens of Heideggerian philosophy, I will complicate the concept of inauthenticity: Heidegger suggests that conformism is authenticity because identity is necessarily relational. As I will demonstrate, Cheever’s Bullet Park uses class anxieties and otherness to challenge his character’s identities. The subsequent part of this essay will investigate advertising – the epitome of artificiality and post-war American culture. Both Cheever and Weiner use it to question the society they portray, by raising ethical concerns. This essay will then study the desire to seek escape from suburbia and a possible link between this lifestyle, unhappiness and mental illness. I will thus suggest that by presenting suburbia as a failing model, the authors engage in cultural debate and reflect growing socio-economic anxieties born of capitalism and neoliberalism. Drawing on different examples of cures for the characters’ suburban malaise, I will ask whether they imagine the American Dream as a success, failure, or unattainable ideal characters perpetually try to achieve?”

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I spent my entire Christmas break thinking about materialism and capitalism in relation to happiness/unhappiness because of my essay and Mad Men. Fun fun fun. 

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One comment on “Cultures of Suburbia: Essay

  1. Pingback: Analysis of Cheever’s “The Swimmer” | Anne-Sophie at UEA

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