Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Good Thesis...

Knifong, Donna. (2000). An Interpretive Journey of Maya Angelou’s Poem "On the Pulse of Morning." Unpublished master's thesis. California State University, Sacramento.

Knifong’s rhetorical criticism of Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” comes from a self-admitted place of deep admiration for the poet and her work, especially for the poem in question. Written for the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton, Knifong relates how she was “absolutely spellbound … and left irrevocably affected” upon hearing Angelou’s recital. This adulation might lead one to expect nothing more than glowing accolades of the brilliance of this acclaimed poet. Although this assumption would not leave the reader disappointed, Knifong’s analysis goes well beyond just a positive literary review. In fact, she actually writes it twice - first for the masses in a way that could be appreciated by those outside the realm of academia and once with an extensive literature review and scholarly citations.

But Knifong’s break with traditional scholarly writing goes much deeper than the inclusion of a popular interpretation. Although meeting the definition of rhetorical criticism, as cited in her thesis, Knifong places herself into her writing - and Angelou’s. Throughout her thesis are personal reflections of where she was, what was going on in the world around her and how the words made her feel. In a very real sense, this criticism is part ethnography and as such, Knifong has taken the literary liberties this method enjoys. This freedom of organization is perhaps most apparent in the first section where her analysis is primarily an exploration of the poem by verse, by line and sometimes focused on just a single word. Although Knifong’s observations are often backed by attribution, it is not scholarly citation, but rather blended into the prose so the flow of her interpretation is not interrupted.

Even her second section, written under the constrictions that scholarly work demands, takes on a much more personal touch. Written almost entirely in the first person, Knifong’s work takes the reader on a journey, citing what many others have written along the way. This is not a re-written first section with citations thrown in as appropriate, but rather an expansion of her insights and an exploration through the eyes of other scholars. Her last section invites the reader into the process that developed the final work and the revelations that emanated from it. It, too, adds to the overall robustness of this work.

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