Author

Amber Kent

Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

The academic analysis surrounding the shapeshifter, or shapeshifter mythologies has, so far, been related to modern issues of violence, militarization, feminism, gender studies, or studies simply focusing on the compilation of shapeshifter myths themselves. This essay will map out the current discussion surrounding shapeshifter mythology to illustrate that it has often fallen into two forms of analysis: that of an anthropological or sociological analysis, where shapeshifter myths were analyzed as a method for understanding different cultures and their development, and that of a poststructural analysis, where shapeshifter myths are analyzed as a means of deconstructing binaries such as good/bad and male/female. There have been extensive studies compiling and analyzing Native, Inuit, First People, and Tribal folklore and their instances of shapeshifter myth from countries, nations, and geographic locations all around the world. From the Russian witch Baba Yaga to the Djinns of the Middle East, shapeshifter myths reside everywhere. Shapeshifters have the ability to shift form and, as such, they also have the ability to shift across cultures. Throughout this essay, I will analyze two specific shapeshifter figures: the Russian witch Baba Yaga and the Norse god Loki Odinson. My main objective is to study the way the rhetoric surrounding these shapeshifters presents them as occupying a space of cultural in-betweenness, as well as transcending cultural boundaries, and to draw comparisons to the rhetoric used in relation to the ascribed identities of L2 and multicultural students. While the link between the language surrounding specific shapeshifter figures may not apparently seem to connect to the language surrounding ESL students, parallels can be drawn. It isn’t that ESL students are viewed as supernatural beings who can change physical form, but rather that they are often believed to have the capability to shift themselves in other ways: from an excelling student in their own language and culture to an equally ideal student in the English language and culture. I am not attempting to argue that ESL students don’t have this ability, but rather that English educators’ general expectations that the immediate cultural shifting from an ESL student’s own culture to the American/English-speaking culture is detrimental to the success of ESL students. In that respect, the rhetoric surrounding mythological shapeshifter figures is very similar to the identity surrounding ESL students in an English-language writing-intensive classroom, where they, like shapeshifters, are expected to immediately take on the shape of their surroundings. The main issue here, I’m arguing, is that they are being asked to do so without the adequate mentorship or preparation to allow them to fulfill such a goal.

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