Intellectual Challenges Build Confidence: A Student’s Journey Towards Success

Being an engaged student that is dedicated to learning new things, rather than being a student that is solely dedicated to receiving a good grade is surprisingly a foreign concept in the college realm. Applying myself in every course has never previously been a problem, but putting my all into every college course has proven to be an immense personal challenge that I have struggled to overcome. It is a constant battle of give and take, and the only way to succeed is to pace and never doubt yourself. The subject of English altogether, especially academic writing, has never been my strong suit. Not only does my English 131 class allow professor feedback on academic writing, but transferring my writing outside of the classroom by posting it to my blog allows for my peers to comment on my work as well. Being academically challenged through reading, writing, and blogging allows me to broaden my horizons and acquire valuable knowledge that I never would have otherwise obtained.

Reading book length texts is not something I consider to be a fun past-time; however, the task of completing a hard read is an immense personal accomplishment for me. I am always searching for new ways to improve my writing, and there is no better way to improve those skills than to further develop my vocabulary. The intellectual challenge of reading a bonafide college level text is excellent conditioning for the brain. Having something to say is one thing, and making the information engaging and presentable enough to include in academic writing is another. The more I read, the more confident I feel about my writing skills.

Mysteries and crime genres always contain a certain allure that is irresistible to me, and I am constantly spectating to see how they end. Naturally, Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City, which surrounds a sly serial killer’s visit to the Chicago World’s Fair, appeals to me more than any other text that was read throughout the semester. Holmes has a clever way of luring in his victims, and they do not realize that they are in trouble until it is too late. In fact, some of the women who stayed in his hotel describe him as, “warm and charming and talkative and touched them with a familiarity that, while perhaps offensive back home, somehow seemed all right in this new world of Chicago” (245). Holmes uses his charm to his advantage and lures young women, who are often times alone and new to Chicago, to stay in his hotel.

Larson transforms the crime spree of H. H. Holmes into an engaging text that captivates my attention while also teaching me about an actual part of United States history that I would otherwise be completely oblivious to. Reading Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City, helps me to understand why reading is so important. History is my worst and least favorite subject of all, but reading books that are based on fact and read like novels can revolutionize the way I learn history. It fills me with a desire to read other books that are based on actual history not because I am forced to, but because it is such an easy and captivating way to expand my knowledge.

Prior to English 131, I have never considered myself to be a strong writer. I never would have imagined that I would be publically exposing my work online for someone other than my professor to see. However, blogging has turned out to be a very favorable experience. This not only gives my work meaning beyond just a grade, but it also builds confidence knowing that someone other than my professor read the paper and had something positive to say about the work. I am planning to continue blogging after this course to further develop my writing skills.

The critical analysis of Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, was by far the most challenging paper I attempted to develop this semester. It was not until I received a very positive comment from Professor Lucas that I realized I may not have given myself enough credit. The task at hand was to draw parallels between the paintings of Norman Rockwell and the theme present in the play, Our Town. I felt as if I had some amazing ideas, but transferring them onto paper seemed like an obstacle I would never overcome. I wanted to portray the idea that both Wilder and Rockwell may have garnished the truth about the history of actual small town life, but both men have a gift for incorporating the ideal aspects of a world in which there exists a feeling that all is happy and well.

Wilder includes a particular scene that plays out between husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs Gibbs. Mrs. Gibbs arrives home late from choir practice, and her husband knows she walked home with some of the other ladies in the choir. Her husband also seems to know that this is the time in which his wife indulges in her weekly gossip session with her friends, because Mr. Gibbs greets her by saying, “[w]hat were the girls gossiping about tonight?” (41). This scene draws a perfect connection to one of Rockwell’s paintings, “The Gossips”. The piece displays a number of people telling each other what seems to be the gossip of the day. Making this connection between the two works was easy, while redirecting those connections into an intelligent thought on paper did not come so easily.

When I first submitted the paper, it felt like the worst one I had written all semester. However, when I received an encouraging comment from Professor Lucas urging me to further develop my paper for a future writing course, it seemed like the best comment I have received all semester. Although I am only just beginning my college academic career, I truly believe I have gained some valuable skills in English 131. Writing for a purpose means having something intelligent to say, and finding an eloquent way to say it. I believe English 131 has helped me gain tremendous skills in the writing department. Being academically challenged in English has allowed me to broaden my horizons not only in reading and writing, but has also helped me gain  a desire to read more nonfiction books because it is such a captivating way to learn new things. The confidence boost I received from this class encourages me to continue to give each course my all, because I am here to learn and be engaged. English 131 helped me come to the realization that maybe English has been one of my stronger subjects all along, but until this point, I just was not engaged enough to notice. I am thankful that this course has peaked my interest in reading, writing, and possibly even blogging.


Works Cited

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. Vintage, 2004.

Rockwell, Norman. The Gossips. The Saturday Evening Post, 6 Mar. 1948. Norman Rockwell

Museum, 2016,

&db=object&page=1&view=detail, Accessed 17 Nov. 2017.

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. 1938. Harper Perennial, 2003.


Annotated Bibliography

Junod, Tom. “The Falling Man.” Esquire, Sept. 2003,

/a48031/the-falling-man-tom-junod, Accessed 8 Sept. 2017.

The excerpt from his article, “The Falling Man”, Tom Junod describes a captivating photograph he snaps in the midst of all the madness during that day. The day is September 11th, 2001. The image shows a man preparing to jump off the tower, faced with the inevitability of what that jump will mean for his life. While Junod describes what the photograph comprises of, he also offers an insight into the mindset it takes to retrieve such an image. Any normal pedestrian would likely run for their life during the attack, but this was a prime opportunity for a photographer. Junod gives a new perspective on tragedies such as 9/11, and describes what it means to have the guts to snap a photo during terror and confusion.  

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. Vintage, 2004.

Erik Larson tells the story of serial killer H. H. Holmes’ appearance at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in his book, The Devil in the White City. Holmes, later discovered to be Herman Mudgett, builds a hotel at the Fair to serve as a coverup to allow Holmes to lure in potential victims. Larson also gives background what it takes to build the Chicago World’s Fair by introducing one of the most important architects of the fair, Daniel Burnham. Larson shifts between the two stories by setting up the book as a dual narrative and cross cutting back and forth between Holmes and Burnham.

Lucas, Guy. “Loss of Unwelcome Burden Devastates Me.”,5

Oct. 2017. Accessed 6 Oct. 2017.

Only hours after the passing of his beloved pet, Guy Lucas copes with his loss by producing a memoir, “Loss of Unwelcome Burden Devastates Me”. The piece offers an insight into the cat’s relationship with his family by describing the cat’s journey into their lives. Lucas begins the memoir by stating that he originally did not want the cat. However, it seems like fate whenever the cat somehow ends up in his home. Lucas offers sentimental stories about the cat’s potty training exploration in his home, and about a time when the cat temporarily ran away and Lucas had to search for him. Lucas concludes by describing how the cat’s health has been declining in recent years; unfortunately, the family decided it was best to put the cat down. Although Lucas did not originally plan to want the animal, the memoir ends with a question showing how his affection for the cat grows over the years by asking: “[w]hen the hell will I stop crying?” (paragraph 19).

Lucas, Jane. “Through a Glass Darkly: Girl at the Mirror and Grover’s Corners.”

20 Nov. 2017. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

In her analysis of the play, Our Town, Jane Lucas draws parallels to the common theme present in both the play and Norman Rockwell’s painting, Girl at the Mirror. Lucas focuses on the issues of self confidence and sexual innocence that face women in our society today, and how those ideas are portrayed through one of the main characters of the play, Emily. Lucas mentions multiple quotations from the play, one of which includes Emily seeking reassurance from her mother about her outward appearance and how other people perceive her. Emily desires to feel pretty just as every girl seems to, and Lucas compares this with the desires and thoughts of The Girl at the Mirror.


Lucas, Jane. “Window-Dressing History.”

-the-window-dressing-of-history/. 26 Sept. 2017. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017.

Jane Lucas offers an insight into the contrasting effect of Colson Whitehead’s alternate inclusion of fact and fiction in her analysis of the novel, The Underground Railroad. Lucas focuses on the protagonist, Cora, and the scene in the novel where she works as a live exhibit in the Museum of Natural Wonders. Lucas demonstrates how this scene is contradictory in itself because Cora explains how the museum falsely displays scenes from a slave ship while the novel itself is a fictional work. Lucas points out that Whitehead transforms a metaphorical Underground Railroad into a physical series of actual underground train tracks. Rather than producing a new version of history, Lucas argues that Colson Whitehead sheds light on some of the harsh truths about actual history through fictional characters. Lucas argues that while Whitehead may create an alternate history, his version of the story is a “less sanitized” depiction of the truth of slavery.

Schreck, Heidi. Creature. Samuel French, 2011.

Heidi Schreck’s play, Creature, surrounds the curious spiritual journey of main character, Margery Kempe, who is based off the real life figure from the fifteenth-century. Margery claims to have been visited by a demonic character, Asmodeus. After this visit, she loses connection with her husband newly born child while she attempts to take on the journey towards sainthood. All throughout the play, Margery begins to confess a sin she once committed, but never gets a chance to finish. The people surrounding Margery question whether or not her vision was real, but she stays true to her original story about the vision.

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. Doubleday, 2016.

Colson Whitehead fuses a fictitious version of an alternate history with some of the harsh and all too real cruel realities of slavery in his novel The Underground Railroad. Whitehead incorporates magical realism and uses it to transform the metaphorical Underground Railroad into a literal set of train tracks with a locomotive that runs beneath the surface. Whitehead uses the journey of the protagonist of the story, Cora, to represent what life may have actually been like for a slave during the antebellum period in the south.

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. 1938. Harper Perennial, 2003.

Thornton Wilder displays a simple kind of living in the small town of Grover’s Corners in his play, Our Town. Things in the town move slowly, change is unwelcome, and all of the citizens of Grover’s Corners know everything about everybody else in the town. The main character of the play, Emily, dies an unfortunate and sudden death during childbirth. Wilder incorporates how Emily feels after death, and forces Emily to rethink her outlook on living. Every moment passes so quickly, and Emily concludes that it may be impossible to properly cherish anything. People are too preoccupied with focusing on the future, and it causes them to miss most of what is happening at any given time.  




The Perfectly Imperfect Idealized America

Donald Margulies argues that some readers may consider Thornton Wilder’s award winning play, Our Town, to be a corny representation of small-town American life during the early 1900’s in his foreword to the play. Margulies suggests that some readers may have “relegated Thornton Wilder to the kitsch bin along with Norman Rockwell” (xi). Donald Margulies claims that readers do not appreciate the so-called “idealized America” that Rockwell and Wilder aspire to portray in their work. Rockwell often paints seemingly perfect pictures of what small town life is like, which is exactly what Thornton Wilder portrays by using the town of Grover’s Corners in his play, Our Town. The playgoers and readers that deem Our Town and Rockwell’s paintings to be distasteful and corny are greatly misinformed about the work of Wilder and Rockwell. Rather than portraying the dark and depressing reality of the 1900’s, the two men chose to only incorporate the ideal aspects of small-town life to preserve the memory of a happier time in America’s history forever.

The small town of Grover’s Corners that acts as the setting in Wilder’s play demonstrates a simple kind of living that attempts to offer a glimpse into what life may have been like in the early 1900’s. Things in the town move slowly, change is unwelcome, and all of the citizens of Grover’s Corners know everything about everybody else in the town. There is an underlying stability in the town, so people tend to follow the same routine everyday. During a typical day in Grover’s Corners, a few of the ladies are walking home together from their weekly choir practice, and the walk home soon turns into the weekly gossip session among the ladies. After they say their goodbyes, one of the ladies, Mrs. Gibbs, arrives home to find that her husband has been waiting up for her. Mr. Gibbs greets her by saying, “[w]hat were the girls gossiping about tonight?” (41). Mr. Gibbs is obviously accustomed to his wife’s weekly gossip routine. Mrs. Gibbs says, “[y]ou’d think we’d been to a dance the way men-folk carry on” (40). Mrs. Gibbs implies that the men in the town, especially her husband, do not like for their wives to be out galavanting through the town with their friends late at night. The men prefer their wives to stay at home and be well-respected by the town as good mothers and loyal wives, and this is a typical stereotypic representation of small town life. The readers that Margulies refers to take offense to the idealized version of America that is portrayed in the play. However, these critics are misinformed of Wilder’s intentions. The play was not meant to be an accurate representation of the reality of life during that time; however, it slightly embellishes the truth.  

Many of Rockwell’s paintings focus on the cliche American family of his time. Inspired by his transition to small town life during Rockwell’s move to Vermont, his works often depict a simple lifestyle. However, Rockwell’s paintings sometimes focus only on the positive aspects of this kind of living. Rockwell describes his motivation for creating this type of work by claiming to only paint the ideal aspects of an imperfect world. One of Rockwell’s pieces titled “The Gossips” aligns perfectly with the short gossip scene in Wilder’s play. The piece shows a number of people telling each other what seems to be the gossip of the day. Some people are talking over the phone, some are whispering to each other, and some are laughing. All of the people in the piece display the facial expression that shows they have just received their daily dose of gossip.

Norman Rockwell paints a sentimental version of the history of the typical small-town America that draws many parallels to the way Wilder portrays the same ideas through his play. The term “Rockwellian” is used to describe a general feeling that all is well in the world because this is the same feeling people often receive from viewing Rockwell’s work. Although Rockwell may have garnished the truth, his paintings do indeed bring back vivid and real memories for some people. The same emotions may return when viewing Wilder’s play, Our Town. Wilder and Rockwell chose to incorporate well-placed happy details of the past that they wanted people to remember, rather than the more depressing scenes of the past. The critics mentioned by Donald Margulies prefer art that displays the accurate version of history including the imperfections, not an embellished version of the truth. However, this does not give the critics permission to relegate Wilder and Rockwell’s work to the “kitsch bin” (xi) for the sole purpose of ridding the world of art that portrays a version of the truth that they personally do not agree with.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and ultimately the decision of what to include, or not include, in a work is the sole decision of the artist themself. Many Americans enjoy reminiscing on memories of their childhood when viewing the happy versions of history that are portrayed in Rockwell’s paintings and in Wilder’s play. These men have a gift for adapting everyday situations to fit into their works by slightly accenting and embellishing them to increase the work’s visual and emotional punch. Rather than portraying the dark and depressing reality of the 1900’s, the two men purposely incorporate the happier scenes of small-town American life in order to preserve some of the most wonderful memories of the almost forgotten past.

Our Town reminds me of the small town where I grew up, which is why I included the “Home” picture. 

Friend or Foe?

Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City, involves suspicious events that always seem to follow the sly serial killer H.H. Holmes, later discovered to actually be Herman Mudgett. Throughout his time in Chicago during the late 1800s, Holmes built a hotel at the Chicago World’s Fair to serve as a convenient disguise for him to lure in potential victims. In Larson’s chapter titled, “Modus Operandi”, or also known as the shortened version “M.O.”, Holmes’ eerie motivations behind his horrific actions are revealed. The short chapter uncovers questionable events, wherein people surrounding Holmes begin to disappear and a mysterious putrid chemical odor would sometimes ooze from his hotel. The chapter also exposes the manner in which Holmes murders his victims; he murders his victims from afar while still remaining close enough to hear them panic. This gives Holmes a sense of power that he desperately craves, and he does not believe in keeping trophies or memorabilia of his actions. However, the only way he can restore the feeling of arousement from a kill is to strike someone else. Through Erik Larson’s use of carefully chosen details, H. H. Holmes’ psychosis is exposed in this small excerpt from The Devil in the White City by revealing that the thrill of a kill only leaves Holmes wanting more.

Throughout the book, Larson demonstrates Holmes’ unique effect he has on other people, especially women. Most people in the book would agree that Holmes possesses a certain charm that allows him to manipulate people while still making them feel safe. It is not until the very moment that he strikes that people realize Holmes was up to no good. In fact, the women who stayed in his hotel found that, “Holmes was warm and charming and talkative and touched them with a familiarity that, while perhaps offensive back home, somehow seemed all right in this new world of Chicago” (245). Holmes uses his charm to his advantage and lures young women, who are often times alone and new to Chicago, to stay in his hotel. Unfortunately, some of these people become victims and never make it out alive. However, Holmes always remains cooperative and sympathetic when asked about these disappearances; because of this, most people do not suspect Holmes had anything to do with the disappearances.

In another portion of the book, Larson emphasizes how Harry, an alias Holmes uses with his apparent wife Minnie, is able to trick Minnie’s suspicious sister, Anna Williams, into trusting him. Holmes and Minnie picked up Anna when she arrived in Chicago, and “there was something about [Holmes] that even Minnie’s glowing letters had not captured. He exuded warmth and charm” (264). Anna was suspicious as to why Holmes would want to marry her sister, but his soothing and welcoming nature immediately lightened her fears. Anna was instantly comfortable with Harry, so much so that, “[she] began calling him ‘Brother Harry’” (264). Despite her initial gut feeling that something was not right about Holmes, Anna’s mind was put to ease the second that Holmes was able to greet her in person and introduce his sly charm to her. Holmes later takes advantage of the fact that he has gained Anna’s trust. He invites her to see his hotel, and then he strikes. Holmes tricks Anna into going after something in his airtight vault, where he proceeds to fill the vault with gas and suffocate Anna to death. Holmes received an enormous thrill from this, because “[t]his was the time he most craved. It brought him a period of sexual release that seemed to last for hours, even though in fact the screams and pleading faded rather quickly” (296). Anna and her sister Minnie, along with countless others, are completely fooled by the mask that Holmes put on. The disturbing phenomenon is that Holmes feels no remorse for his actions; but rather, he actually feels a great sense of pleasure.

H. Holmes preys on victims after he has gained their trust simply because he is able to. Psychopaths, such as Holmes, feel like they have endless power over others after a kill. Holmes has a way of enchanting others with his charismatic smile and his cunning wits, and that allows him to rope people into his elaborate scheme. Along with Minnie and Anna, an unknown amount of other unfortunate people are fallen victim to Holmes and his killing spree. Although Holmes, also known as Herman Mudgett, was eventually caught, the entirety of his work never fully comes to light. There are possibly hundreds of victims that could fall prey to the trap that Holmes so easily sets. This small excerpt from The Devil in the White City grants the outside world with a small sort of explanation behind why Holmes can so find so much enjoyment when taking another person’s life.

The Planning Process

Work Cited

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. Vintage, 2004.

A Step Back In Time

The ninth scene of Heidi Schreck’s play Creature finds the main character, Margery Kempe, visited by a devilish man that goes by the name of Asmodeus. Asmodeus is a demonic character that spends most of this scene intimidating Margery by saying things he knows will get under her skin; Margery’s faith is tested as Asmodeus attempts to terrorize her and use her illiteracy against her just as the devil would do. Heidi Schreck makes use of the time period in which the play was set to prompt the audience to think about how controversy over faith and literacy would play out in today’s time.

This play takes place during the early fifteenth century, and literacy is not a common talent among people. Only those people with wealth or power are literate; even then, they are limited in their competence and understanding of what they read. This illiteracy is demonstrated through Margery when Asmodeus is poking fun at the fact that she cannot read when the stage direction says, “Margery looks down at the book in hope that it will somehow reveal it’s secrets to her” (47). Women of Margery’s time are viewed as particularly ignorant and clueless, and Schreck uses Margery to demonstrate how benighted they are. This ignorance limits Margery’s knowledge of what she thinks the Lord is only to what others tell her He is; she puts all of her faith in God based upon her conversations with other people. It would be very politically incorrect and offensive to poke fun at someone’s illiteracy in today’s world.

Throughout this same scene, Asmodeus claims to have the “Devil’s Book” (47). Asmodeus exploits Margery by declaring the book says, “Margery Kempe was denied strangulation and burned at the stake for falsely wearing white when she was clearly not a virgin, proclaiming herself a saint, and reading from an English bible” (47). Margery is so appalled by this she cannot even speak during her next line (48). Asmodeus is hinting at the authority the Catholic Church has at the time. The church has domination over most aspects of people’s lives, and they start burning people at the stake who go against their tradition. Part of this tradition includes only reading the bible in latin as a means of control so that only people in the church or highly educated people could read it. Today, the language in which people read does not typically determine their fate, and leaders that condem people to be burned at the stake are viewed as malicious dictators.

The time period of the play is key in order to propel the story forward by creating inner conflicts of faith, and outer conflicts of literacy. In some parts of the world today, it seems extraneous to imagine people actually being punished for freely practicing their faith. However, there are still places where people are harshly persecuted for trying to freely practice their religion. This scene provides a window that displays this persecution; Margery’s life may be on the line all because of the way she is choosing to practice her faith in the Lord. She bases this belief off of blind knowledge that is remarkably swayed by the opinions of others since she purely gains this knowledge by what other people tell her because of her illiteracy. Heidi Schreck incorporates certain elements of the early fifteenth century into her play to prompt readers to think deeper about their freedoms they take for granted today; such as, the right to freely practice their faith and easy access to education.

Rough Draft of the Paper and Revision Notes From the Writing Center 

Work Cited

Schreck, Heidi. Creature. Samuel French, 2011.

Taking a Bite Out of Life

Hello. My name is Sydney Biddix, and I am a freshman this year at Lenoir-Rhyne University. I have a passion for all kinds of wonderful food. I love to travel around to new places and discover all the new treats each place has to offer. I do not discriminate, and I enjoy all varieties of food. When I was younger, I was extremely stubborn and picky when it came to food. I was scared to branch out and try new things. Then, one day I discovered that once you travel outside your comfort zone, suddenly you are opened up to an entire new world of flavors. Now, I have no problem trying out new foods.

One of my favorite things to do is go try out different restaurants with some of my closest friends. Food is something that can really just bring people together, and it is a huge aspect of everyone’s life even if they do not realize it.

I was able to see this firsthand. I am from Marion, North Carolina, and I have worked at a restaurant since the day I turned 16. Food has allowed me to meet so many new people from all over, and allowed me to branch out and be more comfortable speaking to new people.

Food has also allowed me to give back to those in need. Last year during the horrible wildfires, firefighters came to Marion from all over the United States in order to help fight the flames. Many of them were from the Midwestern part of the country, and they needed a place to eat while they were here. The restaurant that I worked for signed a contract with the government that allowed us to set up a special sort of cafeteria in order to feed all of these hungry men and women. We fed them twice a day for almost three weeks, and we made sure the menu was different each day. It was also imperative that they were getting the right amount of protein and nutrients from the food that they needed to stay energized. It was such an awesome experience to hear their stories. Also, we were able to show our gratitude to them through food and I will always remember that.

This was one of the final meals we fed the firefighters.

This menu consisted of: Chicken-Fried Steak, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Garden Salad, Rolls, and various dessert choices.

In a way, food controls other aspects of my life. If I am going somewhere, I am always thinking and planning ahead of what I am going to eat next. This does not always mean I choose to eat foods that are unhealthy or bad for me. However, variety is a good thing and life is too short. It would be a shame if I did not indulge every once in awhile.


Pizza is something I indulge in quite often.

Sweet treats are one of my very favorite types of food, and it even runs in my family. My father and my grandmother are always on the lookout for something sweet, and they always say, “Dessert is the best part of any meal.” That is something I can fully stand behind!

Brownie-skillet dessert with homemade Caramel ice-cream on top.

With all the anguish and violence that goes on in the world, food is something that we all have in common. No matter where you come from, we all need food to stay alive. When we sit down at the dinner table, at my house it is customary to put away our electronic devices and just share some quality time with each other. These are some of the main reasons why food matters to me. It is about so much more than just the food itself.