Interpretive Argument Essay
Research in progress for ENGL 1302: Composition II
Faculty Mentor: Michael Schueth, Ph.D.
I am pleased to introduce Natalie Doublesin’s “A Misconception About Hysteria: The Portrayal of Women in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds,” an essay she wrote for my English 1302 course in the spring 2020 semester. The research assignment was drawn from the textbook Writing Analytically, which asks students to practice writing a tightly argued interpretation of a film. I chose Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film, The Birds, because it is wonderfully apt for interpretive work as the events in the film are not fully explained and the surreal nature of the bird attacks makes for many different kinds of approaches to understanding the film’s meaning. To that end, the COVID-19 shut down came just as we were starting this project, which also opened up new insights into the film’s connections to environmental disasters, public hysteria, and crisis responses.
Natalie’s interpretation of The Birds draws on what the writers of Writing Analytically call a “lens”—that is, a focused reading of the film that is filtered through a particular idea or theoretical point-of-view. Here, the lens is a mix of feminist and psychoanalytical theories that critique a long Western history of pathologizing women with “hysteria.” Natalie’s close reading of scholarly sources as well as her attention to details in specific scenes in the film reveal a writer deeply engaged in her ideas. Notably, Natalie worked on more than a dozen drafts after the course ended, meeting with me on Zoom for eight months to perfect the final manuscript you see here. In that process, Natalie deepened her engagement with her scholarly sources, often finding new material and ideas as she read and re-read her research over time. The same happened with the film: as she continued to engage the fine details of camera angles, costumes, and the nuanced performances of the actors, she found connections and patterns at work that were not obvious. As Natalie wrote into her ideas, she identified ways in which characters fit into and challenged the theoretical lens she was working with, reformulating her ideas throughout the writing process. To that end, this paper demonstrates not only critical insights into the film, but also serves to show what can happen when students take their work beyond the classroom, engage with the scholarly publishing process, and collaborate with faculty.
"A Misconception About Hysteria: The Portrayal of Women in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds,"
Quest: Vol. 5, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.collin.edu/quest/vol5/iss1/3