Of Bananas, a Massacre, and Many Truths
“Anyone interested in graduate school should do undergraduate research! In the humanities, writing a long paper gives you a good idea of whether you can work alone on a long-term project. There’s no way you can procrastinate—the work builds and builds on itself!”
Kyle Anixter is up-front about why he decided to do a senior honors thesis in English: “It looks good for graduate school, and I wanted to find out if I could write a paper that long!”
The San Diego native outdid himself on both counts. His paper will look much better than good when he sends out his application packages. As for writing enough to fill the required 40 pages, Kyle’s paper went in at 75.
But despite his initially mundane motives, the project evolved into an ambitious literary, historical, and anthropological study. Kyle used the perspectives of literature, history, and anthropology to explore the actual events surrounding Colombia’s 1928 “banana massacre” that is central to Gabriel Garcia Márquez’ Nobel Prize–winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Kyle’s paper* about his original research and conclusions earned him the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, conferred at his 2006 Commencement ceremony along with his bachelor’s degrees in English and anthropology.
Topic-shopping at home and abroad
Kyle’s research project is an example of what can happen by pursuing what is personally interesting—even if that takes a while to figure out. In Kyle’s case, although he was determined to do independent research for an honors thesis, his sophomore year passed without his figuring out a topic. Then, through the Education Abroad program, he spent his junior year at Cambridge University, enjoyed a course called Magical Realism, and discovered Márquez’ book, which uses that approach—and which Kyle reread seven times. But he still couldn’t think of a thesis topic.
Kyle’s senior year arrived. He took an upper-division seminar, Post-World War II U.S. Fiction, with Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, professor of English and director of the Center for Chicano Studies. “I really liked his teaching style,” Kyle says. “And then I learned that the shooting of the striking factory workers described in One Hundred Years of Solitude had actually happened.”
“Suddenly I wondered if I could compare the historical version to the way it was represented in literature. I decided to study the massacre anthropologically—not to simply stay inside the text but to use the literature to learn about the culture. I wanted to do a people’s approach,” he says. “I had found my topic.”
Among the many ideas Kyle examines in his paper is how nostalgia is revealed in history and literature. For example, he explores the effects in Colombia of the United Fruit Company (UFC), a U.S. corporation that kept an economic stranglehold on the region but caused psychological as well as physical devastation when it left. Kyle shows that the UFC cultivated in the people a yearning for the modernized world it had promised but never delivered, creating a strong sense of corporate nostalgia.
“In addition to contributing an interesting and provocative reading of the Nobel Prize–winning novel,” says Professor Gutiérrez-Jones,“this research lends an important case study to scholars exploring the interplay of globalization, market systems, and nostalgia.”
“My research made me realize that many academic fields can be combined, and that trying to sort things into single subjects is a poor strategy when one is trying to pursuing the truth—if that even exists,” Kyle says.
In the process, Kyle also found his future. “I want to be in a graduate program that allows me to work with as many departments and people as possible,” he says. “I want to become a professor.”
* “Abandoned Bananas and Corporate Misrecollection: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Translated Fictions and Histories of Gabriel Garcia Márquez.”