I remember learning that our modern-day conception of what a “teenager” is only came into existence around the end of World War II. I find it baffling that prior to the existence of this term, a person would either have been crammed into the realm of childhood for far too long, or forcibly pushed into adulthood much too prematurely. I was reminded of this concept during a presentation I attended about a month ago. The presentation was given by Dr Miranda Corcoran from the English Department and Dr Jason Harris from the History Department. They each focused on the concept of “witches” throughout history from their own unique angle. Professor Harris divulged the story of a young girl in 17th century Massachuscetts who had been accused of being a witch in her youth, and Professor Corcoran examined the portrayal of teenage girls as witches in both contemporary and twentieth century media. Professor Corcoran reiterated the idea that until the 1940s, the term “teenager” was non-existent, and the emergence of it came with both a series of benefits and a series of struggles, especially for young women.
I recently purchased a copy of Carson McCullers’ novel “The Member of the Wedding”. I hadn’t heard of Carson McCullers prior to buying this novel, but the back excerpt intrigued me and I enjoy reading works from writers that I’m not too familiar with, espeically writers from the 20th century. The novel follows a young girl, Frankie, who is depicted as being combative and demonstrative as she tries to navigate the changes that will occur in her personal life due to her brother’s approaching wedding. Frankie is around twelve years old—she’s approaching that itchy and uncomfortable yet unrelenting transition we all go through as we move into our teen years. McCullers wrote this novel in 1946, right around the time when the term “teenager” was beginning to gain recognition. I think it could be quite interesting to see how teenagers, especially teenage girls, are represented in both literature and media of the twentieth and twenty-first century. I think for this idea to work as a potential master’s thesis, I would, of course, need to develop a much more specific thesis topic, even if this concept just acts as the baseline for it. Over winter break I’m hoping to research and read other authors from the 20th century, specifically focusing on the 30s, 40s, and 50s. I hope by doing this I can explore the potential this idea may possess, and the possibility of using it as a master’s thesis topic.