Monday, February 28, 2011

A Post-Structuralist Analysis of the Arch

The Arch is a perfect example for a post-structuralist to use as an example on the Wabash campus. If you walk under the Arch, supposedly you will fail the senior comprehensive exams. Traditionally, the seniors walk together under the arch as part of their graduation ceremony. If I were to analyze this superstition through structuralism, I would say that the Arch is a signifier. The signified is the concept of graduation, or moving onward. Therefore, the sign itself is success. You cannot walk under the Arch before graduation because you are, in a sense, assuming success prematurely. You are not ready to walk under the Arch, and therefore, bad things will happen if you do. The evolution of this myth will raise many post-structuralist eyebrows, though. It may interest my fellow students to know that this legend is not actually very old at all. At one point in the very recent past, the Arch had a different meaning for the students. Nothing. I had a discussion with an alumnus, who graduated in 1987, who proclaimed that this was one of the silliest superstitions he had ever heard (on a side note, not stepping on the seal in the library was not silly to him at all). Walking under the Arch means different things for different students. Some say that you will fail comps. Some say that you will die. All of these people justify this superstition by referencing a (yet to be proven) story about a guy who failed his comps and subsequently hung himself from the Arch, cursing it forever. This sign has changed its meaning over time. It has been a silly, test-taking ritual. And it has been a fear of some odd ghost story.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good post structural analysis of the dreaded arch way of Wabash College. I, as well, knew that this tradition was fairly new and that it seems to be somewhat childish for someone to think that they hung themselves after failing comps. However, we could maybe assume that this tradition was recently created by a new historicist here at Wabash College who did a little research, and maybe in the past discovered this event and decided to tell about his research. Then he could take that information to spread the word, and that could be another way that the myth of the arch came about. Of course, this is just speculation by me, but I think it helps that one bring in the historical research aspect of the story to discover the roots of the Wabash tradition. A new historicist would use that research as well, and compare it to the theme of fear that the arch represents among the students on the campus. A new historicist could also compare the tradition to what it represented if the event actually happened, and how it is perceived by the campus now. I believe that the arch is a great Wabash tradition; post structuralism offers different analysis and stance on the tradition, and bringing I think bringing in a new historicist look at this would also help us understand the tradition a little more as well.