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Six years ago, when she was a sophomore at Morris Hills High School, Marquis Scholar Erin Wyble ’02 (Wharton, N.J.) began to read John Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown for an English paper.

“I thought it was too difficult,” she says. This year, Wyble is revisiting the book, written before Steinbeck’s more famous The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. This time, she’s carefully examining it, searching for examples of religious imagery and tensions, and describing her findings in her senior honors thesis in English.

“This novel is often overlooked by scholars and readers,” Wyble says, explaining that it is generally dismissed as mere groundwork for Steinbeck’s later novels. “What I’m trying to argue is that it’s important in its own right. I have a feeling that Steinbeck was intentionally playing religions and mythologies off each other in this text. I am also considering the possibility that the tensions within the novel itself in some way reflect the tensions within American society during the Great Depression.”

Wyble is also reading as much commentary as she can find about the work. “There isn’t much out there,” she says, explaining that she hopes to shed new light on the novel.

Wyble, who has taken several religion courses, is also working with James Woolley, Smith Professor of English, as a transcriber for his Swift Poems Project as a participant in the EXCEL Scholars program. She also completed EXCEL research on Herman Melville and race relations in the 19th century, and she did an independent study project on religious irony in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. For both of these projects, Wyble worked with David Johnson, professor of English and associate provost.

“I have always been interested in the way religion and literature come together,” says Wyble, who finished the introduction and first chapter of her thesis by the end of the fall semester.

“Erin is an excellent reader of literature and an unusually good writer,” he says, explaining that although he was skeptical that an author’s early novel could support a thesis, Wyble was able to convince him otherwise. “She is writing the kind of exploration that you would see in a graduate seminar or perhaps even in a master’s thesis, and she’s doing it virtually entirely on her own. I aid and abet mostly by encouraging.”

Wyble first met Johnson in a First-Year Seminar. “He has taught me a great deal about literature and my writing over the past three years,” she says. ” He offers much constructive criticism and consistently challenges me to probe uncovered sources and improve upon my written work.”

Wyble adds that the atmosphere at Lafayette has helped her learn and grow. “I think Lafayette is highly conducive to independent work because the faculty members work hard at establishing mentor relationships with students,” she says. “There are a number of excellent professors in the English department with whom I would feel privileged to work.”

Wyble, who has applied to several graduate programs in English literature, hopes to earn her Ph.D. and teach religion and literature at the college or university level.

Wyble is co-captain of the women’s cross country team and a member of the women’s track and field team and Alpha Phi sorority.

Categorized in: Academic News