Grace Zoldak (’25): Why English?

When I began college, I didn’t know that I would eventually declare a major in English in addition to History. However, what I did know was how deeply I loved and appreciated literature and writing. This love wasn’t the “summer fling” sort of love that swoops down and infatuates one for a brief period only to flee as quickly as it began, but rather the product of a continuously evolving relationship with literature that I fostered since I was young. 

My first passion in life was history, which may seem odd to mention in a piece about English. But, my love for reading and writing blossomed from my fascination with all things historical. As a child, I was completely engrossed in history–specifically with the early American and frontier period. I can’t pinpoint exactly what sparked such a deep passion at a young age. Perhaps it was the never-ending presence of “Little House on the Prairie” or “Bonanza” on our small box television in the living room, as if they were the only shows that were aired. Or, maybe it was my frequent visits to the Living-History Ohio Village, where I stood with my bonnet on, in awe of the 1890s seemingly coming to life. No matter the cause, by age six I lived and breathed all things history.

To my disappointment, I couldn’t spend my days in front of the television watching period shows (thank you, Mom) or live in Ohio Village (as much as I begged my mom to simply leave me in the replica of an 1890s lower-class German home). And, as much as I embraced history through learning to sew or drawing at the kitchen table by candlelight, I couldn’t satisfy my hunger for traveling back in time. 

One cold, snowy morning in second grade my mom set the book, Little House in the Big Woods on the green tile kitchen table during our special snow day pancake breakfast. I retreated to my plushy pink fairy comforter in my room and I began to fall deep into the world of Laura Ingalls. Page after page, I felt for the first time that I was immersed in the 1870s. I spent every day after school over the following weeks devouring the series, shocked at how much I related to Laura and a bit jealous that she was living the life I could only live in my imagination. 

Once I quickly ventured through the Little House on the Prairie series, I sought out other historically set books. I spent my mornings in the year 1912 as I read Voyage on the Great Titanic in the Dear America series. I spent my days in the 1860s reading Little Women and my nights traveling back in time to medieval Britain with the Redwall series. I found I could turn to literature to satisfy my hunger for history, and so fell in love once again–this time with reading. 

As time passed and I entered high school, I grew more sophisticated in my reading endeavors. Despite the pile of finished books on my bedroom floor growing, my reading list still remained balanced on the fine line between History and English. I was hesitant to drift too far into the literary world if the book in question did not allow me to step back to the past and lavish in times far gone–why else would I read? I soon learned that the world of literature had more to offer beyond history, such as companionship.

Reader, I spent much of my high school years in a hospital. My chronic illness had become debilitating, and I found myself confined to a hard hospital bed with only the never-ceasing beeps of medical equipment as my constant companions. Without access to my phone or most of my possessions due to hospital policy, I sat scribbling journal entries and poetry on tissues or corners of treatment paperwork. Eventually, surrounded by white walls and the distant chatter of doctors, I came to lack inspiration and loneliness from the seemingly never-ending isolation that enveloped me. 

Early one morning a nurse entered the room as usual and, after taking my first round of vitals for the day, seemed to notice the weighty effects of loneliness on my spirit. She offered to bring me books from the hospital library as soon as she had the chance. I accepted the offer unenthusiastically, knowing the material she would return with would lack historical content but desperate for anything to take my mind off my current condition. After many hours had passed and lunchtime was approaching (not to my surprise-the hospital holds a completely different concept of time), she entered the frigid room once again with a book in her hand. She placed a worn copy of Jane Eyre in my hand and I examined the book with little care as she pushed the nutritional supplement through the NG tube uncomfortably invading my nose. With few words she left the room, leaving the novel as my only company. 

The novel quickly piqued my interest as I journeyed alongside Jane through her turbulent childhood. As she progressed into adulthood, I felt a profound connection to Jane’s character and her trials, both big and small. Jane’s character made me feel seen, and I fell in love with the novel. Her isolation from peers, friends, and family, her dreams of life outside her confining reality, and the escape she found within books all deeply resonated with me as I sat alone in the stale hospital room. Time seemed to fly by as I laughed and cried with this character who I felt knew me so well. I yearned for a friendship with her, and truly missed her upon completing the novel. Although this connection to Jane is, to this day, the most impactful connection I’ve had with a literary figure, books such as these continued to keep me company throughout my years of treatment despite my initial hesitancy. 

As expected, upon enrolling at Ohio Wesleyan I declared my first love, History. I thoroughly enjoyed my history classes, soaked up every book and lecture presented to me, and wrote stacks and stacks of notes. Despite this, English still lingered in the back of my mind like an old friend determined to strengthen a once-abundant relationship. Although I loved my historical reading, I missed the rich literature I had grown to adore and I yearned for an opportunity to write beyond historical research. My craving finally overtook me in the fall semester of my junior year, and I added an English literature major. 

Studying both history and literature has allowed me to continue immersing myself in these two worlds in which I find comfort, my identity, and hopefully, my future. As I continue to study these topics individually, I am often shocked at how often they collide and intermix. Maybe these two worlds aren’t so isolated and detached after all. Maybe History and English are not even two different worlds existing in solitude from one another, but instead, simply two sides of the same coin. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *