Final paper: Monstrous Ink
Every civilization that develops literature incorporates monsters into its storytelling and mythology. From Greece to Egypt to Asia to Anglo-Saxon England, the heroes of early literature prove themselves by overcoming monstrous beings. In later literature, monsters become more symbolic, ways for writers to represent new aspects of human nature, both in the monsters and in the human characters who confront them. Therefore, the study of literature from different historical periods and cultures allows us to think about what different cultures and eras label as “monstrous” and why. As Professor Asma says, “an action or a person or a thing is monstrous when it can’t be processed by our rationality, and also when we cannot readily relate to the emotional range involved.” This statement suggests that when a character in literature is considered a monster, that label may give us insight into those doing the labeling as well as a greater understanding of the monster itself.
For your final paper, consider three of the “monstrous” works we have studied this semester. By looking at them either individually or in comparison with each other, show how the presence of monsters contributes to the effectiveness of the work as a whole. This “effectiveness” may in part be based on the facilitation of plot, but it should also involve consideration of the way in which the presentation of a monster is related to larger issues in the work as a whole.
Start by thinking about which of the so-called “monstrous” characters either confirm or refute any of the following assumptions (note that several of these assumptions are contradictory):
- Monsters cannot be reasoned with
- Monsters are ugly and inspire horror
- Monsters are unnatural
- Monsters are overwhelmingly powerful
- Monsters are evil
- Monsters are misunderstood
- Monsters cannot be understood
- Monsters reflect the deepest fears of specific eras and cultures
- Monsters are socially “constructed” and serve as scapegoats for expedient political agendas.
- Monsters are psychological projections* of our own insecurities, fears, and shortcomings as a society. (*projection is a psychological defense mechanism which involves the unconscious transfer of one’s own desires or emotions onto another.)
- “The Other”—forces to be feared and loathed as outsiders, inimical to human nature and human life.
- An inverted reflection of the interests and values of a culture.
- Obstacles to be removed, overcome, or eliminated by a hero.
- A horrendous presence that explodes our standards for harmony, order, and ethical conduct”—Joseph Campbell
- The personification of our own inner demons—monsters can represent aspects of ourselves that must be shunned as socially or psychologically unacceptable.
- Symbols of human vulnerability (i.e. monsters reveal to us our weaknesses).
- Or, conversely, a means for us to discover our own strengths—“imagining how we will face an unstoppable, powerful, and inhuman threat”
- “Inhuman threats are great reminders of our own humanity”
Your paper should be approximately 6-8 pages in length; parenthetical citations should be used for textual support; any additional information, ideas, or language must, of course, be scrupulously cited.
See the assignment schedule on my blog for submission information, electronically on December 15, hard copy on 15th or 16th. Be sure to pay special attention to submission deadlines. On turnitin the assignment will be label “Final fall 2014.”