FALL 2000

Participation/Attendance: 20% Mid-Term Exam: 15%
First Essay (4-5 pages): 15% Final Exam: 25%
Second Essay (5-6 pages): 25%  


Topics for the First Essay Assignment (15%)

1) Early in his Paradise Lost, Milton includes an allegorical representation of EveÕs transgression: Sin and her progeny, Death (2.648-799). Discuss this passage either in terms of this structural feature (why include an allegory in an epic? What function does this passage serve?) or in terms of the representation of women in Paradise Lost (in what ways does this passage prejudice us against Eve? How does it represent women to the Renaissance reader?). In both cases, you should probably consider the relationship of this passage to Book IX and EveÕs transgression.

2) Many epic conventions are invoked in Books I and II (an epic hero who suffers from a certain degree of hubris, epic games, epic machinery, a counsel of elders, a description of a military force, a nekuia, an epic journey, an epic catalogue, an invocation to the Muse, etc.). In each case, however, Milton reworks and even undercuts the epic convention. Discuss one convention or two related conventions, illustrating what is interesting or innovative about MiltonÕs changes to epic tradition.

3) In the oral tradition, the rhapsode remains faceless; he or she is nothing but a vessel through which the gods (particularly the Muses) are supposed to speak. Milton, on the other hand, makes certain allusions to his own personal situation (his blindness, his recent dejection) and he, of course, also signs his name to his work (itself an act of self-advertisement since his infamous name would have been instantly recognized by that part of the population that could read his work). Why is this change significant? What is different about the invocations to the Muse as a result (see, in particular, the invocation at the beginning of Book III) and what is significant about any changes that you perceive?

4) A major shift between the epic universe of Homer and that of Milton is that we have moved from a polytheistic society to a monotheistic one. In what significant ways does Milton change epic tradition in order to account for this shift? How do MiltonÕs changes re-conceive the traditional epic in order to account for or make way for this new version of belief?

5) Satan and the devils are often compared to epic heroes of old as in Book I, lines 559-621. What is the purpose for this? What is significant about this move?

6) By presenting Satan in both a positive and a negative light, Milton could be said to recreate for the reader the same act of free will that is staged in the fall of Adam and Eve. That is, we too are forced to choose between GodÕs rules and a relatively attractive Satan. Discuss the ways that Milton manipulates or frees a readerÕs interpretation of Paradise Lost. In what ways is the readerÕs own interpretive activity foregrounded, represented, or invoked in MiltonÕs work?

7) EveÕs account of her creation and her first meeting with Adam (4.440-91) differs significantly from AdamÕs version of the same events to Raphael (8.451-520). What do you make of this difference? Why is it significant?

8) Book IX in many ways does not depict a typical epic scene. How does it differ from what one would expect in a martial epic and why are these differences significant?

9) MiltonÕs epic could be said to effectuate a shift from a shame culture to a guilt culture. One could also argue that Paradise Lost anticipates or prepares the way for the shift from a society of spectacle to a carceral society, a shift that would not be completed until the nineteenth century. Choose one of these shifts and discuss it in terms of Paradise Lost. In what ways might MiltonÕs work be a reflection of or an active force in the social changes occurring in the Renaissance as we move from HomerÕs oral culture to our contemporary culture? (You might also consider discussing the revolutionary political events and changes that Milton participated in throughout CromwellÕs Republic.)


Re-Write of the First Paper: Specifications and Requirements

1) If you choose to pursue the re-write option, I will expect significant revisions on the paper. If I receive a re-write in which the student has only changed grammatical problems or changed just a few words or sentences, I will return the paper unmarked. In short, it is much less work to write a strong paper the first time around. For the most part, papers that require re-writing lacked theses and/or had serious structural problems. To correct these problems, you will have to re-think completely your ideas and the way you present them. In many cases, I might have requested more in-depth analyses or suggested that you work up a single thesis more fully rather than simply listing unrelated and unexplored points. Avoid paraphrase; when necessary, I expect the paraphrase to be accompanied by an in-depth analysis of the events being recounted and the passages being examined. Re-writes are difficult exercises. To be done properly, they require that you put in a great deal more energy than was expended on the original.

2) You will be required to have two half-hour sessions with a tutor in the English DepartmentÕs Writing Lab. (Note that these need to be scheduled ahead of time. Drop-ins do not count for this exercise since they only last 15-20 minutes.) You should bring a new outline and the original paper to the first session in the Writing Lab so you can discuss with your tutor how to go about improving upon the first effort. You should bring a draft to the second session so you can discuss specific problems in your writing. I also require that, in between these two sessions, you drop by my office hours so we can discuss your progress and how you plan to correct the problems in the original paper. When you go to each of these three meetings, you should have with you the original paper with my comments.

3) Hand in the original paper with the re-write, including my printed comments. You may write on these original papers, but I ask that you do so in a color other than the one I used to make my comments.

4) Hand in the completed re-write on November 9, either in class or in my office hours.


Topics for the Second Essay Assignment (25%)

1) Discuss frame narrative in one of the texts we examine. How does it relate to some monstrous secret or some traumatic kernel at its heart? What psychological purpose might be served by these different re-tellings of something at the "heart of darkness," to borrow ConradÕs formulation? Why do each of the narrators feel the need to pass the story on to the next listener, who then feels the same need to pass it on? What is the author trying to convey through this framed narrative structure?

2) Discuss in detail the role of the monstrous in Mary ShelleyÕs text. What might Shelley be saying here about Romanticism, male plots, the position of women, or the limits of science?

3) How do female figures tend to be subordinated to, or marginalized by, male plots and male desires? One could discuss the marginalized female figures of Frankenstein or Heart of Darkness, for example; in what ways are these women figured by the male characters? What is the significance of their status in the text? Could it be said that Mary Shelley, for example, includes an implicit critique of her Romantic heroes or does she merely replay the traditional marginalization of women, despite her gender?

4) "The organism must live in order to die in the proper manner, to die the right death. One must have the detours of plot in order to reach the end" (Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot). Examine a text that somehow confirms, denies, or revises BrooksÕs model of narrative closure as a death-like return to a static point of rest. (Make sure you come talk to me if you are interested in doing this one.)

5) How does the DoppelgŠnger (the "double") or alter-ego function in one of the texts weÕve examined? One could discuss, for example, how this figure serves to represent psychological issues or how the figure represents through these doubled characters such issues as unconsious desire, narrative structure, or authorship.

6) How does narrative serve to question or instantiate representations of race and/or nationality in a given text? One could say, for example, that the imperialist drive to conquer is fueled by a sort of narrative desire, not least the desire to emulate the epic heroes of old. How is this drive explored in one of the texts we examine (Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart are obvious choices, although one could also discuss WaltonÕs and VictorÕs epic quests of discovery as opposed to female domestic narratives)?

7) One could argue that identity is only made possible because of narrative. After all, how could one begin to understand oneself without the diegetic or time-space parameters that are offered to us by narrative form? Discuss how narrative structure (including its generic conventions, be they poetic, epic, or novelistic) helps a character to formulate an identity. One could, for example, analyze in Frankenstein the monsterÕs coming to consciousness through the reading of other narrative works, particularly Paradise Lost. One could also analyze Citizen Kane and its commentary on the difficulties of capturing an identity in a single narrative form.

8) It has been argued that epic form is impossible in the modern age. Discuss to what extent one of the texts weÕve examined re-works epic form for the modern era.

9) The sublime and the transcendent could be said to run counter to the concerns of narrative progression since they point to some revelatory truth outside of time and space. Discuss how one of the texts we examine deals with the intrusion of the sublime and the transcendent into the heart of the narrative.