Monsters Across Time and Space

For this assignment, you will write a 12-page (that’s FULL pages of writing, please!) essay in response to the prompt below. Our main goal for this essay is to move from textual analysis of a single work to a larger argument about how sources work together to show us trends, changes, and/or similarities in human nature over time. In other words, you will be making a claim about the ways in which our ideas or definitions of monsters and monstrosity have changed (or not changed) over time, using our course readings as evidence.

By the time this paper is due, we will have discussed several texts that deal with monsters and monstrosity, including Titus Andronicus, Frankenstein, Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the first X-Men film. For your term paper, you will choose at least two primary source texts that we have read or viewed in class to compare in terms of their presentation of the concept of monsters and monstrosity. You may use a third primary source text if you wish, which may be either a text we have or a text we have not covered in class, for example another novel, film, or video game that deals with similar themes. (Enjoy yourselves!)

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You will also need to use at least five secondary sources (see below) to help support your argument.

You should use the texts you choose to provide your answer to the question: How does the definition and presentation of monsters and monstrosity change—or not change—over time? On a larger scale, how do these changes in the depictions of monsters reflect shifting cultural desires at different points in time? (For example, do we ever see monsters depicted sympathetically? Do monsters always appear visually marked—ugly or supernatural—or are they potentially just like us? What do they stand for—pure evil for evil’s sake, or greed, or desire?) What qualities and motivations seem to stay the same in different depictions of monsters, and what changes, and why might those changes occur?

Your overall thesis should make a claim about the ways in which the concept of the monster has changed over time, as reflected in the specific texts you have chosen to discuss, and why those changes (or lack of changes) might be significant. (In other words, why do we care?) You may have a 2 or 3 sentence thesis.

An example of a possible thesis: “While monstrous characters in Shakespeare’s play seem to possess a range of motives, from pure desire for evil to desire for sexual gratification, they are all portrayed as human, suggesting that all humans are potential monsters. However, monsters in later texts such as Frankenstein and Buffy use the inhuman monster, physically marked as Other, to explore ways of coping with difference, which suggests a growing desire to explore both the difficulties and optimism of diversity and physically different bodies.”


Because this is a research paper, you are required to use—in addition to your two or three primary source texts—at least five secondary sources. You do not have to use outside or not assigned sources (you can, but it’s not required—it will be in WR 2, though!), but you will need to include at least five of our secondary source readings, for example Cohen’s essay, or your World of Ideas essays. You should have a lot to choose from by the time this paper is due!

Remember, a primary source is the original document, text, film, object, or phenomenon itself; a secondary source provides discussion, analysis, and interpretation of that text or object, and will help provide authoritative external support and confirmation for your own claims. You may use these sources in various ways: definitions of monsters and their purpose, historical context, ideas about morality and/or good leadership, and so on.

This is ultimately a comparative paper—looking at changes or similarities over time, as demonstrated in the texts you choose to focus on—and in order to make a persuasive argument, you’ll need to show your knowledge of those texts. To do this, you’ll need specific support and evidence (where and how does each text show examples of monstrosity, so that you can compare them?).

A strong essay structure will look something like this, overall:
–introduction (1-2 paragraphs, at least a page): opening hook to catch readers’ attention, briefly introduce important texts, authors, and themes, briefly introduce important secondary sources/ideas you plan to use, end with a 2-3 sentence clear and sophisticated thesis claim about the ways in which the concept of monstrosity has or has not changed over time, and why that’s significance. Here’s an example of a thesis claim (one you might or might not agree with!): “While monstrous characters in Shakespeare’s play seem to possess a range of motives, from pure desire for evil to desire for sexual gratification, they are all portrayed as human, suggesting that all humans are potential monsters. However, monsters in later texts such as Frankenstein and Buffy use the inhuman monster, physically marked as Other, to explore ways of coping with difference, which suggests a growing desire to explore both the difficulties and optimism of diversity and physically different bodies.”
–first two body paragraphs (roughly 1 page): literature review: explaining and connecting your secondary source ideas: what concepts and ideas are you using? What time periods and contexts are you looking into? What do they each say that will be important for defining “monstrosity”? Do all these authors agree with each other? How do their approaches compare? You may summarize or paraphrase or use direct quotes, but do cite the places in the various texts where these ideas can be found!
–next body paragraphs (roughly 4-5 pages): beginning your textual analysis: analyze the first text you’ve chosen! Provide specific examples and quotes to support your claims about how monstrosity is depicted in the text. You will likely need at least four pages to explore the range of monstrosity in the text—what characters and types of monstrosity are present, and what’s significant about them? What does that tell us about cultural “monsters” (fears or anxieties) of the time? How does it compare to your other text(s)—what do you notice that’s similar, or different or distinct? What does this suggest about cultural similarities or changes over time?
–repeat for your second text!
–if you’re using a third text, repeat for your third text!
–conclusion (1-2 paragraphs, roughly a page): remind readers of your overall argument, main points, and connections: what types of monsters persist, and what types vanish? Does the portrayal of monsters become, for example, more or less sympathetic, or do they perhaps reflect new emerging concerns? Consider the significance of the texts you’ve chosen—why are they important? (For instance, even Shakespeare was the “pop culture” of his time—does his work tell us something about the concerns and desires of the general culture?) Try to end with a memorable idea, question, image, or implication—what do you want your readers to go away thinking about or asking themselves?

For this essay, you’re not required to find any outside sources, though you may if you choose to! You may use standard in-text MLA citation style. You will need a Works Cited page with complete citations – check your grammar handbook for examples! – so that you can practice the formatting and those requirements.

Please use these 3 possible secondary sources:
Monster Culture (Seven Theses) by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Man’s nature is evil by Hsun Tzu
The aim of man by Aristotle


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