First-Year Studies: Mythology in Literature

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In this course, we will define myths broadly as recurring narrative energy fields of great intensity and durability that supply cultures and persons with universal patterns by which to reflect on their origins and destinies. We will consider ways in which writers in the Western literary tradition have used certain mythic patterns—odysseys, the first term, and metamorphoses, the second term—to explore their questions and concerns about the operations of the cosmos and the psyche, history, and morality. These patterns provide both archetypal structures for the articulation of plot and tropes for the implication of meaning in literary texts. We will proceed chronologically through texts from ancient, through medieval and Renaissance, to Romantic and contemporary periods. Tracking the same narrative pattern through this sequence of literary periods will provide insights into the way literature represents changing understandings of the way the world is structured and the way that the human mind and human culture engage with it. First-term readings: Homer, The Odyssey; Dante, The Inferno; Swift, Gulliver’s Travels; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, the African; William Faulkner, Light in August; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Jack Kerouac, On the Road. Second-term readings: Ovid, The Metamorphoses; Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene; John Milton, Comus, Paradise Lost; H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau; Charles Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales; Kafka, The Metamorphosis; Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros.