Werewolves, Seal Wives, Grizzly Men, and Other Metamorphoses

Professor: Karla Armbruster
Institution: Webster University
Course Number: 2110

ENGL 2110.01

Perspectives:  Werewolves, Seal Wives, Grizzly Men, and Other Metamorphoses


Spring 2011, MWF 10:00-10:50

Office:            2nd Floor, Pearson House

Phone:            246-7577

Fax:            968-7173

E-mail:            [email protected]

Office hours:      MW 2:30-3:30 and by appt.


Required Texts and Resources

Atwood, Margaret. Surfacing. 1972. New York: Anchor, 1998.

Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber. 1979. Penguin, 1993.

Erdrich, Louise. The Antelope Wife. New York, Harper: 1999.

Hornung, Eva. Dog Boy. New York: Viking, 2010.

Access to Blackboard site for our course (through Connections):  many readings for class will be provided through this site.


Optional Text (for extra credit assignment)

Martel, Yan. Life of Pi. New York, Mariner: 2003.


Course Description and Objectives

In this course, we will examine a wide variety of legends, poems, stories, and films that portray human-animal transformations, ranging from classical mythology to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” to stories of humans being eaten by other animals.  While they will come from a range of cultures and time periods, they all provide insight into the varied ways humans have relationship between themselves and other animals (and, by extension, nature), sometimes reinforcing the human-animal distinction that some philosophers say is central to our definition of the human, and other times challenging or complicating that distinction. Our goal, then, is to explore the literature of human-animal metamorphoses in order to question and explore not only our relationships with other animals but also to re-evaluate what it means to be human.

Course learning outcomes: students who successfully complete this course will be able to

•      Critically read and analyze literary texts,

•      Understand the themes and issues that arise in the literature of human-animal

metamorphoses and apply them from one text to another,

•      Synthesize the ideas from several texts in order to answer an over-arching question,

•      Write focused, clear, well-organized, and mechanically correct essays that use the MLA citation style, and

•      Critically evaluate their own views on the relationships between humans and other

animals .


To fulfill the general education requirement for humanities, we will

•            Use original works or texts instead of secondary interpretations, and

•      Encounter multiple perspectives on themes of the human condition.


To fulfill the general education requirement for cultural understanding, we will

•      Compare how different cultures think and have thought about the relationship between humans and other animals

•      Reflect critically upon the way our own culture views the relationship between humans and other animals, and

•            Work to understand both differences and similarities among cultures and

their attitudes and behaviors towards nonhuman animals.


Assignments, Grades, and Policies

I will  calculate your final grade using the percentages listed below:

Unit Papers                          30%

Midterm Paper                     25%

Final Paper                          25%

Participation                         10%

Attendance                           10%

There will also be an optional extra credit opportunity of Life of Pi, consisting on meeting outside of class for a discussion and writing a small paper.

Please Note: To pass this course, you must complete and turn in all papers and exams.  All papers must be written for this course. Any paper with excessive mechanical errors (including typos and incorrect usage and spelling) will be returned unread; such papers may be revised and submitted again within one week after I return them.  


Papers: As you can see in the daily schedule, our class will be divided into six thematic units.  For each unit except the last, you will write one short (2-3 page) paper, which will give you the opportunity to synthesize the ideas of the unit.  You will also complete 2 longer papers, one half-way through the term and one at the end.  I will provide more detailed assignment sheets for each paper as they come up.


Participation:  One of the primary goals of this course is to improve your ability to understand literature and to express that understanding to others.  Class meetings, which will stress discussion and the exchange of ideas, will be one of your major opportunities to refine this ability.   In general, the more you participate, the more you will gain from the class — and the more everyone else will gain as well.  But keep in mind that participation doesn’t mean just being vocal.  Just a few insightful comments or questions can go a long way.  Conversely, if you are vocal but consistently detract from the quality of the course for others, it will hurt your participation grade.  Your goal should be to help yourself and your classmates become better thinkers and to better understand the texts and topics under discussion, and your participation should be targeted towards that goal.


Attendance.  In my experience, students learn best when they are actively engaged in the process of their own education.  Therefore, I design my classes to encourage the communal creation of knowledge through discussions and other activities. This design means that when you miss class, you not only hurt yourself, but the class as a whole also misses out on your contributions. Thus, it is essential that you be presentat virtually every classUp to three unexcused absences will leave you with an A for attendance. Four will translate into a B for attendance; five a B-; six a C; seven a C-; eight a D; and nine an F. If you feel you have a legitimate reason for missing class (such as illness or a death in the family), please contact me as soon as possible, and I will let you know if it is excused.


If you miss more than 9 classes for any reason — even illness — and do not withdraw, you will fail the class This policy is not intended as a punishment but rather as a way

to preserve the integrity of the course, both for you and the other students. If you miss the equivalent of more than three weeks, you simply will not be able to gain from the class what you should; because so much of the class will depend on discussion and student contributions, there is just no way to make up large portions of the class on your own.  Also, having even one or two students attend only sporadically detracts from the class atmosphere for those who do attend regularly. Also, repeated late arrivals to class will count as partial absences.


Jobs and Other Commitments:  I understand that many of you have part-time or even full-time jobs, and I can certainly sympathize with the need to earn money.  I know many of you also have other important commitments outside of class:  sports, families, Conservatory work, etc.  However, you must make sure that these commitments do not interferewith attendance or with completing your assignments for this course.


Plagiarism:  Don’t do it!!  Plagiarism is using someone else’s words or ideas as your own (as opposed to citing someone else’s words and ideas and giving that person credit, or getting someone’s feedback on your own work, which are both quite acceptable academic practices).  Plagiarism is a very serious offense, and I reserve the right to fail any student (for the assignment or for the course, depending on the circumstances) found guilty of plagiarism.  If you have any doubt about whether your use of someone else’s work might count as plagiarism, please talk to me.  It’s also an extremely good idea to go through Webster’s plagiarism tutorial:http://www.webster.edu/students/plagiarism/.



Extra Help

 Help with Writing. The Writing Center is a great place to go for extra help with writing assignments for this class or others.  The Writing Center is not a remedial writing lab.  It serves all students, no matter what their skill level, who want individualized help in various areas such as topic development, organization, sentence structure, mechanics, or usage.  It is also not an editing or proofreading service — don’t bring in a draft of one of your papers and expect a Writing Center coach to “fix it up” for you.  Although coaches will help you with individual assignments, they want to concentrate on improving your skills.  Although the Center accepts walk-ins, it is best to call or stop in to make an appointment.  The Writing Center, located in 48A Loretto Hall, is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday through Thursday and from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on Friday. The phone number is 961-246-8644, and the website is athttp://www.webster.edu/writingcenter/index.shtml.

Help with Learning Disabilities. If you know or suspect you have a learning disability that may have some impact on your work in this class, please contact Barbara Stewart, Director of the Academic Resource Center (ARC), at 968-7495.  If you need any special accommodations due to a learning disability, make sure that either you or the ARC let me know what they are.


Daily Schedule

 *Additional short readings to provide context or relevant theoretical concepts may be added as needed.


Jan. 10 (M)      Introduction to class and each other

Jan. 12 (W)      Introductory activities:

•      Analyze human-animal metamorphoses in clips from two films, The Sword in the Stone and Pinocchio(the first makes turning into a nonhuman animal seem relatively positive, though risky,     while the second presents it as a punishment for “bestial” behavior)

•      Analyze James Dickey’s poem “The Sheep Child,” which is told from the perspective of a human-animal hybrid (not quite the same thing as a human-animal metamorphoses, but it raises similar        questions about the nature of being “human” or “animal”)

Jan. 14 (F)      Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”

Jan. 17 (M)             Martin Luther King Day: No Class

Jan. 20 (W)      Continue discussion of “The Metamorphosis”

Optional background reading:  Félix Deleuze and Gilles Guattari, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible”


Unit 1: Metamorphoses, Then and Now

This unit focuses on comparing classical stories of human animal metamorphoses from Homer and Ovid to contemporary poems inspired by those stories, thus gaining insight into how views of humanity, animality and the relations between the two have evolved over time.

Jan. 22 (F)      Book X from Homer’s Odyssey; stories of Io and Actaeon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses; related poems from Kossman, Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths

Jan. 24 (M)     Stories of Arachne and Philomela from Ovid’sMetamorphoses and related poems; related poems;Unit 1 Paper Due

Jan. 26 (W)     Continue discussion of papers


Unit 2: The Company of Wolves

 This unit examines werewolf stories from a variety of time periods and perspectives, focusing on the figure of the wolf and how its varied associations affect attitudes toward lycanthropy.

Optional background material: Entry on “Shapeshifting” fromEncyclopedia of Human-Animal Relations.

Jan. 28 (F)      Marie de France, “Bisclavret”


Jan. 31 (M)       Lopez, “Images from a Childhood” (chapter on fables and folklore about wolves, including the Little Red Riding Hood stories, from Of Wolves and Men); Perrault and Grimm versions of “Little Red Riding Hood”

Feb. 2 (W)      Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves” (postmodern rewriting of the Little Red Riding Hood story as a werewolf tale)

Feb. 4 (F)       Continue discussion


Feb. 7 (M)      Ursula Le Guin, “The Wife’s Story”; Les Daniels, “Wereman”

Feb. 9 (W)       Unit 2 Paper Due


Unit 3: Animal Brides, Grooms, and Lovers

This unit covers the patterns of traditional animal bride and groom stories as well as contemporary retellings of such stories, emphasizing the totemic relationship between human communities and certain nonhuman animal species that they usually reflect.

Optional background material:  Selection from Boria Sax, The Serpent and the Swan:

The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature

Feb. 11 (F)       Carter, “The Tiger’s Bride” (a postmodern rewriting of the Beauty and the Beast tale)

Feb. 14 (M)      Gary Snyder, “The Woman Who Married a Bear” (an essay on a Native American animal groom story fromThe Practice of the Wild)

Joy Harjo, “The Deer Dancer” (poem)

Feb. 17 (W)            Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife

Feb. 19 (F)            Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife

Feb. 21 (M)            Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife

Feb. 23 (W)      Selkies (background information); Unit 3 Paper (optional) due

Feb. 25 (F)       Secret of Roan Inish (film)

Feb. 28 (M)       Secret of Roan Inish (film

March 2 (W)       Discuss Secret of Roan Inish

March 4 (F)            Midterm Paper Due; in-class small group activity: write a

contemporary animal bride or groom story

March 7-11 Spring Break


Unit 4: “I Think I Will Turn and Live with Animals”

This unit focuses on stories where a human character longs to leave his/her humanity or human sphere behind in order to take on the identity of a nonhuman animal in some way.  These characters all occupy liminal positions between human and animal worlds or identities, and in being pulled between the two, they reveal a great deal about the characteristics and values attached to each

March 14 (M)        Atwood, Surfacing

March 16 (W)        Atwood, Surfacing

March 18 (F)         Atwood, Surfacing

March 21 (M)        Atwood, Surfacing

March 23 (W)       Le Guin, “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight”

March 25 (F)        Le Guin, “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight”

March 28 (M)        National Geographic Feral Children documentary

March 30 (W)       Hornung, Dog Boy

April 1 (F)            Hornung, Dog Boy

April 4 (M)            Hornung, Dog Boy

April 6 (W)           Hornung, Dog Boy

April 8 (F)            Unit 4 Paper Due

April 11 (M)          T.C. Boyle, “Dogology”


Unit 5: Bone of My Bone, Flesh of My Flesh

 This unit explores the idea (and, in the case of Grizzly Man, the actuality) of humans being eaten by other animals and the various ways that realizing we might be prey to other animals can affect humans’ views of themselves in relation to other animals and the ecological systems that we all share.


April 13 (W)      Galway Kinnell, “The Bear” (poem); Hatfield, “The Uncanny Goodness of Being Edible to Bears” (philosophy essay)

April 15 (F)    Plumwood, “On Being Prey,” (personal narrative) and Twitchell, “The Smell of Snow” (poem)

April 18 (M)     In-class writing assignment and discussion

April 20 (W)    Grizzly Man (film)

April 22 (F)    Grizzly Man (film)

April 25 (M)    Discuss Grizzly Man

April 27 (W)    Unit 5 Activity (no paper)

April 29 (F)    Catch up/reading day

May 4 (W)    Final exam: 8-10 am; Final Paper Due