Minimum length: 1500 words for choices I, II, and III

I. Critical analysis

Discuss an aspect of the novel or short story, such as theme, characterization, structure, imagery, narrative techniques or prose style. Possible topics: the use of the double in "The Black Cat" or The Picture of Dorian Grey, the narrative technique in Dracula or in Frankenstein, Radcliffe's attitude toward sensibility in A Sicilian Romance, passion in A Sicilian Romance, the patriarchal family vs. the matriarchal family in The Castle of Otranto, Shelley's attitude toward science in Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein as creator, the role of the past in one or more works, Frankenstein's creature: monster or victim?

Another possibility: you may analyze a key scene in a novel to explore a major theme or the nature of one or more characters, for instance, Dorian Gray's meeting Lord Henry Wotton or Dr. Van Helsing and Lucy's suitors driving a stake through her heart.

Or you may analyze one or more Gothic films; for example, you might discuss the development of theme, characterization, portrayal of male-female roles, use of the double or scenery. The only caveat is-- if I am not familiar with the film, you will have to provide me with a video of the film with your paper. I will return the video promptly. (Click for sample student essays of critical analysis.)

II. Personal response

Choose a character, a statement, a theme, an occurrence, an image, or a scene in a novel or short story and write a personal essay developing your response to it. Your response may include a point by point comparison and/or contrast, or you may refer to the novel in the beginning of the paper (i.e., use the reference to the novel as a jumping off point), and then devote the rest of your essay to your own response. For instance, the narrator's trivial action calling down terrible consequences in "Oh, Whistle and I'll come to You , My Lad" may lead you to explore an incident which brought down disproportionately serious, even devastating consequences. The monster within, yours or someone else's, is another possibility. Or you may experiment: try presenting the point of view of another character--say Madeleine in "The Fall of the House of Usher," Louisa de Bernini or Maria de Vellorno in A Sicilian Romance, the castle in The Castle of Otranto, Mr. Hyde in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or the willows in "The Willows."

III. Social or general analysis

Choose a character, a statement, a theme, an occurrence, an image, or a scene which leads you into an analysis of some aspect of society today. For instance, the depersonalizing attitude of Victor in his experiment might lead to a criticism of science/scientists today; "The Black Cat might" might lead to a discussion of alcoholism or drug use in our society, the behavior of Manfred or Count Mazzini the abuse of power.

IV. Putting an author and/or a character on trial

You could try an author or character for one or more crimes--a crime against modern readers, against humanity, against characters in the novel. You may write a brief or motion for a trial. Or you may hold a trial with judge, prosecuting attorney; critics and secondary witnesses may be "expert witnesses" for both sides; the defendants may have a chance to reply. Keep the audience or jury, in mind. You may ask questions and provide specific summaries or quotations as evidence. Examples: try Manfred for murder or treason or Dr. Jekyll for hypocrisy and narcissism; the reader could sue Lovecraft for vagueness and using overwrought language; the children in The Turn of the Screw might accuse the governess of child abuse; or Radcliffe might be prosecuted by Bram Stoke for fraud in explaining away the supernatural (use your imagiantion). This paper will probably be longer than the 1500 word minimum of choices I, II, and III.

V. A short story

Write your own short story of terror, horror, or the occult. However, a short story must be fully developed; this includes fully realized characterization, setting, action, and theme; otherwise, you will have a story summary or outline, not a short story. a short story must be fully developed; it is not merely a three-page statement of the action or conversation. Thus, characters must be individualized, physically, emotionally, morally, spiritually, etc.; they must have some sort of relationship to others, their environment, and/or their society (note: one kind of relationship is the inability to form attachments). They must be placed in a physical world. The story must also have a point to be made and/or an effect to be achieved. So of course a short story will be significantly longer than the 1500 word minimum for choices I, II, and III.

Length: How long does the short story have to be? As long as it needs to be to achieve its purpose(s). Successful student short stories have ranged from ten pages to nearly fifty. (I do not mean to encourage length by sticking in unnecessary words. Wordiness and redundancy are serious flaws in any writing.)

VI. Equivalent to Choices I-V

You may design your own project, which I must approve beforehand. This means you have to discuss it with me before starting it. The only limitations on this choice are your imagination—and me (but don't be discouraged; I am generally very liberal in my views).

  •  In the past, several students gave oral interpretations of material the class was reading.

  •  You might want to design a unit for a Gothic Website or to review Gothic computer games.

  •  If you like to draw, you may interpret a novel or short stories some illustrations.

You do not have to know how to get your material on the Web; I will do that for you. If you know how to design a Web site, you may redesign one of my online lessons to be more effective. We would consult about a project and talk periodically.

The Gothic Experience Page

Revised: Feb. 4, 2004