Engl. 555/755

Goddess Myths & Literature

Fall Semester 2009

MWF 11:00-11:50, Grubbs 312

Instructor: Dr. Kathleen L. Nichols

E-mail: knichols11@cox.net

Writing Assignments

PAPER #1: Oral and Written Report

Due Date: See assigned date on syllabus. Late reports will be downgraded.

Length: 12-15 min./4 pages (typed, double-spaced).

Grading: 20% of final grade; based on focus/organization, substantive content, accuracy and clarity of summarized material, and grammar.

Topic: Select ONE of the following topics (only one person per report topic), and write a 4 pp. summary, due the date on which your oral presentation is assigned (see syllabus):

  • *Report #1: Inanna and the Huluppu Tree": One Way of Demoting a Great Goddess and Inanna's Descent to the Underworld (online)--due Fri., 09/02.

  • Report #2: Monaghan, Goddesses in World Culture, Vol. II: "Gaia: Dynamic, Diverse, Source and Place of Being," 143-51 (library reserve)--due Mon., 09/12.

  • Report #3: Monaghan, Goddesses in World Culture, Vol. II: "Heroine of Troy: The Many Faces of Helen," 127-140 (library reserve)--due Mon., 09/26.

  • *Report #4: Womanspirit Rising: Carol P. Christ, Why Women Need the Goddess 273-86 (online or on library reserve)--due Fri., 09/30.

  • Report #5: Ken Hiltner, "Because I, Persephone, Could Not Stop for Death," Emily Dickinson Journal 10.2 (2001): 22-42 (library MLA database)--due Mon., 10/10.

  • Report #6: Monaghan, Goddesses in World Culture, Vol. I: "Durga" 71-83 (library reserve)--due Wed., 10/12.

  • *Report #7: Womanspirit Rising: Starhawk, "Witchcraft and Women's Culture" 259-68 (library reserve)--due Mon., 10/17.

  • *Report #8: Womanspirit Rising: Pagel, "What Became of God the Mother" 107-117 (library reserve)--due Wed., 10/26.

  • Report #9: Baring, "Sophia: Alchemy, Grail, Cinderella" 647-58 (Baring textbook)--due Fri., 10/28.

  • Report #10: Monaghan, Goddesses in World Culture, Vol. II: "Sheela na gig" 209-220 (library reserve)--due Mon., 10/31.

  • *Report #11: Tlaltecuhtli and Tlazolteotl and Chicomecóatl: Goddess of Sustenance (online)--due Wed., 11/09.

  • Report #12: Monaghan, Goddesses in World Culture, Vol. III: "Spider Woman: Creator and Destroyer" 205-29 (library reserve)

To do a good job on this assignment, you may need to review the article several times and annotate it and/or outline it before you actually start writing the report.

For the written report, the introduction should include the author and title of your selected report and several sentences summarizing the overall thesis/point of the article. (Essentially, your thesis will be the same as the author’s thesis.)

For the body of your written report, divide the article into about 4-5 significant points it makes in its body section. Summarize those points and some of the specific evidence and reasoning the author uses to support those points.

NOTE: Make sure you give the second half of the article the same
amount of attention that is devoted to the first half of the article.

For the conclusion of your written report, summarize your article’s conclusion, which may be mostly a brief restatement of the author’s overall thesis or the significance the author emphasizes in his/her conclusion. You may not need more than one sentence to cover this.

Other Writing Tips:

  • Write in a compact, concise style so that you can pack in as much information as possible in the fewest words possible. A summary should usually be only about 1/4 the length of the original.

  • Remember that a “summary” does not include personal responses or evaluations. Instead, it should be factual, accurate, and highly informative.

  • Quotations are not needed in a summary, but it is permissible to quote a few well-chosen words or short phrases, maybe a sentence or two at most.

  • Remind your reader every so often that your information came from another source (i.e., Thompson claims that . . .; According to Thompson, . . .; Thompson also argues that . . .; Thompson's point is that . . .; Thompson notes/analyzes/cites/classifies/etc. . .).

  • WARNING: When quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, it is important that you remember a few basic rules that will help you avoid plagiarism.

Before giving your oral report in class, review your written summary paper several times so that the material is fresh in your mind. You may use a brief outline with subject headings to help keep you on track, and you may even want to hand out copies of that outline, for the convenience of your classmates.

Do not read your report to the class. Talk to your classmates. The purpose of the oral report is to provide them with some additional information on a goddess tradition, so try to make it understandable in terms of the students sitting there listening to your talk. Explain the article’s thesis and key points (make sure you cover the ENTIRE article), and provide as many specific details as you can within the allotted time limit (15 min.).

See also: Organization/Focus and MLA Documentation and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.


PAPER #2: Literary Analysis

Due Date: Mon., 11/21. Late reports will be downgraded.

Length: 6-8 pages (typed, double-spaced), plus "Works Cited" page. For secondary sources, use MLA documentation (online)

Grading: 20% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, quality and appropriateness of your evidence, documentation, grammar.


Select one of the following topics and write a focused, organized paper which smoothly and meaningfully weaves together three types of information: 1) Background information on the appropriate goddesses from our Baring textbook (for instance, the pre-patriarchal and patriarchal "history" of the goddess/myth); 2) at least one secondary source listed on our "Resource Page" or scholarly article/book chapter from the library (you may agree or disagree with them); and 3) eight or nine of the poems listed below.

As you study your selected texts, develop a solid thesis about your topic--some conclusion you have arrived at--and make sure you cite lots of examples and details from the texts to support and illustrate your thesis and sub-points. And make sure you discuss and explain your evidence.

Pick one of the following:

  • Discuss how a contemporary poet like Rita Dove revises and updates the Demeter-Persephone myth so that it is more relevant for today's readers. Compare-contrast the different viewpoints of mother and daughter (and Hades?) What do we learn about their competing needs and claims, depending on their place in the relationship? How does Dove's treatment differ from traditional approaches to the myth? What does she change or add or eliminate? Why?

  • Alternate Demeter-Persephone topic: Compare and contrast the different ways several different poets have interpreted the myth throughout history up to the present. Possibly look only at one "character"--such as how Demeter is characterized by several different poets, or maybe just focus on how Persephone is characterized in several different poems by different authors. Do their revisions transform Demeter or her daughter into tragic victims or admirable heroines? What kind of universe is finally revealed in these poems?

  • Goddess as Muse: One ancient literary tradition calls for the (male) poet to invoke the poetic muse to come down and inspire his poem by making love to him. Discuss how that idea is revised by women poets to more accurately describe their sense of how they draw upon an alternative feminine or maternal source of poetic inspiration which compels them to produce a different type of poetry. How does that poetry differ from the traditional male-written poetry? Does the goddess-as-muse idea assist the women poets in revising the image of the feminine in the traditional myths?

  • The Dark Goddesses: What are their histories and traditional functions? Why are modern women writers drawn to them? What imagery is used to capture the sometimes ambiguous quality of that attraction? How do the dark goddesses aid modern women in dealing with aspects of life? For this topic, you could focus on one goddess (perhaps Kali or maybe Medusa, or Coatlicue?) as viewed by several different writers or you could compare and contrast how one or more poets depict several different "dark goddesses."

  • Goddess of the Animals: Select a number of poems that include animal/insect imagery--bees,bears, snakes, spiders, etc. What is the traditional relationship of the goddesses with the selected animals? How does the modern poet handle that relationship? How is the experience with nature similar to the relationship with the goddess? Perhaps take all your poems from one poet (such as Mary Oliver) and explore her views in some detail, or compare and contrast what different poets make out of the sacred animal/earthly animal connection. Possibly consider how some poets present nature/animals as sacred without actually designating a specific goddess in the poem.

  • Select goddess poems from three or four very different cultures at various times throughout history. How do they differ and perhaps reflect aspects of their own cultures that are unlike the other cultures? Or what surprising similarities do you find even though they are, in some respects, very different?

POEMS--select 8-9 poems from the following list. As you study your selected texts, develop a solid thesis about your topic--some conclusion you have arrived at--and make sure you cite lots of examples and details from the texts to support and illustrate your thesis and sub-points. And make sure you discuss and explain your selected poems ("evidence") in some detail.

For an example of a short article on revised goddess myths, read Averno by Louise Glück (online).

See also: Organization/Focus and MLA Documentation and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.


GRAD. STUDENT PROJECT (students registered for Engl. 755)

Additional Paper for Engl. 755

Read one of the literary texts listed below and write a 6-8 page (typed, double-spaced) paper analyzing the function and meaning of the goddess themes/images in that text. While your focus will be on the goddess themes/images, remember to relate them to the literary text as a whole--how the goddess material "fits in" with the rest of the literary text.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony; Toni Morrison, Beloved or Paradise; Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine; Sarah Orne Jewett, Country of the Pointed Firs; Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale; Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises; Flora Nwapa, Efuru; Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urdervilles. If you want to write on another novel, get the instructor's permission first.

As part of this assignment, conduct an MLA search (Axe Library database) to find out what has been written on the goddess theme/images in connection with your literary text and incorporate that material into your paper. If you can find no articles covering the goddess themes/images, select at least one article relating to your literary text and agree or disagree with it in your paper. When you use such secondary sources, remember that you MUST incorporate them smoothly and meaningfully into your paper and document according to MLA Style. Also consider whether it would add to your paper to include some information from our Baring textbook or the "myth" article on our Resources web page (see Report #1 on our Reading Schedule), but keep the main focus of your paper on your own analysis of the goddess themes/images in your selected literary text.

Please review the information in the following links. Those criteria apply to this paper also.

See Organizing your Paper and Plagiarism and Typing Directions and MLA style/format.


Focus and Organization:

All essays, long or short, should include these three basic parts:


Introductions in short papers should be short--maybe 4-5 sentences long (in a long paper, perhaps 2 paragraphs long). Begin with some general statement about your topic (if you are going to write about the significance of the settings, get the word "settings," plus the author and title, somewhere in the opening sentence). Perhaps provide some pertinent background, or explain how your topic will enrich our understanding of some aspect of the literary text, or briefly indicate some point of scholarly contention or divergent interpretations of the literary text or some aspect of it.

Most of the introduction will be your own writing, but it is all right to include short paraphrases/quotations, properly cited, of course.

End the introductory paragraph with your thesis statement. Remember, your thesis is what the rest of the paper will be about. Do not phrase it as a question, but rather as an assertion--your overall conclusion about what your paper adds up to.

Body of Paper

Since you can't talk about everything at once, sub-divide your thesis/conclusion into 4-6 sub-points. Those sub-points will form the topic sentences--what you have to say about that subject, the point you want to make in that paragraph. The topic sentence should be placed at the beginning of the body paragragh

WRITING TIP: It is often effective to arrange your sub-points according to the Order of Climax--begin with your second-best sub-point followed by your weakest sub-point and then work your way up to your best sub-point at the end so that the paper finishes on a strong note. Whatever order you use, always end with your strongest material.

Each topic sentence should be followed by lots of specific details and examples and short quotations, etc., from your texts, as well as your explanation/analysis of that information. After each quotation (even one quoted word), insert a page number in parenthesis, as well as the author's last name if it is not already stated in the text before the quotation. Avoid long quotations in short papers. It is often much more effective to work a quoted word or short phrase into your own sentence.

NOTE: I hate skimpy paragraphs that are only 1-2 sentences long; put some meat on those bones--another 5-7 sentences of details and examples and explanations, please!)


Conclusions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-4 sentences long (longer papers can support a somewhat longer conclusion.)

Begin the concluding paragraph with a re-statement of your opening thesis/conclusion--but in language very different than was used in the introduction. In a couple more sentences, refer to your topic AS A WHOLE-- why it is significant and worth studying, for instance, or finally, what it all adds up to.

NOTE: In the conclusion, do not repeat your sub-points
--much too repetitious in a short paper!

Avoiding Plagiarism

WARNING: Whenever you need to use material from another source in your paper, it is important that you remember a few basic rules that will help you avoid plagiarism:

  • Summarized/paraphrased material must be in language very different from the original.
  • Quoted material must be in exactly the same language used by the original.
  • Quotation marks must be inserted around all quotations. If you have a quote-within-a-quote, use a combination of double and single quote marks (see me for assistance).
  • Cite a source for ALL summarized and paraphrased and quoted secondary material (articles on your topic, etc.).

Typing Directions:

  • Use font "Times New Roman" size 11 or 12.
  • Double-space EVERYTHING, including set-off quotations and "Works Cited" pages.
  • Include one-inch margins on all sides.
  • Indent first line of all paragraphs by five spaces. Don't insert extra spacing between paragraphs.
  • Place your last name and page number in top-right corner (1/2 inch from top).
  • On the first page, in the top-left corner, put your name, your instructor's name, the class name and number, and the date--all double-spaced.
  • Below the date, in the center of page, add a title.
  • PROOFREAD--typing errors count as grammar errors.

MLA Style:

See this short summary of MLA style: Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Format (scroll down the page to locate the sub-heading links), supplemented by MLA Updates 2009. Together, they give the basic "rules" for in-text citation and bibliographies, including how to cite electronic sources.

See also an example of Basic Paper Format (scroll down the page) and an example of a Works Cited Page.

Also check out MLA Style: Frequently Asked Questions.

For more detailed information on MLA style, consult a hardcopy of the "official" MLA Handbook.

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