Intro to Lit: Genre (The Quest in Western Literature)

From the earliest western literature, the theme and structure of the quest has figured prominently.  The quest has been used as a powerful metaphor for the individual’s journey through life, for the exploration of philosophical truth, for the probing of the depths of the human soul and psyche, and for the search for personal and cultural identity.

An examination of various forms of the quest in different ages and contexts allows for exploration of some of the major movements that have marked the development of western culture.  With the Odyssey, we can reflect on the mythic foundations of western civilization. In medieval Europe, the quest, as in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur becomes associated with the desire to find social order in a chaotic world, and for the first time incorporates the search for the Holy Grail.  Don Quixote wittily and movingly explores the limitations of the medieval quest for adventure and chivalric perfection. Also witty and ironic, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn uses the motif of the river journey to explore the importance of human bondedness in the face of social injustice, pretense, and arrogance, pretense.  Conrad explores some of the same issues as Twain, but in a darker fashion.  As a response to the growing pessimism about the power of society to provide a satisfying framework for human endeavor, we find that in Heart of Darkness, the quest moves inward towards a definition of the complex makeup of the human psyche and the moral and philosophical questions that such knowledge necessitates.  Viewing excerpts from Apocalypse Now will allow us to talk about such issues as retellings as re-interpretations and colonialist attitudes embedded within our own culture. Finally, in Mukharjee’s Jasmine, we can explore the quest as the search for cultural identity and ask whether the quest is fundamentally different for women than it is for men.

-Regular informal in-class written responses
-Four 4 page essays
-One in-class essay
-Peer editing
-Final exam

-Cervantes, Don Quixote
-Conrad,  Heart of Darkness
-Homer, The Odyssey
-Malory, Thomas, King Arthur and His Knights
-Mukharjee, Jasmine
-Twain, Huckleberry Finn