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.

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

-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