English 355Writing About Literature: Heroes and Antiheroes
Dr. Michael Bryson
Sierra Tower 832


Hero Patterns Outline of Two Hero Patterns

What makes a man or woman a hero?  Military conquest?  Physical strength and courage?  Or are quieter, less flashy traits the most important ingredients in heroism? What makes an antihero?  Is rebellion against authority all that is required, or is antihero just another word for exciting villain?  This course will ask these questions of a diverse group of readings drawn from West and East, and from the 5th century BCE through the 20th century.  The goal of this course will not be to come up with a unified field theory of heroism/antiheroism so much as it will be to bring our assumptions about heroism to light, analyze them in relation to stories that present alternate models, and maybe—just maybe—adjust or expand our definitions of heroism and antiheroism.

Discussion, journal writings, papers: one short (3-4 page) essay; one medium-length (7-8 page) essay; and a final research essay (8-10 pages).  

Course Policies

Essay Submissions: Each essay must be turned in no later than the pre-announced due date.

Late Work:  Late work will not be accepted, unless prearranged with me.

Revision:  Each essay (except the last one) may be revised once. There is no reason why—with help from your peers in class and from me—that you should not be able to produce the quality of writing which will allow you to earn the kind of grade you want.

Plagiarism:  This is stealing. If you do this on an essay (using a friend's work and pretending it is your own, or quoting from a book or other source without citing that source), and I or someone else catches you, you will receive zero credit for that assignment, and you will not be able to make it up in any way, shape, or form. Don't plagiarize. Please read the CSUN policy here.


1.  Journal—100 points.  Reading journals (reaction/commentary/analysis in response to questions I will distribute about the current reading selections).

2. Essay #1—200 points.:  Pick one of the patterns outlined in the provided handout, and write a 4-5 page analysis of how either Achilles or Hector from
The Iliad fits and/or does not fit your chosen pattern. This essay should be turned in at the end of class meetings for week 5.

Quotations or paraphrases of material from the handout should cite the website from which you got the handout, just like you would handle citing any other web source.

3.  Essay #2—300 points.  Pick two of the works we have dealt with by this point (from Prometheus Bound to Henry V) and write a 7-8 page analysis and comparison of the patterns of heroism contained therein. This essay should be turned in at the end of class meetings for week 10.

4. Annotated Bibliography—100 points. A listing of at least 5 sources (no web sources can be among their number) you intend to use in Essay #3 (in MLA format), along with a paragraph for each listing summarizing the main points of each source. The Annotated Bibilography should be turned in with your final essay, at the end of finals week.

5.  Essay #3—300 points.  By now you should be developing and refining your own definitions of heroism.  In this final assignment, pick any three of the works we have dealt with this quarter (excluding those you worked with in Essay #2) and write your essay as a discussion of your definition of heroism in relation to the definitions operating in the works you choose.  Do not simply organize your essay as a presentation of the definition of heroism at work in writer A, followed by those of B and C, with a concluding paragraph or two of your own ideas tacked on to the end.  Weave your definition through the essay as its central, organizing principle, using the works you deal with as illustrations of, or departures from, your definition.

Additionally, there must be at least 5 secondary sources used for this essay, and no web sources can be among their number.  Try searching the library for books and articles on heroism, and/or on the literary works your paper will cover.
Excellent sources for journal articles include JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/), Project Muse (http://muse.jhu.edu/), and Academic Search Elite (http://library.csun.edu/restricted/ebsase.scr). These databases must be accessed from the CSUN campus, or from off-campus with your campus email user name and password. Quotations from the works you deal with—and quotations from secondary sources—should follow MLA format.

This essay should be turned in at the end of Finals week.


The Numbers: How They Will Break Down


A+ 100%
A 95%
A- 90%
B+ 88%
B 85%
B- 80%
C+ 78%
C 75%
C- 70%
D+ 68%
D 65%
D- 60%
F 50%

Work not submitted 0%


A  930-1000 points
A- 895-929 points
B+ 870-894 points
B 820-869 points
B- 795-819 points
C+ 770-794 points
C 720-769 points
C- 695-719 points
D 595-694 points
F 0-594 points



Week 1:
1) Introductions. 
2) What
are some definitions of heroism?  A discussion of an in-class handout on common analytical patterns dealing with fictional/mythological “heroes” (Otto Rank, Lord Raglan, Joseph Campbell, etc.) will follow.

3) Get started with The Iliad for next week (Books 1-12).

Week 2:
1) Homer, The Iliad (Books 1-6)
2) Homer, The Iliad (Books 7-12)
The discussion for the next two weeks will revolve primarily around such issues as
Achilles’ challenge to Agamemnon, and his subsequent refusal to fight; also, Hector’s defense of Troy in the face of an already rendered adverse judgment by the gods; Achilles’ re-entry into battle, his treatment of Priam, and his subsequent treatment of Hector.

Week 3:
Homer, The Iliad (Books 13-18)
Homer, The Iliad (Books 19-24)
Journal questions distributed in class

Week 4:
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound—The discussion will revolve around issues of the (in)justice of “divine” authority (in this case, that of Zeus) and the role of the rebel, the recusant, or nay-sayer in the face of such authority.
Journal questions distributed in class

1) Sophocles, Antigone—Here, the discussion will consider issues of authority on a more recognizably human level.  Both Creon and Antigone claim social and religious justifications for their directly opposed courses of action.  Antigone valorizes an individual stance based on divine moral authority.  Creon valorizes a communal stance based on the ancient (and divinely-inspired) laws of the city of Thebes.  Who is right?  Can they both be right?
Journal questions distributed in class
Essay #1 due.


1) Hindu Traditional Text, The Bhagavad-Gita, (Chapters 1-9)—This session will consider questions of activity and/or passivity in heroism.  What justification, if any, is there for taking part in war (including a civil war fought against members of one’s own family)? 
2) The Bhagavad-Gita, continued (Chapters 10-18).
Journal questions distributed in class

Week 7:
Hebrew Traditional Text, Judges (19-21), Ruth—These texts provides an opportunity to extend the previous week's discussion, looking at a contrasting presentation of activity and/or passivity in heroism.  Must a hero necessarily be a warrior (struggling either with gods or other warriors)?
Journal questions distributed in class

Week 8:
1) William Shakespeare, Henry V—Shakespeare’s most famously (and problematically) “patriotic” play (though whether or not WS intended this play as a paean to the warrior king is an open question) further extends the consideration of the warrior-hero, opening the possibility that the warrior (in what is made to appear a virtuous cause) may be as much anti-hero as hero.
Journal questions distributed in class

Week 9:
1)  John Milton, Paradise Lost  (Books 1-2).
This encounter with one of world literature’s most famous rebels will allow for a fruitful consideration of the contrasting natures of military conquest and moral choice as modes of heroic (or anti-heroic?) action.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, (Books 3-4).

Week 10:
John Milton, Paradise Lost, (Books 5-6).
2) John Milton, Paradise Lost, (Books 7-8).
Essay #2 due.

Week 11:
John Milton, Paradise Lost, (Books 9-10).
2) John Milton, Paradise Lost, (Books 11-12).
Journal questions distributed in class.

Week 12:

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Chapters 1-14) This is a real treat with which to cap off the course.  Yossarian also raises the individual vision versus communal judgment questions.  If the community is insane, is it an act of heroism to rebel, or is it merely an act of sanity?  Can sanity be heroic?

Week 13:
Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Chapters 15-28)

Week 14:
Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Chapters 29-42)
2) Journal questions distributed in class.

Week 15:
1) Discussion of expectations for final research essay and
annotated bibliography assignment.
2) Discussion/demonstration of research sources for final essay.

Annotated bibliographies and final drafts of Essay #3 are due by the end of finals week.

(All books will be available at the Norris Center Bookstore.  Note: Obtaining and using the recommended editions is most important where a translator is noted.  If the work was originally in English, the particular edition recommended is less critical.)

  1. Homer, The Iliad (Robert Fagles translation— Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN: 0140445927)
  2. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound (Phillip Velacott translation—Penguin; ISBN: 0140441123)
  3. Sophocles, Antigone (Robert Fagles translation— Penguin USA (Paper); ISBN: 0140444254)
  4. Hindu Traditional Text, The Bhagavad-Gita (Barbara Stoler Miller translation— Bantam Wisdom Edition; ISBN: 0553213652)
  5. Hebrew Traditional Texts, Judges, Ruth—Any English Bible (from the King James, to the New Revised Standard, to the Revised English Bible) will serve nicely.
  6. William Shakespeare, Henry V (Signet Classic; ISBN: 0451526902—though any other edition will do as well)
  7. John Milton, Paradise Lost (New American Library; ISBN: 0451524748)
  8. Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Scribner; ISBN: 0684833395)
  9. Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (MLA; ISBN: 0873529863)

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