Honors | Transformations & Metamorphoses
H203 | 17517 | Edward Gubar
In Lois Gould's short novel, A Sea Change, the main character
transforms herself into a version of the man who attacked her.
In John Varley's novella, the Persistence of Vision, a main character
disables her own sense of sight in order to join the in-group of her
Mythic heroes turn into starry inhabitants of the night sky and
contemporary storytellers show up in Sheherazade's bedroom in John
In William Golding's The Inheritors, the evolutionary morph from
Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon produces terror and suspense.
In Ursula LeGuin's the Left hand of Darkness, a major character
shifts gender on a monthly basis.
Geological and geographical rifts inform James Blish's Cities in
Flight, where whole communities rocket into space.
Robert Coover transforms Richard Nixon into a star quarterback in his
story Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears?
A golem and a cyborg play major roles in Marge Piercy's He, She, and
In Kafka's Metamorphosis, the main character awakens one morning to
find himself turned into a bug.
What's going on here? Sure, most fictional narratives present
characters in flux, characters whose attitudes or statuses alter as
their stories track. But the above do more. Their changes often
manifest physically; transformations occur tactilely or spatially.
Why do such explicit ideas or acts of transformation and
metamorphosis inform so many fictions? (I've mentioned just a few --
there are countless more.) Why is shape-shifting such fun to read
about, so easy to imagine? Does the motivation for such events come
from religion, from folklore, from magic? Or are such happenings
really about fiction-making? (How do words synapse into embodied
characters in your heart and mind after all?)
We will read Ovid's Metamorphoses (most of it) and Shakespeare's The
Tempest to start. And then look at most, if not all of the texts
mentioned above, as well (perhaps) at some appropriate Star Trek
episodes, a film or two, and at works of some of the following (maybe
): Philip Roth, Patricia Highsmith, Manual Puig, Tony Hillerman, or
During a time when the transformations you are experiencing approach
shape-shifting in their magnitude and significance, it might be
useful to look at some literary shape-shifting, just to keep your
own morphs in perspective. Then again, in tracking the
transformation trope, we might also learn something about the age we
inhabit, where images supersede words and information goes cyber.
Directed discussion format.
Two exams, two papers.