Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Mythology: Assignment

Crazy Dog
Washington State University


One of the objectives of this course is that you improve your skills in critical analysis by by articulating, organizing, and polishing the presentation of your insights in some kind of written presentation. You have here several options for meeting this objective which can both appeal to your own individual talents and still allow you to package brilliant scholarly textual analysis in impressive and professional ways.

You need two things at this stage: a planned presentational mode, and an idea.

The Options:
Depending on how you work best, you may want the idea first. Identify one intriguing mythological moment in one of the works we have examined and explore, or at least start to explore, its implications. You are aiming for an excruciatingly focused angle on this facet of the work and will present your analysis in either:

A) a minimum four-page complete manuscript using MLA-style format (use of secondary source journal articles is optional but professional and therefore strongly advised; we’ll discuss literary research and writing conventions in class);


B) another kind of complete project (such as a web page or other media product) equivalent in scholarship, analysis, and grunt work to a mimimum four-page manuscript;


C) about four pages worth of work, with a detailing of the state of, and remaining plans towards, a larger project (a web site or ten+-page manuscript, for example) to be turned in as complete near the end of the semester.

Finding a Topic:
The rule here is simple: the more particular the better. The typical weakness with Humanities 103 papers is the too vast nature in the discussions of the topics. So be conscientious, nay ruthless, in focusing your scope. Find a specific theme or implication of one of the works, a subtle motif, or character issue, ideally one particular moment you thought peculiar. What is peculiar and subtle about this moment? Consider its several layers of potential meaning. Why is this one observation or insight of yours significant in the larger framework of the piece? How does this moment advance one of the key themes or motifs? What are the ramifications? Examples will be forthcoming in class, but find something original. These works have been scoured for centuries; you want to find a new angle on them­­something unusual and arcane that no one else will think of. A general lamentation about 2ist-century military conflicts with a few references to the Trojans and Greeks will not cut it. The Greeks were sexist? Big surprise. No papers will be accepted on the vast and hackneyed topics of ³Heroism,² ³War,² or ³Religion.² And don¹t make me expand the list. Papers lumbering through general or hackneyed topics will be disappointing … all around!You need some actual primary source material, not just generalizations about the myths or about ³nowadays.² Give textual quotations as back-up to your points. The analytical discussion inside the paper should be persuading readers of the significance of adopting your unique perspective on the theme; it should not be a report of pointless factoids.

The excruciatingly close focus should be on your perceptions rather than your evaluations or on you (e.g., “I feel that Achilles is an OK joe”). Rather than as an “opinion,” think of this as your perspective or insight. Also, this is not a “review” — drippy “appreciation” or rhapsodic praise of Homer is tiresome and dorky, so between the rough draft and the final draft, omit all those “Homer does a great job, but then that’s why he’s the immortal poet that he is” embarrassments. More stylistic advice is coming in class as more examples of what I never want to see again keep occurring to me.

You are encouraged to research and include secondary sources, but original insight and analysis should still dominate the entire discussion. Your final revised essay must consist of four typed, double-spaced pages containing an intriguing (not underlined) title, an original unified thesis, vigorous analytical work, no extra spaces between paragraphs, all in a clean, effective, illuminating, properly documented presentation (correctly punctuated in-text parenthetical citations of author and page, and a correctly formatted MLA-style Works Cited list). You will include a Works Cited list even if the only work on the list is the primary text. For further instruction regarding documentation, refer to the handout given with the assignment, or to the web page, or ask me ahead of time. Proofread well so that minor surface matters do not distract readers from your ideas. The grade for any manuscript lacking a Works Cited list or containing a renegade, variant, or insane documentation system will strike you as intensely disappointing.

Doing the Bloody Work:
Meeting these requirements, on time, assures you of at least a C grade (see grading sheet). Specific quotation from the work should demonstrate the validity of your argument. The analytical discussion inside the paper should be persuading readers of the significance of adopting your unique perspective on the material; it should not be a report of pointless factoids nor a scan of tons of bilge. MLA documentation is required for humanities papers and should be carried out correctly; so stop making me cross out commas, p’s, pg’s, pgs’s, and all other manner of clutter between simply author and page in parenthetical citations of secondary sources! Also quit with the bastardized Works Cited lists (MLA cross-bred with numbered references, APA corruptions, etc.). Refer to a handbook (MLA, Hacker’s A Writer¹s Reference, etc.) for correct documentation, read the MLA advice on the next page of this handout, and/or ask me ahead of time. “Are you gonna be like really strict on us about a Works Cited and all that stuff?” Uh, yeah? And stop priding yourself on having a jaunty identity based largely on your special lack of skill in spelling. The presentation and appearance of your work should be letter-perfect so that niggling surface matters do not distract your readers from your ideas.

You may work alone or with someone else creating a useful resource for current and future students of Shakespeare. Realize that this is a scholarly project, not an advertisement or fan page. Pick an appropriately manageable scope for the project and include all the key ingredients that you would provide for a paper: research, analysis, commentary, and whatever else would make this creation impressive and valuable. And then package this in ways appropriate for a web site (research gets registered in a Works Cited that may include hyperlinks, for example) and for an audience consisting of future students of this class. Do not just create a recycling dumpsite, that is, don’t replicate what’s already available. Instead, be sure to offer the one thing most lacking on the web: critical analysis — not a full paper’s worth, since that just invites plagiarism, but some sophisticated components of commentary.

If you choose this project because it seems easy and you think you can submit any old crap with a jpg of some Greek dolt in war gear, you are doomed and will fail most miserably. If you take up this challenge heroically and meaningfully, it will show.

Alternative Projects:
I welcome other kinds of projects that demonstrate the same objectives: ability to carry out sophisticated research, to discover an original purpose and focus, to write with clarity and influence your audience’s perspective. You may find a way to construct a bibliographical, filmic, pedagogical, or popular culture related project appropriate to mythology which will inspire enthusiasm and break new ground impressively. You may work on a cooperative endeavor with a colleague. There are many possibilities. Think about it.

The Deal:
You are obligated to hand in the assignment (or the textual portions of a web page with the URL) at the beginning of the class period on the designated due date. Truancy is, of course, no excuse (i.e., “I couldn’t get my paper in ’cause I cut class”). Fate, as we know, plays amusing tricks. I tell you right now that Aunt Millie could drop in a flash on “paper-due eve”: it is your obligation to anticipate anything like this in your life that could go wrong and to take preventive measures or to develop back-up plans. You also must accept responsibility for being so foolish as to stake your grade on a computer’s or printer’s reliability. And no bitter ironies about roommates and alarm-clocks. No work submitted means you did not meet the requirements of the course (big F); late work will not be read but at least you will have met requirements minimally (little F factored in). On a more positive note, I assure you that I am happy to provide advice and help at any stage of the pre-writing, researching, and drafting processes, short of giving you a topic and writing the text for you. Ultimately, though, it must be completed and turned in when due; the compressed schedule of the summer semester does not allow for screwing around and cheesy excuses. Get to work early, consult with me as needed, and turn in the best possible masterpiece. Sample papers, good to excellent, are available on the web site, as are instructions and examples for the required MLA-style documentation.