DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

the female monster


During this unit, the class will read, write, and think about female monsters, stepping off from our earlier reading about the female vampires in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), and going on to consider the examples of Medusa, and the witch from "Hansel and Gretel," a well-known European folktale recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Using these monsters as archetypes, the class will discuss how maternity, female sexuality, female reproduction, and female power play into the construction of the female monster. As we engage in these discussions, students are urged to share ongoing work on their individual research projects on female monsters from other texts and cultures to contribute to a larger class discussion about women, monsters, power and fear.


For more visual representations of Medusa, visit this site.


Assigned readings and due dates are listed below, with hyperlinks to digital editions wherever possible.



Wed  5: Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book four, 765-end & book five, 149-250)

Wed 12: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, “Hansel & Gretel” [library eReserve]

Mon 17: Read ONE of the following

1) Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”;

2) Sigmund Freud, “Medusa’s Head” [class handout];

3) Camille Paglia, on the femme fatale [class handout].


writing assignment two: explain what makes the female monster so threatening using the thinking of an established theorist


Write a 3-4 page researched essay (800-1,000 words) about a female "monster" of your choice (but NOT one of the monsters we study in class) using the writing of one of the theorists we studied in class (or another established theorist) to help explain what, exactly, makes your subject so threatening.


Your essay needs to do four things:


  1. IDENTIFY and DEFINE. State clearly who the monster is and define her salient features clearly and succinctly. Make sure the opening paragraph of your essay briefly states why this figure is usually considered a monster and whether you agree; this statement is your thesis.
  2. NARRATE and DESCRIBE. Provide researched and documented background information on the monster, important legends about it, its place in history, other relevant cultural details. Narrate the basic story of the monster using your source texts to illustrate specifics.
  3. SUMMARIZE. Summarize the cultural theory you use in your paper, both using quotations AND explaining the idea in your own words.
  4. CLOSE READING. Interpret details about the monster and her story, using quotations and analysis to show the reader how you think your chosen theory applies to your chosen monster.


The essay must use quotations from at least two college-level print sources in addition to your theoretical text. (You may use as many additional sources as you wish.) Print sources must be documented with MLA style in-text citations and you must include a list of works cited at the end, also in MLA style (see sample works cited page here).


Female monsters you might want to research:



vagina dentata



any female vampire

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Another interpretation of the Hansel & Gretel tale,

by cartoonist Roz Chast. Click on the image below to get access

to the entire text.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.