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Buzard, James, 21L.012 Forms of Western Narrative, Fall 2007. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 10 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Forms of Western Narrative

Fall 2007

A photo of a statue of the character Don Quixote.
A statue of the character Don Quixote. (Image courtesy of florriebassingbourn on Flickr.)

Course Description

This course examines some leading examples of major genres of storytelling in the Western tradition, among them epic (Homer's Odyssey), romance (from the Arthurian tradition), and novel (Cervantes's Don Quixote). We will be asking why people tell (and have always told) stories, how they tell them, why they might tell them the way they do, and what difference it makes how they tell them. We'll combine an investigation of the changing formal properties of narratives with consideration of the historical, cultural, and technological factors that have influenced how tales got told. In keeping with its CI-H and HASS-D label, this course will involve substantial attention to students' writing and speaking abilities.

Recommended Citation

For any use or distribution of these materials, please cite as follows:

James Buzard, course materials for 21L.012 Forms of Western Narrative, Fall 2007. MIT OpenCourseWare (, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Downloaded on [DD Month YYYY].


Course Description

This is a HASS-D / CI-H class requiring substantial work in analytical writing and in oral presentation. More detail about this will be given below, but here are the basics:

Written Work

Each student will write 3 essays, minimally 7 double-spaced pages apiece; one of these must be revised after consultation with me.

Oral Presentations

Each student will deliver 2 ten-minute reports on subjects pertinent to our readings. More details below.

Required Texts

 Homer. The Odyssey of Homer. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1999. ISBN: 9780060931957.

 de Troyes, Chrétien. Arthurian Romances. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1991. ISBN: 9780140445213.

 de Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote. Edited and translated by John Rutherford. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2003. ISBN: 9780142437230.

 Brothers Grimm. The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1976. ISBN: 9780394709307.

 Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2003. ISBN: 9780141439471.

 Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York, NY: Penguin Modern Classics, 2000. ISBN: 9780141182438.

 Chandra, Vikram. "Kama." In Love and Longing in Bombay. New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 1998. ISBN: 9780316136778.

Class Schedule

The following schedule shows the reading you should have done by a given day; it's designed to spread your reading fairly evenly across the semester (for example, if four class sessions are devoted to a novel, you should read at least a quarter of the work for each of those sessions). In class, however, I'll go slower over some parts, faster over others. The schedule is subject to change, so if you miss a class, check to make sure what's coming next.

Special Feature

The day before Ses #14, the novelist and short-story author Vikram Chandra will be visiting MIT for a late afternoon seminar and an evening public reading. Students of 21L.012 will read Chandra's story "Kama" (from his collection Love and Longing in Bombay) and are strongly encouraged to attend the seminar and reading.


1 Introduction
2 Homer
3 Homer (cont.)
4 Homer (cont.)
5 Homer (cont.)
6 Homer (cont.)
7 Homer (cont.)
8 Finish Homer
9 Chrétien
10 Cervantes (readings for all 4 classes: pp. 11-479)
11 Cervantes (cont.)
12 Cervantes (cont.)
13 Cervantes (cont.)
14 Grimms' tales: "The Frog-King"; "Hansel and Gretel"; "The Fisherman and His Wife"; "Cinderella"; "Little Snow-White"; "Brother Lustig"
15 Shelley
16 Shelley (cont.)
17 Shelley (cont.)
18 Conrad
19 Conrad (cont.)
20 Conrad (cont.)
21 Conrad (cont.)

End-of-term exercises

Student presentations

Student Work

As a HASS-D / CI-H class, 21L012 requires substantial practice in analytical writing and speaking.

  1. 3 take-home essay exams (minimum 7 double-spaced pages each) on Homer, Cervantes, and Shelley (respectively). Please use Courier 12-point font for all your writing in this class.
  2. A 4th (and last) essay exam, consisting of a substantially revised version of one of the previous three. Outside of class, you will work with me and with a class partner on your revision; when submitted it must be accompanied by a one-page statement reflecting on what you found necessary to change, what improvements you attempted to make, why, and so forth.
  3. Two oral reports, approximately 10 minutes each, on topics to be assigned. Your function on the first of these will be to inform your fellow students about a topic relevant to our readings, to do so in the clearest and most concise manner, to show you have selected the most important information to convey, to deliver your report with a professional demeanor and authority. The second report will be a joint presentation with your revision partner about the original and final versions of your revised papers.
  4. There will be an in-class quiz on Conrad's Heart of Darkness as soon as we have finished discussing that work.


  1. Written work is due either at the beginning of class or, if on a Friday, before 5 pm at the Literature office. Hard copies, please; electronic versions are acceptable only in special circumstances and if approved by me.
  2. Extensions may be arranged, but only if you ask for them in advance of the original due date.
  3. No more than two unexcused absences. Beyond that, you will fail the course.
    • If you are sick or have to be away for another legitimate reason, e-mail me.
    • I may charge you an unexcused absence if you frequently arrive late or without your book.
  4. Unannounced quizzes on readings at my discretion.

Grading Policy

Written work (including quiz) 75%
Oral presentations 20%
Overall helpfulness of attitude and demeanor 5%

Principles of Assessment

I expect written work of the same caliber as the work required in your other MIT subjects. This means carefully composed and proof-read (no sloppy errors), thorough, well thought-out, sufficiently supplied with supporting material quoted or paraphrased from the text(s). I make no distinctions between "content" and "quality of writing." How you decide to state something, how you assemble an argument, how you construct each and every sentence – these things constitute your argument and are thus indistinguishable from its "content." Also, more richly detailed essays, those that take the trouble to respond very fully to the text and to the questions posed in the assignment, will receive higher marks than those that give minimal or very general responses. I will distribute a sample "A" paper (from another class, of course!) to illustrate the qualities I have described above.

On oral presentations, students will be judged on pertinence, clarity, and organization of the information presented, as well as on delivery style (the "professional demeanor and authority" mentioned above).

On Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the MIT's Writing and Communication Center and useful citations links located here.

Recommended Citation

For any use or distribution of these materials, please cite as follows:

James Buzard, course materials for 21L.012 Forms of Western Narrative, Fall 2007. MIT OpenCourseWare (, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Downloaded on [DD Month YYYY].   Tell A Friend