Heroes and Monsters – Grade 11 Main Lesson

What makes a hero? How have our cultural lore and storytelling used heroic narratives to define our ideal selves? How have the monsters and villains of those stories, in conflict with heroic virtue, taught us to distinguish between acceptable and transgressive behavior? In the Heroes and Monsters block, taught by Mr. Joseph O’Donnell, students explore these questions through some of the most iconic and memorable heroes and monsters in our literature: Gilgamesh and Beowulf, the first human and English stories, but also Don Quixote, Superman and Spiderman, Dracula and the Wolfman, and such anti-heroes as Jay Gatsby, Willy Loman, and Holden Caulfield. The class examines how the archetype of the hero and monster/villain has changed through time, leading to our modern iterations of the superhero, the anti-hero, and the modern monster (the vampire, man-wolf, and zombie) as the enemy from within.

This course includes a research project with presentation and practice in reading image and film as text. This year, research projects included such topics as: comparing depictions of Quasimodo as a monster in films of ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’; the development of Godzilla from atomic monster to savior of humanity; and the central American myth of La Llorona, a native myth and children’s story of an old woman who haunts river banks mourning the drowning of her own children.

Heroes & Monsters hieroglyphics by Max Beatty (first image) and Steven Lu (second image). 

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