English 192—Topics for the First Essay

General Instructions: Write a four- to five-page interpretation of one of the works covered in the first two weeks of the course: Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Lang’s Metropolis, or Wells’s The Time Machine. This interpretation should have a clear, unified topic and an identifiable, arguable thesis statement backed by solid evidence and logic. Your experience, impressions, and response to the work can guide your interpretation, but make sure that everything you claim about the work is demonstrable. If you use secondary sources (which I strongly recommend), cite them properly. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, make sure you narrow its focus and make a strong thesis. Due 4/20.

Suggested Topics:

  1. Choose a scene from Baron Munchausen and interpret it closely. Does it parody some aspect of Enlightenment thought? Is it a commentary on eighteenth-century or twentieth-century attitudes? Are there moments in the dialogue or action that reveal the significance of the scene? Are there allegorical or symbolic elements of the scene that indicate its meaning? Keep in mind, you may not use the word "symbolize" in your essay.
  2. Both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen use a narrative frame, that is, a story that introduces and concludes the main story. Choose one of these frames and explain how it works. How does it affect your interpretation of the work as a whole, and what themes does it have in common with its central story?
  3. Baron Munchausen, The Time Machine, and Frankenstein all address gender roles at a number of levels: the male as protector or warrior, the female as victim or ideal, among others. Choose one work and describe the social structures of gender implied or stated in it, as well as their effect on your overall interpretation.
  4. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis depicts a strange, volatile society of the future; in what ways did it resemble the society in which it was made? Find reliable secondary sources on Weimar Germany, Fritz Lang, and the making of Metropolis and examine some of the social issues represented in the film.
  5. The Time Machine contains a complex explanation of how humanity degenerated into the Morlocks and the Eloi of the future. Examine this theory in detail, and describe the process by which the fictional time-traveler and the real Wells determined what had happened. Which theories, and what kind of reasoning do they use? Keep in mind that the time-traveler makes an inference based on his observations; Wells, on the other hand, speculates about a possible future.
  6. Your own topic, based on one of the works we have studied, and approved by your instructor.