Modern American Monsters: Contemporary Texts

Module code: EN3130

Module co-ordinator: Dr Sarah Graham

Who are the monsters in contemporary America? Those who transgress boundaries of sex, gender, race, sexuality? Those whose bodies are 'different', whose very identity contests and destabilises the dominant order? This module explores representations of the Other, individuals who might be deemed monstrous in the challenges they pose to the ideals and norms of the United States in the 1990s and 2000s.

The texts studied in this module help us consider issues that could be broadly grouped under the umbrella labels of 'difference' or 'Otherness'. Through their actions or choices, the characters depicted in these texts challenge dominant ideas about what is socially acceptable. For this, they are often labelled 'monstrous' and face the consequences of disapproval. Through our discussions of these texts, we will think about how and why social norms develop, what is at stake in protecting or upsetting those norms, and -- importantly -- how these texts communicate their ideas.

The set texts are varied and often provocative. We will explore their differences in form and content as well as their sometimes unexpected common ground. The set texts may include:

  • Six Degrees of Separation (by John Guare, 1992) [play]
  • Thelma and Louise (directed by Ridley Scott, 1991) [film]
  • Brokeback Mountain (directed by Ang Lee, 2005) [film]
  • The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (by Steven Sherrill, 2000) [novel]
  • Invisible Monsters (by Chuck Palahniuk, 2000) [novel]
  • Oryx and Crake (by Margaret Atwood, 2003) [novel]
  • Boys Don't Cry (directed by Kimberley Pierce, 1999) [film]
  • The Woodsman (directed by Nicole Kassell, 2004) [film]
  • Middlesex (by Jeffrey Eugenides, 2003) [novel]


The module is taught through weekly two-hour seminars based on small-group discussion. Students are required to read set texts and view films in advance of seminars and to be prepared to contribute to discussion. Film screenings will be arranged. Student learning is also supported by a Blackboard site.

By the end of the module, students will have...

  • Made a significant contribution to group discussions of the set texts
  • Developed an understanding of the significance of difference/Otherness in contemporary American society
  • Identified and debated the key issues raised by the texts
  • Explored texts that are diverse in the forms they employ and developed an understanding of the effects of their different strategies
  • Undertaken research that strengthens their analysis of these texts
  • Developed ideas that will facilitate the successful completion of their written assignments


  • A 1,500-word passage/scene analysis (30%)
  • A 3,500-word essay (70%)