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Topics in Literary Interpretation I

Humans (and Other Animals)

A girl surrounded by fish being kissed by a skunk

One definition of the human, the essayist Melanie Challenger writes, is an animal that doesn’t think it’s an animal. In this course, we’ll explore this strange and paradoxical situation by considering the ways in which a range of writers from a variety of periods and national traditions have represented the fraught creaturely condition of homo sapiens sapiens. We’ll discuss both how the basic reality of material embodiment presents challenges to artistic representation, as well as how art can afford unique kinds of access into non-human points of view. We’ll consider how terms like human, animal, creature, beast and monster can get pressed into service for a variety of political and social agendas, and how the human/animal divide has long been bound up in ongoing histories of imperial conquest and environmental degradation, as well as in the establishment of oppressive racial and gender hierarchies.


Texts may include:

  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis; A Report to an Academy
  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village”
  • Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
  • Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead
  • Paul Kingsnorth, Beast


  • Two essays (5-6 pages)
  • Short in-class writing exercises
  • Consistent attendance and participation


  • ENGL 200
  • ENGL 290

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.