ENG4474 – The Nature of the Beast in American Literature

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

Choose semester

Course content

What kind of beast might be lurking inside you, barely kept in check by your self-control?

What kinds of instincts and capabilities do various nonhuman animals have?

How have various thinkers and texts tried to distinguish between what it means to be human as opposed to animal?

How can representations and constructions of animals and human animality in American literary and cultural texts affect the way we think about relationships with different kinds of animals?

How has the way we have thought about animality at different historical and cultural moments helped to construct (and sometimes resist) problematic ideas about issues such as "natural" behavior, competition, sexuality, differences between races and genders, and exploitation of various kinds?

From an interdisciplinary perspective, this course will explore the nature of “the beast” in U.S. literature and culture.

Engaging with debates from the academic fields of human-animal studies, posthumanist theory, animality studies, and ecocriticism, we will explore issues such as evolutionary theories used to explain human and nonhuman behavior, different ways of thinking about human/animal difference, and the historical relationship between discourses of animality and the construction of human categories such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, disability, and class in specific situated contexts.

Learning outcome

After completing this course you will have:

  • acquired an overview of key ways animals and animality have been represented in U.S. literary texts, along with the significance and implications of those representations;
  • acquired an introduction to important recent theoretical developments in the fields of human-animal studies, posthumanist theory, and animality studies;
  • developed your skills in literary and cultural analysis through close engagement with key texts, while connecting those texts to theoretical debates related to race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, disability, environment, and species;
  • developed your skills analyzing literary texts in relation to dominant discourses and situated historical and cultural contexts


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

Admission to the European and American Literature Studies program or LeP.

The course has a capacity of 15 students.  ILOS will not provide additional capacity if there are more applicants.


Seminars, 2 hours per week for 10 weeks. 20 hours in all.

Obligatory activities:

  • Weekly online Canvas posts/activities (min. 8 of 10 weeks)
  • Problem statement (1 paragraph) for final paper submitted by announced deadline.
  • For autumn 2020, attendance is not required, but highly recommended.

All obligatory activities must be approved for you to sit the exam. All obligatory activities must be approved in the same semester. Approved obligatory attendance are only valid the semester you attend the course.


The form of assessment is a term paper of approximately 12-15 standard pages (a standard page consists of 2,300 characters). References and bibliography comes in addition. The term paper must follow further guidelines to be distributed in class.

You will be offered individual term paper supervision.

Assessment guidelines

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

In case of illness, you may apply for a postponed submission date. Please contact the exam administrator.

Withdrawal from an examination

A term paper or equivalent that is passed may not be resubmitted in revised form.

If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Reports from periodic evaluations (in Norwegian)

Facts about this course






Autumn 2020

For the autumn semester 2020, this course will have manual admission.

Contact the study administration for more information.


This course is offered irregularly


Autumn 2020

This course is offered irregularly

Teaching language