Literary Nightmares

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A nightmare was once believed to be a female spirit or monster who settled on and produced a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal. If most of us no longer believe in monsters, then why do nightmares still plague us? What makes nightmares scary? Are they distorted expressions of our deepest fears, or frightful fulfillments of our forbidden desires? In this course, we will examine the blurry line between fear and desire and consider the ways in which the “ugly” aspects of our unconscious unleash themselves into our consciousness in uncontrollable ways. Many works of literature present us with scenarios that resemble the surreal, anxiety-producing nightmares we’ve all experienced during otherwise peaceful and protective sleeps. As we probe these texts, we will explore the ways in which we are sometimes subject to the powers of our own imaginations. Texts will include William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Franz Kakfa’s The Metamorphosis, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and selected works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Nicolai Gogol, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. We will filter our discussions through the theoretical lenses of Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts.


Unit Essential Questions Content Skills and Processes Assessment Resources
Literary Nightmares

In what ways are we subject to the powers of our own imaginations?

What is the Freudian model of the unconscious mind?

In what ways do our unconscious thoughts reveal themselves in our everyday lives?

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Circular Ruins” (1941)
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798) and “Kubla Khan” (1816)
Emily Dickinson, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (c. 1861) 
Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Robert Frost, “After Apple-Picking” (1915)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Light Is Like Water” (1978)
Nicolai Gogol, “The Nose” (1836)
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Minister’s Black Veil” (1836)
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915)
John Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (1819)
H. P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls” (1924)
Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921)
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) and “The Raven” (1845)
William Shakespeare, Macbeth (c. 1606)
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
Percy Shelley, “Mutability” (1816)
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Henry Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1764)
W. B. Yeats, “The Valley of the Black Pig” (1899)


  • Direct class discussion
  • Develop critical abilities as readers
  • Improve skills as writers of analytical prose
  • Prepare and present class meetings, both in collaborative groups and as individuals
  • Apply principles of unguided peer reviewing and metacritical self-review for both content and style
  • Use techniques of active reading, class note-taking, and test-taking
  • Three analytical essays are assessed for both content and style in individual conferences
  • Tests emphasize reading comprehension and synthesis
  • Peer reviews
  • Metacritical writing
  • Discussions about critical analysis and persuasive writing
  • Class presentations are assessed for both class plan and execution

Consultation of departmental handouts from grades 9-11