Guidelines for Papers and Suggested Paper Topics

HMXP 102

Dr. Fike

HMXP papers are to be written about YOURSELF in connection with one of our TEXTS.

Okay, gang. I'm providing a link here to some alternative paper topics. They were written by a committee, not by me, and I do not approve of all of them. You may use them as long as the following is the case:

Here is the link: Alternative Paper Topics.

I have used red boldface below to mark some topics that will work particularly well for Paper 1. Do not use an author in more than one paper; otherwise, you have considerable flexibility. It is perfectly okay to skip ahead and write about a topic related to an author we have not yet discussed. There are even some topics here related to authors that we will not discuss. It is also okay to write later in the course about an author from earlier in the course.

Before suggesting some possible topics for the first unit, I want to cover some very important points that apply to all three papers.

 Plato: Paper 1

MBTI: Paper 1 (click the blue link)

This topic could be a very nice alternative to a Plato paper for the first assignment. MBTI is a personality test that you can print out and take on your own. Once you have established your four-letter personality type, look up a description on the internet. For example, your professor is ISTJ, so he would type "ISTJ" into a Google search. You can write a great paper that uses this description as your textual connection (background 1) and then, in the argument/objection/reply sections evaluates your personality's role in something that happened to you (focused topic). Good connections may also be made to Plato's text. How is your personality keeping you in the cave, as it were? In what sense do you need, as it were, to walk away from Omelas? How does knowing your personality type improve your self-understanding? Note: It is okay for the MBTI to be your sole textual connection.

LeGuin: Paper 1

Walls: Paper 1: 2015-2016 Common Book (these topics appear, in more readable format, at the end of the Walls PowerPoint).

Values: In her interview at Point Loma Nazarine University (available on, Jeannette (mis?)quotes Oscar Wilde as stating, “A necessity is a luxury once sampled.” Another version of the statement  is “A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity.” (The Internet assigns the statement and others like it to various people, so who knows who originally said it?) Her point is that we think that we cannot survive without things we have grown accustomed to. Did reading The Glass Castle help you see any of your values in a different light? Is anything that you always considered a necessity really a luxury? Here is a great opportunity to make a connection to Brian Swimme’s piece on consumerism. (For “values” see TGC, pages 269.)

Science vs. religion: Jeannette makes statements about science and religion on pages 104-05 and 261. Can you embrace religious faith AND reason/science? Of course, science and religion start from very different assumptions, which are mutually exclusive, or are they? Using connections to Jeannette’s book and a narrowly focused experience of your own, explain where you stand on a spectrum ranging from science’s materialism to religion’s emphasis on things not seen. Where does the author stand vis-à-vis science and religion?

City life vs. wilderness: Rex Walls, for all his problems, loved nature. “‘These cities will kill you,’ he said” (34). Later, Jeannette writes a paragraph that begins, “Dad missed the wilderness,” in which she develops her father’s biophelia (106; see also the top paragraph on 185). Later, of course, working in “untamed country” in upstate New York seems to do him some good versus the temptations of NYC (262). On the other hand, one might argue that a couple of days in the desert would be more likely to kill you than life in the city. Using an example from your own experience, engage with Rex’s view and its opposite in order to inquire into your own environmental ethic. Will cities really kill you? If so, in what sense?

 Harm vs. benefit: To a large extent, The Glass Castle is a book about growing up while “living in a state of neglect” (193). Yet Jeannette suggests that a hardship that one considers a curse may become a blessing in later life. As her mother says, “‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’” (179). Believe it or not, Jeannette even states in her Point Loma Nazarine interview that her parents gave her “incredible gifts.” In the same interview, she mentions a specific example, how her father pimped her out in a bar. She calls it “the worst experience of my life . . . but also the best experience of my life.” What is the worst experience in your life? Is there something in your own life that seemed like a curse at the time but is in retrospect a blessing? How might a Wallsian approach shed a positive light on a dark moment in your life?

Victim vs. perpetrator: When Jeanette is sexually assaulted by Uncle Stanley, her mother tells her “that sexual assault was a crime of perception” and that her uncle was “‘so lonely’” (184). Think about a time when someone harmed you in some way. Then think compassionately about why s/he might have done that. For example, maybe you were bullied, as Jeannette was by Dinitia Hewitt. Does Jeannette’s awareness to the ills in Dinitia’s life have a corresponding realization about your own antagonist?

Pride: This concept, which Christians consider a “deadly sin,” is a major theme in TGC. See the earlier slide that lists all the page numbers where pride rears its head. In that context, consider how your own pride may (or may not) have been a problem for you in a specific situation. For example, have you ever resisted authority just for the heck of it?

Gross: No longer in the anthology

Lakoff and Johnson

Morrow and Tyson: No longer in the anthology

Nussbaum and Bandura: Bandura is no longer in the anthology.



The Secret: This is a film that you will have to watch on your own; there are clips on



Although it is written much differently than Myers’s selection, W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk may be considered an illustration of what it feels like to be a member of an “outgroup.”  Once again, you need to evaluate an idea/thesis related to a focused topic in connection with the reading.  Here are some suggestions to get you started.  Remember that I am once again suggesting areas of inquiry, not ready-to-write-about focused topics; put some major effort into focusing and prewriting. 

Loury and McIntosh

Feminist Writers

Gilligan: No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text)

Just as the African American students in our class may find DuBois especially provocative, the women may gravitate to Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, but you do not have to be black or female to write about either of these selections.  Nonetheless, the female students may want to think about issues in their lives from Gilligan’s feminist perspective.  Here are some suggestions:

Belenky: No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text)

Mary Field Belenky’s “Silence” offers numerous other possible directions for interesting papers.  It is no longer in the anthology, but I can provide a copy if you want to write about it. Consider the following:

Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber": No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text); my handout: Hemingway activity




Menkiti: No longer in the anthology

The following homology sums up the author’s main point: in terms of personhood, African society privileges community over the individual, whereas Western society privileges the individual over community.  That is a straightforward point, but the article raises many issues that you might write about:  

Kamkwamba: A former common book

Pages 99-100 mention family traditions: “In our culture, family life follows many rules that have been passed down by our ancestors” (99). What rules have been passed down in YOUR family? To what extent are you tradition’s pawn? Obviously you would need to focus on just one tradition and go into detail.

William basically uses what we call the Law of Attraction, which is the subject of a book and a film called The Secret. My list of paper assignments includes an excellent experience-based topic related to using the LOA. This topic goes hand-in-hand with the sense of conviction about something that others considered crazy or something that they considered garbage. See 188-90. What do you make of humans’ basic conservatism (their resistance to any kind of change) versus William’s (and your own) use of desire, imagination, and gratitude to achieve your goal? Here are some statements that relate to the LOA to help you get started:

What is the role of the feminine in William’s book? Consider talk about girls (64), mention of prostitutes in bars (34), PDA (26), breast milk image (59), the fact that daughters never eat with the father or son with the mother (99), and the issue of pregnancy and the body (100-01). What do you make of the relative dearth of information about women in the book, and how does that intersect with your own human experience?

Have you ever believed strongly in something that others thought was crazy? If so, you could possibly get a nice paper out of it in connection with William’s similar situation.

Has a book ever had an impact on you like the impact science books had on William? Here too there are possibilities for excellent papers.

Bellah, "Community Properly Understood:  A Defense of 'Democratic Communitarianism": No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text)

Bellah, "Why Do We Need a Public Affairs Mission?--The Moral Crisis in American Public Life"

Pinker ("My Genome") and Ridley ("Human Nature"): Pinker is no longer in the anthology.


Sandel: No longer in the anthology

Sovacool and Brown: No longer in the anthology

Wilson: No longer rin the anthology (no longer in the book; the chapter is from the book The Future of Life, which is on reserve for CRTW 201 in the library)


Bodian: No longer in the anthology

Orr (7th edition, 2011): No longer in the anthology, but the blue link is to the text.

Other Topics on Nature




Monroe (this text is chapter 8 in Journeys Out of the Body, available at the library)

Armstrong, King, Camus