Student Presentations – LIT 292 2008

After returning home from our adventure in London and spending some time thinking about our experiences, the students shared their final presentations and turned in their papers. 

One central goal of our course was to examine and analyze a Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations, using Darwinian principles of natural selection.  The students were asked to incorporate their London experiences and their knowledge of literature and culture into their analyses.  The final presentations were an interesting mix of science, literature and philosophy that generated lively discussions.

Brandon, Megan and Sara worked with the topic of “mate selection”.

Brandon discussed culture vs. biology in the relationships between Joe and Mrs. Joe and Compeyson and Miss Havisham.  Brandon drew from Great Expectations, Macbeth and The Godfather to show that even when we are bound by societal conventions, we cannot escape our biological inclinations.

Megan led a lively discussion about Pip’s relationships with Estella and Biddy.  She discussed her interesting observation that due to the fact that Mrs. Joe was abusive to Pip and was his only real female role model and “mother”, perhaps he was attracted to Estella because of her abusive nature.

Sara approached the topic of mate selection by comparing relationships in Great Expectations with relationships in other works of fiction.  She made interesting associations between Pip and Estella and Peter Parker and M.J. in Spiderman and Estella and Drummle and Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Jo and Ruth analyzed the Darwinian principle of “male-male competition” in Great Expectations by looking at biological and cultural aspects of male interation and motivations.  They looked at Pip’s relationships in the novel and discussed why some of his behavior might be explained by his biological drive to compete with other males.


Colin worked with the topic of “kin selection”.  He shared his reflections on the biological aspects of human behavior in the relationships between Mrs. Joe and Pip, Wemmick and the Aged P, and Miss Havisham and Estella.

Margo and Caroline worked on the topic of “altruism”.  They debated selfish vs. altruistic motivations in Pip’s dealings with Magwitch, Estella and Miss Havisham. 

 Erica and Lisa looked at “sexual jealousy” in Great Expectations.

Erica looked at sexual jealousy as a competition for biological resources. She made some fascinating parallels between the behavior of two species of birds (hummingbirds and lily trotters) and the behavior of Pip in his dealings with Herbert, Drummle and Orlick.



Lisa discussed the evolutionary biological benefit of Pip’s obsession with Estella and incorporated the neurobiology that drives sexual jealousy in human males and females.

Thanks to all of the students for their interesting observations.  They certainly brought up some intriguing concepts and ideas that we had never considered before. 



~ by Dr. Musa on June 17, 2008.

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