Stories involving the theme of an infant or small child in mortal peril are commonplace in virtually all cultures and across time. So widespread is this narrative paradigm that the psychologist Carl Jung included it among the fundamental archetypes of the human psyche. Jung had in mind stories such as the infancies of Moses and Jesus, in which the life of a child born for divine greatness is threatened but then saved through a miraculous turn of events. In a broader view, we might note that stories featuring an imperiled infant are common in classical mythology, medieval hagiography, Victorian and modern novels, film and television dramas, and news media. The phenomenon is puzzling because the very thought of a child in peril is of course instinctively abhorrent and psychologically well-adjusted individuals would never wish to see a child harmed. Yet precisely because human instinct compels us to want to protect children, skillful story-tellers have long known that this kind of narrative can be used.
This course involves the close historical, iconographic, rhetorical, psychological and affective analyses of visual, literary, dramatic and filmic representations of the imperiled child, with the specific aim of locating the emotional/affective power of these stories, the nature of their appeal, and the various ideological purposes to which they have been adapted.