Urban Legends: Too good to be true

Analyze a series of urban legends and explain the significance of their transmission and repetition

Analyze a series of urban legends and explain the significance of their transmission and repetition. Urban legends reveal social fears, anxieties, and tensions. You will analyze a set of urban legends and explain how they each treat a common fear, anxiety, or tension.

First, you will explain the significance of studying urban legends. How does this particular genre of storytelling work? How/why can we use urban legends to understand common cultural assumptions or fears? You can use the introduction to Too Good to Be True in addition to any outside, reliable research (with named authors from reputable publications) you would like to do. Chapters 5 and 6 in Signs of Life may also be useful to you as you set up the significance of studying urban legends. This paragraph will require citations to at least one source.

Then, select AT LEAST three urban legends from at least two different sections in Too Good to Be True. For this analysis, you will need to develop a thesis that states how the main characteristics (setting, plot elements, characters, symbols, etc) and themes of the legends come together to create a message or cultural meaning about a particular fear, anxiety, or tension in society. (Some ideas to get you started: immigration, gender roles, sexual relationships, race relations, relationships with family, friends, and/or strangers, work and the corporate world, technology, growing up/becoming an adult)

You must also compare and contrast your chosen legends to determine the various shades of meaning that are visible in the different legends and their variations. Part of your argument will be defending that these specific legends should be read together to understand a cultural meaning or message.


  • Your essay must be AT LEAST 2000 words (6-8 double-spaced pages).
  • You must choose legends from TWO different sections in Too Good to Be True. In other words, you must create your own category for a set of legends, not rely on Brunvand’s categories.
  • You must choose at least THREE different legends total. A legend and its variations count as ONE legend. You may choose more than three, but make sure you develop a cohesive argument around them.
  • You must include a complete Works Cited page, subdivided by the legends you choose from our course text. If you do any outside research, you must include this as well.

Your essay will be graded on the following criteria:

  • How well you present the concept of urban legends and then analyze your selections—in individual analysis and comparison/contrast.
  • Your overall structure, organization, grammar, style, and MLA format.
  • Your effective revision of your work, based on my comments and those of a peer.

You will complete the paper in drafts, according to the following schedule:

Outline for paper due in class

Peer Review Workshop for Paper, complete rough draft due in class


  • Organize your paper around a common social fear, anxiety, or tension. Use your paper to explore how urban legends treat this issue—do they offer suggestions for behavior or attitudes to adopt or avoid? How do they praise or critique certain groups (think race, class, gender, etc) for being part of the problem with or solution to your issue at stake? What stereotypes and assumptions do they rely on to create their message? Do the urban legends reproduce stereotypes or challenge them (or both)?
  • You do not have to summarize your individual legends. You can assume your reader is familiar with them—identify them by Brunvand’s title to orient the reader. Focus on analyzing what the details mean, how they express cultural messages or meanings. If your legends have variations, you should consider how the different types of details enhance your understanding of the message/meaning.
  • Don’t focus on whether or not the urban legends in question are “true” or “false.” Focus instead on their meaning—why do these stories “make sense” to us? If they rely on spooky or scary endings, what makes them spooky or scary in the real world?
  • You may or may not agree with the message expressed in the set of urban legends. The point is not to endorse or condemn the legends but to discuss the ways in which our unconscious assumptions affect the way we tell and transmit stories.
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