EN 230.01 Literature and Social Change (Fall 2012-2013: 3)

This course will examine the possibility of using literature as a force of social change. Focusing on contemporary American literature, we will consider its power to represent social issues and transform readers' assumptions about those issues. How, we will ask, do the forms of literature contribute to a reader's apprehension of literary content? What is the relationship between fictional and "real" worlds? How do the imaginative dimensions of literature possess a unique power to transform attitudes and revise existing cultural norms?

The course will be organized around three issues of social change and their representation in contemporary literature. This semester, for example, issues will include "the working poor," domestic abuse, and racial violence in America. We will examine works that self-consciously assume the task of depicting specific social conditions, but our focus will not be limited to those works; we will also explore the idea of "representation" in general as a means of thinking about how all literature enters into dialogue with the larger world in which it originates. Because part of our analysis will involve comparing literary with non-literary representations, we will also explore examples of social criticism in contemporary film and photography.

Each student will be responsible for giving an in-class presentation that approaches an issue of social change through a non-literary medium (20%). Other requirements for the course include a critical essay (30%) and a longer final project of the student's own design (40%), as well as class participation and attendance (10%). Literary texts may include Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster, as well as short fiction by Junot Diaz, Russell Banks, Gloria Naylor, Gish Jen, James Baldwin and Sherman Alexie and essays by Barbara Ehrenreich and Eric Schlosser.
Laura Tanner

Last Updated: 05-DEC-12