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African-American Literature

ENGL 081.401
instructor(s):
TR 9-10:30

In this course, we will explore representations of slavery and freedom, beginning with slave narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs and concluding with contemporary novels by Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler. Our task will be to explore how the multiple meanings of the terms slavery and freedom are employed in literature, films, and song by and about Afro-Americans. Also, we will examine whether and how the deployment of these meanings are impacted by the representations artists provide of such complex notions as race, gender, citizenship, class, and sexuality. We will seek answers to a number of crucial questions, including: how are notions of slavery and freedom gendered? How similar are contemporary depictions of slavery and freedom to those of slave narratives, or, put another way, to what extent have these depictions altered as we move further and further away temporally from the experiences the works attempt to convey? and why are contemporary intellectuals so fascinated with the subject? Possible texts (in addition to Douglass's NARRATIVE, Jacobs's INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL, and a variety of songs, short stories, poems, and films: KINDRED, BELOVED, DESSA ROSE, THE CHANEYSVILLE INCIDENT, OXHERDING TALE, and A FLIGHT TO CANADA. Course requirements: three 4-6 page essays; a final examination; frequent quizzes; and active class participation.