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Transgressions of Identity: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in American Literature and Culture cancelled

ENGL 016.302
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

   From the literary classic The Great Gatsby to the pulp classic The Talented Mr. Ripley, twentieth-century American culture contains numerous examples of characters who discard old identities in order to create themselves anew. In ethnic literature, African Americans pass for white, while immigrants transform themselves into Americans. In Hollywood cinema, whites wear blackface, men cross-dress, and women masquerade. On television today, shows such as Extreme Makeover, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Joe Millionaire sell the fantasy of reinvention as "reality." In this class, we will examine literary and cultural narratives of self-making to explore how these transformations and performances of identity challenge the lines between masculinity and femininity, heterosexuality and homosexuality, and white and black. What do these transgressions of identity tell us about our systems of classification? How malleable are race, gender, and sexual identity? How do the textual strategies of these narratives reflect the theme of American self-invention, and how do these works offer alternative views on self-invention that challenge the prototypical model of the self-made man? In answering these questions, we will pay particular attention to the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. Readings will include novels, short stories, and drama by African American, Jewish American, and Asian American writers such as Nella Larsen, James Weldon Johnson, Sui Sin Far, Anzia Yezierska, Arthur Miller, James Baldwin, David Henry Hwang, and Danzy Senna. We will also watch classic films (such as The Jazz Singer, Imitation of Life, and Gentleman's Agreement) and recent films (such as Boys Don't Cry) that reflect the themes of the course.