Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic: Cultural Encounters in Early Transatlantic Literature

ENGL 048.920
instructor(s):
MTWR 10:40-12:15

Fulfills Distribution Course in Arts & Letters

Since 1492, Europeans have struggled to explain the different peoples and cultures they encountered in the New World across the Atlantic. In this course, we will examine how blood, sugar, sex, and magic became key terms in early works of English and American literature about the Americas. Regularly deploying metaphors of monstrosity, writers described the native inhabitants as bloodthirsty beasts, sexual predators, practitioners of black magic, and cannibals, among other unsavory things. While these characterizations were clearly derogatory and served the purpose of justifying slavery and conquest, they also radiated fear and anxiety about the potential power of non-Europeans to resist political control. We will think about this ambivalence throughout the course and consider why the New World, often portrayed as an earthly paradise ripe with exotic fruits and foods like pineapple, chocolate, and sugar, was simultaneously perceived as a site of danger, contamination, and magical excess. Readings will include the diaries of Christopher Columbus, Montaigne's "Of the Cannibals," Shakespeare's The Tempest, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Unca Eliza Winkfield's The Female American, Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative, and William Earle's Obi. Short writing assignments and a final exam.