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Double Agents or Racial Traitors?--Issues of Identity in Comparative Ethnic Literatures

ENGL 016.401
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

This course explores the important theme of identity in Asian, African, and Native American literatures. We are often told we should take pride in who we are, but what does that really mean? In minority literatures, the search for identity is both an inevitable and perilous undertaking, as minority identity is defined precisely on the basis of its opposite, i.e., its difference. In this course we study novels and films that deal with issues pertaining to minority identity, such as passing, double agency, and multiple or split personality.

 

The class is divided into four sections. In each section, we pair two novels from different cultural contexts. In section 1, "Passing and Invisibility," we read Nella Larson's memorable novellas, "Passing" and "Quicksand," alongside Winnifred Eaton's invented autobiography, Me: A Book of Remembrance, to ask to what extent identities are malleable. In section 2, "Identity & Border Crossing," we compare Younghill Kang's East Goes West and Michael Ondaatjee's The English Patient to ask how the experience of traveling reconstructs as well as destabilizes identities; In section 3, "The Uncanny Other," we explore the relationship between self and the other in Sax Rohmer's The Hands of Dr. Fu Manchu and Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer; In section 4, "Schizophrenia & Multiple Identities," we address the question of multiplicity in Jhumpa Lahiri's new book, Namesake, and Jessica Hagedorn's unique novel of magical realism, Dogeaters. Assignments may include: one weekly weblog posting, 2 short papers, and a final exam.