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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2005

E 314L • Literary Contests and Contexts

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
31372 TTh
8:00 AM-9:30 AM
PAR 301

Course Description

While this course is designed to prepare students for the English major, it will be of value to anyone who wishes to become a sharper reader, writer, and thinker. In it we will read, discuss, and write about a collection of American literary works in three major, complementary ways: we will consider the text of each work, its literary and historical contexts, and the cultural contests in which it participates. Through these often overlapping approaches to literary and cultural analysis, we will explore many issues that engage students and scholars of literature, and develop along the way some useful interpretive methods.

When we consider the work’s text, we will examine very closely its stylistic, structural, and rhetorical elements and how these elements contribute to its broader themes, arguments, and goals.

Working from, and yet constantly returning to, the text we will also explore its relationship to various contexts: literary, historical, biographical, social, etc. To get a sense of a text’s various contexts, we will read some shorter literary works and essays along with some relevant literary criticism and biographical and historical information.

Finally, we will amplify our investigation of literature by exploring and debating the cultural significance of each work. Here we will address how the work has been received or contested (or not) by various kinds of readers—that is, how it could or should be valued or devalued in various cultural “contests.” Should a particular work be considered “great literature,” for example? Might it have some social, historical, or aesthetic/artistic value? How about intellectual or ethical value? And who decides, and with what criteria?

Grading Policy

Paper #1 (4-5 pages) 20%
Paper #2 (4-5 pages) 25%
Paper #3 (4-5 pages) 30%
Short writing assignments (4 minimum, 1-2 pages each) 15%
Daily assignments, participation, discussion 10%


Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
Charles Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition
Course packet includes works by Carver, Welty, Hughes, Alexie, Ellison, Nabokov, Emerson, and Twain.


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