Lit History: Literature and the Question of Justice

English 270/003 (WI)

Righting Wrongs:  Literature and the Question of Justice

Course Description

The desire for revenge against an injustice, while unsettling, is a feeling that humanity struggles to control, individually and collectively.  Religion and the law, for example, provide institutional frameworks to express and at the same time curb this impulse to right a wrong, and revenge constitutes its own genre in literature and film.  This course seeks to investigate not only the representation of retribution in literature but also to explore the ways that literature dramatizes injustice and attempts to right wrongs more generally.  In what ways do texts critique the all-too-human impulse for revenge?  Why might texts try to recuperate vengeance?   How does literature represent the law and its efforts to create justice?  In what ways does literature enable us to imagine other forms of justice?  We will endeavor to answer these and other questions by reading a variety of genres, including drama, poetry, film, and novels, produced in varied geographic locations and over a long history, from the ancient Greeks to the present.  Although a part of our aim will be to appreciate these texts within their historical moment, our primary goal will be to consider them as participants in a broader literary history preoccupied by the pursuit and meanings of justice.

Moreover, this is a writing intensive course in which students will write two short essays and one longer research paper.  The two short essays will enable students to practice close reading of texts to generate insights into the text we study; the longer research paper will require students to craft a proposal, submit a full draft of the essay, have a consultation on that draft, and hand in a revised version so we can engage with all parts of the writing process.

Book List

Aeschylus. The Oresteia. Richard Lattimore and Mark Griffith, trans.  Chicago:  University of  Chicago Press, 1969; reprint in 2013.

Dante. The Inferno.  Allen Mandelbaum, trans.  New York:  Bantam Dell, 2004.

Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice.  Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, eds.  Folger    Shakespeare Library Edition.  New York:  Washington Square Press, 1992.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.  J. Paul Hunter, ed.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company,       2012.

Philip, M. NourbeSe.  Zong!  Connecticut:  Wesley University Press, 2008.

Yapa, Sunil.  Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist.  New York: Bay Back Books, 2016.