Studies in Fiction (The American Slave Novel)

course looks at novels written before and after the Civil War that focus on the
experience of the American Slave Culture, even when the subject is not directly
about the historical period of slavery. 
We will look at the complexities of the literary texts as they struggle,
successfully and  unsuccessfully, to
merge the central ethics issue of black slavery with collateral discussions
of  feminism, economics, humanism,
politics and cultures, thereby deconstructing these other themes in the process
of representing them within the ethical context of slavery.  We will look at the rhetoric of
rationalization that institutes an anti-ethical system of ethics in the mind
and behavior of the slave owner.  We will
also recognize a rhetoric necessarily resistant to complexity in the discourse
of narrative and dialogue of the revolt against the slave system.  Fiction as genre creates uncomfortable
ethical difficulties in reader response, no matter how unambiguous the topic;
we will discuss how this works, especially with later, first-person narratives
such as William Styron’s The Confessions
of Nat Turner
and Ernest J. Gaines, The
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
to create the kinds of discomfort that
all representations of ethical issues must legitimately produce.

Students will learn to be cognizant of the ways that ethics
on a national or global, as well as a personal, level is created by
financial interests disguised as disinterest. They will also be
aware of the political discourse that allows, and in fact creates, the
rhetorical rationalizing of  economic and political
injustice.  A significant element in sustaining the institution of slavery
was the rationalizing of “good” people, theoretically opposed to
slavery, to create excuses for not getting involved.  This is a
contemporary ethical issue that students will be encouraged to explore for
themselves in terms of  their own responsibility for sustaining an
ethical world.

Required Texts

  • Harriet E. Wilson, Our Nig
  • Julia Collins,
    The Curse of Caste
    or The Slave
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Mark Twain, Uncle
    Tom’s Cabin
  • William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner
  • Earnest J. Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved
  • Alice Walker, The
    Color Purple

Course Requirements


  • One
    short paper
  • One
    oral report
  • One
    12-page research paper