In this course we
will examine 21st-century novels that in various ways depict the impact of
large-scale financial systems on the lives of individuals and communities. We
will analyze and reflect on these works of fiction in the context of the 2008
global financial crisis, an event that has raised urgent questions about how
our society thinks about money, wealth, debt, risk, and personal and collective
responsibility. Focusing on the ethical dimensions of these questions,
throughout the semester we will address two key issues:

  • how do the pressures of life in our complex economic system affect
    our day-to-day moral decisions, and how do these decisions reflect (or
    contradict) our fundamental values and beliefs about personal virtue,
    familial and communal obligations, the common good, and justice?
  •  when we read stories about characters living within in these
    complex economic structures, how does the distinctive rhetoric of
    narrative fiction, including features such as point of view, the
    narrator’s reliability or unreliability, and ellipsis (missing plot
    elements), help us to imagine and confront the challenges of making sound
    ethical choices when it comes to money?


Alongside the novels
and short stories, the other readings for this course aim to deepen your
awareness of the prevailing (and sometimes competing) frameworks for ethical
decision-making that are brought to bear on questions relating to economic
behavior, as well as to enrich your conceptual frameworks for analyzing the
rhetoric of fiction. I have assigned excerpts from key texts of ethical
philosophy in the Euroamerican tradition (Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Marx, Levinas,
Rawls, Gilligan, and Pinker) as well as articles on recent narrative theory and
selected entries in the online The Living
Handbook of Narratology.




Your grade will be
based on your performance in the following assignments. I will provide more
detailed descriptions of these
assignments within the first two weeks of the semester

  • in-class
    roundtable contribution (5 minute provocative statement, followed by a
    structured discussion) (10%)
  • analysis of a
    primary text drawing on at least three of the assigned readings in philosophy
    and criticism (5 pages) (15%)
  • abstract for a
    term paper (1 page) (10%)
  • term paper based
    on independent research (15 pages) (35%)
  • a take-home
    midterm examination (15%)
  • a take-home
    final examination (15%)


Required Texts

Alger, Christina, The Darlings (2012); Hamid, Mohsin, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
(2013); Haslett, Adam, Union Atlantic
(2010); Liss, David, The Coffee Trader(2004);
Hedges, Chris and Joe Sacco, Days of
Destruction, Days of Revolt
(2012); Walter, Jess, The Financial Lives of the Poets (2010)



Allen, Woody,
(dir.), Blue Jasmine (2013);
Ferguson, Charles H. (dir), Inside Job