AFRS 253 - Topics in American Literature
Semester Offered: Spring
The specific focus of the course varies each year, and may center on a literary movement (e.g., Transcendentalism, the Beats, the Black Mountain School), a single work and its milieu (e.g., Moby-Dick and the American novel, Call It Sleep and the rise of ethnic modernism); a historical period (e.g., the Great Awakening, the Civil War), a region (e.g., Southern literature, the literature of the West), or a genre (e.g., the sentimental-domestic novel, American satire, the literature of travel/migration, American autobiography, traditions of reportage, American environmentalist writing).
Topic for 2018/19b: Narratives of Passing. ENGL 253 ) The phrase “passing for white,” peculiar to American English, first appears in advertisements for the return of runaway slaves. Abolitionist fiction later adopts the phenomenon of racial passing (together with the figure of the “white slave”) as a major literary theme. African American writers such as William Wells Brown and William Craft incorporated stories of passing in their antislavery writing and the theme continued to enjoy great currency in African American literature in the postbellum era as well as during the Harlem Renaissance. In this class, we examine the prevalence of this theme in African American literature of these periods, the possible reasons for the waning interest in this theme following the Harlem Renaissance, and its reemergence in recent years. In order to begin to understand the role of passing in the American imagination, we look to examples of passing and the treatment of miscegenation in literature, film, and the law. We consider the qualities that characterize what Valerie Smith identifies as the “classic passing narrative” and determine how each of the texts we examine conforms to, reinvents, and/or writes against that classic narrative. Some of the themes considered include betrayal, secrecy, lying, masquerade, visibility/invisibility, and memory. We also examine how the literature of passing challenges or redefines notions of family, American mobility and success, and the convention of the “self-made man.” Although much of the syllabus is devoted to African American literary heritage, we also consider Asian American and Native American literature on miscegenation. Native American writing in particular provides a radically different perspective on American racialism and what we might term an American “blood symbolic.” Hiram Perez.
Two 75-minute periods.
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