College Colloquium: Dystopia Happening Here

IDS 101-24
Eaton 211
Frann Michel
email: fmichel <at>

phone: x6389
office: Eaton 204
hours: MWF 10:20-12, other times by appointment 

texts reading
links discussing
schedule writing
policies blog
  essays: one two three


Image at left from the Propaganda Remix Project

Globally and nationally, we live in an era Salman Rushdie has called “one of the great hinge periods of human history.” We face catastrophic climate change and resource scarcity, as well as massive and continuing violence by state and non-state agents. But the sense of political and cultural crisis is not new. In the past hundred years, North American writers have repeatedly envisioned a fascist America as developing in a possible future or an alternate past, sketching a time of social dissention and economic inequality, in which the country comes to be governed by big business, religious fundamentalism, and executive decree. In this course, we will examine five of these dystopian novels, considering their narrative structures, their political visions, their critiques of their own time, and their possible implications for readers today.

The College Colloquium is designed to encourage students to read carefully, think critically, speak articulately, and write coherently; accordingly, the course is built around the skills of critical reading, informed discussion, and cogent writing, the same skills that are the foundation for most academic programs on campus.

Your final grade will be based both on class participation and on written work, including three formal essays in which you will synthesize readings, discussion and your own creative insights. See below for more information.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1985. New York: Anchor, 1998.
Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Talents. 1998. New York: Warner, 2000.
Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Manual of Style. 4th Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.
Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. 1935. NY: NAL, 2005.
London, Jack. The Iron Heel. 1908. Ed. Jonathan Auerbach. NY: Penguin, 2006.
Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. New York: Vintage, 2004.
Rushdie, Salman. “Step Across This Line.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Yale
University. 25-26 Feb. 2002. <
volume24/rushdie_2002.pdf> 18 Aug. 2007.

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On writing & studying

My Writing Guidelines
Writing Center
On Writing about Literature
Getting an A on an English paper
Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis
The Elements of Style
Brief MLA Style Guide
On Plagiarism and how to avoid it
Learning Enhancement Resources
How to Impress the Teacher
Study tips

Library resources for this course

On individual writers and works

Jack London, The Iron Heel at the
Jack London Online Collection at Sonoma State University
Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here at Project Gutenberg
Margaret Atwood Reference site
Margaret Atwood Society
Study Guide to The Handmaid's Tale
Octavia Butler page at Science Fiction Writers of America
Interview with Philip Roth about The Plot Against America

On key ideas and recent events

Prometheus Revisited: The Double Wall Before the Future
By Arthur Mitzman (on the dystopic present)
Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
By Umberto Eco
It Could Happen Here
by Gregory Meyerson and Michael Joseph Roberto
A Brief History of the State of Exception
by Giorgio Agamben
Hunger for Dictatorship: War to export democracy may wreck our own.
by Scott McConnell
The Unitary Executive: Is The Doctrine Behind the Bush Presidency Consistent with a Democratic State?
By Jennifer Van Bergen
Guantánamo and the New Legal Order
by Jean-Claude Paye

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Tentative schedule of readings and assignments

Opening Days

Th 8/23 (4:15-5:30) Introductions

F 8/24 (1:30-3) Rushdie, "Step Across This Line"

Sat 8/25 (1-2:30) London, The Iron Heel, epigraph, Foreword, Chapters I -II

M 8/27 (9-10:30) London, The Iron Heel, Chapters III-VII

Regular class schedule begins: all further class meetings at 12:40

W 8/29 London, The Iron Heel, Chapters VIII-XII
F 8/31 London, The Iron Heel, Chapters XIII-XVIII

M 9/3 Labor Day
Tu 9/4 email to <fmichel> a few sentences about your topic
W 9/5 London, The Iron Heel, Chapters XIX- XXV
F 9/7 continued discussion; Hacker, MLA Style: 113-154 (library instruction)

M 9/10 Writing workshop; draft of first essay due
W 9/12 Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, Chapters 1-8 --blog by Thursday 6pm a question about Chapters 9-14
F 9/14 Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, Chapters 9-14; oral reports on historical references

M 9/17 Revised draft of first essay due both hardcopy and to Turnitin ; Hacker, Clarity: 2-22
W 9/19 Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, Chapters 15-19; oral reports--blog by Thursday 6pm a question about Chapters 20-25
F 9/21 Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, Chapters 20- 25; oral reports

M 9/24 Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, Chapters 26-31; oral reports
W 9/26 Lewis, It Can't Happen Here, Chapters 32-38; oral reports----blog by Thursday 6pm a question about the novel as a whole
F 9/28 continued discussion

M 10/1 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, epigraphs, Sections I-III
W 10/3 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, IV-VI--blog by Thursday 6pm a question about VII-IX
F 10/5 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, VII- IX

M 10/8 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, X-XI
W 10/10 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, XII--blog by Thursday 6pm a question about XIII-end
F 10/12 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, XIII-Historical Notes (end)

M 10/15 continued discussion
W 10/17 Draft of second essay due; writing workshop
F 10/19 Midsemester Day --blog by Sunday 6pm a question about the beginning of Parable

M 10/22 Butler, Parable of the Talents, Prologue-Chapter Three
W 10/24Butler, Parable of the Talents, Chapters Four-Seven; Second essay due; blog by Thurs 6pm a question about text through Ch 11
F 10/26 Butler, Parable of the Talents, 2033- Chapter Eleven

M 10/29 Butler, Parable of the Talents, Chapters Twelve-Fourteen
W 10/31 Butler, Parable of the Talents, Chapters Fifteen-Eighteen--blog by Thursday 6pm a question about the novel as a whole
F 11/2 Butler, Parable of the Talents, Chapters Nineteen-Epilogue

M 11/5 Roth, The Plot Against America, Chapters 1& 2
W 11/7 Roth, The Plot Against America, Chapters 3 & 4 --blog by Thursday 6pm a question about Chapters 5-6
F 11/9 Roth, The Plot Against America, Chapters 5 & 6

M 11/12 Roth, The Plot Against America, Chapters 7 & 8; blog by Tuesday 6pm a question about Chap 9-Postscript
W 11/14 Roth, The Plot Against America, Chapter 9 & Postscript
F 11/16 Writing workshop; draft of third essay due; Optional revision of first or second essay due

M 11/19 continued discussion
W 11/21 Final essay due

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some matters of policy
•Please turn off your cell phone during class.
•I will not accept assignments late without very good reason and prior approval.
•There will be numerous informal writing/reporting assignments made throughout the semester. These are always due in class when requested and may NOT be submitted later for credit.
•Please let me know if you have any disability that requires special accommodation.

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Critical Reading

Read actively. Preview the text—see how the book is organized and what supplementary materials it contains, for instance. Mark the text (underline, question, summarize) as you read and think about what you have read. Review your notes and markings before class.

Here are some things to notice in prose fiction narratives:

Plot—This is not simply what happens but also how it is presented. Consider, for instance, order, duration, and frequency. That is, in what order do things happen? Is there any difference between the order in which events occur (sometimes called the story) and the order in which they are presented (sometimes called the discourse)? How long is spent on reporting events? Are long passages of time dealt with briefly? Are brief moments described in great detail? Are some events described repeatedly?

Narrative—Who speaks the story? If the narrative is first person (I), is the narrator a participant in the story? If so, to what degree? If the narrative is third person (she/he, with no "I" telling the story), do we have access to the consciousness of a particular character? Lots of characters? None? That is, who sees the narrative?

Characters—Keep a list of characters as they are introduced into the text. You might consider the significance of characters' names, physical descriptions, dialogue, behavior, or juxtaposition with other characters. Keep in mind that characters in literary texts are made out of words; even if the characters are based on real people, the text offers not the person but his or her textual representation.

Settings—What does the text tell us about where and when the tale occurs? Where settings are described in detail, what does this detail tell us about the location, the characters associated with it, or the events that occur there?

Images or figurative language—for instance, does the text use particular kinds of metaphors repeatedly? What might these images suggest?

Repetitions or echoes of phrases or ideas—cross-reference these with a page number in the margin.


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Informed Discussion

Evaluation of your participation includes the following:

Attendance: you must be both physically and mentally present in order to participate. Note that tardiness does not impress the teacher with your scholarly dedication and commitment to learning in this course. Please come to each class on time, fully prepared. If you miss a class, post to the course blog a summary of the reading assignment for that day. In addition, talk to at least two other students who were present that day, and get copies of their class notes. If you have additional questions, come talk with me.

Preparation: reading and writing assignments are due on the class day indicated on the syllabus. You should bring to class any assignments, the assigned text, and appropriate notetaking material (notebook, pen). You should be prepared to discuss the reading and share your responses. Read actively, mark your texts, and take notes. Write down questions about the reading. As we move through the semester, you will also want to think about connections between current and past readings, lectures, and discussions.

Homework: assigned study questions, drafts, and other homework assignments are due at the beginning of class. Keep in mind that there may be additional assignments not listed on the section syllabus. Homework should be typed, and include your name and the due date.

Peer editing and other in-class assignments: Not all writing done in class will be collected, but all should be done in good faith and with attention. Similarly, you should give your classmates' drafts respectful attention and provide rigorous and tactful responses. In-class writing is always due in class when requested and may NOT be submitted later for credit.

Discussion: Try to contribute at least once to each general class discussion and at least once to each small-group discussion. Quality of response is more important than quantity, but you cannot offer thoughtful comments unless you speak up! Expect to be asked to support your observations with specific textual references. Ask questions. Be respectful of your classmates. Listen attentively. Avoid side conversations; if it's worth saying to your neighbor, it's worth sharing with the rest of the class. Don't interrupt others; if you wish to speak next, raise your hand. Avoid personal attacks; challenge the idea not the person.

Debates and Student reports: On the day of your oral report or debate activities (to be scheduled later in the semester), turn in an annotated bibliography (MLA style), listing and describing your sources.

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Cogent Writing

Bibliographies and other homework should be typed, and include your name and the due date.

Blog posts and comments. At least once per week you should post to the class blog a question about the reading assignment and a response to another student’s question before we discuss the reading in class. I encourage you to post more often than the minimal requirement.

Three formal essays. Drafts of these will be due Monday 10 September, Wednesday 17 October, and Monday 12 November. Revisions of these drafts will be due Monday 17 September, Wednesday 24 October, and Wednesday 21 November. Optional further revisions of the first two essays will be due Friday 16 November.

Portfolio Introduction (1-2 pages). With your final essay and any revised essays, turn in a 250-500 word assessment of the development of your writing this term.

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Point your web browser to using your WU username & password.On the "My Weblogs" list you should see "Dystopia Happening Here” Click on one of the "Create new entry" buttons to do just that. You need to select the "Publish" option for Post Status for your entry to appear on the formal blog site page. To comment on someone else's entry, you have to be viewing the actual site, which you can get to via the "view site" links or via

At least once a week, you'll post at least one question, by 6pm, about the next day's reading assignment. It might be a question about the plot, narrative, characters, setting, language, repetitions, allusions, references, or anything else in the reading assignment you'd like to discuss.  A good discussion question cannot be answered simply by looking the answer up somewhere; it does not have an obvious answer, but must be explored and argued. It is not completely open-ended, but specifically grounded in the text. It arises from careful consideration of the reading assignment: what the text says, and how it says it. Explain what prompted the question, what thinking went into arriving at the question, what possible answers (if any) you have considered, and why those answers are unsatisfactory. 

Also, at least once per week, you will need to respond to someone else's question. A response might offer, for instance, your interpretation, a citation and discussion of a relevant passage of the text, a counter-example that challenges the premises of the original question, or other reflections in response to your classmate's question. You may, of course, respond to more than one question, and respond to the responses.

In addition, you might post comments exploring parallels and differences between our readings and accounts of similar current or historical events. You might reflect on questions and ideas raised in class discussion. Or you might post other kinds of comments or questions about the readings and discussions.

Your first question will be due by 6 pm Thursday 30 August on chapters XIII- XVIII of London’s The Iron Heel. Of course, you need not wait until the last minute, and might post a question about chapters VIII-XII by Tuesday 28 August, or earlier.

1. Focusing on The Iron Heel (about 4 pages/1000 words; 15 % of final grade). Draft due M 10 Sep; revision due M 17 Sept. Optional further revision (after consultations) due F 9 Nov.
2. Focusing on either It Can’t Happen Here or The Handmaid’s Tale (about 5 pages/1250 words; 20 % of final grade). Draft due W 17 Oct; revision due W 24 Oct. Optional further revision (after consultations) due F 9 Nov.
3. Focusing on one of the five novels on which you have not yet focused an essay OR comparing/contrasting two novels, on at least one of which you have not previously written an essay (about 6-7 pages/1500-1750 words; 25% of final grade). Draft due M 12 Nov; revision due W 21 Nov.
Details for the papers will be developed in the assignments.
Papers One and Two may be revised for a revised grade only if you consult both with me and with our Writing Center partner, Rachael Green.

Preparing essays
Your essays for this course should demonstrate careful, close textual analysis and an appreciation of how culture informs the thinking and writing of the time. Your papers should be an extension of your reading and our discussions. Think about the following rhetorical categories as you write your papers: purpose, readers, organization, support, English conventions (PROSE).

The purpose is to convince readers that your thesis is reasonable and worth careful attention. A thesis is an idea about a topic; it is not a fact, but an assertion that requires argumentation.

Your readers include members of this class (and potentially others who have read the texts). They know the texts, but not the line of reasoning that you will be following.

The organization of an essay should offer a clear beginning, middle, and end. The introductory paragraph establishes a problem and ends in a statement of your thesis that the body of the paper will develop. Each paragraph in the body of the essay should have one main point, supported and developed with evidence and analysis. Build from less important or complex points to more important or complex points. In the conclusion of the essay, the thesis will probably reappear in a more refined form.

When you write an analytical essay about a text, you support your thesis through careful and detailed references to the text(s). It is your job as writer not only to put before your reader the raw evidence of paraphrase or quotation, but also to explain to your reader, through reasoning and analysis, how these bits of evidence support your thesis.

You should write using the English conventions of good academic prose: you should sound like you at your best; by the time you produce your final draft you should have checked your grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice carefully.

Use MLA in-text citation style (in Hacker) to identify all quotations, paraphrases, and references to the text(s). Be sure that you provide citations for passages you refer to in paraphrase or summary so that your readers can evaluate your argument fairly. It is your ethical obligation, and a very important value in the scholarly community, to acknowledge any use of others' words and ideas. Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of another's words or ideas. Include a list of works cited at the end of your papers.

A revision should be just that: a re-vision, a re-seeing and re-thinking of the original. Do not limit your changes to points on which I or other editors have commented; such limitation will severely compromise the value of the revision.
If you wish to revise the first or second paper for a new grade that will be averaged with the original grade, you must meet with me and with the Writing Consultant for our section, Rachael Green. When you turn in the revision, paper clip it to the copy of the original essay bearing my comments. I will not accept these revisions without graded originals.
With your revision, turn in a description of your revision process and of the changes you have made (about one typed page).
Some suggestions for revision:
*Reread your essay, read my comments, and think about them. Refer where necessary to a handbook of style such as the MLA Handbook or Rules for Writers (several handbooks are available in the Writing Center). If you have any questions, come talk with me.
*In revising, start with ideas, and then consider structure and style.
*Review the text that is (or the texts that are) the subject(s) of your essay. Take fresh notes on relevant passages. What is important about the passage? What else do you notice about the text?
*Put your essay aside and do some fresh writing on your topic. Write a brief summary of your thoughts on the topic. Write a response to the topic from the perspective of someone who disagrees with you. Write about the most puzzling or difficult aspects of the text.
*Think about the ideas in the essay. Can you improve your thesis? Can you add further supporting points, or develop those you have included in the original? Can you delete or strengthen weaker points? Rewrite the essay to incorporate conceptual changes.
*Consider the structure of the essay. Make an outline, writing one complete sentence summarizing each paragraph. Can you improve on the order of the points? Can you clarify the organization by combining or dividing paragraphs? Consider the rhetoric of the essay. Are the transitions between and within paragraphs clear and effective? Revise accordingly.
*Refine the prose of the essay. Read your revised draft aloud. Does each sentence say exactly what you want it to say? Can you make the prose tighter, more active, more precise? Is there continuity, flow, from sentence to sentence?
*Remember that writing and revising are recursive processes, and you may move back and forth among these activities. For instance, reorganizing the essay may prompt you to do more fresh writing. Refining the prose may lead you to new ideas.
*Get as much feedback as you can. Take your revised essay to the Writing Center, read it to a friend, bring it to me for a consultation.

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Essays will be evaluated on the basis of
the clarity, complexity, and thoughtfulness of the thesis statement,
evidence of careful reading and analysis,
the selection and use of evidence,
clear and logical development of the thesis,
clarity and grace of prose.

Essays will be graded as follows:
A An excellent essay typically includes an outstanding thesis, thoughtful consideration of concepts and perceptive analysis of text. Detailed reading, cogent and graceful argument, vivid and sophisticated prose.
B A good essay typically includes a strong thesis and coherent argument, effective supporting attention to the text, and generally fine and clear prose with only occasional lapses in grammar. The difference between an excellent essay and a good one lies less in what is wrong with the good essay than in what is right with the excellent one.
C A satisfactory essay typically includes a thesis that is too general or simplistic, and vague readings of the text. Generally competent prose but marred by consistent grammatical or organizational errors.
D A below standard essay typically has an ill-defined or ill-supported main idea, together with serious flaws in grammar, logic, or argumentation.
F A failing essay is typically one marred by plagiarism. It may also be an essay that reveals no knowledge of the text and that is written in unidiomatic English.

Willamette University’s plagiarism policy is printed in the Catalog (c.319-321). Plagiarized papers in this section receive an F and the incident is reported to the Dean’s Office.

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Goals for writing in the CC are a subset of Willamette’s goals for your writing over four years here:

Students understand that diverse purposes call on diverse processes for writing and become flexible in choosing processes appropriate to the purpose. They recognize a variety of purposes for writing:
• as a means of learning and discovery,
• as a means of communicating what one has learned and discovered,
• as a means of expression and artistic creation.
• In CC, they learn to use writing informally to help their own reading and thinking.
• In CC, they learn to formulate and refine a thesis.

Students recognize the demands of a variety of readers and develop ways to adapt their writing to meet the needs and expectations of diverse readers. They learn to accommodate the needs of readers:
• to address readers at a level appropriate to their expertise,
• to explain their reasoning, and
• to provide transitions between sentences and other units of discourse, for example.

Students gain comfort and facility in writing in a variety of forms. They learn that organizational patterns vary with purpose, readers, and materials, that some forms are clear and relatively inflexible while others are quite loose.
In CC, they learn to organize a thesis-driven essay and to move beyond the five-paragraph theme (intro-3 points-one-paragraph-per-point, conclusion) to think in arguments and chunks of arguments.
• They may also learn to make an argument in other forms (dialogues, plays, speeches, etc.)

Students respect their readers’ expectations for evidence, explanation, and argumentation:
• they support their claims in writing with appropriate data especially drawing on primary texts;
• they employ logic and good reasoning;
• especially in writing for academic readers, they acknowledge the larger conversations to which they contribute by documenting their work.
In CC, students learn the conventions of one citation style, and understand that they may be asked to use others in other disciplines.
• In CC, students learn to signal quotations appropriately and to integrate quotations into their own sentence syntax.
• They learn to work with quotations (rather than to drop them in as proof
per se).
They learn when to quote directly, when to paraphrase, and when to refer more generally to sources.

Students write in fluent, precise, competent, English in their formal writing; when writing in a foreign language class, they learn the conventions and standards for writing in that language:
• they observe the conventions of standard edited English (or other language) in grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics;
• they begin to develop a sense of their own writing voice, or voices,
• they appreciate, or at least tolerate the variety of English prose styles,
• they identify styles that they admire,
• they match their own style to purpose and readers.

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What I hope you will gain from this course
•A curious, critical, engaged attitude as you read, write, and discuss books, works of art, historical events, ideas.
•Habits of active reading, which include
•preparing to read by predicting what you'll find in the text
•raising questions as you read (noting them, seeking answers)
•reading both sympathetically and skeptically
•taking notes both on what you read and what you think about that
•making connections between texts--and between texts and the rest of your world
•Confidence that your writing will be taken seriously, manifest in
•the use of writing to explore and track your own thinking
•the practice of writing in several drafts
•a commitment to clarity for your readers
•Willingness to participate in discussion, demonstrated by
•preparing for the day’s topics with notes, questions, comments
•taking the lead when discussion lags, waiting your turn when it’s lively
•responding to what others have introduced before changing the subject
•treating others and their ideas with respect
•offering evidence or reasoning for your statements

•An ethical commitment to the community of scholars you have joined, manifest in
•fairness to other authors whose words and views you are representing
•accurate representation of words and ideas
•precise citation and complete documentation
•fairness to your readers who expect you to present them with sound arguments
•fairness to yourself and your own ideas, trusting others when you risk honesty
•careful speaking and listening, timely reading and writing
•thoughtfulness to the persons with whom you share your quest for knowledge and truth

•Knowledge about approaching writing rhetorically that you will continue to rely on as you write in college (and beyond), analyzing PROSE:
•Purposes: What do I want to say and do with this piece of writing?
•Readers: Who are they? What background do they bring to this piece?
•Organization: What genre and organization best suit purpose and reader?
•Support: What kinds of evidence can I bring to bear in convincing readers that my point is well made? What is the reasoning that connects evidence to my point?
•English conventions: What is the appropriate level of adherence to the standards of formal, edited English? What citation style is appropriate? Level of diction?
One also reads rhetorically, analyzing purpose, intended audience, sources of evidence and support, structure, word choice and style.

•Specific applications of these rhetorical processes to composing an essay--a paper that represents your current best thinking about an idea
•Recognition that multiple drafts are generally required as you move from tentative ideas expressed for yourself to ever clearer, better supported and organized presentations for others
•Developing a thesis through drafts and from introduction to conclusion
•Incorporating words and ideas from other texts and citing them correctly
•Critical skill in proposing revision strategies to others and to yourself

Problems? Questions?
When you have questions about materials or assignments, please raise them in class--others are likely to have the same questions. When you have questions or concerns about your work, problems with the course, or suggestions for improving the class, please come see me as soon as possible. I will do my best to answer questions, resolve problems, and make use of your suggestions. Thanks.

My office is Eaton 204. I will be available for conferences MWF 10:20-12 and other times by appointment. You can reach me or my voice mail at x6389, or you can email me at fmichel<at>

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