ENGL/AES 357:  Ethnicity & Race in American Literature
Fall 2007: The Novel of Passing

ETN 108
MWF 9:10-10:10

This course will identify and analyze central themes and salient structural features of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American novels treating “the problem of the color line.”  Questions of knowledge and narration; doubling or splitting; vision and desire; identity, authenticity, and community recur in these works, and will be among those to emerge in our discussions of texts.  We will also explore some of the mid-twentieth-century postcolonial theory of Frantz Fanon, and will consider the extent to which such theory may illuminate US works on racial passing. Finally, we will examine changes wrought by bringing the tropes of passing into the later twentieth century.

Requirements Texts and Links Schedule
Frann Michel
Eaton 204
MWF 10:20-12,
and other times by appointment

Course requirements

Participation: 20%
Discussion Questions: 20%
Oral Report and short paper (due F 9/14):  10%
First essay, 6-8 pp. (due 10/22; draft due 10/15) on Fanon and (Twain or Johnson or Larsen): 20%
Second essay, 8-10 pp (due 12/7, draft due 12/3) focusing on one of the novels on which you have not previously written an essay, and drawing on your accumulated knowledge and insight: 30%


Short texts on electronic reserve at Hatfield Library:
Angela Davis, “Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist” from Women, Race, and Class
WEB DuBois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from The Souls of Black Folk
Langston Hughes, “Passing” from The Ways of White Folks

Texts ordered at Willamette bookstore:
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
William Faulkner, Light in August
Jessie Fauset, Plum Bun
James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Nella Larsen, Passing
Danzy Senna, Caucasia
Mark Twain, Puddn’head Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins (Norton Critical Edition)

Writing Guidelines

Hatfield Library

African-American Studies Resources at Voice of the Shuttle
Resources on Pudd'nhead Wilson
Page on Fanon
Penguin Guide to Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Harlem Renaissance links
Nella Larsen Page at Voices from the Gaps
Brief biography and links on Jesse Fauset
William Faulkner on the Web
Penguin Guide to Caucasia


Tentative schedule of readings and assignments

W 8/29 Introductions
F 8/31 W.E.B. DuBois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”; Langston Hughes, “Passing”

M 9/3 Labor Day
W 9/5 Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, “A Whisper to the Reader” - Chapter 11
F 9/7 Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Chapter 12-Conclusion

M 9/10 Twain, Those Extraordinary Twins
W 9/12 Twain, continued discussion
F 9/14 Oral Reports on Essays from the Norton Critical Edition (& 2-3 pp paper)

M 9/17 Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Preface-Chapter IV
W 9/19 Johnson, Chapters V-IX
F 9/21 Johnson, Chapters X-XI

M 9/24 Fanon, Black Skin,White Masks, Introduction & Chapter One
W 9/ 26 Fanon, Chapters 2-3
F 9/ 28 Fanon, Chapters 4-5

M 10/1 Fanon, Chapters 6-7
W 10/3 Fanon, Chapter 8; Davis, “Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist”
F 10/5 Larsen, Passing, Part One: Encounter

M 10/8 Larsen, Part Two: Re-Encounter
W 10/10 Larsen, Part Three: Finale
F 10/12 Larsen, continued discussion

M 10/15 Draft due: 6-8 pages on Fanon and (Twain or Johnson or Larsen)
W 10/17 Fauset, Plum Bun, Home
F 10/19 Midsemester Day

M 10/22 First essay due, 6-8 pp; Fauset, Market
W 10/24 Fauset, Plum Bun
F 10/26 Fauset, Home Again

M 10/29 Fauset, Market is Done

F 11/2 Faulkner, Light in August, Chapters 1-4

M 11/ 5 Faulkner, Chapters 5-8
W 11/7 Faulkner, Chapters 9-13
F 11/9 Faulkner, Chapters 14-17

M 11/12 Faulkner, Chapters 18-21
W 11/14 Senna, Caucasia, pages 1-61
F 11/16 Senna,  62-131

M 11/19 Senna, 135-208
W 11/21 continued discussion
F 11/23 Thanksgiving Vacation

M 11/26 Senna, 209-289
W 11/28 Senna, 293-374
F 11/30 Senna, 375-413; optional revision of first essay due

M 12/3 Draft of final essay due
W 12/5 continued discussion
F  12/7 last day of classes; last essay due (8-10 pp)

Course requirements


Evaluation of your participation includes the following:

Attendance: you must be both physically and mentally present in order to participate. Please come to each class on time, fully prepared. If you miss a class, please turn in 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.

: 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.

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.

: 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.


Discussion Questions

For most class meetings, you are required to write down a discussion question. Discussion questions have multiple aims: they should demonstrate to me that you are doing the reading (so we don't need exams or quizzes), and they should provide you with an opportunity to reflect upon the assignment.

A discussion question is one that cannot be answered simply by looking the answer up somewhere, one that does not have an obvious answer, but that 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. In about half a page (150 words), explain what prompted the question, what thinking went into arriving at the question, what possible answers (if any) have been considered, and why those answers are unsatisfactory. Try to frame the question itself in one brief interrogative sentence.

Discussion questions must be typed, are due at the beginning of class and will not be accepted late.

Discussion groups will have about three members; membership will rotate. Group process will be as follows:
1. Group members sit in a circle.
2. Each group member in turn shares her or his question. Those listening may wish to take notes.
3. When each question has been presented, group members begin responding to the questions that have been presented. This may entail brainstorming, finding and examining relevant passages in the text.
4. Discussion continues on whichever questions seem most fruitful; that is, whichever group members have the most to say about or disagree most about.
5. The group decides on one question to share with the rest of the class.
6. The group decides on a speaker for the group. The role of speaker should rotate.
7. The speaker will report the question and summarize the gist of the group's discussion of it.


Oral Report and short paper

For 9/14, each student will report on one of the critical essays in the Norton Edition of Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins. For the oral report (5-10 minutes) and the paper (2-3 pages), summarize the main lines of the critical essay’s argument for the benefit of your classmates who have not read it.  Note any features of the essay that seem potentially useful for reading other works—these may be reading strategies, theoretical paradigms, or other aspects of the text. Note, too, the limitations, as well as the value, of the essay.


First essay
, 6-8 pp.

For 10/15, bring to class multiple copies of a complete draft of an essay analyzing one of the first three novels we will read (by Twain, Johnson, and Larsen) in relation to some aspect of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. This will entail explicating the relevant aspect of Fanon’s work before relating it to the novel.  The relation between the two texts might be one in which Fanon’s theory illuminates aspects of the novel, or in which the novel illuminates the limitations of Fanon’s theory, or some combination.  The revised draft is due 10/22. Optional further revision due 11/30.


Second essay
, 8-10 pp.

For 12/3, bring to class multiple copies of a complete draft focusing on one of the novels on which you have not previously written an essay, and drawing on your accumulated knowledge and insight.  You may, additionally, draw on Black Skin, White Masks, or on other course materials. The essay should, of course, engage with concerns raised by our readings and discussions thoughout the term. Revised draft due 12/7.

My office hours are listed at the beginning of this syllabus. Some weeks, I may need to reschedule some hours. I will post temporary changes on my office door. Most weeks, I will have a sign-up sheet on my office door for scheduling appointments. I will be happy to meet with you individually to go over drafts or discuss your ideas for a paper. If you cannot meet with me at any of the scheduled times, contact me after class or by phone or email to set up an appointment at another time.

When you have questions about materials or assignments, please raise them in class--others may have the same questions. When you have questions or concerns about your work, or suggestions for improving the class, please come see me as soon as possible. I can answer questions, resolve problems, and make use of suggestions only if I know about them.