From Damsels in Distress to Dragon Slayers: Strong Female Characters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
What do Anne of Green Gables, Susan Pevensie, and Katniss Everdeen have in common? Each represents a stage in the development of the
strong female character in children’s and young adult literature. But what makes bow-wielding Susan Pevensie—ultimately barred from the magical land of Narnia for liking lipstick, nylons, and parties a little too much—so different from her more contemporary counterpart Katniss, the archer of Hunger Games fame? What, exactly, makes a female character strong? And what do those judgments tell us about the cultures in which they first appear? In this class, we will investigate a number of depictions of female characters in children’s and young adult literature as we try to answer these questions.
As we follow the progression of the strong female character, we will read a number of texts from children’s and young adult literature in a variety of genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Potential texts include: Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L.M. Montgomery, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) by C.S. Lewis, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1978) by Elizabeth George Speare, Alanna: The First Adventure (1983) by Tamora Pierce, The Hero and the Crown (1987) by Robin McKinley, Ella Enchanted (1998) by Gail Carson Levine, Coraline (2006) by Neil Gaiman, The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins, Ash by Malinda Lo (2009), Nimona (2015) by Noelle Steverson, The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas, and Jane, Unlimited (2017) by Kristin Cashore.
Assignments may include an in-class presentation, short reading responses, a creative assignment, and three analysis papers. With each assignment, students will use close reading and analytical skills to develop critical arguments and engage with the class theme.
Essays on Embodiment in Contemporary American Culture
We lead corporeal lives, often without questioning its implications. That is, unless we are exposed to the biological, social, or cultural discomforts of having a body. Experiences such as disability, aging, illness, harassment, and discrimination significantly heighten our awareness of embodiment and invite inquiries of a more intellectual kind. Less so does the quotidian business of physically maintaining, materially investing in, and fashionably
dressing the body, which seems rather to engage and excite the popular imagination. This course on one of the most versatile genres of writing —the essay —challenges the artificial divide between scholarly and mainstream spheres of culture, by offering a promiscuous look into various dimensions of our (post)modern somatic condition. It explores the formal possibilities of the essay on the one hand and pays homage to the unique voices that animate the genre, on the other.
That the essay celebrates the subjective experience or perspective of an individual, as well as privileges it over factual, scientific knowledge, is crucial to our course’s hybrid approach toward embodiment. Thus, Nora Ephron’s humorously self-deprecating essay,
A Few Words About Breasts: Shaping Up Absurd, finds its place on our syllabus alongside more somber pieces by Susan Sontag, Richard Selzer, and Barbara Ehrenreich (
Illness as Metaphor,
The Specimen Collector, and
Welcome to Cancerland, respectively). The course proposes to shine an equally pluralistic light on grave issues such as race, gender, and disability. By dwelling as much on the pleasures and pride that essayists enjoy through representing these bodily orientations—as well as the challenges these essayists faced — we will develop a more diverse and nuanced grasp of both
techniques of embodiment and the modern American essay itself.
You will compose: 2 reading reports of 500 words; 1 close-reading and 1 comparative analysis essay — each 1,500 words; 1 personal essay of 1,000 words; and an informal podcast of 1,000 words. In addition to the essays mentioned above, the tentative reading list includes the following:
Zora Neale Hurston —
How It Feels to be Colored Me; Thomas Chatterton Williams —
Black and Blue and Blond; Wesley Morris —
Last Taboo; Laura Kipnis —
Sexual Paranoia; James Thurber —
Sex Ex Machina; Nancy Mairs —
On Not Liking Sex; Diane Johnson —
Rape; Eliese Colette Goldbach —
White Horse; Randolphe Bourne —
The Handicapped; Judy Foreman —
Handicapped; Nancy Mairs —
On Being a Cripple; Lewis Thomas —
The Lives of a Cell; Jordan Kisner —
Thin Places; Richard Selzer —
The Specimen Collector; Phyllis Rose —
Tools of Torture: An Essay on Beauty and Pain; Alison Lurie —
Clothing as a Sign System; and an excerpt from Naomi Wolf’s
The Beauty Myth.
Crossing Color Lines
While many see America as the land of opportunity and a
melting pot, the United States has a long and complicated relationship with race, identity, and culture. We cannot deny that the cultural wealth of America is what truly makes it the great country it is. While recognizing diverse cultural makeup, we must also acknowledge the fact that the term
melting pot is its own form of erasure, rooted in attempts to wipe out cultures and identities not seen as traditionally
American. Too often, those who do not fit squarely into the status quo are forced to conform and
melt in. So what happens when cultural and racial lines are crossed? That is what this class seeks to analyze.
Racial identification and passing have once again become important topics in American identity politics. Consider the recent outing of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who pretended to be black in order to head the Spokane, Washington, NAACP. Consider the idea of
transracial identity, originally defined as the identity of those adopted interracially, which has morphed into those who claim to believe they were born the wrong race. This course will seek to explore the limitations of crossing the
color line, and what when happens people attempt to pass as another race. Looking at novels such as Passing by Nella Larson and Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins, movies including Imitation of Life, as well as slavery/reconstruction era documents with laws regarding race mixture/identification, we will explore what it means to ascribe to the social construct of race/culture—and where that subscription fails. We will also examine how, though a social construct, race still shapes the lives of every American citizen. Essentially, this course will examine literature that exposes the volatility of racial identification from the era of Darwinism to the present day. Writing assignments for this class will include a family tree assignment, a short critical analysis essay, a short personal essay, a creative mid-term, and a final presentation with conference length paper.
American Empire and Territories
This course will focus on an important theme in the study of American literature and culture: empire. Many critics and citizens have argued that the United States of America is an inherently anti-imperial nation; however, this ignores the multitude of colonial enterprises and imperialistic tendencies of the U.S. Despite the nation’s decision to back independence-minded colonies of Spain in the Spanish-American War, it subsequently took over colonial authority for the Philippines, ignoring the budding First Philippine Republic. While the founding fathers were resisting British colonial tyranny, American colonists were actively attempting to replace the indigenous population and
settle tribal lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. The U.S. still maintains sixteen territories throughout the world, most of which are unincorporated territories where the U.S. constitution only applies partially. This class will focus on how the ideas of imperialism and anti-imperialism intersect in American literature, and how the voices of those colonized by the U.S. have greatly impacted, changed, and shaped American literature as a whole.
Our texts will be a mix of novels, short stories, poetry, nonfiction, and we will look at texts that reinforce, respond to and resist American imperialism. This will include writers from the U.S. and both current and former U.S. territories.
Because this is primarily a composition course, students will be completing two short critical analysis papers over the first half of the semester. They will also produce one longer critical analysis paper with research (1-2 outside sources) that will be due near the two-thirds point in the semester. Finally, for their final assignment, they will produce a creative project of some kind (This could be a song, an art project, a movie, a digital project, a database system, etc. The choices are limitless!) and submit a short paper presenting their methodology and the major themes they were addressing.
Writing about Literary Genre Fiction
This course will involve analyzing and writing critically on how 21st-century fiction increasingly blends the boundaries between two modes of fiction. The first is literary fiction — fiction set in naturalistic settings and preoccupied with interiority and character psychology. The second is genre fiction, which is often plot-heavy and reliant on tropes that push or ignore the boundaries of realism (such as in science fiction, fantasy, and crime fiction). The efforts of authors such as Gillian Flynn, China Miéville, David Mitchell, and Kazuo Ishiguro to mix and deconstruct the division between these two modes has been met with equal parts critical acclaim and alarm. At the same time,sec self-proclaimed genre fiction writers are more popular than ever. By reading works by both groups of authors and engaging in the divisive critical discourse around them, you will come to understand how the novel as a form is hearkening back to its 19th-century roots, when the division between
literary fiction was more malleable. You will also come to recognize how literary genre fiction is continuing to build on the formal innovations introduced by the 20th-century modernists.
You will hone your critical writing skills by making your own contributions to the critical dialogue around the narrowing literary/genre divide. These contributions will include five short critical responses, a creative piece written in a
literary genre style, and a two-part review of one of the novels on the reading list. The course will conclude with an extended analytical research essay. You will prepare for these assignments through a series of workshops addressing different aspects of the writing process, including thesis statements, topic sentences, paragraph structure, and engaging with secondary sources.
Possible texts include:
- The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
- Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
- The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The City in the City, by China Miéville
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
- The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
Secondary Worlds and (Imaginary) Travel Narratives
Traveling holds a complicated and tense position in society — people travel for pleasure and work, to escape persecution, to conquer new lands, to obey oppressive regimes and captors. But traveling is not limited to the reaches of the world as we know it. In this course we will be exploring travel to secondary worlds — the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Why do people write about travel to places that don’t exist? Is there a difference between a fantastic travel narrative and a realistic travel narrative–and does that difference matter? Does secondary world travel exist outside of fiction, and should we go to these places? And, most importantly, what is a primary world and what is a secondary world?
Our texts will focus on traveling from the primary world to secondary worlds, to different versions of the primary world, and to imaginary places that are part of the primary world. By thinking about these three different kinds of travel, we will think about colonialism and imperialism (what happens when we go to a new world), identity politics (how we interact with the inhabitants of these new world), and the political stakes of inventing new world (why do we need to create the final frontier). Of equal importance will be logistics and modes of travel: what are the modes of traveling, how we make them, and how we get to secondary worlds.
Writing assignments will include two literary/film analyses of one of the secondary world travel texts, an argumentative position paper on the function of secondary worlds, an argumentative paper on the existence of secondary worlds, and a travelogue creative assignment.
Readings for this course will include a few primary world travel narratives (Wild, Sidetracked.com, The Great Railway Bazaar), but will focus on secondary world travel narratives. Texts might include:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (or films)
- Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
- Wizard of Oz (film)
- The Martian by Andy Weir (or film)
- Firefly & Serenity (TV show and film)
- Fringe (TV show)
A Sound of Thunderby Ray Bradbury
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
- Interstellar (film)
- 11.22.63 by Stephen King (or TV show)
- Stranger Things (TV show)
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman (or film)
- Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
- Writing/research on space travel, multiverse theory, alternate dimensions, parallel universes, and time travel
Writing About Pictures
Writing About Pictures would introduce students to longstanding debates about the visual, particularly the supposed power of images to compel, entrance, and, at times, control. With primary and secondary texts ranging from classic art criticism to visual rhetoric, and writing exercises from traditional argumentative essays to curatorial text in a digital museum
exhibit, students will situate their engagement with images in public spheres.
Often, discussions about images repeat the canard that we live in an ‘increasingly visual culture’ without seriously considering the historiesof the visual criticism which came before the digital turn. This class will proceed from the assumption that students are neither experienced artcritics versed in the commercial/cultural language of ‘high art,’ nor naïve viewers, uncritically adopting the values they are shown in advertisements, but rather sophisticated users of various image/text literacies as part of their day to day lives.
Students will be asked to read excerpts from texts like WJT Mitchell’s What Do Pictures Want, Susan Sontag’s On Photography, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and classic art critical works like those of Clement Greenberg, as well as contemporary art writing for popular sites like Hyperallergic, Judith Williamson’s Consuming Passions and Rose Gillian’s anthropological approach to contemporary image circulation. The course will focus on painting and photography, with some attention to the use of photography in advertising and digital images.
Students will produce three major types of written assignments — first, a
standard academic argumentative essay in the claim-evidence analysis model responding to ideas discussed in the course. Second, students will write a piece of art criticism, drawing on examples we will read in class as well as a visit to UF’s Harn Museum of Art. Finally, students will be asked to consider themselves as mediators of the image sphere when they write captions and explanatory texts for a class-wide collaboration on a
museum on an image-subject of the class’s choosing, to be hosted online. This curatorial and explicatory work will be accompanied by individual research essays on the image or images the student has selected for the class’s museum.
Writing about School and School Culture
There’s nothing so mischievous as these school distinctions, which jumble up right and wrong, a good old mentor advised to Tom in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. This jumbled-up space attracted more school stories (and readers) afterwards. Since the school story started with a mission to promote the elite boarding school culture in the mid-19th century, its scope has expanded as the genre diversified. As a realistic yet romantic setting for fictive works, this educational space has accommodated various genres within it: including mystery (13 Reasons Why), fantasy (the Harry Potter novels), and political tension (Dear White People).
This sequestered space has allowed adolescent characters to create a quasi-society by half mimicking and half rejecting the rules of the adult world. We will ask how these depictions have changed, and which specific roles this genre has served. What was the relationship between school stories and the depicted societies at key moments in history? Who were the assumed readers of school stories, especially when the genre was classified according to each class-specific, single-sex boarding school? What kinds of readership and affiliations did this genre intend to build?
This course asks students to explore depictions of school in literature as a conventionalized as well as historically contingent setting, one that awaits own deconstruction by the young characters within. While interrogating diverse portrayals of different schools and school heroes, students are also encouraged to think about the cultural ideologies of liberal education, adolescence, bildungsroman, and nostalgia.
The reading list may include:
- Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857)
- Ruyard Kipling, Stalky & Co. (1899)
- Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess (1905)
- Elsie J. Oxenham, Girls of the Hamlet Club (1914)
- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
- Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005)
- Tarell Alvin, Choir Boy (2012)
The course’s writing assignments include analytical and argumentative writing (short reading responses, a close reading analysis, and a researched argument) as well as creative writing (reflection essays and short fiction/memoir writing).
Giant Monsters and Mega Mechs: The Monstrous in Media
From the ancient epic Beowulf to 2018’s Pacific Rim Uprising, writers have used giant creatures to shock, terrify, and awe their audiences. But what is it about the gigantic that we find so alluring and terrifying? Why do we keep returning to these larger-than-life figures? This course will survey historical and contemporary narratives about giant monsters across media forms, including prose, poetry, film, animation, and comics. Pairing primary texts with historical sources and theoretical perspectives on the monstrous, horror, and science fiction, we’ll discuss the social commentary inherent in giant monster/robot narrative–and some of the global impact these stories have.
Over the course of the semester, we’ll cover a variety of pieces, including, but not limited to: Beowulf (apx 975);
Jabberwocky (1871) by Lewis Carroll; The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells; King Kong (1933); Godzilla (1954); The Iron Man: A Children’s Story in Five Nights (1968) by Ted Hughes; Mobile Suit Gundam (1981); X-men: Days of Future Past (1989) written by Chris Claremont, illustrated by John Byrne; The Iron Giant (1999); Neon Genesis Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone (2007); Attack on Titan (2009/2013) by Hajime Isayama; Kaijumax (2015) by Zander Cannon; Monstress (2015) written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda; Shin Godzilla (2016); and Borne (2017) by Jeff VanderMeer.
Writing assignments will include multiple discussion posts throughout the semester, an in-class presentation, project prospectus, and a critical analysis paper. Students will use their close reading and analytical skills in the development of their discussions and assignments. Previous experience with film, comics, or Japanese media & culture are not required.
Writing about Migration
Narratives about migration form an important part of contemporary literature, since people are often required to leave their homes in large numbers, and often. Such migration is often the result of increased job opportunities in other nations; it sometimes involves journeys undertaken as representatives of the state (as in the cases of soldiers and diplomats). This course looks at fictional and autobiographical narratives of people’s movement across nations and continents, and the cultural contact and conflict that ensues. Relating experiences of migration is a means of critiquing the forces that cause it, but it is also a way in which writers and communities come to terms with altered life circumstances. The period of transit, the creation of a new individual residence and collective enclaves, is topical given the increased movement of workers due to globalization. While economic concerns necessitate migration, the effects are often cultural and negotiated through cultural productions such as literature, music and film.
Over the course of the semester, we will look at works that emerge from such interactions and the role played by writing in shaping individual and collective responses. The works that we will discuss include the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North
- Achebe, Chinua. No Longer at Ease
- Smith, Zadie. White Teeth
- O’Brien, Tim.
The Things they Carried
- Walcott, Derek.
The Sea is History
- Rushdie, Salman.
Writing assignments will include response papers, a close reading exercise, and two research papers.