Courses Designed to
Meet General Education Requirements
The Problem of Race in American Literature
This upper division English seminar
examines the problem of black/white
racial conflict in the United States
as it is addressed in literature from
the antebellum period to mid-twentieth
The aim of this seminar is to examine,
in their cultural and historical contexts,
a group of important works of American
literature whose primary concern is
the problem of black/white racial conflict.
We will read texts that take up the
problems of slavery and of race, examine
their representations of blackness and
whiteness, and situate them within the
historical moments that have defined
surges in writing about race up through
the modern era: the coming of the Civil
War; the failure of the Reconstruction;
and the establishment of the color line
in the doctrine of separate but equal
and its role in black/white relations
into the mid-twentieth century.
Turner/Gray, "The Confessions
of Nat Turner" (course pack)
Melville, "Benito Cereno" (course pack)
Douglass, "The Heroic Slave" (course
Twain, Puddin'head Wilson
DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
Hopkins, Contending Forces
Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition
Johnson, The Autobiography of
an Ex-Colored Man
Larsen, Quicksand and Passing
O'Neill, Emperor Jones
Faulkner, Light in August
Baldwin, Blues for Mister Charlie
and chapters 4 and 10 from Long Memory:
The Black Experience in America,
Berry & Blassingame (course pack)
Said, "The Ideology of Difference"
Appiah, "The Uncompleted Argument: DuBois
and the Illusion of
Race"Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood
Foner, Reconstruction: America's
Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
Sundquist, "Benito Cereno and
New World Slavery"
Hooks, "Sexism and the Black
Female Slave Experience"
Cooper, A Voice From the South
Wells, On Lynchings
American Constitutional Law: "Plessy
v. Ferguson," "Dred Scott v. Sandford,"
"Civil Rights Act of 1883."
Fox-Genovese, Within the Planation
Gates, Figures in Black: Words,
Signs, and `Racial' Self
Woodward, Origins of the New
South and The Strange
Career of Jim Crow
Lockyer/Eng 360 1. Each of you will
be responsible for introducing a text
or an issue during the semester. Your
presentation should be 10-15 minutes
long and be concerned primarily with
raising issues or problems in the text
you choose (from either the primary
or background texts). You should end
with 1-2 questions for the class to
deal with. You will turn in a written
summary of your findings with the question
that you pose to the class to initiate
discussion. 2. You will write three
papers on various questions that come
out of the reading. One will require
a close reading of 20-25 lines of texts;
one will be a comparison/contrast paper;
and the final paper will ask you to
incorporate secondary sources in the
exploration of a particular question.
3. Your attendance and participation
count. All papers must be typed. Late
papers will be docked. 4. The final
exam in this course is ____________________________.
1. WEEK of Aug. 28 and 30:
Introductory lecture on "race" and its
historical designations. We will read
"The Confessions of Nat Turner" and
examine the intersection of slavery
and revolution in the antebellum literary
mind and begin to look at how race and
racial conflict is represented.
2. SEPT. 4: LABOR DAY
We will continue the discussion and
add to it Melville's Benito
Cereno to explore Melville's
questions of American innocence and
guilt as they appear in his account
of an actual slave rebellion.
From Melville we will move to Frederick
Douglass' only work of fiction, "The
Heroic Slave." Based on the revolt lead
by Madison Washington aboard the slave
ship Creole, HS capitalizes
upon some of Melville's strategies for
the representation of slave revolt and
provides opening evidence for a semester-long
discussion of the rhetorical strategies
black authors employ to reach white
3. WEEK of SEPT. 11 and 13:
Mark Twain, Puddin'head Wilson:
As Reconstruction failed and legal lines
of separation reappeared, culminating
in the doctrine of "separate but equal"
announced in Plessy v. Ferguson, the
color line invaded all realities of
race relations and all forms of writing
about it. We will look at the way in
which the paradox of the Plessy
case (re. a black man who could pass
for white but who was nevertheless subject
to Jim Crow) defines the tragic farce
of Twain's novel. We will pay particular
attention to the yoking of antebellum
law and racial attitudes to the scientific
racism of the 1890s.
4. WEEK of SEPT. 18 and 21:
We will continue our discussion of the
color line and inject questions of gender,
particularly as they come up in Twain's
representation of the mulatto, Roxanne.
That will set up the beginning discussions
of Nella Larsen's novels, Quicksand
and Passing. We will also discuss
chapter 4, "Sex and Racism," to begin
discussion of the gender issues.
5. WEEK of SEPT. 25 and 27:
PAPER DUE SEPT 25
After we finish Larsen's novels, we
will read excerpts from W.E.B. DuBois'
defining work, The Souls of
Black Folk. He takes up the
general issue of racial character and
articulates an African American cultural
consciousness that is rooted in slave
culture and early black nationalism.
That consciousness reaches coherence
in the late 19th century responses to
American segregation and European colonialism.
DuBois' assertion that "the problem
of the 20th century will be the problem
of the color line" will echo throughout
the seminar. We'll do some preliminary
work with The Marrow of Tradition.
6. WEEK of OCT. 2 and 4:
Charles Chesnutt's 1901 novel, The
Marrow of Tradition, explores
the basic interdependence of racial
mythology and black and white people's
actions and attitudes. Like Twain, Chesnutt
elaborates a series of doubled characters--doubled
across both racial and class lines--in
order to explore the increasing rigidity
of the color line. His story of the
Wilmington riot echoes the anti-lynching
editorials of Ida B. Wells, as well
as her ideas about interracial sexuality.
7. WEEK of OCT. 9 and 11:
We will discuss chapter 10, "White Proscriptions
and Black Protests," to give wider context
to Chesnutt's and Twain's concerns.
If time permits, we will look at Chesnutt's
short stories, "The Goophered Grapevine"
and "The Wife of His Youth," to discuss
Chesnutt's borrowing from oral tradition
and his use of masking and other narrative
8. OCTOBER 16: FALL BREAK
In September 1900, Pauline Hopkins submitted
a prospectus of her first novel to Colored
American Magazine. In it, she
posed a rhetorical question--"Of what
use is fiction to the colored race at
the present crisis in its history?"--that
she would then take all four of her
novels to answer. Contending
Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro
Life North and South argues
that black women are as politically
capable as men are of "raising the stigma
of degradation" from black people. We
will look at the novel's extraordinary
revision of race relations during slavery
as it challenges contemporary racist
9. WEEK of OCT 23 and 25:
Finish discussion of Contending
Forces. We will also read and
discuss O'Neill's The Emperor Jones
and view the 1933 film version (Paul
Robeson in the title role) to see how
the issues of representation become
10. WEEK of OCT 30 and NOV 1:
Begin The Autobiography of an
Ex-Colored Man (1929). Both
the aesthetic tradition of masking and
the rise of race theory in the late
19th century help to define central
issues of the New Negro movement, which
originated around the turn of the century.
The novel's "white" protagonist figures
the dilemma of passing now codified
into the constitutional irony of Plessy;
at the same time, the novel offers an
ambiguous rescue of black culture.
11. WEEK of NOV 6 and 8:
We will discuss Faulkner's Light
in August it represents the
trauma of the color line from this white
writer's perspective. Faulkner's characters
are haunted by their own pasts as well
as legacies they have inherited or assumed.
His novel can be seen as one response
to James Baldwin's cry, "White man,
12. WEEK of NOV 13 and 15:
The issues of sexuality and race that
Faulkner takes on are cast in far different
lights in Glasgow's Virginia,
which is a defense of white womanhood
among other things.
13. NOV 20: We will finish Faulkner
NOV 22: THANKSGIVING BREAK.
PAPER DUE EITHER NOV 20 or NOV 27
14. WEEK of NOV 27 and 29:
We will begin discussion of James Baldwin's
Blues for Mister Charlie
by referring again to Ida B. Wells'
On Lynching and the
story of Emmett Till.
15. WEEK of DEC 4 and 6:
Reserved for discussions about all the
texts. Rather than finalize answers
to the questions they raise, we will
articulate as a class the questions
and issues that persist for us in the
closing decade of the century DuBois
predicted would be haunted by the problem
of the color line.
16. WEEK of DEC 11 and 13:
FINAL PAPER DUE DEC 13.
Reserved for catch-up and work on final
papers. Class will be held in any event.