online syllabus:


electronic reserves:

password (300)

class handouts:



sections one, two, & three


English 300W: Writing about Literature

Fall 2008

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office Phone: 487-0147

Office Location: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G

Office Hours: Monday 2:00-3:30 & 7:40-9:20 PM

Wednesday 2:00-3:30 & 9:10-9:30 PM

~ email for appointments ~

REGISTRATION # 18052; Section #008
Wednesday 6:30-9:10 Pm
Pray-Harrold Hall 306


English 300W: Writing about Literature

Course Description: ENGL 300W is a gateway class that provides the foundation in literature and literary theory that enables you to appreciate, understand, and succeed in upper-division English classes.  Over the course of the semester, you will survey the most important critical theories that students have used to interpret literature (such as feminism, marxism, or cultural studies), focusing on three main literary genres in turn: fiction, poetry, and drama.  In the process, you will hone your writing and research skills, fine tuning those techniques that most assist in and apply to the study of literature.  The ultimate aim is to offer a hand’s-on workshop in which to practice and strengthen your literary skills, from the essential how-to’s of close reading and textual analysis to the verbal and written communication of the many discoveries that result in writing.

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you be better able to

·         Craft unique interpretations of literary works--and, hopefully, of life itself--by exploring new avenues of thought in class, asking challenging questions of yourself, your peers, and the text, and sharing the upshot of these investigations in writing;

·         Use techniques like in-depth analysis, interactive discussion, and outside research to enhance your enjoyment and comprehension of literature;

·         Recognize the formal and thematic concerns of the principal literary genres, as well as the significance of literary devices found within them (e.g. imagery or symbolism); 

·         Understand, and employ independently on your own, the major concepts and strategies of contemporary literary theory;

·         Engage with the community of literary critics and the larger public by making clear, coherent, and persuasive arguments about literary works in essays reflecting the basic conventions of criticism. 

General Education Rationale: The goals of ENGL 300W meet the outcomes for Writing Intensive courses in the Literature major and the Language, Literature, and Writing major very specifically.  The primary goals of the course are threefold: to have students learn and practice the primary forms of writing employed by professional scholars of English literature, to teach them methods of literary research, and to introduce them to the rich diversity of theoretical approaches to literary criticism early in their studies for the major.

Course Books and Materials

The following books are available at the EMU Bookstore in the Student Center.  If you order them online, make sure to get the same editions by double checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for the book:

How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies.  Ed. Robert Dale Parker. (Oxford University Press, 2008; ISBN 0195334701)

Writing about Literature.  Brief 11th edition.  Ed. Edgar V. Roberts
(Prentice Hall, 2005; 0131540564)

The remaining texts can be found online and then printed in the campus computer labs for free.  See the Electronic Reserves (ER):, password 300.  **Make sure to bring a copy of each text that we cover in class, whether found in the ER or in an actual book.  You will need everything on hand for groupwork and class discussion.

Course Itinerary

For the most part, each section is devoted to two literary works, two types of critical theory, and two writing skills of especial importance.  An essay on one of the literary works of your choice (and incorporating quotes from two theorists of your choice) will be due after the first two sections.  The third section culminates with the research essay, an essay that serves in lieu of a final exam and thus demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of the skills covered during the term. 

Section One:

Psychoanalysis & Feminism

 (Fiction Case Study)

Literary Works:

Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark”

Angela Carter, “The Bloody Chamber”


Sigmund Freud

Adrienne Rich

Naomi Wolf & John Berger

Key Skills:

Formal Awareness & Analysis, Effective Argument

Section Two:

Marxism & Deconstruction

 (Poetry Case Study)

Literary Works:

Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess”

Marge Piercy, “Secretary Chant”

Langston Hughes, “Mulatto”


Karl Marx

Roland Barthes

bell hooks

Key Skills:

Close Reading, Supporting Detail & Quotation

Section Three:

Postcolonial, Queer,
& Cultural Studies

(Drama Case Study)

Literary Works:

Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer


Edward Said

Judith Butler

Franz Fanon

Key Skills:

Historical Context, Research & Documentation

Assignments & Assessment

Nothing is more vital for success in this course than keeping up with the assignments due each week.  Being prepared to discuss the reading in class, if only in small groups, is mandatory.  If an emergency prevents you from doing the homework, it is better not to come to class at all since you will get little from the lecture and discussion and interfere with the learning of other students.  A brief, straight-forward quiz may be given at the beginning of the period to encourage you to come on time and come prepared.

The Essay Requirements handout describes each of the essays in detail (/req.htm), as well as the extra-credit opportunities available to supplement your learning.  (Extra credit is an ideal way to get your grade back on track if you ever fall behind.)  The Guidelines on the Research Essay, posted towards the end of the semester, gives further detail about the final essay (/guide.htm).

Assessment Weights:


Participation: Homework, Responses, & Quizzes

minimum length:

due dates:


 Essay One (Fiction): On the Carter or Hawthorne story

4 pgs.

October 17
(11 PM)


 Essay Two (Poetry): On the Browning, Piercy, or Hughes poem

4 pgs.

November 14
(11 PM)


 Essay Three (Drama): On  the Tennessee Williams play

4½ pgs.

December 18
(12 PM)

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns in person or by phone during my office hours, as well as through email.  Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my phone is dysfunctional at best.  Emails with straight-forward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with more complicated questions usually receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit your email inquiries to those which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries the attention which they deserve.  For example, if you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts, or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then consult me only if that confusion persists. 

The first time that you visit my office hours in person with a course-related inquiry (e.g. to get help with the homework, to discuss the reading that we have lately covered, or to brainstorm essay ideas), I will give you extra credit for the visit. 

Campus Safety

Please sign up for the emergency text-messaging system ( so that DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the class.  Also consider availing yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).


Because this class primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial.  You never need to explain your absences, as I always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class.  However, if you have more than 3 absences, you no longer will be able to pass the class, and if you have more than 2 absences, your final grade will start being reduced by a full mark.  That is, the 3rd absence turns a final grade of A into a B, and the 4th turns it into an E.

Reserve the allowable absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that prevent you from coming to campus and make sure not to exhaust these absences too early in the term.  When you are absent, contact the students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  Do not contact me to get your absence excused.  All absences up to the third are automatically excused, and the missed homework is simply due on your return.  Any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, attendance, instructions, clarifications of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is important to come on time.  Try to arrive early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  When you are late, make sure to mark yourself present on the attendance sheet.  Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through one each count as half an absence.  Extreme or habitual lateness can result in absences as well.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers in class, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself.  Once class begins, do not distract your peers by text messaging, playing computer games, or packing up books before the period is finished.  Instead of disturbing nearby students with half-whispered inquires, raise your hand and bring them to the attention of class, especially since many students will have the same questions anyway. 

Most importantly, do not walk in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency.  If you have a medical condition requiring you to exit from time to time, bring a formal doctor’s note affirming as such; otherwise, stay in the room for the duration of the period and reserve personal business for the break midway through the class.  If you must leave prematurely, do not interrupt class yet again by coming back.  These disruptive exits can be both mental and physical; for example, students discovered using laptops for purposes unrelated to the course will be asked to leave and marked absent.

Academic Integrity

Fundamental to any college course is the free expression of thought, which requires not only learning the subject at hand, but being able to make independent judgments about it.  Understanding and avoiding plagiarism, and doing all of the course work on your own, is therefore imperative.  Copying the assignments of peers, having parents or roommates do your homework, taking credit for essays which you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to college; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind. 

Plagiarism, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  It does not matter whether you are drawing on Wikipedia for mundane information or channeling the most holy of books for heavenly inspiration, you must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts or expressions of other people under any circumstances.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to state as such (So and so says X ... ); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (So and so says, “X”).  Writing that lacks such acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source. 

Any cheating, plagiarism, or other academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; any second instance will result in an outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy. 


Section I: Psychoanalytic and Feminist Criticism (Fiction Case Study)

September 3: Survey of Course; Student Introductions; Conjectural Response/Homework: 1] Get books and review syllabus, noting down any questions you still have; 2] Read How to Interpret [HL], pg. 9-20 and 40-51, and Writing about Literature [WL], pg. 1-15 (skim 5-12); 3] Print, read, and annotate “The Birthmark” in the Electronic Reserves [ER],, password 300; 4] Make sure to bring the Hawthorne story and Writing about Literature to class.

September 10: Discuss Hawthorne & Formalism, Workshop Elements of Fiction/Homework: 1] Finish “Structuralism” (HL 51-61) ; 2] Read “Writing Essays” (WL 16-23) and Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” (ER 7-41); 3] Write a 2-paragraph response focusing on different aspects of the Carter story depending on your group number: character (Group 1), plot (Group 2), setting (Group 3), point of view (Group 4), and theme (Group 5); 4] For pointers, consult the writing book (WL 64+, 93+, 77+, 109+, or 119+); if you cannot remember your group assignment, see the handout online (/groups.htm).

September 17: Discuss Carter, Structuralism, and Responses/Homework: 1] Read Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers” [ER 1-6] and Adrienne Rich, “When We Dead” (ER 1-6); 2] Begin “Psychoanalysis” and “Feminism” (HL 101-16, 136-49); 3] Write down two copies of a discussion question for your peers to consider in class (see examples in “The Birthmark”), with that question (or set of questions) focusing on different topics depending on your group number: psychological aspects of the Hawthorne story (Group 1); the same aspects in the Carter story (Group 2); gender dynamics in the Hawthorne story (Group 3); the same dynamics in the Carter story (Group 4), or a combination of psychological and gender issues in either story (Group 5).

September 24: Discuss Psychoanalysis & Feminism, Groupwork Questions/Homework: 1] Finish “Psychoanalysis” and “Feminism” (HL 116-26, 152-61); 2] If you are in Groups 1-3, read Naomi Wolf, “The Beauty Myth” (ER 179-87); if you are in Groups 4-5, read John Berger, “Ways of Seeing” (ER 97-105); 3] All groups read “Assembling Materials” (WL 24-34) and then email an outline for Essay One by 11PM on 9/29 to acoykenda at, including the title, introduction, thesis statement, 3-4 topic sentences, and a list of supporting details (or quotes) for at least 1 body paragraph (see guidelines online /req.htm).

October 1: Discuss Feminism, Psychoanalysis, & Outlines/Homework: 1] Read “Use of References” and “Close Reading” (WL 34-38, 53-5, 59-1); 2] Open and review the Sample Essay file (/samp.doc or, if necessary, /samp.rtf), save it under a new name on your own disk, and then use it to write a draft of Essay One, deleting the existing words (including the header) and inserting the information appropriate for your essay; 3] Complete the draft to the point where your have at least 4 complete paragraphs, including a revised introduction (with a solid thesis) and quotes (properly formatted) from 2 theorists (Freud, Rich, Berger, or Wolf); 4] Email the draft to acoykenda at by class time and bring TWO copies to class for peer editing (anonymously if you prefer).

Section II: Marxism and Deconstruction (Poetry Case Study)

October 8: Capstone of Section, Peer Editing, Watch Zizek!/Homework: 1] Complete Essay One, 4 pgs., and email it as an attachment by 11 PM Oct. 17 to acoykenda at; 2] Read about marxism (HL 187-205), as well as imagery, metaphor, and simile (ER 129-44); 3] Read abridged “Meaning of Human Requirements” (ER 93-97), paying close attention to images and other poetic figures that Karl Marx uses.

October 15: Discuss Marxism, Workshop Poetry & Poetic Devices/Homework: 1] Read about deconstruction (HL 77-89, 92-100), as well as symbolism and allegory (WL 129-37); 2] Read Roland Barthes, “Reality Effect” (ER 135-41); 3] Read the Section Two Poems (ER 1-4) and then write a 2-paragraph response on a poem of your choice, using a marxist approach if you are in Groups 1-2 and a deconstructive approach if you are in Groups 3-5.

October 22: Discuss Responses, Deconstruction, & the film Derrida /Homework: 1] Read bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness” (ER 2478-84); 2] Read about prosody, though without getting mired in detail (ER 182-200); 3] Re-Read Section Two Poems (ER 1-4); 4] Email an outline for Essay Two by 11PM Sunday to acoykenda at, including a title, introduction, thesis statement, 3-4 topic sentences, and a list of supporting details or quotes for at least one body paragraph (see /req.htm for essay guidelines).

October 29: Discuss hooks, Essays, & Poetry/Homework: 1] Begin Tennessee Williams, Suddenly, Last Summer (9-30), as well as “Historicism and Cultural Studies” (HL 218-26); 2] Adapting the Sample Essay file from before (/samp.doc), complete a draft of Essay Two to the point where your have at least 4 complete paragraphs (including a revised introduction with a solid thesis), as well as quotes (properly formatted) from 2 theorists (Marx, Barthes, or hooks); 3] Email the draft to acoykenda at by class time, bringing TWO additional copies to class for peer editing (anonymously if you prefer).

Section III: Post-Colonial, Queer, and Cultural Studies (Drama Case Study)

November 5: Section Capstone, Peer Editing, Discuss Suddenly, Last Summer/Homework: 1] Complete Essay Two, 4 pgs., and email it as a properly formatted attachment to acoykenda at by 11 PM on Nov. 14; 2] Read abridged version of Edward Said, “Imagined Geography” (ER 1-4); 3] Continue Suddenly, Last Summer (31-52).

November 12: Discuss Williams & Said/Homework: 1] Read “Postcolonial and Race Studies” (HL 240-62); 2] Read abridged version of Franz Fanon, “Fact of Blackness” (ER 323-6); 3] Review the handouts on the Research Essay (/guide.htm) and Researching Literature (/demo.htm); 4] Continue Suddenly, Last Summer (53-74); 5] Optional: Read “Writing about Film” (ER 243-53).

November 19: Meet in the Library for the Research Demo/Homework: 1] Read “Postcolonial and Race Studies” (HL 240-62); 2] Read abridged version of Franz Fanon, “Fact of Blackness” (ER 323-6); 3] Read “Queer Studies” (HL 162-9, 71-83); 4] Read abridged version of Judith Butler, “Gender Trouble” (ER 2488-501); 5] Write down two copies of a discussion question for your peers to consider in class with the question (or set of questions) focusing on different aspects of the Williams play depending on your group number: historical (Group 1), cultural (Group 2), sexual (Group 3), racial (Group 4), and colonial (Group 5); 6] Optional: Read “Writing about Film”(ER 243-53).

November 26: Fall Brea k 

December 3: Discuss Williams, Research, & Discussion Questions/Homework: 1] Finish “Historicism and Cultural Studies” (HL 226-39); 2] Read about historical approaches to literature (WL 144-50), research essays (ER 258-72), and documentation (WL 272-8); 3] Finish all outstanding homework or extra credit responses by the next class; 4] Send the following in an email attachment to acoykenda at by 11PM on Sat. 12/6:

a.   The topic or topics that you are considering writing about for Essay Three;

b.   The main question(s) that you want your research (and resulting essay) to answer;

c.   One specific concept from at least one theorist that you plan to use as a source (Said, Butler, or Fanon);

d.   One piece of relevant information and a supporting quote from a book on reserve at the library about Williams (listed under “Coykendall”);

e.   One relevant argument and a supporting quote from an article or book chapter of literary criticism on the play;

f.    The main historical and/or cultural information that you plan to investigate further to guide your research and make your argument convincing;

g.   A separate Works Cited page (push the Enter and Control buttons simultaneously) that includes bibliographic information about the sources from items c-e above, as well as the play, formatted according to MLA conventions.

December 10: Discuss Williams, Research Essays, and MLA Documentation/Homework: 1] Complete Essay Three, 4½ pgs., and email it as a properly formatted attachment to acoykenda at by 12 PM Dec. 18; 2] Prepare for a brief, 5-min. presentation about your topic, thesis, research, and critical approach for the final class (see the Guidelines on the essay).

December 17: Research Presentations

Online Handouts and Links

Course Syllabus                                                                 (

Course Schedule [Section I, II, III]                                    (

Electronic Reserves                                                          (

Group Assignments                                                          (

Extra-Credit Opportunities                                                (

Essay Requirements                                                          (

Sample Essay File                                                             (

Peer Workshop Handout                                                  (

Grading Symbols                                                               (

Guidelines on the Research Essay                                 (

Researching Literature                                                      (


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