online syllabus:

electronic reserves:
(password 400)

class handouts:

~ schedule ~

Literature 400:

Narrative in Film and Literature

Fall 2009

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G
Phone: 734-487-0147 (messages only)
Hours: M 9:10-9:45 PM; W 11:35-12:45, 4:45-8:00 PM

~ or  email for an appointment ~

Section #16751

Monday 6:30-9:10 pm

Pray-Harrold Hall 307


Literature 400: Narrative in Film and Literature

Whether producing horror flicks or romantic comedies, the film and print industries attempt to appeal universally to the desires of everyone.  But who is this hypothetical “everyone”?  And in what ways do films or novels reflect that infinitely interchangeable person’s supposed desires?  Moreover, if only that which is recognizable or categorizable shapes how we perceive ourselves and our culture, then why do cinema and literature return, with so haunting a vengeance, to remind us of such bigger-than-life incongruities, “perversions,” and terrors?  In this class, we are going to look at how narratives in cinema and literature articulate that which escapes unnoticed from purportedly realistic, rational, or science-driven accounts of experience.  Mass-produced and widely distributed, cinema and literature are the foremost mediums used to mirror, as well as to escape from, everyday life.  With attentive reading and viewing, however, we will see how they can also serve as thinly disguised barometers of interpersonal and intercultural conflict, especially once taken in their historical and social contexts. 

Course Objectives: The principal objective of the course is to investigate the discursive techniques and narrative structures found in cinema and literature.  We will focus primarily on cinema since that medium is the one with which you are most likely least familiar at this point in your academic career.  Our primary aim is to examine the construction of identity, whether it be subjective or social—the narratives told of self, of nation, and of the larger global community—by analyzing an array of emblematic films produced in distinct cultural contexts.  Ultimately, by the end of the course, you will be better able to

*  Identify the narrative techniques that distinguish film and literature;

*  Understand how film and literature work in tandem to instill ethnic, national, racial, sexual, classist, or gendered ideologies;

*  Investigate how film, both in its adaptation of literature and in its formal structure, goes hand in hand with other art forms to reflect and sometimes even generate anew our cultural heritage;

*  Explore the mutual intercourse between so-called “high art” and popular culture, coming to recognize the benefits and limitations of each;

*  Inquire how filmic and literary narratives change over time in distinct cultural contexts;

*  Enhance verbal, visual, and cultural literacy by interpreting film with the same critical acumen traditionally applied to literature alone.

Course Structure:

We will view and discuss one film per week, as specified on the Course Schedule: /sched.htm.  (Webpages associated with the course all begin with  We will typically watch a pair of films in tandem—a classic film one week, and then a more contemporary film the next week—in order to assess shifts in narrative imagination occurring over time.  Each film will be complimented with select cultural theorists of note, making for a representative survey of narrative theory and cultural studies over the span of the term.  Midway through we will examine an adaptation of a novel in depth: Billy Wilder’s 1944 production of Double Indemnity by James M. Cain.  

Course Texts and Materials:


 ** Jill Nelmes, Introduction to Film Studies, 4th Edition (Routledge 2007; ISBN# 0415409284)

 ** John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Penguin 1995; ISBN# 0140135154)

 ** James M. Cain, Double Indemnity (Vintage 1989; ISBN# 0679723226)

The remaining texts can be accessed online and printed for free on any campus computer.  See the Electronic Reserves (ER):, password 400.  ** Make sure to bring copies of the required texts that we are covering to class.  You will need everything on hand for group work and class discussions.

You must watch the weekly required films outside of class in a timely fashion; otherwise, you will not be able to participate in the discussion and may be asked to leave so as to not distract the other students.  The most convenient way to access these films is by subscribing to a mailing service like Netflix ( for the semester; they will then be sent directly to you and sometimes available to watch on a computer immediately.  Alternately, you can rent films from a nearby video store or check them out for free from the Ypsilanti Public Library (or from other libraries, including Halle), watching them either on a computer screen or on a DVD /VCR player. 

If you do not have your own DVD player, you can watch films on any computer that has a DVD drive in the library or elsewhere.  You can also reserve a room for viewing films at Halle, or reserve headphones from Client Services.  Many films are available at the Halle circulation desk; if so, they are marked with asterisks (**) on the course schedule (/sched.htm).  However, you cannot count on the Halle films being available, especially just before class time when required for viewing, so plan to see films well in advance if you access them that way. 

Reading Schedule:

Each week we will typically cover one chapter from the anthology, plus 15-20 pages of narrative theory—a less extensive schedule page-wise, but still fairly challenging given its theoretical nature.  It is important to focus on the big picture while reading, tracing three or four main concepts and honing in on specific arguments most of interest to you and most pertinent to the films that we will be discussing.  You will not be tested formally on this material; however, you must be able to discuss it critically during class time or in the homework assignments, incorporating a select portion of it in your research essay due at the end of the semester.  The more fluent you become in the course materials over the span of the term, the easier it will be to find connections for the research paper at its conclusion.


Instead of cumulative exams, there will be various informal assignments due almost every class period to ensure ongoing participation and progress: composing discussion questions, writing informal responses applying the theory to the literature or comparing two films, presenting select quotations from the optional reading, or serving as a respondent for the other students.  You will cycle though these tasks over the term, beginning with a different one based on your group number and then doing the rest in turn.  See Homework Assignments for more detailed information (/hmwk.htm).

The groups are simply a way to organize which set of students do what (and with which texts) each class: diversifying the topics which we highlight in the discussion, the people responsible for bringing issues to our attention, as well as the skills and approaches which they use to do so.  Most of the class period will center around the interactive discussions that result from presenting on the homeworkThere is no “group work” properly speaking—i.e. working collaboratively with peers on the same assignment—so you do not have to meet with peers outside of class, only contact them on occasion to ensure that you are not covering the same text.

Assessment Weights



Weekly Homework & Class Participation


 due dates:


Research Proposal

November 23



Presentation on Research Project


December 14



Comparison-Contrast Research Essay on Two Films


December 18

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns in person (603G Pray Harrold) or by phone (487-0147) during my office hours, as well as through email (acoykenda at at any time.  Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my office phone is dysfunctional at best.  Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues typically receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit emails to inquiries which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries of other students the attention that they deserve.  If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts (/hand.htm), or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email me only if that confusion persists.


Because this course 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, students who miss more than TWO classes for any reason will have their final grade reduced by a full mark, and those who miss more than Three classes will not be eligible to pass.  Reserve the allowable absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that prevent you from coming to class and make sure not to exhaust them too early in the term.  When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  The first two absences are excused automatically, the missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is essential to come on time.  Try to arrive early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through the period each count as half an absence.  Habitual lateness that disrupts the class will eventually be counted as an absence.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself.  Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking 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, reserve all personal business for the break midway through the class period.  Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical; students unprepared to do the groupwork for the day, or students discovered using laptops for purposes unrelated to the course, will be asked to leave and marked absent.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all coursework on your own, is imperative.  Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for essays that you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays written for other classes 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.  The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  You must acknowledge when you make use of concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be in drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or in channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to signal as such (e.g., So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your own writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says “X”).  Any writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.

Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; any second instance will result in outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy, so make sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in.

Grading Scale:





























Academic Resources & Campus Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the Academic Projects Center, located in Halle (Room 104).  This support center, open from 11:00-5:00 Monday-Thursday, assists with research, writing, and technology skills necessary for success in this and any other course.  Another support center is the International Student Resource Center (200 Alexander, 487-0370) dedicated to second-language students from abroad.  Also consider availing yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the campus.


File last saved September 13, 2009