online syllabus:


electronic reserves: 
(password 511)

* groups * homework * essay *

* course schedule *


Literature 511: Literary Criticism

Winter 2013

Dr. Abby Coykendall

abbcoy at

Phone: 734-487-0954

Office: Pray-Harrold Hall 603J

Winter Hours: Tuesday 3–4:30 & 8:10–8:40 PM;
Thursday 4–5:30, 9:10–9:40 PM

~ or email for appointments ~

Thursday 6:30-9:10 Pm
Registration # 25097
Pray-Harrold Hall 608



Literature 511: Literary Criticism

Course Description: LITR 511 is a class in which you will investigate a wide variety of literary theory, both past and present, paying especial attention to critical debates most influencing current practice in the field. Literary criticism, and aesthetics more generally, has long held a vexed status within the public realm. How we read, whom we read, and what we read says as much about our own values (and those of the larger culture) as it does about our facility to accommodate the values and the perspectives of others. Although reading is in itself an ephemeral undertaking, reading theory can be even more so. Theory is situated in an ambiguous and unnerving locale: between ourselves and the text, between others and the text, and ultimately between ourselves and others.

We will thus approach our literary critical texts in much the same fashion as we approach our literary texts: at once imaginatively and analytically. We will search for sites of affinity as well as sites of ambivalence, recurring motifs as well as recurring problems and paradoxes. We will begin by briefly surveying the so-called “classics” — selections from Plato and Aristotle — and then move rather quickly to modernists like Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, writers who have profoundly shaped not only the interpretation of literature, but conceptions that we have about the world in general. We will primarily concentrate on the schools of critical theory that have arisen during the last half century — deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, postcolonialism, and cultural studies — testing out each in turn through an ongoing analysis of a single literary work: Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things.

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you will 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;

* Comprehend the major debates in literary interpretation and theory, and become conversant in key concepts of literary criticism, from the classical tradition to contemporary practice;

* Participate in these debates (and initiate new ones) by responding to critical essays, articulating discussion questions, interrogating the value of a range of critical positions with regard to literary texts in manifold aesthetic, pedagogical, as well as cultural contexts;

* Engage with the community of scholars and the larger public by acquiring the critical vocabulary and theoretical wherewithal necessary to influence the study and appreciation of literature;

* Articulate and advance your own critical position vis-à-vis a host of theoretical approaches, making clear, compelling, and persuasive arguments about literary works in essays reflecting the basic conventions and current trends of literary criticism.

Course Books and Materials

The following books are available at the campus bookstores. If you order books online, make sure to get the same editions by double checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for each book:


Arundhati Roy, God of Small Things (Harper Perennial 1998; ISBN 0060977493) **

David H. Richter, ed., Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 3rd ed. (Bedford, 2007; ISBN# 0312415206) **

Both books are on reserve in the Halle library under my name, “Coykendall” (click on the asterisks above for availability); however, we will be using each so extensively that if possible you should purchase copies of your own.

The remaining texts are located in the Electronic Reserves (ER) and can printed or saved from campus computers:, password 511. **Always bring copies of the required readings to class. You will need everything on hand for groupwork and class discussions.

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours, as well as at any time through email (abbcoy at Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues usually receive a reply within a week. Please limit inquiries to those that I alone can answer so I can give the more pressing issues of other students the attention that they deserve. If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus (/w13.htm), the handouts (/hmwk.htm or /essay.htm), or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email only if the confusion persists.

Assessment Weights


Weekly Homework & Participation

minimum length:

due dates:


Proposal for the Seminar Paper

5 pages (1850 words)

April 8 (8:00 AM)


Presentation on Paper Topic

8–10 minutes

April 25


Seminar Paper

15–20 pages (5700–7700 words)

April 27 (8:00 AM)

Course Itinerary

See the Schedule (/sched.pdf) for the reading and homework required each week (the webpages associated with this class all begin For most of the semester, we will be reading the novel Roy’s God of Small Things together with select works of literary criticism each week, making for a representative survey over the span of the term.

The theoretical works may prove daunting to read, but you do not need to master every single concept that the theorists unfold. Focus on the big picture, tracing three or four of the key arguments, honing in on specific ideas most of interest to you, and drawing connections between those ideas and the literature that we will be discussing for the week.


There will be no formal test in this class; nonetheless, you must be able to draw knowledgably on the readings for the class activities and homework assignments. Most importantly, you must be capable of critically examining a well-chosen selection of these works in your seminar paper. The more conversant you become in the course materials over the span of the term, the easier it will be to write that paper at its conclusion. Consult with me as early as possible to brainstorm possible topics for the seminar paper, which constitutes a large proportion of the final grade with the weekly homework coming in a close second.

Informal assignments will be due almost every class period to ensure ongoing preparation for and participation in class. Depending on your group number, you will be composing discussion questions, applying the theory to the literature in written responses, or presenting quotations from optional reading. See the Homework Assignments handout (/hmwk.htm) for further information.

Group Assignments

The groupwork is simply a way to organize which set of students do which assignment (and with which materials) each week, thus diversifying the topics highlighted in class discussion, the people responsible for bringing those issues to our attention, as well as the skills that they use to do so. Most classes will consist of interactive discussions stemming from the groupwork. However, there is no “groupwork” properly speaking; that is, collaboration with peers on the same assignment. You will not need to meet with peers outside of class, only contact them on occasion by email to make sure that you are not covering the same text or topic. See the Groups handout for the contact information (/groups.htm).

Grading Scale:
























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 will 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. By that point, any further absences would make it impossible for you to achieve the course objectives. Reserve absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other unforeseen emergencies preventing you from coming to class and make sure not to exhaust your allowable absences 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. All missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the Schedule (/sch.pdf) 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 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). Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through the period each count as half 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 leave occasionally, bring a doctor’s note confirming as such; otherwise, conduct all personal business outside of class.

Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical: do not use laptops, cell phones, or other devices during class time unless specifically asked to do so to look something up.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all coursework on your own, is imperative. The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own. You must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be by drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or 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”). 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.

All instances of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; second instances will result in outright failure of the course. There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, so there will be no exceptions to this policy. Make sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in.

Campus Resources & Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the University Writing Center located in Halle 115 (10-6 M-Th; 11-4 Fri.), which assists with the writing skills necessary for success in this or any other class. The Academic Projects Center located in Halle 116 (11-5 M-Th) offers one-to-one consulting for students on writing, research, or technology-related issues. The International Student Resource Center located in Alexander 200 (487-0370) is dedicated to second-language students from abroad. You can also avail 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.


Online Handouts and Links:

Course Syllabus                                                                  (

Course Schedule                                                               (

Electronic Reserves (ER)                                                (

Group Assignments                                                          (

Weekly Homework Assignments                                  (

Guidelines on the Seminar Paper                                  (


 [Syllabus last modified January 9, 2013]