Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

engl 273 introduction to fiction: the american expereince

Spring 2012


Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Packet of materials assembled by the instructor, containing a selection of short stories and related commentaries as well as critical materials


Requirements: Two essays of  increasing length (2-3 pp.; 3-4 pp.), worth 20%;  a longer  research paper (7-8 pp.), worth 30%;  a midterm exam, worth 15%;  a final exam, worth 15%;  class participation, worth 20%.


Aims: This is an introduction to American culture. The aim is to develop your familiarity with and appreciation for fiction.  We will learn about the main ideas that inform  the American experience, such as race, gender, immigration, creativity and democracy, while enjoying the pleasure of reading some of the  greatest narratives  produced by that experience.

We will be reading a range of texts over the semester. Some of the selections are novels and short stories by well-known writers  (Jamaica Kincaid, Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, Raymond Carver), many of the selections are short stories by contemporary and emergent authors (Sandra Cisneiros, Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, Bharati Mukherjee , Edwidge Danticat). With photographs by contemporary masters and a recent movie we will also be considering visual narratives.

We will  discover how authors create narratives using different elements of fiction and the multifarious resources of language to touch us intellectually and emotionally. We will learn to discuss in an informed way the most important resources of fiction, like plot, character, setting, point of view, style. The stories selected  are successful stories, capable of igniting the reader’s imagination. They will enlarge our understanding of the themes and nuances of life in America while enchanting us by evoking our thoughts and feelings about the mysteries of human experience beyond national boundaries.  


Class Format:  This is a writing intensive course, so there will be an  emphasis on enhancing your ability to write  effective critical essays that develop a thesis, present evidence, make an argument, and are the product of a process of revision. Writing, however, comes from reading, and good writing comes from the ability to share our interpretations with others. 

            We will meet once a week.  I will be introducing you to a variety of critical approaches to fiction and core concepts of narrative theory, but the success of this course depends largely upon you. I encourage us to have lively discussions.  We will all have various “takes” or interpretations of the texts at hand.  By voicing our ideas and engaging them in their variety we will learn a great deal—not simply about the stories but about ourselves and others. Class participation, then, is a must. Relatedly, it is important that you attend class regularly. Your absence will mean that discussion will suffer.



Learning Outcomes:  By the end of the course students are expected to


Ø  Have a basic understanding of the craft of storytelling and how this art form is related to the perception of ourselves and others.


Ø  Become familiar with some key theories about the nature and function of narrative, both in its verbal and visual form.


Ø  Master a basic set of literary and critical terms and gain the ability to apply them in discussing and writing about fiction.


Ø  Write and rewrite effective critical essays that have clear and debatable arguments.


Office hours

Office hours are a key feature of the course. Their main function is to establish meaningful communication between the professor and individual students. Coming to office hours helps students see their professor as facilitator of their thinking and research. Please consider coming to office hours regularly. Feel free to ask any questions about the readings and about your performance in the course.





Week 1            Jan 18

Introduction: The Elements of Fiction


Week 2            Jan 25

James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”


Week 3            Feb 1 Papal Audience—Make up TBD

Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,”  “Why Don’t You Dance,” “A Small, Good Thing”


Week 4            Feb 8

PAPER 1 due (2-3 pp.)

Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy (pp. 1-84)


Week 5            Feb 15

Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy (pp. 85-164)


Week 6            Feb 22



Week 7            Feb 29

PAPER 2 due (3-4 pp.)

MOVIE: COLOR PURPLE (from a novel by Alice Walker)


Week 8            Spring break—no class—make up class TBD

Sandra Cisneiros, “ The House on Mango Street”

Sherman Alexie, “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”


Week 9            March 14

Visual narratives: America in the photographs of  the great masters (Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman)


Week 10          March 21

Edwidge Danticat, “Night Women”

Louise Erdrich, “The Red Convertible” 

Bharati Mukherjee, “Two Ways to Belong in America “


Week 11          March 28


Visual Narratives II

MOVIE Boys Don’t Cry


Week 12          April 4

Understanding Boys Don’t Cry


Week 13          April 11

Jack Kerouac, On the Road (part I)


Week 14          April 18

Jack Kerouac, On the Road (part II)


Week 15          April 25