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English 39203: The Political Novel

Section C, Fall 2018

3 Credits / 3 Hours

Mon. and Wed., 11:00am-12:15pm

Welcome to English 39203: The Political Novel.  The course description is as follows:

In The Political Novel, we will explore the reciprocal relationship between literature and politics through a range of modern and contemporary works. Though we will primarily address how these works challenge political thought and practice, we will also examine the ways they invest individuals’ lives, locales, and beliefs with broad political significance. In the course of our discussions, we will explore the historical underpinnings of the novels as well as touch upon a number of topics, such as the formation of ideologies, revolution and reform, exiles and intellectuals, gender and class, and alternative histories.

Our readings are sorted into four separate units that each address a different political theme: citizenship, gender, empire, and government.  Of course, these themes are not restricted to their respective sections, and I hope each unit will provide us with the vocabulary to speak and write about these issues in all of our texts, which I very much look forward to analyzing with you.

Course Goals and Objectives

  • Learn to identify the ideologies present in a text, both those it champions and those is challenges

  • Hone skills of close reading, literary analysis, and critical argumentation

  • Develop an original and compelling writing voice

  • Discover the pleasure of reading these texts

Required Materials

All books are available at the CCNY Bookstore.

  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric. ISBN-13: 978-1555976903

  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. ISBN-13: 978-0393352566

  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. ISBN-13: 9780385490818

  • Zadie Smith, White Teeth. ISBN-13: 978-0375703867

  • Yevgeny Zamyatin, We. ISBN-13: 978-0140185850

  • Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here. ISBN-13: 978-0451465641

Recommended Materials and Resources

  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab (MLA Style Guide):

  • Google Scholar:

  • William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition). ISBN-13: 978-0205309023


You may bring laptops in order to take notes but no cell phones, headphones, or portable music players.

Attendance and Punctuality

Attendance is mandatory.  Only three absences and three times arriving late (more than ten minutes) will be excused.  Each additional unexcused absence will result in half a letter grade dropped. (Two lates equal one unexcused absence).  Six unexcused absences will result in a failing grade.  If you know you will be late or absent, please email me.

Academic Integrity

All students must adhere to City College’s code of academic integrity, which reads in part:

Academic integrity is an essential part of the pursuit of truth, and of your education. We are all are all responsible for maintaining academic integrity at City College—it is the rock on which the value of your degree is built.

If you cheat on a test or plagiarize by using someone else's work or ideas, you defeat the purpose of your education. In addition, academic dishonesty is prohibited in the City University of New York, and is punishable by failing grades, suspension and expulsion.

For the complete policy, follow this link:


Assignments must be emailed to by 11:59pm on the day on which they are due.  Assignments not handed in at all will be given failing grades.  Talk to me if you are having a serious problem completing the work, and we will work out a plan that is agreeable to us both.  Incomplete or late assignments will lose half a letter grade per day.  This means that if you submit an A paper that is due on Monday on Wednesday, you will receive a B.

Essays: 60 points (20 points each)

Participation: 40 points

Total: 100 points

Grading Scale: 94-100 = A; 90-93 = A-; 87-89 = B+; 83-86 = B; 80-82 = B-; 77-79 = C+; 73-76 = C

Classroom Participation

This is a discussion-based course, not a lecture-based one.  I strongly believe that learning is a social practice, and by voicing your reading of these texts to your peers, you are helping to educate the entire classroom, yourself and myself included.  However, I am aware that some people are more comfortable speaking than others—in fact, public speaking regularly tops polls of Americans’ greatest fears—and your participation grade will also include active listening.  However, there will also be no toleration of deliberately racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist language.  I use the word deliberately because we all have gaps in knowledge and experience and part of the purpose of a college education is assisting each other in filling in those gaps.  Therefore, I encourage respectful debate when your peers or I have said something that is hurtful, insensitive, or ignorant.


Three times during the semester, I will ask you to write and revise a 750-word essay.  These are deliberately short (around three pages) so that we can focus on writing as a continuous practice rather than as a culmination of your learning at the midpoint and end of the semesterOptional prompts will be written in response to student interests and passed out, along with assignment guidelines, one week before each first draft is due.

Accommodating Disabilities

Lehman College is committed to providing access to all programs and curricula to all students.  Students with disabilities who may need classroom accommodations are encouraged to register with the Access Ability Center/Student Disability Services.  For more information, please contact the Access Ability Center/Student Disability Services, North Academic Center, Room 1-218, phone number (212) 650-5913.

Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in any educational program receiving federal financial assistance.  Sexual harassment, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX, and is considered a Civil Rights offense.  City College encourages anyone experiencing harassment, discrimination or sexual misconduct to talk to a faculty member, counselor, or staff; confidential resources are available through the City College Counseling Center at (212) 650-8222.

Classmate Contacts


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Reading and Assignment Schedule

Part One: Citizenship

Wednesday, 8/29: Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)

Wednesday, 9/5: Kafka, The Trial (cont’d)

Wednesday, 9/12: Kafka, The Trial (cont’d)

Monday, 9/17: Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)

Monday, 9/24: Rankine, Citizen (cont’d)

Wednesday, 9/26: Rankine, Citizen (cont’d)

Sunday, 9/30: First Draft of 1st Close Reading Essay Due

Part Two: Gender

Monday, 10/1: Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Wednesday, 10/3: Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (cont’d)

Sunday, 10/7: Final Draft of 1st Close Reading Essay Due

Wednesday, 10/10: Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (cont’d)

Monday, 10/15: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

Wednesday, 10/17: Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (cont’d)

Monday, 10/22: Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (cont’d)

Wednesday, 10/24: Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (cont’d)

Sunday, 10/28: First Draft of 2nd Close Reading Essay Due

Part Three: Empire

Monday, 10/29: Zadie Smith, White Teeth (1999)

Wednesday, 10/31: Smith, White Teeth (cont’d)

Sunday, 11/4: Final Draft of 2nd Close Reading Essay Due

Monday, 11/5: Smith, White Teeth (cont’d)

Wednesday, 11/7: Smith, White Teeth (cont’d)

Monday, 11/12: Smith, White Teeth (cont’d)

Wednesday, 11/14: Smith, White Teeth (cont’d)

Part Four: Government

Monday, 11/19: Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (1924)

Wednesday, 11/21: Zamyatin, We (cont’d)

Monday, 11/26: Zamyatin, We (cont’d)

Wednesday, 11/28: Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (1935)

Sunday, 12/2: First Draft of Political Dialogue Due

Monday, 12/3: Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (cont’d)

Wednesday, 12/5: Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (cont’d)

Sunday, 12/9: Final Draft of Political Dialogue Due

Monday, 12/10: Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (cont’d)

Wednesday, 12/12: Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (cont’d)