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Course Schedule

American Studies

Course Schedule

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LIT 492-0 : Women, Speculative Fiction, and Dystopia


This seminar takes its impetus from the hotly awaited dystopian sequel The Testaments (publication date September 10, 2019), Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to her acclaimed novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale envisions a near-future American dystopia in which a dwindling population of fertile women are forced into reproductive service for the ruling cadre of men. As you are no doubt aware, we have witnessed a resurgence of interest in The Handmaid’s Tale, from the currently streaming Hulu series to real-life feminist activists wearing the Handmaid uniform of red robes and white bonnets. Why, we will ask, has Atwood’s speculative fiction—her term for her imaginative rendition of catastrophic near futurity—proved so meaningful for us? How does The Handmaid’s Tale invite us to think about the status of women, in history and today, as a critical index of societal function and dysfunction? What might Atwood’s book teach us about our own capacities as agents of acceptance and resistance? Finally, are there problems with Atwood’s portrait of dystopian America, whether in relation to our history, our present, or our profoundly embattled future?

We’ll read Atwood’s book closely, with attention to the political and cultural climate in 1985, the year of its publication. Then we’ll turn to its sequel, as well as to other dystopian visions that imagine women’s key role in social, ecological, ethical, and species catastrophe and possible regeneration. Along with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, our reading list includes: Margaret Atwood’s later dystopia The Year of the Flood; Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring; Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves; Naomi Alderman, The Power; Aliya Whiteley, The Beauty; Meg Elison, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. We will also add one or two items to the syllabus based on class consensus—another dystopian fiction, novella, or story; and/ or a dystopian feminist film (for example, “Mad Max: Fury Road”); and/ or a female-centered fantasy comic (for example, Paper Girls, Saga, or Monstress). For required writing in this class, you will have the opportunity to generate analytic essays as well as your own creative visions of near-future dystopia.

Please note: several of the assigned texts contain graphic descriptions of violence, including sexual violence.

(This course may count towards the American Literature, British Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies specializations in the master's in literature and advanced graduate study certificate programs. This course may also count towards the American Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies specialization in the master of arts in liberal studies and advanced graduate study certificate programs. It may also count as a literature course or elective in the writing programs. Additionally, this course may count towards certificates of graduate studies)

Fall 2019
Start/End DatesDay(s)TimeBuildingSection
09/30/19 - 12/02/19M
7 – 9:30 p.m.Wieboldt Hall 40650
InstructorCourse LocationStatusCAESAR Course ID
Thompson, Helen
Chicago Campus
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