This is an archived course. A more recent version may be available at


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

This subject focuses on the ways in which we read, providing an overview of some of the different strategies of reading, comprehending and engaging with literary texts developed in the twentieth century. The course is organized around specific theoretical paradigms. In each case our task will be, first, to work through the selected reading in order to see how it determines or defines the task of literary interpretation; second, to locate the limits of each particular approach; and finally, to trace the emergence of subsequent theoretical paradigms as responses to the achievements and limitations of what came before. The literary texts and films that accompany the theoretical material will serve as concrete cases that allow us to see theory in action. In general, then, each week we will pair a text or film with a particular interpretative approach, using the former to explore the strengths of the theoretical paradigm under discussion. Our task will not be to provide a definitive or full analysis of the literary or filmic work, but to exploit it to understand better theories of literary interpretation.

The class will require regular participation and attendance. Your engagement with the material will determine how well the course works.

Required Texts

A course Reader will contain most of the theoretical readings, though I may add or change some of the readings depending on the direction the class is taking or what issues seem to call for further discussion. In addition, you will be asked to read a part or all of the following required texts:

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. (Download a version from Project Gutenberg.)

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams.

Amazon logo Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. London: Penguin, 1990. ISBN: 0140268685.

Amazon logo Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. ISBN: 1568497296.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Download a version from Project Gutenberg.)

Course Requirements

First and foremost, I expect careful reading and re-reading of the texts as we discuss them. In addition:

Response Paper

A brief response to modes of reading covered in the first section (2 pages)

Oral Presentation

15-20 minute Presentation of Assigned Readings.

Take-Home Midterm

Short Essays responding to questions handed out (7-9 pages).

Final Paper (10-12 pages)

Longer essay either theoretically-oriented or doing a careful reading of a text of your choice, drawing on what you have read over the term.

You are expected to attend class regularly and participate energetically in our discussion throughout the semester.

Written work should be typed or word-processed (double-spaced, 12pt Times or equivalent, with standard margins). I will provide more detailed descriptions for each written assignment. I will also provide a style sheet including information about proper citation of sources; if you have any doubts about use of material beyond the text itself or about the definition of plagiarism, please speak to me before submitting your work. (See the Literature Faculty Plagiarism Policy below). And, don't hesitate to come to office hours if you wish to discuss further any dimension of the class or the readings.

Extensions only with permission (I will dock your grade for assignments handed in late without my prior approval). Bear in mind that passing the courses requires meeting each individual requirement. The weighting of requirements for the final grade will be approximately as follows:

Participation and Attendance 15%
Oral Presentation 20%
Response Paper 5%
Take-Home Midterm 30%
Final Essay 30%

Finally, a guideline that I hope I will never have to enforce:

The Literature Faculty Plagiarism Policy


Use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgment - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgment for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available on the MIT Website on Plagiarism.