Social and Political Power

1. Social and Political Power

One of the important concerns of looking at the cultural contexts of literature is to see the relationship between social and/or political forces and the text. Choose one of the texts we read this session, and analyze how social and/or political power operates in it. Who has power and how do they exercise that power? To what extent is the writer trying to affect social or political change? What type of change? How? Remember to root your answer in specific examples and also in the social/political context.

2. Multicultural Literature and Canon

In this essay, give a brief definition of the literary canon. What is the purpose of the canon? Is it still important today? Then take a position on the place of issues of multiculturalism in the cannon. Make sure to define “multicultural” literature. You may want to consider how issues of multicultural literature and canon would influence how you might teach or select literature for an English class. Be sure to support your claims with specific examples from the texts we have studied.

3. Ethics and Multicultural Literature

Write a reflection on the connections between Christian faith, ethics, and multicultural literature. Identify one ethical issue raised in one of the texts that also relates more broadly to multicultural literature. How can we approach this issue from a biblical perspective? You should support your ideas using the texts we have studied and the Bible or the writings of Christian thinkers.

4. (Post)Colonialism and Identity

Choose one of the texts we have read in this class that is related to colonization (e.g., Things Fall Apart, India Ink) and write about what the text reveals about how colonization and cultural difference shape the way people perceive themselves and others. Remember to support your claims with specific examples from the text.

5. Memoir and Multicultural Nonfiction

In her 1998 study When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography, Jill Ker Conway describes the difficulty faced by the female writer of memoir:

If the autobiographer gazes at himself in the mirror of culture, just as the portrait painter must when working on his self-portrait, how should a woman use a mirror derived from the male experience? If the painter or writer is female, the mirror she holds up comes from a culture that assumes women’s inferiority, a culture that has shaped modern women’s inner consciousness through the internalized male gaze surveying the female as sex object. For the woman autobiographer the major question becomes how to see one’s life whole when one has been taught to see it as expressed through family and bonds with others. How can she convey its authenticity when linguistic convention subsumes the female within the male? How can she construct the life history of someone other than a sex object whose story ends when soundly mated?

With Conway’s questions and her analogy between the self-portrait painter’s mirror and the autobiographer’s culture in mind, analyze how the writers of either The Joy Luck Club or Persepolis paint this self-portrait in relation to culture. Consider what narrative patterns each writer draws upon and how gender influences the story. Remember to support your claims with specific examples from the text.

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Social and Political Power