Fall 2015


Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-118

Moodle site: Course


Frederick T. Griffiths (Section 01)


The lines of race and sex are enforced by parables of powerful figures who cross these boundaries to take on new identities, for good or ill. Those who artfully “pass” or transform themselves can corrupt and disrupt the social order or, alternatively, renew it. Some do both, like the foreign-born (he thinks) Oedipus, who wins a throne and a queen for courageously curing one plague, then brings another for committing incest and parricide. Tales of women warriors, race-émigrés, two-spirit people, and closeted geniuses celebrate human potential, if often tragically. But rarely distant are fears about contagion and “crimes against nature,” that entrench notions of racial purity, gender conformity, and sexual normality.  

We consider a range of novels, plays, films, and self-narratives that address the intersectionality of racial, gendered, and LGBT identities in Western culture.  We focus on three turning points: Athens in the fifth century BCE; the 1920s, including the Harlem Renaissance; and the growth of multicultural queer and trans cultures in recent decades.  Literary works include Sophocles, Oedipus the King; Euripides, Medea and The Bacchae; Plato, Symposium; Willa Cather, The Professor’s House; Nella Larsen, Passing; James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man; Virginia Woolf, Orlando; Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask; Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman; and David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly.  Films include Leontine Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform: Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning; and Kimberly Pierce, Boys Don’t Cry.

This seminar aims to develop skills of critical reading and analytical writing by active participation in class discussion, as informed by questions and comments submitted before class, and by consultation with the instructor in the writing of five essays of increasing complexity. To develop oral argumentation, discussion is regularly supplemented by group reports and debates.    

Fall semester.  Professor Griffiths.

Cost: $15.00 ?


Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing


2020-21: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2018