Outlaws, escaped slaves, refugees, and rebels are all on the run in the pages of American literature. In a nation founded in the name of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” stories of the fugitive making a break for freedom have been both troubling and enchanting. In this course, we will examine narratives of flight by American writers from the early days of the Republic through the present. We will consider how, in widely different cases, fugitivity is both an affront to the law and also a product of it. How do literary authors represent life that exists beyond, without, or against the law? Is the concept of “fugitivity,” in the abstract, even useful? Or can scenes of flight only be understood in light of the specific institutions, authorities, and laws being evaded? We will also pay attention to how notions of innocence and criminality inform stories of escape. Subjects will range from the narrative of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who, in 1849, hid in a crate and mailed himself to freedom in the North, to recent fiction by Edwidge Danticat and Viet Thanh Nguyen. Along the way, we’ll consider literary representations of outlaws, war refugees, undocumented immigrants, and insurrectionaries. Our texts will include autobiography, novels, poetry, and folklore that all explore antagonistic—but dynamic—relationships with the law.
Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Dichter.