Fall 2024

Literature on Trial

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-114


Erica Drennan (Section 01)


Why are novels so interested in trials? What is the relationship between literary and legal interpretation, and between the role of a reader and that of a juror? How do we interpret “facts” in a literary text versus a legal context? In this course, we will read texts that feature trials in order to explore the relationship between the literary and the legal, two very different ways of making sense of the world that collide in works about trials. As part of our exploration of this relationship, we will put literary characters on trial in order to explore how guilt, judgment, and redemption operate in the works we read, and to consider our own role and responsibility as readers. By placing trials and judgment at the center of our reading experience, we can investigate some of our texts’ major ethical questions: Do we have the right to judge others? Can people be redeemed? What is the relationship between reading and judgment? What does justice look like in a literary work? Readings will include works by Sophocles, Franz Kafka, James Baldwin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Claudia Rankine.

Limited to 15 students. Offered Fall 2024. Prof. Drennan.

How to handle overenrollment: Dean of New Students will determine

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: An emphasis on written work, including short responses and papers. Readings of literary and critical texts. Mock trials, which will involve working in groups to build arguments and develop oral presentations.

Course Materials


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2024