21L.003-2 | Spring 2007 | Undergraduate

Reading Fiction


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

Reading Fiction is designed to sharpen your skills as a critical reader. As we explore both short stories and novels focusing on the theme of “the city in literature,” we will learn about the various elements that shape the way we read texts - structure, narrative voice, character development, novelistic experimentation, historical and political contexts and reader response.

Course Overview

As a HASS-D, CI-H (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences-Distribution, Communication Intensive) course, Reading Fiction is both a writing and communication intensive course. Students are required to produce at least 20 pages of polished writing with an emphasis on revision. This course will include 4 papers of 5 pages in length and 1 graded revision of a paper. The oral component of this class requires all students to actively participate in our weekly discussions on the assigned readings. These discussions are truly the backbone of the course because much of our critical thinking happens while we share ideas with one another. Each student will also be required to participate in a group presentation on one of the novels we will read in class.

Course Expectations and Grading

Class participation 15%
Four papers (15% each) 60%
Revision of a paper 15%
Oral presentations 10%

Class Participation

Participation includes both attendance and contributing to class discussions. Failure to attend and/or refusal to engage in discussion will adversely affect your grade. Each student will be allowed 2 excused absences. For each additional absence your participation grade will be reduced by 1/3 (i.e. a B+ will become a B after 3 absences, a B- after 4 absences and so on). Keeping up with the reading will help to facilitate your participation. If you do need to miss class for a valid reason, please contact me by email in advance.

Writing Assignments

As a Communication-Intensive subject, this course emphasizes development of written material. Each paper will be an exercise in literary analysis with a strong thesis supported by close readings of the text. At the end of the semester you will be required to revise one of the papers that you have already written. The choice of which paper will be up to you. You can decide to revisit a topic that really interested you or rework an idea that didn’t reach its full potential.

Our class will also have the assistance of a writing tutor. You will be required to meet with her before each of your papers is due. She will be able to help you at any point in your writing process, from brainstorming to first drafts. Most importantly, working with her emphasizes the fact that writing is a process that involves feedback and revision. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned professional, feedback and revision are invaluable to your written work. Failing to meet with our writing tutor will reduce your paper grade by 1/3.

Papers must be submitted at the beginning of class on the day that they are due. No electronic submissions will be accepted. Please be sure to hand your papers in on time. Lateness will result in lower paper grades. For each day that your paper is late, your grade will be lowered by 1/3 (i.e. a B+ will become a B after one day, a B- after 2 days and so on. Weekends will be included). Because of the writing intensive nature of this course and the swift reading pace, extensions may only be granted in extreme situations (illness, family crisis, or other equally difficult circumstances). They will not be granted for work conflicts so be sure to plan accordingly among all of your classes. You will need to contact me at least 24 hours before the paper is due in order to receive an extension. All extension papers will be due on the next class day and are not guaranteed to be returned at the same time as the other students’ papers.

Oral Assignments

Throughout the semester students will be required to give short (10 minutes) presentations on the texts in the class. Presentations will be done in groups of 2 to 3 and the group will decide upon the topics. These presentations should also be designed to stimulate class discussion. Please see handout on group presentations for more information.


Intellectual integrity is imperative in all of our work. Plagiarism, co-opting of another’s work, will not be tolerated in any course. This is the Literature Section’s policy on plagiarism:

Plagiarism-use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement-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 acknowledgement 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 at MIT Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Academic Integrity.


Please see readings for more detailed information about the texts mentioned below.

1 Introduction  
2-3 Wharton, The House of Mirth Group presentation sign-up in Ses #3
4-5 Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies  
6-7 Morrison, Jazz

Paper 1 due in Ses #6

Jazz group presentation in Ses #7

8-10 Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain Go Tell it on the Mountain group presentation in Ses #10
11-13 Joyce, The Dubliners

The Dubliners group presentation in Ses #12

Paper 2 due in Ses #13

14-15 Kincaid, Lucy Lucy group presentation in Ses #15
16-21 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Paper 3 due in Ses #17

Crime and Punishment group presentations in Ses #18 and Ses #20

22-24 Roy, The God of Small Things

Paper 4 due in Ses #22

The God of Small Things group presentation in Ses #23

25-26 Díaz, Drown

Revision paper due in Ses #26

Drown group presentation in Ses #26

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2007
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments