Tu/Th 08:00-09:30 279 Dwinelle Instructor: Keru Cai

How do realist and naturalist texts depict poverty and squalor? What is the difference between poverty and squalor? Can we conceive of squalor as conditions of bodily excess in a state of material poverty? How do realism and naturalism grapple with these ideas differently?

By battering the reader with descriptions of bodily suffering, ugliness, vice, and the inability to escape from material and psychological conditions, narrative representations of poverty evoke sympathy for the characters they describe. But we will also examine the problematics of that sympathy. Is it an inevitably condescending interest in poverty on the part of the middleclass readership? Or is narrative attention to the minutiae of working-class life a democratic strategy for including that class in the public sphere?

We will consider texts from Russian, Chinese, and American literature. The forms of realism and naturalism are not homogeneous in these literary traditions. Do they have different strategies for portraying poverty and squalor?

As a reading and composition class, we’ll use these discussions as a foundation for improving analytical and persuasive writing.

Required texts:

Vinson Cunningham, “Humans of New York and the Cavalier Consumption of Others”

James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Lu Xun, “Medicine,” “Tomorrow,” “New Year’s Sacrifice”

Shen Congwen, “Xiaoxiao”

Xiao Hong, “Hands”

Wu Yonggang, The Goddess (film)

Lao She, Rickshaw

Ann Petry, The Street

Nikolai Gogol, “The Overcoat”

Anton Chekhov, “Gooseberries,” “Peasants”