Reading & Composition

Reading & Composition

Love and its Discontents: Meddling Families, Warring States
Course Number: 
Course Type or Level: 
Keru Cai
214 Haviland

We may consider the experience of love to be intensely personal and private, but literature, drama, and film frequently portray narratives of courtship, marriage, erotic desire, or romance within a larger social context. Romantic love between individuals in these texts may be situated within and therefore impinged upon by a family entity, a social class, or even a state. Other forms of love (familial love, or love between friends, for instance) may start to take center stage. In this course we will study texts that depict romantic love beset by a variety of obstacles: parental prohibitions, family duties, economic hardships, political turmoil, the threat of war and invasion, to name a few. In what ways is individual agency possible in these circumstances? What narrative strategies are used to depict the private experience of love even as it is enmeshed in a public context, or a battle between conflicting wills? How do these narrative strategies change depending upon the genre of the text (romanticism, realism, socialist realism, avant-garde)? In some of these narratives, the love story constitutes the core of the plot, but in others it becomes subordinated to other concerns. How do these representations change depending upon the text’s historical context?

As a reading and composition class, we will use these discussions and close-readings as a foundation for improving analytical and persuasive writing. We will start by considering samples of short fiction from Europe, which will allow us to cut our teeth on techniques of close-reading. Then we will read longer fiction and film from China, genres that will add new tools to our close-reading skill set. Finally, we will end with a different genre entirely, traditional Chinese drama, to see how we can adapt the analytical reading and writing skills acquired throughout the semester.

Required Texts (to purchase):

Pa Chin, Family

Shen Congwen, Border Town

Course Reader



  • Attendance and participation: 10%
  • Process (includes Diagnostic Essay, First Essay Proposal, First Essay First Draft, Second Essay Proposal, Second Essay First Draft): 10%
  • 2 Close-reading papers (2-3 pages each): 20%
  • First Essay (4-5 pages): 25%
  • Second Essay (5-6 pages):35%

Because I believe that growth as a reader and writer stems from consistent practice, I have designed this course to reward both the quality of your finished writing and thoughtful, steady work over the course of the semester. Here is a breakdown of the rubric:


  • Attendance and Participation

I want you to succeed in this course, and in order to do so, you need to attend class and participate regularly. Many people feel nervous about commenting in front of 16 other people, which is quite understandable. For this reason, I will frequently break you up into smaller groups. Nonetheless, you will still need to comment in our larger discussions on a regular basis. If you are uncomfortable participating in this setting for whatever reason, please come see me in office hours soon and regularly so we can brainstorm strategies or come up with alternative forms of participation.

Your first two absences will be automatically excused – no explanations necessary. After that, your third and fourth unexcused absences will lower your participation grade by a full letter grade each. A total of FIVE unexcused absences will result in an automatic failing grade for the course overall. I take attendance very seriously because you will be unable to learn the close-reading and writing skills necessary for your essays unless you come regularly to lectures and discussions. Of course, excused absences (for instance, with a doctor’s note) do not count toward these penalties.

Attendance is mandatory for the first two weeks of classes. Roll will be taken every day during this period, for both regular and waitlisted students. Anyone who does not attend all classes during the first two weeks may be dropped from the class.

You are expected to come to class having completed all reading and writing assignments listed on the schedule. If it becomes clear that students are not prepared, then I will have to start giving pop reading quizzes. Please don’t make me do this!

  • Papers and Essays

I will assign a letter grade to your close-reading papers and to the final drafts of your two essays. This grade will reflect my sense of the ambition, interest, and quality of your writing. While I can’t reduce this professional judgement to a simple numerical scale, I can say that, in grading your essays, I will consider your

 Project: your goal or aim in writing
Materials: your use of other texts
Voice: the clarity and interest of your prose
Editing and Design: the final form of your document

I will use these criteria in assigning and explaining your grade, but don’t fixate on them. Your task is to write an ambitious and interesting essay in a voice that feels your own. Do that, and you will do fine.

Deadlines are firm. Each day a final draft is late, your essay grade will receive a 1/3 letter grade deduction. So if you would have received an A- on your essay, if it was late by 1 day, then you will receive a B+. If it was late by 2 days, then you will receive a B, and so on.

  • Process

I will ask you to develop each of your essays through a series of planning and drafts. This process work will be graded with a √ or √ –.

√ 2 points, Good
√ – 1 point, One day late, hurried, incomplete, or wildly off the mark
Ø 0, More than one day late, missing

Deadlines are firm. To earn a √, your work must be on time, thoughtful, and edited with care.


Academic Honesty

 “Plagiarism is defined as the use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source, for example:

  • Wholesale copying of passages from works of others into your homework, essay, term paper, or dissertation without acknowledgment.
  • Use of the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment.
  • Paraphrasing of another person’s characteristic or original phraseology, metaphor or other literary device without acknowledgment.”

—From the Berkeley Campus Code of Student Conduct from the Office of Student Conduct <>

Any plagiarized paper in this course will automatically receive an F. You may also be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for a hearing.

Please note that submitting assignments or parts of assignments for multiple courses, past or present, without prior permission from all instructors is considered a form of cheating. All assignments submitted must be new material written for this course.

Office Hours and Communication

You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of office hours for extra help in this course. If you cannot make my scheduled office hours, please email me or see me after class to set up an alternate appointment.

I will be available to answer any questions about course logistics over email. Keep in mind that I can take up to 48 hours to respond, so do not wait till the last minute before a deadline. Substantive questions about how to shape your essay or how to understand a text should be addressed in office hours. If you cannot make it to my office hour times, then please email me to set up an alternative appointment.


 If you would like additional help with your writing, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of one of the tutoring services available on campus. The Comparative Literature Writing Tutor Program offers appointments solely for students taking R&C in the department ( and the Student Learning Center offers general writing help (


If you need disability-related accommodations in this class, if you have emergency medical information you wish to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please have the Disabled Students Program send me an accommodation letter on your behalf.


Readings will be discussed in class on the day for which they are listed and should therefore be completed in advance of this date.

Tuesday, January 16

Course Introduction: Shakespeare, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds,” Keats, “Bright Star”

Thursday, January 18 DIAGNOSTIC ESSAY DUE IN CLASS (2-3 pages)

Pushkin, “The Stationmaster”

Writing Workshop: Writing an Interpretive Critical Paper

“Counterproductive Habits of Mind,” Writing Analytically, David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen

Tuesday, January 23

Pushkin, “The Squire’s Daughter”

Writing Workshop: Close Reading

“Notice and Focus”

“Interpretation: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Do It,” Writing Analytically

 Thursday, January 25

Gorky, “Nevsky Prospect”

“What Evidence Is and How It Works, Writing Analytically

 Monday, January 29 CLOSE READING PAPER 1 DUE (2-3 pages), email to Keru by 5pm

 Tuesday, January 30

Chekhov, “Anna on the Neck”

Thursday, February 1

Chekhov, “The Teacher of Literature,” “Darling”

Writing Workshop: Close Reading

Tuesday, February 6

Lu Xun, “Soap,” “Divorce”

Writing Workshop: Close Reading

“Using Evidence to Build a Paper: 10 on 1 vs. 1 on 10,” Writing Analytically

Thursday, February 8

Ding Ling, “Shanghai, Spring 1930”

Writing Workshop: Observation vs. Analytical Claims

Monday, February 12 CLOSE READING PAPER 2 DUE (2-3 pages), email to Keru by 5pm

 Tuesday, February 13

Ding Ling, Miss Sophia’s Diary

Writing Workshop: Close Reading

Thursday, February 15       

Shen Congwen, Border Town

Tuesday, February 20

Shen Congwen, Border Town

 Thursday, February 22

Pa Chin, Family

Tuesday, February 27

Pa Chin, Family

Writing Workshop: “Recognizing and Fixing Weak Thesis Statements” and “Making a Thesis Evolve,” Writing   Analytically

Thursday, March 1

Pa Chin, Family

Writing Workshop: Introductions

“Introductions and Conclusions,” from Writing Analytically

Tuesday, March 6 ESSAY 1 PROPOSAL DUE (1-2 pages); 3 HARD COPIES due in class

Pa Chin, Family

Peer Review Writing Workshop: Come to class prepared to discuss your ideas for the first paper.

Thursday, March 8

Pa Chin, Family

Writing Workshop: Body Paragraphs

Tuesday, March 13  ESSAY 1 FIRST DRAFT DUE (4-5 pages)

Peer Review Workshop

Thursday, March 15

Eileen Chang, “Aloeswood Incense: The First Brazier”

Writing Workshop: Thesis Statements

Tuesday, March 20

Eileen Chang, “Love in a Fallen City”

Wednesday, March 21 FILM SCREENING 7pm (location tba)

Thursday, March 22  

Spring in a Small Town, dir. Fei Mu

Writing Workshop: Close Reading Film

Friday, March 23      ESSAY 1 FINAL DRAFT DUE (email to Keru by 5pm)


Monday, April 2 FILM SCREENING 7pm (location tba)

Tuesday, April 3

Song of Youth, dir. Cui Wei

Writing Workshop: Conclusions

            “Introductions and Conclusions,” from Writing Analytically

Wednesday, April 4 FILM SCREENING 7pm (location tba)

Thursday, April 5

The Red Detachment of Women

Monday, April 9 FILM SCREENING 7pm (location tba)

Tuesday, April 10

Yi Yi, dir. Edward Yang

 Thursday, April 12   ESSAY 2 PROPOSAL DUE (1-2 pages) 3 HARD COPIES due in class    

Wang Xiaobo, The Golden Age

Writing Workshop: Conclusions

            “Introductions and Conclusions,” from Writing Analytically

Tuesday, April 17 ESSAY 2 FIRST DRAFT DUE (4-5 pages) 3 HARD COPIES due in class

Peer Review Writing Workshop

Thursday, April 19

Shen Jiji, “The story of Miss Ren,” Pu Songling, “Yingning”

Writing Workshop: Style and wordiness

Tuesday, April 24

Li Yu, A “Tower for the Summer Heat”

Writing Workshop

Thursday, April 26


Sunday, May 6   ESSAY 2 FINAL DRAFT DUE; email to Keru by 11:59pm