121 | CCN: 31422

Rhetoric of Fiction

“They fill you with the faults they had”*: The Family and Its Fictions in Many Forms

Instructor: Ramona Naddaff,

4 Units

The “American” family comes in many shapes, forms and sizes—as does the fiction about it. There are short stories, novels, poems, memoirs, graphic novels, television shows, to mention but a few sites where narratives and images, descriptions and expressions, praise and blame, about the family happen. This course proposes to explore the multiple rhetorical representations of the family—the unhappy, “American,” family, which, as Tolstoy has taught us (regarding an entirely different family), is “unhappy in its own way.” Coupled with readings from history, philosophy, literary criticism, gender theory and sociology, we will examine critically how the nuclear family (in particular) shapes and misshapes, forms and deforms identities and aspirations, relationships and attachments, values and loyalties. We will devote ourselves to comprehending the fictions of the family that emerge in nineteenth- to twenty-first century- narratives. However, we will begin (as I often do) with the Ancient Greek tragedians for they have guided, for better and for worse, our vision of familial influences and structures.

Provisional Reading and Viewing List:

Authors: Sophocles and Euripides, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov, John Cheever, Amy Tan, Barack Obama, Alison Bechtel, Philip Roth.

Television Shows: “Father Knows Best,” “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Bill Cosby Show,” “Dallas.” 

Requirements and Special Features: 1) To enroll in this class you must have completed two of the following courses: RH10, RH20, RH103a or RH103b. If you are not a Rhetoric student, please speak with me on the first day of class. You are required to have finished at least half of the introductory courses in your major. 2) This will be a writing-intensive seminar, with many different forms of writing assigned. 3) As often as possible, this class will be “flipped.” Student participation is an essential component. 4) When necessary, television screenings will be scheduled outside class time, at a time convenient for all. 5) Finally, by the second day of class, you will have to hand in a 250-word typed-statement about a family—other than your own. Upon completion, you will be admitted into the class.

*From Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse”