Slavic R5A, Section 4: Belief and Rebellion in the Modern World: Examining the Ethics of Resistance in Russian Literature

MWF 8-9, 246 Dwinelle. Instructor: Jennifer Flaherty.

Units: 4

All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the first half or the “A” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

How much oppression can a person take without fighting back? What are the ethics of not following the rules?

The goal of this class will be to address the question of action in the face of social injustice. We’ll look at this question through the study of Russian literature, but we’ll also think about ways to connect the issues raised in the texts we read to the pressing issues of our current time and space. In particular, by investigating the large gap between the rich and the poor in Russia in the mid- to late 1800s, we will engage the broader question of oppression and resistance.

In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the hero murders an exploitative pawnbroker on behalf of social justice. In the works of Nikolai Gogol, characters undergo the experience of being treated as nobodies: underprivileged, with nothing to offer to a ruthless, competitive world. Anton Chekhov’s short stories convey the crushing despair of guilt in the face of other people’s oppression and the seeming pointlessness of action in a world so full of injustice for so many people. In contemporary literature from across the globe, we continue to see the influence of Russian writers, whose themes we will use to reflect on the struggles of our own times. In particular, we will read from the work of one American author, Ralph Ellison, and one contemporary Indian author, Aravind Adiga, to see how Dostoevsky’s themes in particular can be used to think about American racism and contemporary classism. As we will see, readers of Russian literature are given the opportunity to ponder deep questions about the experience of oppression—both our own and other people’s— and to consider the variety of human responses to that oppression.

This course is dedicated to developing the skills of college-level writing. We will focus on expanding and expressing our ideas through writing. A key aim will be to learn techniques that help us organize complex ideas into arguments, and to develop a writerly voice and let it be heard.

Books to buy at University Bookstore:

(Note: most readings will be compiled into a course reader)

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger: A Novel, ISBN: 1416562591

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (trans. Pevear and Volkonsky), ISBN: 9780679734505