Slavic R5B, Section 1: Belief and Rebellion in the Modern World: Examining the Ethics of Resistance in Russian Literature

TuTh 8-9:30, 2030 VLSB. Instructor: Jennifer Flaherty.

Units: 4

This course satisfies the second half or the “B” 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?

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.

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.

As 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 argumentation, and to develop our own writerly voice.

In contemporary literature from across the globe, we continue to see the influence of Russian writers, whose themes we will use to reflect the struggles of our own times. In particular, we will read from the work 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.

Students should purchase:

 (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 Volokhonsky), ISBN: 9780679734505

Prerequisite:  Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent.  Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.