Slavic R5A, Section 3: Wild East, Wild West: Mapping the Frontier in Russian and American Literature

MWF 8-9, Dwinelle 183. Instructor: Maria Whittle.

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.

The whole world is familiar with the myth of the Wild Wild West—ever since its discovery, artists and writers have imagined the American frontier as a land of plenty, where adventure, freedom and opportunity can be found for those who seek it.  But how many people have heard of the Wild Wild East?  Since the early 19th century, explorers, thinkers and rulers have noted the uncanny similarities, both ecological and sociopolitical, between the vast expanses of Russian Siberia and the American West.  From exploration and settlement of untamed wild spaces to the exploitation of natural resources and displacement of indigenous residents, the colonization processes of Siberia and the North American frontier share parallel trajectories, despite their countries’ stark political and historical differences. This course will trace these parallel histories of the Russian East and the American West as they are each portrayed in their countries’ national literatures.  By comparing literary depictions of these eastern and western frontiers, we will seek to answer larger questions about the cultural appeal of such spaces.

How does writing about land and space inform visions of the past, present and future?  How does man’s struggle to control nature manifest itself on the page?  And what are the consequences, both social and artistic, of such projects of internal political expansion?  In this class, we will explore how literature and the arts have mapped these spaces in our cultural imagination, and the implications that such cultural myths can have.  Course readings will include works by Jack London, Willa Cather, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Valentin Kataev, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The primary goal of this course is to develop college-level writing and critical reading skills. Over the course of the semester, students will write several expository essays and practice developing strong arguments through close reading.

Texts for purchase:

O, Pioneers!  Willa Cather.  ISBN 0307700917

One Day in the Live of Ivan Denisovich.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (tr. Willetts)  ISBN 0374534683

Time, Forward!  Valentin Kataev. ISBN 0810112477

Other texts will be provided in a course reader.


Due to the high demand for R&C courses we monitor attendance very carefully. Attendance is mandatory the first two weeks of classes, this includes all enrolled and wait listed students. If you do not attend all classes the first two weeks you may be dropped. If you are attempting to add into this class during weeks 1 and 2 and did not attend the first day, you will be expected to attend all class meetings thereafter and, if space permits, you may be enrolled from the wait list.