Professor Sophia McClennen / Dept. of Comparative Literature , Penn State University, Mailbox: 311 Burrowes, Office: 435N Burrowes  Office Phone: 865-0032 E-mail:, Office Hours:  T 8:30-9:30, R 12:30-1:30 and by appointment.

CMLIT 405: Inter-American Literature

Spring 2007

Simon Bolivar Statue in New York City



Spring 2007, Section 001:

T, R 11:15A - 12:30P; 306 Burrowes

3 Credit Hours

Course Description

Finding Yourself in America: Personal Narrative in the New World

Even before the first Europeans set foot on the American hemisphere they had already begun to imagine the New World as a place to fulfill dreams and to realize personal goals. And these dreams and imaginings typically took written form. This course traces the history of personal narrative in the Americas focusing especially on texts that intertwine individual identity with the history of the Americas. Beginning with colonial texts, this course links the colonial project with the urge to narrate the exploits of extraordinary individuals.  After pausing to examine Ben Franklins autobiography as a foundational text of American identity, we then read a series of nineteenth century texts by voices that have been omitted from the grand narrative of American history and that complicate the linking of the personal with the national.  Some of the questions we will consider are: How do the voices of African, Asian and Native Americans challenge the American Dream?  Is there a Latin American Dream? How have womens texts participated in defining the identity of the Americas? The second half of the course is dedicated to texts from the twentieth century that reveal a twin impulse to, on the one hand, define the self as a mirror of America and America as a mirror of the self, and, on the other hand, to break down these connections.  Via works by Ralph Ellison, Alejo Carpentier, Che Guevara, Ariel Dorfman, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Audre Lorde we will ask how the literature of the New World has been shaped by the desire to both describe and deconstruct identity in relation to an imagined America.

Course Objectives

Students enrolled in this course should expect to develop the following skills:

       Acquire intercultural and international competence by developing the ability to establish connections among literary works emerging from various American contexts.

       Appreciate the complexity and diversity of various forms of writing.

       Employ comparative methods in order to better understand literary diversity, intertextuality and parallel development.

       Acquire a critical knowledge of literary themes, motifs, structures, narratives, points of view, and values that are typical of American writing.

       Consider questions of social conflict (especially in terms of gender and sexuality) as they are reflected in works of literature.

       Read a variety of critical positions.

       Be familiar with a number of critical terms used in critical theory and literary theory.

       Critically analyze literary works in terms of form and style.

       Practice techniques of literary analysis.

       Develop and refine critical thinking, oral and written expression, and techniques of textual analysis.  

       Develop communication skills in essays, class discussions, presentations, web discussions and research papers.

       Engage in collaborative learning and teamwork, especially while working on a group project.

       Acquire a sound basis for further work in Comparative Literature.

        Actively participate in the creation of a vibrant and rewarding learning community.


A note on on-line readings: Many of our readings are available on-line.  This saves us money!  You need to access the texts well in advance in case there are problems with the website.  Also printing all of the sites can be very wasteful. It is often best to copy the text into a word document and convert it to a small font without the graphics.  This will allow you to print less pages. 


(All of these books are on reserve in the library)


  1. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (Paperback)
    by Sidonie Smith, Julia Watson
    , University of Minnesota Press (January 2002), ISBN: 0816628831
  2. Invisible Man
    by Ralph Ellison, Publisher: Vintage; 2nd edition (March 14, 1995) ISBN: 0679732764
  3. The Lost Steps
    by Alejo Carpentier, Harriet De Onis (Translator), Publisher: University of Minnesota Press; Reprint edition (March 2001) ISBN: 0816638071
  4. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey
    by Ernesto Che Guevara, Publisher: Ocean Press (August 1, 2003) ISBN: 1876175702
  5. Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey by Ariel Dorfman, Publisher: Penguin (May 1, 1999) ISBN: 014028253X
  6. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
    by John Perkins Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (December 27, 2005) ISBN: 0452287081
  7. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (Paperback)
    by Maxine Hong Kingston, Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 23, 1989) ISBN: 0679721886
  8. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Crossing Press Feminist Series)
    by Audre Lorde. Publisher: Crossing Press (December 1983) ISBN: 0895941228



  1. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself
    by Frederick Douglass, Publisher: Yale University Press; New Ed edition (March 1, 2001) ISBN: 0300087012

This text is widely available on-line.

Original Language Texts:

Students who can read translated texts in their original language are highly encouraged to use the originals.  I will often indicate the original language for essays and shorter readings through our course website.  Of the required texts to purchase five are available in the original language and can be purchased through or another on-line bookstore. Please let me know if you would like publication information or look up the original language texts on the CAT.

General Information:

Academic dishonesty: Students are expected to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity. Academic dishonesty will be dealt with according to University policies.

Registration Policy: During the drop/add period at the beginning of the semester, the department of Comparative Literature encourages students to visit this and other courses in order to make informed decisions about which courses to take. After the first week, however, only students registered in the course may remain; no student may late-add (or restore a dropped registration) after the third week of the semester without petitioning the department on a form available in the office, 311 Burrowes.

University Access Statement: The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified students with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodations in this course or have any questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible. 

Course Requirements

Grade Breakdown:

Participation and Preparation


Angel/Message Board Participation


Close Readings






Critical Essay



Grading Scale:


100-93= A


92-90= A-


89-88= B+


87-83= B


82-80= B-


79-78= C+


77-70= C


69-60= D


59-0= F


Course components

1. Participation and Preparation

This is a discussion and writing- intensive course in a seminar format.  The success of this format depends on how well-prepared each student is BEFORE coming to class.  Effective participation requires that students arrive to class on time and ready to engage in advanced conversation about the materials for that day. Students will be given a chance to discuss and defend their opinions in class as well as learn to be tolerant of differing opinions. Moreover, students are encouraged to examine their convictions and interpretations not only by writing but also in the process of classroom discussion. Class will often be divided into smaller discussion groups in order to discuss topics in greater detail. Your class participation grade is based on observations of student performance in the following categories:



Class Participation Grading Scale:


Student is well prepared and enthusiastically participates in all class activities; is very considerate and cooperative with the rest of the class; asks questions and responds to questions; demonstrates knowledge of course materials; consistently practices critical thinking; actively helps to create a vibrant learning community.


Student is generally prepared and willing to participate in class activities; is relatively cooperative with the rest of the class; asks questions and responds to questions most of the time; makes an inconsistent effort to refer to readings and course topics; generally practices critical thinking; helps to create a vibrant learning community.


Student is often unprepared and reluctantly or sporadically participates in class activities; often does not ask questions or respond to questions; rarely makes an effort to demonstrate knowledge of course materials; rarely practices critical thinking; does not show much interest in creating a vibrant learning community.


Student is generally unprepared, unwilling to participate in class activities and unable to answer questions; does not formulate questions or responses; demonstrates little understanding of course materials; does not practice critical thinking; distracts from the creation of a vibrant learning community.


Student is absent (physically or mentally), unprepared, inattentive, uncooperative or disruptive in class.

A note on attendance: Your attendance is absolutely essential for the success of this course.  Not only do you miss the class activities of the day, but we miss your contributions.  Even though it is important for you to be in class, life will occasionally interrupt your ability to join us. For example, you may have a required university activity, you may be sick, or you may have a family obligation.  When you cannot be in class it is important for you to notify me so that I can help you to make up missed work.  Also, when possible, please bring verification of your absence (a note from your coach or doctor for instance).  Each student may miss class twice with no penalty to their participation grade. If you miss class more than twice for reasons beyond your control please see me and we can discuss your situation.

Homework: In addition to reading for class you will often be given questions to consider before coming to class.  You should make notes and write brief answers to these questions before arriving.  


Participation is not limited to in-class discussion -- we will also be discussing issues on our MESSAGE BOARDS available on ANGEL. The MESSAGE BOARDS are set up to encourage discussion and debate of topics covered in class as well as other issues that you think are relevant. Each student is expected to log in and write a message at least 7 times over the course of the semester. You do NOT need to write something every week, but you should read the postings before class. You DO need to post to the Forum on 7 different topics. I will post issues regularly for you to consider.

NOTE: For students who are less comfortable speaking in class, sustained participation on the MESSAGE BOARDS can help balance hesitancy in classroom participation. 

The MESSAGE BOARDS have topics listed that are in synch with our course. Please check the message boards before each class for discussion questions, topics to consider, and to respond to issues. You can also use the message boards to post questions or information. If you have questions about how to use ANGEL ask me for help. 

     You must post to the message boards at least 7 times not counting required posts, such as your introduction or other assignments.

     You must post to the message boards on a regular basis.  Posting seven times at the end of the semester will not receive full credit.

     While you are welcome to post brief questions and answers, the postings for your grade must be a substantial communication, i.e., approximately 5 complex sentences.

     Try to answer the questions posted by your classmates.  

     You should try to post questions so that I can answer them for the benefit of all students.  It is generally better to post a question to the message boards than to me on e-mail, since if you have a question chances are your class mates are curious about the same thing.  Then, when I answer, all will see my response.  

     Post useful web resources and explain why they helped you.  You can also post any tips on using websites.

     You need to check ANGEL before each class, because I will often post important class info there.


3. Close Readings

The ability to analyze a brief passage in detail is a crucial skill for all students of literature. We will do two close readings in order to help you improve your skills. These will be done in class.

I have created a close reading guide (available through our website) to help you. Make sure to visit the page before these assignments.  You may bring a copy of the guide with you to consult.

4. Presentation

In small groups, students will present on one of the primary texts that we are reading for this course.  You should cover background on the author and their works, detailed analysis of a few passages or other elements of the text, questions for the class to consider about the work and a bibliography of texts to consult for further reference.  It is important that presentations involve the active participation of the class. If you have a sense about which texts you might like to write on for your final paper (see below), it is very useful to work on one of these for your presentation.  The presentation should cover half of the class period.  Each group will be given a peer evaluation form that assesses how well the group worked together.  Your grade will be based on the way that you worked within your group and individually.

5. Mid-term

Mid way through the course we will have a mid-term.  We will cover short answer in class and then there will be two short take home essays.

6. Critical Essay

Your final project will be a critical essay that compares two of the texts read for class. You have flexibility in choosing which works to compare.  All students should meet with me beforehand to discuss their projects.  Essays will be 12-15 pages.  You are expected to cite at least 5 critical sources (not counting the primary texts) and to provide a bibliography with at least 15 sources, of which 10 must be sources that were not read in class.  The last week of class you will present on your paper topic (for approximately 10 minutes), explaining your thesis and main points to your classmates. Class will then have an opportunity to dialogue with you about your project. At this time you will turn in a brief two page outline of your paper. The final paper will be due during the exam period.  It is important that you plan ahead so that you can present a well developed project to your classmates. Your grade on your paper will reflect 5% for the quality of your presentation in class. You will be given more details about the final paper in class.


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Created and Maintained by Sophia A. McClennen

Copyright Sophia A. McClennen 2003-2007


Created on 12/5/2006

Last updated on 01/11/2007