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 12-1, R 4-4:45 and by appointment.

CMLIT 406: Women and World Literature

Fall 2003

bullet Course Description
bullet Course Objectives
bullet Textbooks
bullet General Information


bullet Course Requirements
bullet Plan of Study
bullet ANGEL

Section 001: T, R 2:30-3:45, 

116 McAllister, 3 Credit Hours

Course Description

An Eye for an I: Gender and Genre in Women's Personal Narratives

The world's earliest archives or libraries were the memories of women. --Trinh T. Minh-ha

This course focuses on writing by the world's women. By concentrating on the ways that women have tried to represent the female self, we will look at how women give meaning to their lives through written, visual and oral expression. Studying texts where women's lived experience becomes a cultural product for public consumption, we will explore the connections between gender and genre.  We will examine autobiography, memoir, biography, autobiographical/ biographical fiction, testimonial, documentary and other forms of personal and collective narrative in order to become familiar with the many genres of women’s life writing.  By reading a number of key examples of feminist theory we will advance our critique of gender.  Through the analysis of a variety of texts by women we will consider the relationship of these life narratives to their historical and social contexts.  We will also investigate the different strategies and media used by different women to tell their own life stories.  Key questions we will address are:  Do women storytellers subvert narrative conventions and generic constructions? If so, how and why?  We will also ask whether women employ specific strategies in the telling of their life histories.  In most of the examples we will study this term the impetus to present the personal life to the public was driven by an extreme social crisis.  Consequently, we will ask how women negotiate the use of the public sphere in order to preserve memory, challenge official versions of history, and instigate social change.  Given that women's history has often been narrated from a patriarchal position, we will also analyze the ways that these texts challenge traditional gender paradigms and power relations. 

Course Objectives

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

bullet Acquire intercultural and international competence by developing the ability to establish connections among literary works emerging from various contexts, and among majority and minority cultures with a focus on the construction of gender.
bullet Appreciate the complexity and diversity of various forms of women's life writing.
bullet Employ comparative methods in order to better understand literary diversity, intertextuality and parallel development.
bullet Acquire a critical knowledge of literary themes, motifs, structures, narratives, points of view, and values that are typical of women's life writing.
bullet Consider questions of social conflict (especially in terms of gender and sexuality) as they are reflected in works of literature.
bullet Read a variety of feminist positions.
bullet Analyze the intersections of feminist theory and women's writing.
bullet Understand the differences between feminist theories and the critical consequences of these differences.
bullet Be familiar with a number of critical terms used in feminist theory and cultural theory.

Critically analyze literary works in terms of form and style.


Practice techniques of literary analysis.

bullet Develop and refine critical thinking, oral and written expression, and techniques of textual analysis.  
bullet Develop communication skills in essays, response papers, class discussions, presentations, web discussions and research papers.
bullet Engage in collaborative learning and teamwork, especially while working on a group project.
bullet Acquire a sound basis for further work in Women's Studies and Comparative Literature.
bullet 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)

Alvarez, Julia.  How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Plume; Reprint edition (June 1992) ISBN: 0452268060.

Ang, Li. The Butcher's Wife and Other Stories. Trans. Howard Goldblatt. Publisher: Cheng & Tsui; ISBN: 0887272223; 1 Ed edition (September 1995).

De Jesus, Carolina Maria. Bitita's Diary: The Childhood Memoirs of Carolina Maria De Jesus. Ed. Robert M. Levine. Trans. Emanuelle Olveira. Publisher: M.E.Sharpe; ISBN: 0765602113; (January 1998).

Kassindja, Fauziya with Layli Miller Bashir. Do They Hear You When You Cry? Publisher: Delta; ISBN: 0385319940; (April 1999).

Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. Publisher: Anchor; ISBN: 0385468865; Reprint edition (January 1994).

Mernissi, Fatima. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood. Publisher: Perseus Publishing; ISBN: 0201489376; (September 1995).

Partnoy, Alicia. The Little School: Tales of Disappearance & Survival in Argentina. Trans. Lois Althey. Publisher: Cleis Pr; ISBN: 1573440299; 2nd edition (September 1998).

Zoya with Rita Cristofari. Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom. Publisher: William Morrow & Co; ISBN: 0060097825; 1st edition (March 26, 2002).

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 three are available in the original and can be purchased through or another on-line bookstore. Here is the publication information:

Ang, Li. Sha Fu.(I have not been able to find an edition in print, but you might want to look on your own.)

De Jesus, Carolina María. Diário de Bitita. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Nova Fronteira, 1986.

Partnoy, Alicia. La escuelita. (I have not been able to find an edition in print, but you might want to look on your own.)

Optional Secondary Source:

All of the textbooks for this course are available on reserve and you are not required to purchase them. In addition to many readings available on-line, we will also have one article available through electronic reserve.  The following two books are our main sources for secondary critical readings.  You can buy them or you can make copies of the relevant readings from the reserve copies. 

Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson, Eds. Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader (Wisconsin Studies in American AutobiographyU of Wisconsin P; ISBN: 0299158446; (August 1998).

Warhol, Robyn and Diane Herndl, Eds. Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Rutgers University Press; ISBN: 0813523893; Revised edition (May 1997).

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. 

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Created and Maintained by Sophia A. McClennen

Copyright Sophia A. McClennen 2001-2002


Created on 7/5/2002

Last updated on 08/31/2003