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English 242: Social Justice within Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

Professor Taylor Davis (tld2@illinois.edu)


ENG 119 TR 2:00-3:15pm
Office Hours: R 10:00-11:00am and by appointment
Course Description: How do Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers utilize historical and current events to make
a point about social justice issues? Why has the genre become so hot and what is the impact on
readers? In this course, we will discover the importance of genre fiction (in this case sci-
fi/fantasy) and link the novels plot, characters, and style to various problems in our society
today. We will examine the way these writers integrate social commentary on topics like
marriage equality, the AIDS epidemic and the LGBTQ community, industrialism and
technologys influence in our society, slavery and racism, gender politics, child abuse and the
importance of education, revolution and warfare, disability and mental illness, and more! The
class is structured around the basis of discussion, with each class period being devoted to a
certain section of reading and the topic most prevalent in that section. Each novel will also be
paired with a 3-5 page paper as well as a creative final paper/story that is 6-8 pages.
Materials (Available in Union Bookstore and Amazon):
1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
3. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
5. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
*If you have any trouble obtaining materials I have extra copies or allow library books!
Grade Distribution:
20% Participation
40% Novel Papers
40% Final Project
Participation:
Come to class with the required materials (i.e. some form of the book) and participate in class
discussion. We are trying to create a brave space for dialogue. Opinions are welcome in this type
of class, but we must be respectful at all times, even when opinions differ from our own. I
recognize that some students are more comfortable listening and others with speaking up, but
there will be times when I try to reverse the roles. Come to class with passion and with respect,
and this category will be easy for you!
Novel Papers:
Each novel will require a 3-5 page, double-spaced paper, responding to a prompt sent out by me
a month in advance (check calendar for paper due dates). Each novel will have several prompts
to choose from. You are welcome to create your own prompt as long as you ask for approval
before turn-in. No outside sources are necessary, besides using quotes from the novel. Please
include a clear thesis and lots of evidence, but mostly let passion be present in the work. This is
about your opinion and the writers opinion seen throughout the work, so try to find a balance
between the two!
Final Project:
The final project is 40% of your grade, but it offers more freedom than any of the other papers.
You will be required to either write a traditional 6-8 page paper with a prompt of your own
creation or choose a less traditional method of showcasing your knowledge. Examples of this
include: fanfiction/short story (within the genre), a book (again within the genre) review
examining social justice issues like we did in class, a short film/animation. If you choose one of
the more creative methods, it must be accompanied by a 2 page artist statement explaining how
the work relates to the tropes of the genre and integrates any social justice issues we see within
our own society. I will schedule out of class times to consult with you about the project and make
sure everyone is on the right track. Due date is included in the calendar.
Course Attendance:
Class attendance is an integral part of a discussion-based course. Missing class more than three
times will lower your grade a third (i.e. taking a B down to a B-) and missing class more than
five times will result in a lack of completion. I realize that perfect attendance can be difficult and
unforeseen circumstances to happen, so try to communicate any problems with me through
email. If there are medical circumstances I will do everything I can to assist you in your
completion of the course. Consistent tardiness will not be tolerated and can also negatively
impact your grade.
Accommodations:
I am perfectly willing to accommodate anyone who needs it. Bring me any notices from DRES
and I will work with you and DRES to make the class a good experience.
Plagiarism:
Plagiarism and cheating are not acceptable in the classroom. Because the papers are so largely
focused on opinion, it will be clear if the work is not your own. The University has a policy
(listed in the handbook) and I follow it. It refers to a range of consequences for plagiarism, listed
here: www.admin.uiuc.edu/policy/code/. Words that are not your own should be cited
immediately so as not to cause confusion. If you have any questions about MLA or citations in
general, contact me or check resources like Purdue OWL.
Reading/Assignment Schedule:
August 29th:
Syllabus Review
Icebreakers
August 31st:
Harry Potter CoS: Ch 1-5
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): The Dursleys: The Middle-Class Culture, Conservatism, and White
Supremacy. Child Abuse and Harrys found family (a trope in the genre). Dobby and slavery in
the UK/US.
September 5th:
Harry Potter CoS: Ch 6-10
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): Moaning Myrtle and Bullying. Mudbloods and racism. J.K. Rowling and
the Token Minority (discuss characters from later books such as Cho Chang and the Patel twins).
Hogwarts and the style of teaching (is there any room for students to argue with what is taught?).
September 7th:
Harry Potter CoS: Ch 11-14
Discussion Style: DebateWhat is J.K. Rowling trying to say about the upper class? Is classism
a relevant issue today? Has it gotten worse or better? Is it worse in the UK or the US? Class will
be split into two camps with 20 minutes of preparation using evidence from the novels. Each
camp will present an opening statement (2-5 minutes), have a joint open debate (10 minutes),
and a closing statement (2-5 minutes).
Discussion Topic(s): Elitism and Malfoy Manor. Parseltongue and the heir of slytherin. The
Chamber of Secrets and its plot to destroy weak bloodlines.
September 12th:
Harry Potter CoS: Ch 15-18
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): Dobbys freedom and what he will be able to do with it (should there be
continuous reparations made for cases like these?). Fawkes (the magical phoenix) and Guy
Fawkes Day in the UK. Horcruxes and the corruption of power.
Paper 1 CoS due via Email: September 13th, 11:59 pm
September 14th:
Harry Potter PoA: Ch 1-6
Discussion Style: Small Groups. Each group will receive a different topic with several questions
to discuss. After small group discussion, we will share out and talk as a class.
Discussion Topic(s): Aunt Marge and the argument of nature versus nurture. Harrys privilege as
it relates to his identity as the chosen one, as well as a white male (examine his punishment after
blowing up his aunt? Would others receive such a lenient punishment?). Hagrid, the Knight Bus,
and how language is an indicator of class and wealth.
September 19th:
Harry Potter PoA: Ch 7-13
Discussion Style: Lecture then class discussion of notes
Discussion Topic(s): Lecture on brief biography of J.K. Rowling. Tie her struggle with
depression/mental illness to dementors and their soul-leeching qualities. Also, include the idea of
patronuses and the way they only briefly combat dementors instead of killing them permanently
(what does that say about mental illness and treatment?).
September 21st:
Harry Potter PoA: Ch 14-18
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): J.K. Rowling later revealed that Remus Lupins lycanthropy was a
metaphor for the AIDS epidemic and the growing awareness of the LGBTQ community in the
1980s. What is the impact of this metaphor? How does Lupins lycanthropy relate to the
savageness of Fenyr Graybacks portrayal in the novel? What does that say about the LGBTQ
community and stereotypes?
September 26th:
Harry Potter PoA: Ch 19-22
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): Sirius Black is one of only two prisoners able to escape Azkaban. How does
the depressing, soul-sucking reality of Azkaban link to todays prison system? What was
Rowling trying to say? Sirius and Hagrid were both wrongfully imprisoned without so much as a
trial? Is this hyperbolic or is there a mirroring of todays practices?
Paper 2 on PoA due: Friday September 29th at 11:59pm
September 28th:
LOTR Ch 1-4
Discussion Style: Worldbuilding/Film Viewing with accompanied discussion
Discussion Topic(s): What does it mean that our culture loves stories where there is one hero
with a special skill that makes them chosen? How does Frodo reflect and challenge this
assumption? Why does Gandalf trust hobbits with the task of taking the ring to Mordor? What
ideas of British Nationalism does Tolkien include in places like the Shire and Rivendelle?
October 3rd:
LOTR: 5-10
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): Each type of character in LOTR (elves, dwarves, humans) are presented
with some of the ruling rings. What are the effects of this power on each species? What do the
Ring Wraiths have to do with materialism and power corruption? Are the elves representative of
a perfect Aryan race? Does Tolkien portray them as the ideal community?
October 5th:
LOTR: 11-15
Discussion Style: Small Groups with Share Out
Discussion Topic(s): The fellowship of the rings includes various types of men: elves, wizards,
hobbits, and dwarves, but they are all men. Women play no large roles in the novel, even Arwen,
an elf in love with Aragorn, who seemingly has great elvish powers, does nothing to help the war
against Mordor. How do gender politics play into the novel? Did Tolkien reflect the society of
the 50s or was their recognition there?
October 10th:
LOTR: 16-19
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): What do the orcs represent? Does Tolkien present the evil coming as
synonymous of industrialism and machinery? What is the danger in orcs all being created with
little independent thought? Mordor is essentially a large volcanohow does this tie in with
industrialism ruining an old pastoral landscape?
October 12th:
LOTR: 20-22
Discussion Style: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): Sauron can sense and see place and people far away from him, especially
people fighting against him. What is Tolkien trying to say about censorship? If censorship
becomes as serious as Sauron, is resistance futile? How does this reflect Communist Russia and
other classic works like 1984?
Paper 3 LOTR due date: Friday October 13th 11:59 pm.
October 17th:
Red Rising Ch 1-9
Discussion Type: Worldbuilding Discussion/Comprehension/Introduction
Discussion Topic(s): How does Darrows society function? How does each caste (labeled with
colors like red, silver, gold, blue, yellow, pink, gray, etc.) work within the space society? Reds
are slaves to the upper classes silver/gold, but are not fed any information about the wealth on
the surface. How does this extreme censorship perpetuate the continuous slavery?
October 19th:
Red Rising 10-17
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): How does Eos death by hanging propel Darrow towards rebellion? What is
corporal punishments place in both Darrows society and our own? What is the importance of
Darrow being disguised as one of the Golds and given their enhanced strength/build/speed? Why
would a Gold from the surface help Darrow get these enhancements? What is Brown saying
about change and accomplices? What does it say about the truth about oppression and
revolution?
October 24th:
Red Rising 18-25
Discussion Type: Small Groups with share out
Discussion Topics: Even though Reds are kept in slaves within the mines, several of the servant
castes on the surface fare no better. Each group will tackle with castes: Pink (prostitution caste),
Yellow (tech caste), and Gray (brainwashed police caste), with one group also examining how
the Silver/Gold caste has such firm control. What explanations and evidence does Brown include
in the book to explain the society?
October 26th:
Red Rising 26-32
Discussion Type: Debate (Same format as before)
Discussion Topic(s): Are the Gold/Silver children better off than the other castes? What
challenges do they face as they become heads of their families? What are the qualities expected
in them? What does Darrow find surprising when he is entered in the Gold/Silver wargames that
weed the weak out of the upper castes? How does he become a legend among them? How does
violence/fear influence those around them?
October 31st:
Red Rising 33-38
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): What is the importance of revolution in Red Rising? Darrow attempts a
very violent revolution: how does this compare to civil wars of the past in the US and around the
world? Are they an effective way of bringing about change?
November 2nd:
Red Rising 39-44
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): Many of the characters in Red Rising are subject to a large quantity of
violence in their life. How are soldiers treated after war? Is PTSD treated as seriously as it should
be? How difficult is the transition from fighting in a war to being home? How are relationships
on the battlefield compressed and warped? What is the impact of the structure and hierarchy
within militaries and what is Browns take on it?
Paper 4 RR due date: Friday November 3rd 11:59 pm
November 7th:
Cinder 1-7
Discussion Type: Worldbuilding/Comprehension Discussion
Discussion Topic(s): Why do you think Meyer chose to portray Cinderella as an amputee orphan
with a robotic hand? How does Cinders Chinese ethnicity go against the original portrayal of
Cinderella? Why do you think Meyer chose to rework a tale like Cinderella? What issues within
Cinderella should change to reflect the times?
November 9th:
Cinder 8-14
Discussion Type: Small Group with share out
Discussion Topic(s): How does Cinders abusive relationship with her stepmother and stepsisters
ruin her self-esteem? Even though Cinder has a strong knowledge of mechanics and a computer
in her head, how does her social relationships suffer because of her lack of equal opportunity to
education and other resources?
November 14th:
Cinder 15-20
Discussion Type: Film Viewing (Clips of Loving)
Discussion Topic(s): In the kingdom that Cinder lives in, the Commonwealth, cyborgs are treated
as second-class citizens because in some ways, they are more powerful than their fully-human
counterpoints. Cinder is unable to marry whoever she chooses. How does this reflect the film
Loving and the Marriage Equality act that President Obama passed?
November 16th:
Cinder 21-26
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): How does Cinders metal foot and hand impact her life and the way she is
treated by society? Because her disability is physical, is she treated better than other characters
(such as Winter) who suffer from invisible disabilities or mental illnesses? Is there any way to
combat legislature in a monarchy? How does Cinder fight for her rights?
THANKSGIVING BREAK
November 28th:
Cinder 27-33
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): How does Meyer twist the original relationship of Cinderella and her
prince? In what ways are Prince Kai and Prince Charming similar? How does Prince Kai use his
influence/privilege to be an ally to cyborgs? Is his voice enough? What does it truly mean to be
an ally and/or accomplice?
November 30th:
Cinder 34-38
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topic(s): How does Levana trick the population into believing Cinder is a terrorist? Is
her ability to manipulate mind a parallel to the way media can warp reality? How can supposedly
unbiased networks become biased? What are the ways that minority groups are discriminated
against in the media?
Paper 5 Cinder due date: Friday December 1st 11:59 pm.
December 5th:
Viewing of The Matrix
December 7th:
Cont. Viewing
December 12th:
Finish the Matrix
Discussion Type: Large Group
Discussion Topics: Allow class to create their own discussion, with minimal intervention. Have
them focus on the social implications of the film, as well as why it was so relevant in pop
culture.
December 14th:
Work day for the Final Project
Due Date: December 22nd 11:59 pm
WINTER BREAK
Have a lovely time! You deserve it!