Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to sub-navigation

English- EN 203: Tradition and Change in Literature: The Empires Strike Back

Block 1: Laura Padilla

Block 2: Rashna B. Singh


This two-block course meets the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time requirement.

How do literary texts ‘talk’ to each other, and how do they ‘talk back’ to structures of power? How do narratives compete with each other and challenge the ideologies of empires? In this class we will read ‘classics’ of ‘Western’ literature as well as texts that question and destabilize the very notion of “the West” as a geopolitical or ideological entity. We will read texts that span centuries, from medieval to modern times, texts that reinscribe and texts that confront the institutions, ideologies, and rhetoric of European Empires. Examples are Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Prioress’s Tale, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Daniel Defoe’s Captain Singleton, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, George Orwell’s Burmese Days, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Irene Vilar’s A Message from God in the Atomic Age, and Bharati Mukherjee’s The Holder of the World. Theoretical texts will frame our discussions of the literary texts. Films will supplement the literature.

A set of linked, one-block courses that must be taken together, with one instructor in each block; separate grades will be assigned for each block.


  • This course serves as a gateway to the English major.
  • There will be occasional film screenings in the afternoon.