ENGL 242 A: Reading Prose Fiction

Meeting Time: 
MW 2:30pm - 4:20pm
AND 008
Sharmila Mukherjee

Syllabus Description:

English 242A Sp. Quarter: Prose Fiction: Contemporary American Immigrant Fiction

Instructor: Sharmila Mukherjee

Email: sharmila@uw.edu

Office: Padelford B 435

Office Hours: Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-3:30 pm (or by appointment)


Course Description:

This course considers a range of contemporary American fiction centered on the immigrant experience. What are the joys and wounds of dislocation and relocation? What does it mean to be an immigrant or a child of immigrants? We will study a range of short stories and a novel by authors from diverse countries of origin—Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, India, China, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and others—to understand the ways in which immigrant literature fiction chronicles the perspective of outsiders making their way into America. Occasionally, we will read extracts from memoirs by immigrant fiction writers to deepen our understanding of the immigrant experience. Topics of discussion include the American dream, assimilation and alienation, fractured identities, family life and generational differences. Please watch the movie The Namesake (2007), directed by Mira Nair, outside class. We will view clips in class.


Course Objectives:

  1. Learn to engage in careful, analytic reading of prose fiction
  2. Develop as thoughtful writers of effective academic prose.
  3. Engage in online and in-class discussions that reveal one’s ability to listen and respond critically and attentively.


Required Texts (Please buy hard copies)

  • Junot Diaz, Drown. Riverhead Books, 1996.
  • Jumpa Lahiri, The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003
  • A course pack available for purchase at Professional Copy ‘n Print (Address: 4200 University Way NE, Seattle 98105)



This course will require you to work at least 2-3 hours for each hour of class. You should spend a minimum of 7-10 hours per week on this course’s work. You will need to plan ahead and budget time for this class regularly throughout the week.


Assignments and Grading

Participation (includes 2 online posts)                                                                        40%

Close-reading assignment                                                                                           30%

Final paper                                                                                                                   30%



Academic Resources

My goal is to create a learning environment where you can be successful. I will work hard to support this learning environment based upon my own observations and your feedback. In addition, please take advantage of the academic support services available to you on campus.


Course Policies & Requirements

  • All assignments must be written in MLA format and all papers must be typed and double-spaced with 12-point Times New Roman (or similar) font and 1-1.25 inch margins. Using larger font/margins may result in a lower grade.
  • No computers or cell phones in class. Your participation score will be lowered considerably if you spend class time using either. Texting, using your computer or taking frequent breaks away from the classroom will result in a lower participation score. If/when there are exceptions to the computer rule, I will let you know in class.
  • Intentional plagiarism, patch-writing, or cheating in any form, for any assignment, will result in a failure of the assignment and possibly for the course. Please review the Academic Policies noted above.



  • In-class:

This course operates as a discussion seminar (active learning environment) in which your contributions, including online postings, peer critiques and analyses of the texts, will guide our daily conversations in class; thus, participation is a major component. I consider participation in class to consist of much more than speaking and initiating discussion; it also means keeping up on all of the homework/reading assignments, paying attention, and listening respectfully to others—contributing without dominating the floor. Earning good participation in small groups means staying focused on class materials and using the time allotted to discuss the questions or prompts without rushing through. If you are late, it is your responsibility to make sure I mark you as “present/late” before you leave class for the day. Participation points cannot be made-up unless you have a doctor’s note.

  • Online posts:

UPDATE: Please initiate your topic for discussion on a text at least 48 hours before that text is scheduled for in-class discussion. This means that the deadline to initiate a topic on a text scheduled for in-class discussion on Monday is Saturday 2:30 pm. The deadline to initiate a topic for a text scheduled for in-class discussion on Wednesday is Monday 2:30 pm.

This deadline is to give your peers enough time to respond to your post before in-class discussion. I encourage you to post much earlier before the deadline.

You can respond to your peer's post till before class discussion of that text.

As part of your participation/contribution, you will post 2 times on Canvas over the quarter. One of the postings will be an initiation of a topic for discussion about the reading for the following week. The other posting will be a detailed response to a peer’s comment. Each posting will be about 500 words. The postings will help you practice close reading, academic writing and discussion skills. All rules of good writing—organization, effective communication, edited prose— apply. Learn to create a climate of vigorous intellectual exchange. Please be respectful. See below for online posting guideline.

  • How to initiate a topic for discussion:

Look below at the discussion questions, and then come up with a more specific question the week’s reading poses for you. The question should be about an aspect of the text: its meaning, story-telling technique, characterization, value, assumptions etc. Do not summarize the text! Pose your question, explain with close reference to the text why the question matters/is important, offer a well-thought but tentative answer to your question, ask for other perspectives on the issue.

Some additional ways to brainstorm: What aspect of the text caught your attention the most, intrigued you, puzzled you or frustrated you? Why is it arresting, intriguing, puzzling or frustrating? What is the text’s message? What is its inner logic? What are the latent tensions, conflicts in the text? What values or assumptions are implicit in the text? What questions about cultural assumptions are raised by it? What is your attitude towards the values the text endorses? The point is not to list everything you found intriguing or baffling and so on. Focus on any ONE aspect you consider important for understanding the meaning or the artistry of the text.

  • How to respond to a peer’s comment:

What is the value of your peer’s comment to the text? What does it help you notice that you would miss? What does your peer miss? What are other ways of responding to the question your peer has posed?

Choose one of the 3 models to respond:

  1. The misinterpretation model: By saying………… about [let’s say] X, Jane misinterprets……………………………………..
  2. The gap model: Although Jane has noted …………………………………about X, her interpretation has missed the importance of………..
  3. The modification model: Although I agree with Jane on her interpretation of X, it is necessary to limit/refine/extend her interpretation by taking into account……….



Daily attendance is required. You can miss up to 3 days over the course of the quarter, but it is your responsibility to request notes from a peer for any classes missed. Beyond the 3 days of excused absence, you need a letter of documentation from a certified nurse/doctor. No exceptions.



All assignments will be delivered on Canvas. Email attachments will not be accepted. No late homework assignments will be accepted unless you have made prior arrangements made with me in writing (over email) and have a documented university-approved excuse. If you have extenuating circumstances going on in your life, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me outside of class.


Additional Course Information

Canvas is an online course management system I use to post important announcements, the syllabus, assignment sheets, reading assignment PDFs, and links to websites and articles. You will post your online reflections on Canvas. Your current UW username and password will serve as your Canvas username and password.



I consider my teaching a scholarly endeavor. What I learn from you in this class can help me in my future courses. I may even draw from your assignments to create scholarship that helps others wishing to improve their pedagogical teaching, as well. If I do so, your identity (name and other identifiable information) will remain anonymous. If you have any concerns, please speak with me.


Additional Comments:

The classroom learning environment is a space that is run mostly as a discussion seminar and one in which I support my students’ prerogative to ask questions at any point during a lecture. As such, I do not allow any of my class periods to be recorded. Please talk to me about this outside of class if you have any questions or concerns.My door is always open to discuss ways I can help you succeed in this course.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Look closely at the opening paragraph of each story. What theme is introduced? How is it introduced? What mood is set? How is the theme developed in the rest of the story? Are there narrative surprises?
  2. What role does setting play in these stories?
  3. From whose perspective/point-of-view is the story told? Why does perspective matter?
  4. How would you describe the main characters in the story? How are they different or similar from characters you have encountered in other stories we have read in this course? In what ways are their situations similar or different?
  5. Short stories generally revolve around a conflict that is introduced, developed, and then either resolved or left open. What kinds of conflicts occur in the stories? Which stories exhibit strong closure? Which ones are more open-ended?  
  6. What expectations do the protagonists of these stories bring to the United States? In what ways are those expectations frustrated or fulfilled?
  7. How do the characters in these stories try to solve the dilemmas they find themselves in? What are some examples of their resilience and resourcefulness?
  8. How are the main characters in these stories changed by America? Are they changed at all? How does being in American change the way they view their homeland?
  9. How does America appear as seen through the eyes of the immigrants/refugees? What challenges and opportunities does America present for them?
  10. Many of the stories center on contentious family relationships. What are the commonalities and differences in how the theme is explored in the stories?
  11. The stories we read in the course are often pervaded by anxiety, bleakness and a brutal struggle to survive. What moments of tenderness and compassion stand out?
  12. What are the pleasures of the author’s storytelling style? How does he/she manage to make his writing compelling and engaging?



Weekly Schedule (Tentative: Changes Will Be Announced In Class)

The following reading and writing assignments are listed on the day they are due. There may be addendums, at times, based on my observations of how the course is running. 


Week I: Topic: Introduction to American Immigrant Literature

Monday, April 1

Intro & Syllabus


Wednesday, April 3: Terms and Definitions

            Readings PDF

  • George Santayana, “The Philosophy of Travel” [CP]
  • Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” [CP]
  • Vu Tran, “A Refugee Again” [CP]
  • Porochista Khakpour, “13 Ways of Being an Immigrant” [CP]



Week II: The Model Immigrant; Food and Immigrant Fiction

Monday, April 8



Wednesday, April 10


  • Tahira Naqvi, “Thank God for the Jews” [CP]
  • Amy Tan, “Best Quality” [CP]
  • Lara Vapnyar, “A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf” [CP]
  • Optional: Weike Wang, “Omakase” The New Yorker June 18, 2018: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/18/omakase



Week III: Immigrant Writers on Writing; Coming to America

Monday, April 15


  • Sandra Cisneros, “Hydra House” [CP]
  • Sandra Cisneros, “Never Marry a Mexican” [CP]
  • Alexander Chee, “On Becoming an American Writer” [CP]
  • Alexander Chee, “Girl” [CP]


Wednesday, April 17


  • Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs” [CP]
  • Daniel Alarcon, “Absence” [CP]
  • Chimamanda Adichie, “The Thing around Your Neck” [CP]


Week IV: Love in Immigrant Fiction; Arranged Marriage

Monday, April 22



Wednesday, April 24


  • Bharati Mukherjee, “A Wife’s Story” [CP]
  • Chimamanda Adichie, “Arrangers of Marriage” [CP]
  • Bring a 2-3 page draft of the Close-reading Assignment [CP]


Week V: Family Dynamics; Immigrants as Global Citizens

Monday, April 29


  • Amy Tan, “Two Kinds” [CP]
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, “War Years” [CP]
  • Ha Jin, “In the Crossfire” [CP]
  • Close-reading Assignment due on Canvas by 11:59 pm


Wednesday, May 1


  • Belly Yang, “The Language of Dreams” [CP]
  • Vanessa Hua, “Line, Please” [CP]
  • Chimamanda Adichie, “Ghosts” [CP]


Week VI: Drown

Monday, May 6


  • Junot Diaz, “Ysrael”
  • Diaz, “Fiesta, 1980”
  • Junot Diaz, “Aguantando”



Wednesday, May 8


  • Junot Diaz, “Aurora"
  • Junot Diaz, "Aguantando”
  • Junot Diaz, “Drown”


Week VII: Drown

Monday, May 13


  • Diaz, “Boyfried”
  • Edison, New Jersey”
  • Diaz, “How to Date”


Wednesday, May 15

  • Diaz, “No Face”
  • Diaz, “Negocios"
  • Nicolai Gogol, “The Overcoat” [CP]


Week VIII: The Namesake

Monday, May 20

  • Lahiri, The Namesake, till page 71.


Wednesday, May 22


  • Lahiri, The Namesake till page 124


Week IX

Monday, May 27

No Class: Memorial Day


Wednesday, May 29


  • Lahiri, The Namesake till page 224


Week X

Monday, June 4


  • Lahiri, The Namesake till pg. 267
  • Writing due:

Bring 5 page draft of your final paper


Wednesday, June 6

  • Lahiri, The Namesake till end
  • Watch the movie The Namesake (dir. Mira Nair)


Finals Week

Monday June 10th

The final paper is due on Canvas by 11:59 pm

Catalog Description: 
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:30pm