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ENGL 259 B: Literature and Social Difference

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
JHN 111

Syllabus Description:

Zoom link for class sessions: (or enter ID: 831-142-396)


English 259 B: Social Difference and Utopia

Spring 2020

Instructor: Jennifer Cuffman


Class Times: MW 11:30-1:20

Office Hours: By appointment (Zoom ID:

In everyday usage, the terms ‘utopia’ and ‘utopian’ are often associated with unrealistic fantasies of impossibly perfect worlds. Rather than positively connoting hopeful dreams of transformation, ‘utopia’ is treated as unpractical and unrealistic. In contrast to this common treatment of utopia, literary utopias—in rich and varied ways—imagine alternative times and places as a way of critiquing the limits of the present. Moreover, what does and does not constitute utopia or utopian thinking is not fixed: while some literary utopias depict utopia as some perfect place, other utopias (particularly 20th and 21st-century utopias) also highlight the ambivalences, ambiguities, and limits of utopian imagination even as they demonstrate that the present is not enough. Because literary utopias usefully highlight the limits of the present, they engage with social difference in interesting and complicated ways. In this class, we will consider scholarly definitions of utopia as well as many of the varied ways that 20th and 21st-century writers utilize the concept of utopia in their writing to explore, critique, and offer alternatives to various aspects of the contemporary world. We will pay particular attention to their treatments of gender, race, sexuality, and class. Ultimately, this class will emphasize some of the complicated ways that fiction engages the present and works to offer alternatives to pressing contemporary concerns, and, importantly, this class will allow students to reflect on both the limits and the potentials of utopias to imagine something beyond the here and now.

This course has the following formal learning goals, identified according to the skill(s) generally emphasized: general analytical, disciplinary, or writing.

  1. You will be able to perform competent close readings of course texts and similar texts. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing) 

  1. You will develop both an appreciation of literature and a lifelong habit of reading. (General Analytical; Disciplinary)

  2. You will gain an appreciation for and knowledge of literature’s relationship to related areas or disciplines. (Analytical; Disciplinary) 

  3. You will be able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally. (Analytical; Writing; Disciplinary) 

  4. You will gain and/or build on basic research traditions and skills. You will develop more familiarity with library resources and electronic or on-line media. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing) 

  5. You can appreciate the value and challenge of difference and disagreement. (Analytical) 

  6. You will develop more sophisticated discussion and presentation skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend your own arguments or interpretations. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing) 

You will improve their writing skills generally, and with regard to writing about literature and culture. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing)


Required Texts

PDFs on Canvas

Russ, The Female Man (available at the university bookstore)

Whitehead, The Intuitionist (available at the university bookstore)



  1. Participation. Participation is going to look a little different this quarter. For the majority of you, I expect you to ‘attend’ all class sessions. I prefer that you have a camera and microphone so that I can see you and you can work in smallgroups. During our class sessions, I will usually go over a powerpoint and then I will split you up into “breakout groups” to work on discussion questions. Your participation in these breakout groups will be most of your participation grade. I will, however, make accommodations for those of you who are unable to access live Zoom sessions (due to spotty WiFi, time difference, difficult living situations, lack of access to computer, etc). For every class period, I will post an overview of the session, homework, and what to do if you missed the Zoom session. Attending the live Zoom session is ideal since I will not be pre-recording lectures and I do want discussion to be a significant component of this class even though it will now be in an online format. If you don’t have access to technology, be sure to be in contact with me early in the quarter so we can figure out what participation might look like for you. (10%)

  2. Free-writes. You will complete a free-write for every class session. These assignments are meant to get you writing and thinking. They are not about producing a polished text but rather about jotting down notes or thinking in prose. Overall, I want you to be thinking about the reading you just completed. What was interesting about it? What don’t you understand? What do you think is great about the text? Is there something that bothers you about it? Is there something strange or surprising? Quite simply, what has reading the text made you think? You might want to focus on one passage of the text in particular, or you might want to draw connections between this text and another text. There is no right or wrong here. The simple goal is just to think in words, to write freely.
  • In Writing Without Teachers, Peter Elbow gives some useful directions for free writing: Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can’t think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write, ‘I can’t think of it.’ … The easiest thing is just to put down whatever is in your mind. If you get stuck it’s fine to write ‘I can’t think what to say, I can’t think what to say’ as many times as you want; … the only requirement is that you never stop.
  • Behavioral psychologists claim that we can only concentrate on writing for about 25 minutes at a time. For this reason, I ask that you spend 25 minutes on each of these assignments. Turn off the Internet. Turn off your phone. Find a space where you will have no distractions. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and then, 25 minutes later, you will be done! Please submit your free writing assignments on Canvas. (25%)

3. Two “one paragraph” papers. Exactly what it sounds like. Learning to write one good paragraph will help you more than writing a dozen sloppy and rushed papers. Your paragraph will be an analysis (not a summary) of a scene, passage, or line in one of the texts we have read so far. You can use one of these paragraphs as the starting point for your final project, but you do not have to do this. (25%)


  1. Paper Proposal. You will choose one of the texts we read in class and decide on some questions, or lines of inquiry (similar to the ones we ask in discussions) that seems especially interesting for a richer understanding or appreciation of the text. (These can change as you research, but you should go forward with a few in mind.) You should then investigate the critical conversation around the text (or larger issue), looking especially for things that might speak to your questions. Sources can include scholarly work from our course readings, other sources on the author or topic, but also blog posts, interviews, book reviews, or even an interview with a peer. At least one source should be scholarly, if possible (if your text is very recent, there may not be scholarly work out yet, but you should at least look on the library database to be sure). Your proposal (2-3 pages) will offer an overview of your research, a working line of inquiry, and your plan for how you will execute your final project. (10%)


  1. Final Paper. Your final project will be a 6-8 page paper in which you will introduce your line of inquiry and its stakes and share possible answers, including what you think is the most rewarding answer (or answers) and why. You should include both primary evidence from the text itself and at least two outside sources. A complete works cited page must also be submitted on Canvas. Due no later than 11:59 pm June 5. (30%)



  • I do my best to adhere to the course calendar. However, we will inevitably deviate from our calendar in order to accommodate relevant, spontaneous questions and issues, and so assignments and reading materials may change. If and when I make any changes to the course structure (calendar, assignments, etc.), I will always send out a class email explaining the changes and I will direct you to the course Canvas page. Therefore, it’s crucial that you check your UW email account often, and that you use the course website on Canvas—it will reflect any updated changes that have been made to the class.
  • When you e-mail me, which I invite you to do when you have any questions/concerns/etc., I will get back to you as soon as possible, but please don’t wait until the last minute to contact me. If you haven’t heard back from me in 48 hours, feel free to resend your email.



You will be using Canvas to submit all your assignments unless I specify otherwise for a particular assignment.

All assignments (unless otherwise noted) should be typed according to MLA (Modern Language Association) guidelines. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • 12 pt. Times New Roman font
  • Standard Margins
  • Double-spaced
  • Page Numbers w/ Last Name
  • MLA style citation/Works Cited when applicable

If you feel unsure about what any of this means, or if you have a concern about this matter, talk to me. For assistance with MLA formatting and such, I also recommend the Purdue OWL website (



If you need accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information about accommodation may be found at



UW Counseling Center workshops include a wide range of issues including study skills, thinking about coming out, international students and culture shock, and much more. Check out available resources and workshops at:



The University of Washington Q Center builds and facilitates queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, trans, intersex, questioning, same-gender-loving, allies) academic and social community through education, advocacy, and support services to achieve a socially-just campus in which all people are valued. For more information, visit



There are two particularly helpful writing resources for you here on campus at UW. Both are free of charge, and I would very strongly encourage you to take advantage of these resources. The Odegaard Writing and Research Center allows you to schedule 45-minute tutoring sessions in which to talk about your writing or specific writing assignments for any class. You may book these on-line at: (and I would suggest booking early, as they tend to fill up quickly!) The CLUE Writing Center is located in Mary Gates Hall, and offers late-night drop-in tutoring. You can get all the details here:



Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people's thoughts and writing--as long as you cite them. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.



Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. If you're concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at

For more information visit the SafeCampus website at



Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Faculty Syllabus Guidelines and Resources. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form available at



The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.” As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities. Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class. These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue. We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department. Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; nontheists; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.



(schedule is tentative—it may change)

Week One: Introductions and Definitions


Intros, Syllabus, Definitions of Utopia

Wednesday: (No Free-Write due today)

"Against Productivity in a Pandemic" (Discussion Board Post)

Sargent “3 Faces of Utopia Revisited” (pages 1-14 only)

The Utopia Reader “Introduction”


Week Two: Intro to utopia continued; utopia and colonialism


Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”

Jemisin “The Ones Who Stay and Fight”


Ashcroft, Utopianism in Postcolonial Literature, Chapter 1 (pay particular attention to pages 18-23 and 27-31).

Sheckley, “The Native Problem”

Clarke, “Reunion”


Week Three: Feminist utopias


Excerpts from Gilman, Herland


Russ, The Female Man (Read through Part 4, page 82)

1st Paragraph essay due on Canvas on Friday by 11:59 pm PST


Week Four: Feminist utopias, Critical utopias, Critical Dystopias


Russ, The Female Man, (Read through part 7, page 155)

Moylan, Demand the Impossible, Chapter 3


Russ, The Female Man (Complete novel)


Week Five: Queer Utopias


Munoz, Cruising Utopia, “Introduction”


Excerpts from Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue


Week Six: Contemporary Dystopias/Utopias


Whitehead, The Intuitionist (part 1 of "Down" [through pg 65])


Whitehead, The Intuitionist (part 2 of "Down" [through pg 140])

2nd Paragraph Essay Due on Friday by 11:59 pm PST


Week Seven:


Whitehead, The Intuitionist


Whitehead, The Intuitionist


Week Eight: Afrofuturism, Indigenous Futurism


Womack, Afrofuturism (available as an e-book through UW's Library Database) (pages 6-11, 16-18, 53-62). 

Sun Ra, “Space is the Place” (available as a youtube video [access link through Modules page])


Dillon, Introduction

Taylor, “Take Us to Your Chief”

Paper Proposal Due


Week Nine:


NO CLASS for Memorial Day


Catch-up Day; Discuss final papers


Week Ten: Utopia and Popular Culture


Black Panther (viewing in class)


finish Black Panther, discuss final papers


Final Paper due Friday, June 5 by 11:59 pm

Catalog Description: 
Literary texts are important evidence for social difference (gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, citizenship status, sexuality, ability) in contemporary and historical contexts. Examines texts that encourage and provoke us to ask larger questions about identity, power, privilege, society, and the role of culture in present-day or historical settings.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 30, 2022 - 9:59pm