LITR 5431 American Literature
(or LITR 5439 Genre, Movement, Style)

Spring 2019  
Wednesday 7-9:50pm
(SSCB 2308)
Attendance: One free cut allowed without penalty or comment. Two or more absences incl. partial absences, even with good excuses, lower final grade, sometimes drastically.

Literary & Historical


Homepage & Syllabus
Research  Readings Prof. White's homepage


2015 (summer) Utopias syllabus

Instructor: Craig White  Office: Bayou 2529-7    
: 281 283 3380  Email:

Office Hours: M 3-7 and by appointment
Undergrad course spring 2019 Literature of the Future meets 4-7 Wednesdays

Course texts

Thomas More, Utopia (1516)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

Ayn Rand, Anthem (1938)

Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975)

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2004)

selections from other classic, multicultural, & postmodern texts including  

Genesis, Revelation, & Book of Acts (BCE > 1st century AD/CE); Plato's Republic & Golden Age myths; Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1887)

Student Assignments

midterm (6 March)

research posts (2 + review in final; due 15-17 Feb. & 29-31 March)

final exam (8 May)

Seminar presentations

discussion-starter for reading assignments

web reviews / presentations mostly on historical utopian communities

Model Assignment highlights from previous midterms, research posts, or final exams

final grade report note on grading class participation course policies

Essential Terms & Handouts

Utopia has historical and literary meaning:

historical utopia = an experimental or "intentional community" intended to escape from or reform normal society, often by substituting planning, cooperation, or collective values and practices in place of freemarket competition and unenlightened individualism.

literary utopia = a novel (or shorter fiction)or tract (nonfiction ) representing life and characters in such a community

“Utopia” comes from Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). More coined the word from Greek parts, either

ou (no) + topos (place, as in “topography”) to mean “no place”


eu (good, as in “euphoria”) + topos (place) to mean “good place”

(Etymological confusion is consistent with generic instability of utopia / dystopia as serious or satirical.)

Variations: Dystopia = society opposite from a utopia, or a utopia gone dysfunctional. (“Any utopia is someone else's dystopia.”)

Ecotopia = Ecological Utopia, a community whose collective social health imitates nature’s interconnectivity—from Ecotopia, 1975 novel by Ernest Callenbach. (X)

Millennium, apocalypse, or End-Times is often associated with utopian narratives, as when the biblical Book of Revelation ends with a vision of heaven (partly as restored Garden of Eden).

Utopian Communities and Texts (list)

Utopian Fiction & Experimental Communities in North America / USA (chronology)

Standard features / conventions of utopian / dystopian literature

Counter-Utopian (or anti-utopian) Tradition

Utopian motives

YA Dystopias

Introduction to Genres

list of genres

Index to Terms

Literature of Ideas

Decline or progress?


Objective 1. Utopian Genre

1a. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?” What are this genre's standard conventions or features? What attractions and detractions? What audiences are attracted or put off?

  • Utopian text as hybrid of novel (journey, dialogue, adventure, escape) and essay or tract (instruction / information, persuasion / propaganda, ethics / values, application).

  • Utopias as hybrid of fiction and history, imagination and experience, idealism and reality.

1b. What genres join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia, ecotopia, Socratic dialogue, science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, novel / romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism, tract, propaganda, satire. Others?

  • How interdependent are utopia and dystopia? (e.g., “Anyone's utopia is someone else's dystopia.”)

1c. Can utopias join science fiction, speculative fiction, and allied genres in a “literature of ideas?”

  • Can knowledge of utopian literature be applied to texts that are not exclusively identified as utopian or dystopian?

1d. To identify the utopian author both within and beyond traditional literary categories—e.g., as writer + activist, agitator, reformer, prophet / visionary?

1e. Utopian aesthetics: How does Utopian Fiction rebalance literature's classical purpose to entertain and educate? Is utopian / dystopian literature more interesting to talk about than to read?

Objective 2. Utopian Narratives

2a. What narrative action rises from or fits the description of an ideal or dystopian community?—e. g., journey, dialogue, exploration, learning, liberation, conversion?

2b. What problems rise from a utopian story that minimizes conflict and maximizes equality and harmony? What genre variations derive from these problems with plot?

2c. What tensions between the author’s description of a social theory and the reader’s and author's need for a story?

2d. How essential is “millennialism” (apocalyptic or end-time event) to the utopian narrative?

2e. Does dialogue or dialectic of learning replace the traditional narrative of emergence, pursuit, love, revenge, etc.? 

Objective 3. Historical / Cultural Objectives

Obj. 3 To get over the routine dismissal of utopias—"they don't work," “never happened,” or “castles in the sky”—and instead regard utopias as perennial literary and historical experiments essential to Western Civilization and education.

3a.To review historical, nonfiction attempts by “communes,” “intentional communities,” nations, or cults to institutionalize or practice utopian ideals. What relations are there between fictional and actual utopian communities? What has been the historical impact of utopian fictions? Do utopian forms mirror and confirm social norms or oppose them?

3b. Are utopian impulses limited to socialism and communism, or may freemarket capitalism and democracy also express themselves in utopian terms and visions? Is utopia “progressive / liberal” or “reactionary / conservative?” What relations between “self and other (us and them) are modeled? Does the utopian society model itself on past, present, or future? Does a utopia stop time, as with the millennial rapture or an achievement of perfection? Or can utopias change, evolve, and adapt to the changes of history?

3c. What social structures, units, or identities does utopia expose or frustrate?

  • Social units or structures: person/individual/self, gender, sex, family [nuclear or extended], community, village/town/city, class, ethnicity, farm, region, tribe, clan, union, nation, ecosystem, planet, etc.

  • Can utopian studies shift the usual American arguments over race, sex, faith, and gender to cultural and socio-economic class?

3d. How seriously to evaluate gender roles and standards of sexual and love relationships in utopian communities? How do these differ from or resemble traditional norms? How essential are such changes to their intended transformation of society?

  • What changes result in child-rearing, feeding, marriage, aging, sexuality, etc.?

3e. Since our major texts are set in North America, how do Americans regard utopias? What problems do the Founding and recent history of the USA present for utopian discussion? For example: socialism or communism, the Cold War and collapse of Stalinist-Maoist Communism; discussing alternative economic, reproductive, or child-rearing policies, the ascendance of religious and freemarket fundamentalism or American culture's stress on the family?)

  • Why do American school curricula emphasize dystopic fiction (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, The Giver) over utopian fiction?

3f. Are utopias limited to Western Civilization, rationalism, and social engineering, or may they exemplify multiculturalism?

  • Is the utopian impulse universal or specific only to Western culture or civilization?

  • If utopias or millennia are detected in non-Western texts or traditions, are such terms appropriate, or do we simply project our identities and values on cultures that are in fact doing something else altogether?

Objective 4. Interdisciplinary Objectives

4a. What academic subjects or disciplines are involved with utopian studies? Examples: literature, history, anthropology, sociology, economics, architecture, urban planning?

4b. How may utopian or millennial studies serve as an interdisciplinary subject of study? What strengths and weaknesses result from this status? (Comparable interdisciplinary subjects include women’s studies, gender studies, ethnic studies [e. g., African American studies, whiteness studies], future studies, millennialism.)

4c. Do some interdisciplinary subjects underprivilege multiculturalism? Do utopian studies privilege western civilization?

4c. Is “utopia” too simple and singular a word or concept for the variety of phenomena it describes? Conversely, what does utopia reveal about an author’s or culture’s cosmology or worldview, as well as cosmogonies or origin / creation stories?

4d. How do literature and literacy appear in utopian or dystopian cultures? Include computer literacy: What is a “virtual utopia” in science fiction and technology? How has utopian speculation, communication, and organization adapted to the Web? Does the Web itself assume utopian or millennial attributes? Can virtual reality appear utopian while actual reality becomes dystopian?

Objective 5. Instructional Objectives

5a. How may a seminar classroom serve as a microcosm, model, or alternative for American culture? How does use of web instruction alter social dynamics to humanize or dehumanize?

5b. What does utopian / dystopian literature instruct concerning education?

5c. What difficulties does utopian instruction typically present? 

  • Preventing discussions from stalling on "Utopias don't work" or "Why are we talking about this?" (Utopian communities fail, but some people keep attempting or learning from utopias.)

  • Why do American curricula emphasize dystopias?

  • Since utopian studies offers so many non-literary subjects, how much to limit the discussion to literature or expand to interdisciplinary or social / political concerns?

5d. Can new sections of courses build on previous sections' accomplishments?

5e. Recurring conflicts in teaching literature: form or content? liberal or conservative ideology? Can studies of utopian literature confront these questions or conflicts more directly or dialectically?

Spring 2019 reading & assignment schedule

Wednesday, 23 January: introduction(s)

Readings: Genesis & Revelation; Acts; The Golden Age; Plato's Republic

Self-introductions: Identify yourself and educational / career interests; what previous knowledge or reading of utopian / dystopian literature? Related genres? Impressions? (Alternative: any knowledge of historical utopian communities?)

Discussion of objectives: Each student highlight a course objective for comment or question.

Instructor's presentation: Brave New World +- Nineteen Eighty-Four


welcome, syllabus, website, roll, questions
art / literature's purpose: entertain and instruct; literature of ideas
review assignments, texts, research posts
Brave New World

ID / presentation preferences
next Wed. assignments & presenters
self-introductions & objectives discussions
classical & scriptural utopias

Wednesday, 30 January

Readings: Thomas More, Utopia (1516)

Discussion starterJohn Sisson

Web review: Thomas More sites: Clark Omo

Web review: Twin Oaks: Jesus Garcia

Agenda: review terms, Genesis-Revelation, Plato

roll, assignments, preview, presentations

Web: Clark

Discussion: John

Web: Jesus

More as Christian Humanist?

preview Herland

Assignments: Warning: More's Utopia is tedious but clear and rewarding reading—an "earned classic." We could spend longer with it but may not want to. Read through briskly, paying attention to the issues on which utopias focus and the moments when the text comes alive.

Discussion questions: 1. How does or doesn't Utopia resemble a novel? (Broadly, the "modern English novel" would not appear for two more centuries with DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe 1719). (Bakhtin 98) (genre)

1a. As the novelistic passages are brief and dispersed, what other reading pleasures? Where does interest quicken or slacken, and why? What aspects of a novel are missing, and what happens instead?

1b. What problems with characterization does utopian fiction generate? What balance of fictional entertainment and social instruction? What parts work best? What drives you crazy? What does the report leave out?

2. What conventions or set-pieces typify the utopian genre? One possibility: origin story when Utopus separates the island from the mainland.

3. Utopia's most threatening reforms may be abolition of private property, and reshaping of family relations. How are these proposals related? Is family a form of property?

4. What other interests in reading Utopia, utopian or otherwise? What other content-features provoke thought, revulsion, or emulation?

Historical background to More's Utopia (1516): Printing press developed 1450s (e.g., Gutenberg Bibles)—More's traveler makes references to Utopians learning printing from European visitors (2.32)
*Discovery of America 1492—More makes direct references to travels and writings of Amerigo Vespucci (1.1e), and his Utopia is set in the New World.
*Renaissance (1400s-1500s) revives humanistic and empirical thought from Classical Greece and Rome, joining European emphasis on divine revelation and tradition from Middle Ages
*Rise of modern "power politics," formalized in Machiavelli's The Prince (1513, 1532)Utopia, especially in its emphasis on "If I were advising a leader," often seems like a reply to The Prince that differs by need for leaders to be humble, virtuous models rather than power players; compare also to Plato's education of philosopher-kings in The Republic.

Wednesday, 6 February

Readings: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (complete)

Handout: "Charlotte Perkins Gilman," Handbook to American Women's History

Discussion starter for Herland: Robin Hall

Model Assignment highlights (research posts): Kristine Vermillion (2013 student)

Web review: Charlotte Perkins Gilman sites; Feminist / Women's Utopias: Liz Haden



assignments, presentations

research post assignments

Models: Kristine

Herland discussion: Robin ("Proem")

Web: Liz

literature in literary utopias; utopian authors


Discussion Questions:  1. What aspects of the novel or fiction are immediately evident, esp. in contrast to More's Utopia? Describe Gilman's prose style—what advances in utopian fiction as fiction?

1a.  What conventions of utopian fiction continue? How is Gilman's style still limited by utopian conventions in characterization, viewpoint? Gilman has style, but how is it limited by utopian conventions in characterization, viewpoint, even content?

Specifically, the visiting, messed-up men are far more individualized than the more admirable women of Herland: what do we learn about utopian and fictional characterization? Also, how convincing are the domestic or sexual relations? Written in 1915, so what limits to representation?

1b. What advantages to telling the story from men's perspective? Satire? (an allied genre—e.g., maybe More's Utopia was satirical?)

2. What conventions or innovations distinguish a feminist or women's utopia? (Preview Handmaid's Tale as dystopia / utopia.)

3. Associate Gilman and Herland with the Progressive Era, periods of progress as spawning utopias?

3a. Herland appears in 1915, a half-century after Darwin's Origin of Species (1859). How does Darwinian or evolutionary thought appear in both the men's and women's attitudes and behavior—e.g., the advent of Parthenogenesis, the women's centuries-long cultivation or breeding, the men's defense of modern American economy as "Social Darwinism," in which an unregulated freemarket creates class struggle & "survival of the fittest."

5. Ch.4 describes literature produced by the utopia itself—what misgivings? Compare "Berrian's novels" in Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1887) , ch. 15. (Instructor will direct.) 3.43; 4.69-4.70, 5.3. 9.46-9 (cf. Equiano 1.3), 9.58, 9.66 

Wednesday, 13 February

Readings: Anthem

Discussion starter: Melissa Bray

Web review: Ayn Rand biography, institutes, ideology: Joan Gray

Web review: Jane Addams: instructor (Progressive Era > Roaring 20s > New Deal + Great Society): Angela Pennington

Model Assignment highlights (research posts): instructor

Agenda: assignments; Herland?

Web, Rand: Joan

Anthem discussion: Melissa


next week's reading

Web, Addams: Angela (how many heard of Addams before?)

research post assignment; "essential handouts"; Model Assignments; midterm assignment

Herland: Further discussion? How explain, defend as feminist or women's utopia? 5.78

> Anthem: Background: As literary genre, Anthem is not a utopia but a dystopia, but these genres remain co-dependent.

Discussion Questions:  1. compare / contrast Anthem to utopian texts. How are utopias & dystopias co-dependent for identity?

1a. What automatic appeals or "readability" do dystopian texts enjoy over utopian texts, at least for a modern American audience? (e.g. romance narrative; Decline or progress?; Millennium)

1b. Rand's status in the literary canon is controversial, but Anthem offers some strong if limited literary appeals. How may we characterize Rand's style? What appeals to fundamentalist freemarket capitalism +- evangelicalism? Continue discussion of Rand's style and its potential appeals (or demerits). Suggestions: biblical-scriptural, mythical, superlatives / extremes?

1c. What do utopian texts scant or blur that Rand emphasizes and develops? What consciousness does she demonstrate of utopian texts and structures? (Obviously she despises them, but her text shows occasional knowledge of utopian forms.) 1.28

2. Why do Americans and American schools emphasize dystopias or satirical utopias? What literary and ideological appeals?)

Laura Miller, "Fresh Hell: What's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers?

2a. Resemblance to other early-mid 20c dystopias or satirical utopias like Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies? What resemblances or differences relative to teen dystopias, zombie apocalypse, etc.?

2b. How does Prometheus's new home resemble modern suburbia or exurbia? How would you like Prometheus for a neighbor? Can "planned communities" be related to utopias or intentional communities? (Obj. 3b) Conclusion to Anthem: does it expose some upsides to utopia?

3. Among many ideological issues raised by Rand's writing, what to make of a woman writer who exalts patriarchy? How rationalize “I” always being “he”? Is the Golden One / Gaea a real character or more like a mythic symbol? Since Anthem is a woman-authored text, how deal with masculine privilege and womanly devotion? Is "Man" for "humanity" a period-style, or does it really mean man? (Compare and contrast Herland.)

3a. Discuss Rand's style and its potential appeals (or demerits). Suggestions: biblical-scriptural, mythical, superlatives / extremes? 

First research post due weekend of 15-17 February

Wednesday, 20 February begin Ecotopia

Readings: Ecotopia (read app. first half, through p. 90 in Bantam ed., or through chapter "Their Plastics and Ours")

+ Email / PDF file: Margaret Atwood, review of Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (read beforehand for instructor's presentation)

Discussion starter: Jenna Wood

Web review: Celebration USA: Austin Green

Instructor's Presentation: 60s-70s Utopian fictions, esp. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)

Standard features / conventions of utopian / dystopian literature > midterm

Agenda: research posts review / model assignments / midterm / assignments

web: Austin > "New Urbanism"

Ecotopia: Jenna

60s-70s utopia; Atwood, Piercy, Ecotopia Emerging

Discussion Questions: 1. How does Ecotopia immediately connect to our other utopian texts as a representative of the genre?

2. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?” What conventions repeatedly appear? What audiences are involved or excluded?

3. What genres join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia, ecotopia, Socratic dialogue, science fiction, fantasy, novel / romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism, tract, propaganda, satire. Others?

4. In the entertainment / instruction balance, how well does Ecotopia work as entertaining fiction as opposed to didactic literature?

1. Standard features / conventions of utopian / dystopian literature: Everyone responsible for identifying one utopian convention (or variation) in Ecotopia, or #2 below.

2. Re obj. 1 on hybrid novel / tract, how well does Ecotopia use both genres? Compare to earlier utopian texts for character, sexuality, narrative-dialogue mix.

3. How is Ecotopia "dated?"—i.e., an earnest but naive expression of 60s-70s consciousness? What remains impressive? What surprises?

4. Callenbach varies the utopian narrative by combining Weston's learning about Ecotopia with sexual learning or initiation. How convincing is this use of sexuality for narrative and social structure? Does it help characterization, or is it just embarrassing and hippie?

4a. How does Weston's sexual instruction / learning resemble that of the men in Herland?

5. Observe social mores in Ecotopia, esp. its "public" nature: compare utopias' reduction or transformation of private property and private family?


Wednesday, 27 February

Readings: complete Ecotopia

Discussion starter(s)Grant Law

Web review: Suburbs as Utopia / Dystopia: Patrick Graham

Instructor's presentation: Utopian thought and experiments in American History


Assignments (handout), midterm (handout)

instructor on American historical utopias

web: Patrick re 'burbs

Ecotopia discussion: Grant

Discussion Questions:

1. In the final episodes of Weston's initiation, can the Ecotopians' behavior be compared to that of a cult? What difference between a commune / intentional community and a cult?

2. How effective is the coordination of Weston's love story with Marissa and the narrative of his ideological initiation?

3. As visual description, the novel's best passages may be the competitive games as opportunity for aggression-expression, + mystical healing associated with highly sexualized society. Discuss.

4. How multicultural is Ecotopia? Or any utopia? Does the "Soul City" description seem as tacked-on to you as to me?

5. Ecotopian literature, p. 98: "Ecotopian novels . .    . security, almost like 19c English novels; world is decent, satisfactory, sustaining despite some difficulties . . . . At first the stories seemed puzzlingly vapid to me. I couldn’t figure out why anybody would find them interesting . . . How come they didn't have that exciting nightmare quality? Some of them even have happy endings. . . . After a while, they seem more like life—okay to spend time with, reassuring. Come to think of it, Ecotopia itself is beginning to feel a good deal more reassuring: when I needed care, I was taken care of." (Compare reading and drama in Herland.)

Wednesday, 6 March: midterm assignment (no class meeting; instructor holds office hours during class period

Email midterm submission due by Friday 8 March to

Wednesday, 13 March: No class meeting—Spring Break

Wednesday 20 March: begin The Dispossessed (lecture notes)

Readings: Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, through ch. 7 (p. 192 in Harper Voyager edition)

Margaret Atwood, "The Queen of Quinkdom . . . Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin (email PDF / handout)

Discussion starter: Clark Omo

Web review: 19th-Century American Utopias: Sara Stevens

Instructor's presentation: William Morris, News from Nowhere (1890)

Agenda: assignments, research post

review midterms

discussion: Clark


web: Sara

News from Nowhere, B. F Skinner

Discussion Questions for The Dispossessed (all meetings): 1. Before Margaret Atwood or Octavia Butler, literary studies generally recognizes Ursula K. Le Guin as the greatest science-fiction or speculative-fiction author, though many popular-sf fans have never heard of her. How does her style or genre conform to science fiction or speculative fiction, and how does it conform to expectations of literary fiction? (H.G. Wells also ranks high.)

1a. How does The Dispossessed conform to Standard features / conventions of utopian / dystopian literature? (e.g, narrative as journey; dialogue between guest and guide; thin or flat characterization?)

2. Le Guin's breakthrough prestige as a woman science-fiction writer and a feminist is complicated by male protagonists and other assertively characters in many of her works. Relate to Perkins Gilman's use of male characters and narrators in Herland? How are feminist views expressed, directly or indirectly, through utopian or dystopian principles and behaviors?

3. Discuss Le Guin's style as contemplative, aphoristic, with grand moral themes, vast intellectual schemes, and use of dialogue as utopian-fiction device.

3a. Le Guin and Atwood are both admired and widely-published lyric poets. How do their fictional styles integrate features of lyric poetry? (e.g. of symbols, subjectivity, intimate sensory imagery). (Both Dispossessed and Handmaid's tale recur to symbols of walls.)

4. How does The Dispossessed conform to utopian fiction as a Literature of Ideas?

Wednesday 27 March: The Dispossessed

Readings: Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, complete

Discussion starter: Cynthia Cleveland

Web review: Kibbutzim of Israel: Patrick Graham

Model Assignment highlights (research posts):

Instructor's presentation: B.F. Skinner, Walden Two (1948) + Los Horcones + Nudge; How may Darwinian utopias be compatible with Behaviorist utopias?

Agenda: Research posts; assignments

Dispossessed discussion: Cynthia

Atwood on Le Guin

Dispossessed as sf, Literature of Ideas 


Web: Patrick on Kibbutzim

Walden Two

Second research post due weekend of 29-31 March

Wednesday, 3 April: complete Dispossessed; begin Handmaid's Tale (lecture notes)

Readings: The Handmaid's Tale through p. 33 or up to part III, "Night" incl. author's "introduction" if available.

Begin Atwood, "Dire Cartographies: The Road to Ustopia" (email PDF / handout) (65-75?)

Discussion starter: Joan Gray (Dispossessed questions above; Handmaid questions at 10 April)

Instructor's presentation: William Morris, News from Nowhere (1890)


Research posts; assignments

Walden Two

Handmaid discussion: Joan



Dispossessed, questions?, population, women and property

News from Nowhere

Wednesday, 10 April: continue The Handmaid's Tale

Readings: The Handmaid's Tale through p. 182 or up to part XI, "Night"

Continue Atwood, "Dire Cartographies: The Road to Ustopia" (email PDF / handout)

Discussion starter: Bill Clouse

Web / Video review: Hulu series on Handmaid's Tale: Lauren Rayne

Agenda:  Atwood on Le Guin; Always Coming Home; Conclude News from Nowhere

Model Assignments; final exam, next week

Handmaid discussion: Bill


Hulu Handmaid: Lauren

"Dire Cartographies": instructor

Discussion Questions for The Handmaid's Tale (all meetings):

1. How identify Handmaid's Tale as a dystopia (cf. Anthem) not only in content but gains in readability, characterization, narrative action?

1a. How do style and / or content account for the book's popularity? (e.g. films, TV series, sequels, protest costumes)

1b. Identify typical dystopian features: whole person divided, families separated, hierarchy represses equality, age represses or exploits youth. As in Anthem, how does the dystopia manifest utopian purposes or stylings, even acknowledging possible benefits of before? (p. 119: "some ideas sound, but Godless")

1c. How much does Gilead's concern over births anticipates recent white panic over low white fertility rates and high fertility rates among immigrants, Muslims, Africans, etc.?

2. Compare Handmaid's Tale as a feminist dystopia with Herland as feminist utopia. Potential feminist issues: the body dismembered; masculine gaze. (Does Atwood's sensory emphasis on smell counter the masculine gaze?)

3. As a literary genre, how much does Handmaid's Tale as a dystopia and aspiring utopia emphasize reading, literacy, and free exchange of thought as essential to humanity? (Obj. 4d. How do literature and literacy appear in utopian or dystopian cultures? Include computer literacy . . . .)

3a. Utopia humanizes? dystopia dehumanizes?

3b. how much is Offred's self-reflection on language, feelings, and self-expression reflective of Atwood's Baby-Boomer generation?

Wednesday, 17 April: complete The Handmaid's Tale  (lecture notes)

Readings: The Handmaid's Tale (complete)

Continue Atwood, "Dire Cartographies: The Road to Ustopia" (email PDF / handout)

Discussion starter: Arnecia Harris

Web / Video review: Hulu series on Handmaid's Tale: Clark Omo

Instructor's presentation: African American dystopias / utopias incl. slave nerratives; Toni Morrison's Paradise (1996); Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents; The Rape of Shavi; Rich Benjamin, Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America  (83 Resettlement of the Children of Ham)

Opening question: How does human chattel slavery fulfill conventions of dystopia?

Agenda: Atwood on Ustopia: instructor + assignments

Robyn: Atwood in Houston

discussion: Arnecia


African American dystopias

Hulu Handmaid: Clark

Wednesday, 24 April: begin Oryx and Crake

Readings: Oryx & Crake, first half

Discussion starter: Sara Stevens

instructor: Continue Atwood, "Dire Cartographies: The Road to Ustopia" (email PDF / handout) (pp. 91-95)

Obj. 1b. What genres join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia, ecotopia, Socratic dialogue, science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, novel / romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism, tract, propaganda, satire. Others?

Web review: reviews, interviews re Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake, Year of the Flood: Oryx interview (video); Year of the Flood (video)


Agenda: comtinue African American dystopias / utopias

discuss Oryx & Crake


discuss Oryx & Crake

Whitopia (white flight)


Discussion Questions for Oryx and Crake (all meetings):

1. Genre(s): As the novel opens, what genre or genres appear operative? (Obj. 1: speculative fiction, science fiction, utopia / dystopia, satire?) How does Oryx & Crake immediately indicate it is a novel or literary fiction, not merely another precise specimen of utopian genre fiction? As a novel, how much is any utopian or dystopian passage rendered ironical by the presence of differing passages or voices? (cf. Bakhtin on dialogic of novel)

2. Style: For a serious writer who is widely respected in the higher education curriculum, Atwood's prose style is surprisingly accessible or readable. How does her writing reconcile being intellectually challenging but fluent and compelling to a wider audience? If a partial answer is her novels' socio-political relevance, how does Atwood's writing avoid automatic categorization as ideology or propaganda? Consider literary features, e.g., intertextuality, allusion, metaphor, or the Bakhtinian dialogic.

  • Contrast with formulaic style of popular science fiction. How does Atwood create a compelling character like Jimmy / Snowman or Crake (and maybe Oryx) instead of stock stereotypes (e.g., in science fiction, "the competent man," exotic damsels). Is the intelligence of Jimmy's character consistent enough to be realistic?

  • Atwood frequently resorts to olfactory or smell images. Relate to humans as mammals, or other purposes?

3. Content: How does Atwood criticize corporate capitalism realistically instead of hysterically? (Too direct a criticism of the natural order marginalizes voice, + novel ironizes even criticism.)

4. Religion in fiction may appear less as a supreme voice than as one of many voices or worldviews whose interplay generates creation of a social world. How does religion (or the "sacrilege" of "playing God" through bio-engineering) appear in the novel, with what degree of authority?

Rednecked Crake


Wednesday, 1 May: complete Oryx and Crake

Readings: Oryx and Crake complete? + Jeet Heer, "The New Utopians" & “In Utopia”

Discussion starter: Bill Clouse

Roundtable discussion: Everyone read Jeet Heer, "The New Utopians" & “In Utopia”: Modern-day adventures in utopian living and share one reading or highlight connecting to our learning about actual utopias in history, the history of utopian / dystopian fiction, or future possibilities in fiction, etc.




Wednesday, 8 May: final exam due by email before or by midnight Thursday 9 May. 

No regular class meeting. Instructor holds office hours 4-10pm.

Final grade reports will be emailed approximately a week after due date.

Utopia, Texas

(named in anticipation of a utopian project, cancelled after failure of La Reunion commune near Dallas)

Dr. White's publication & presentations on utopian, millennial literature

“A Utopia of `Spheres and Sympathies’: Science and Society in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance and at Brook Farm.” Utopian Studies 9.2 (1998): 78-102.

"Cross-Cultural Apocalypse in the Contact Generation of Native America and New England." Fourth Annual Conference of the Center and Society for Millennial Studies, Boston University, November 1999.

"`A Patterne and Copie to Imitate': John Eliot's Christian Commonwealth and the `Praying Towns' of Native America." Conference of the Society of Utopian Studies, Montreal, November 1998.

"Brook Farm, Fourier, and the City of Lights: Utopia and Revolution in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance." Session on Nineteenth-Century America, Society for Utopian Studies conference, Toronto, 19 October 1995.

"One Text, Three Worlds: A Narrative of Cosmological Transformation in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance." Dissertators' Symposium, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 19 April 1991.

2015 Utopias syllabus

2013 Utopias syllabus

2011 Utopias syllabus

syllabus 2009

syllabus 2007

syllabus 2005

syllabus LITR 5733 Seminar in American Culture: Utopias (1995)

Presentations / web reviews for possible addition to syllabus:

Instructor's Presentation: Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)

Ernest Callenbach's website

utopian authors

Instructor's Presentation: Brook Farm (1840s) / Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (1852)

Instructor's Presentation: Lois Lowry, The Giver (1993)

Our texts within Western and American history:


historical period

historical tradition /
economic trend

More, Utopia (1516) European Renaissance / Reformation; exploration & settlement of New World America as site of Eden; communal Native America as precontact ecotopia
Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888) late 19th century, "Gilded Age" industrialization, urbanization, plutocracy of limited government, freemarket economics controlled by "Robber Barons" and "Captains of Industry"; gaps b/w rich and poor; high rates of immigration
Gilman, Herland (1915) early 1900s, Progressive Era (associated with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt) labor laws, scientific government and social work, woman's suffrage, environmental conservation and protection, industrial regulation; progressive income taxes
Rand, Anthem (1938) mid-1900s, New Deal & Fair Deal (Franklin Roosevelt & Harry Truman) peak of socialist-oriented government in USA; restricted immigration, government guarantees of social welfare (e. g., Social Security) + Cold War with negative totalitarian utopias of Soviet Union and Communist China
Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975) 1960s-70s, liberal politics & social wealth (Civil Rights, Great Society safety net, war on poverty, hippies) extension of New Deal to minorities; liberalization of immigration laws; peace movements; youth culture > adverse reaction by wealth & traditional values

articles for potential inclusion on syllabus

Yves Charles Zarka, "The Meaning of Utopia" 2011

Michael Lind, "Stop Pretending Cyberspace Exists," Salon.Com 12 Feb. 2013

Mike Konczal, "Thinking Utopian: How about a universal basic income?" Washington Post 11 May 2013.

notes for later offerings

suburbs as utopia / private-public identity

Helicon Home Community

ETT Best of History Websites: Progressive Era

Jeet Heer, "The New Utopians." New Republic 9 Nov. 2015.

review of Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism. By Chris Jennings.

Jeet Heer, "The New Utopians"

Ecotopia 2121

Mondragon, Mondragon Corporation