LITR 5734: Colonial & Postcolonial Literature University of Houston-Clear Lake

a. k. a. CRCL 5734: Cross-Cultural Texts in Dialogue

Fall 2005  7:9:50 pm; B3233 > 2104 Instructor: Craig White   Office: B2529-8

Phone: 281 283 3380              email:

Office Hours: M 7-9; T 4-5 & by appointment

Course webpage:

Caveat: All materials on this syllabus are subject to change with minimal notice.



Classical texts of European colonialism

are read in dialogue with

postcolonial texts from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.




Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902)

in dialogue with

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1958)




E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924)

in dialogue with

Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan (1956)

& Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine (1989)



The CARIBBEAN / The "New World"

Daniel Defoe’s Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

in dialogue with

Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy (1990)



Collected Poems, 1948-1984 (1986)

of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott of St. Lucia.


Grades and Assignments: Percentages are only approximate, indicating relative weight in considering final grades, which are not computed mathematically but decided subjectively by comparing the quality of a student's thought and writing with that of classmates and with wider academic standards.


·        Class presentations, responses, & postings for webpage (20-30%)

·        Take-home midterm (due within 72 hrs of class on 20 September; 30-40%)

·        Final Exam (6 December, 7-9:50pm; 40-50%)


Course objectives:

(Primary Objectives)

1.  To bring classic literature of European colonialism and emerging literature from the postcolonial world into dialogue with each other. Textual dialogues may be either conscious debates between contemporaneous authors or imposed interpretations by readers.


1a. To read literary texts not exclusively as timeless and autonomous “universal” masterpieces but also as political, economic, and demographic products and agents that provoke responses from other voices and traditions. (Theoretical terms for this objective: “Historicism” and "Intertextuality.")


1b. To identify persistent oppositional themes or identities in cross-cultural dialogues:

·        modernity vs. tradition.

·        first world vs. third world

·        national or ethnic “purity” vs. “hybridity”


1c. To mediate the “culture wars” between the “old canon” of Western classics and the “new canon” of multicultural literature by studying these traditions together rather than separately.


1d. To extend this dialogue to a “third wave” after colonialism and postcolonialism: Can a “post-national” identity be imagined and articulated?


2. To theorize the novel as the defining genre of modernity, both for early-modern imperial culture and for late-modern postcolonial culture.


2a. By definition, the genre of the novel combines the fundamental representational modes of narrative and dialogue. These modes respectively control and decenter storytelling; alternately, they represent literacy and orality (i. e., especially in postcolonial literature the narrator may be a “literate” voice, while the characters’ voices may represent oral or unwritten speech traditions).


2b. To extend the intertextuality of the novel (or fiction) to poetry by Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, West Indies (b. 1930; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1992) and occasional films as other genres or media of colonial and postcolonial discourse.


(Secondary Objectives)

3. To observe representations or repressions of gender in the traditionally male-dominant fields of cross-cultural contact and literature.


4. To relate postcolonialism and postmodernism.  (These movements emerge together in the later twentieth century and share some stylistic traits.)


5. To complement the course’s “textual dialogues” with seminar exercises developing student-led discussions.


6. To develop environmental thinking. Discussions of overpopulation, immigration, climate change, and other global environmental issues often take place in terms of developed and undeveloped nations, modernization, and “space and place.” (Compared to traditional cultures of the “Third World,” modern cultures of the “First World” or “global culture” usually have little attachment to particular places).


7. To introduce questions regarding the history of colonialism or imperialism that are relevant to contemporary study but auxiliary to our course texts.


7a. What are the colonial-postcolonial experiences and literatures of the Middle East?


7b. Is the USA a colonial, imperial, or “neo-imperial” nation or empire?



Attendance policy: You are expected to attend every scheduled class meeting.  You may take one free cut.  Attendance may not be taken systematically, but if you miss more than one meeting, you start jeopardizing your status in the course. If you miss more than two classes (especially early), you are encouraged to drop.

Partial absences also count negatively.

Even with medical or other emergency excuses, a high number of absences (full or partial) will result in a lower or failing grade.

            If shockingly absent, return and make contact (281 283 3380) or leave message ASAP. More than one absence affects final grades.  You are always welcome to discuss your standing in the course.


Academic Honesty Policy: Please refer to the catalog for the Academic Honesty Policy (2005-2006 Catalog, pp. 76-78).  Plagiarism—that is, using research without citations or copying someone else’s work as your own—will result in a grade penalty or failure of the course. Refer to the UHCL catalogue for further details regarding expectations and potential penalties.


Disabilities: If you have a disability and need a special accommodation, first consult with the Health Center and then discuss the accommodation with me.

Incompletes: A grade of "I" is given only in cases of documented emergency late in the semester.  An Incomplete Grade Contract must be completed.

Make-up exam policy: Ask way in advance for times before the regular exam.  Professor has the right to refuse accommodations requested on short notice.

Email / webpage contributions & references

Every student is expected to contribute and refer to the course webpage on several occasions. Each student will make at contributions to the webpage through the instructor via email or other electronic media.

The web address is If convenient, install it as a “favorite” on your web browser.


Required email contributions:

1. posting for presentation (either poetry or discussion leader)

2. copy of take-home midterm exam (final exam in-class or email)


Required references to course webpage:

·        Poetry & Dialogue Presentations must refer to at least one similar posting from a previous class.

·        Midterms and final exams must make at least one reference to previously-posted exams or research projects on webpage.


Options for transmitting your contributions electronically:

·        All materials for the course webpage should be sent directly to the instructor at Try both of the following

·        Attach word processing file(s) to an email for (The only word processing programs my computer appears unable to translate are Microsoft Works and Macintosh, though Microsoft Word is fine, as are most others. If in doubt, save your word processing file in “Rich Text Format” or a “text only” or “read” format and then attach it.)

·        Copy and paste the contents of your word processing file into an email message to

·        If you have trouble with email, save your file to a 3 & ½ “ floppy disk and give it to me.  If you put your name on the disk, I’ll eventually return it to you.

I may lightly edit submissions for presentation and readability, but most are posted as received. You are always welcome to send a revised copy.


Student computer access: Every enrolled student at UHCL is assigned an email account on the university server, which you may acquire at any university computer lab. Most students use personal email accounts.


Reassurances: You are not graded on your expertise in electronic media but on your intelligence in reading, discussing, and writing about literature. I’ve tried similar email exercises for several semesters; a few students encounter a few problems, but if we don’t give up, these problems work out. Your course grade will not suffer for mistakes with email and related issues as long as I see you making a fair effort.



Course Assignments

Take-home / email midterm:

Due: Within 72 hours of class on 20 September

Weight: 20-30% of final grade

Length: 5-10 typed, double-spaced page equivalent

Submission format: The midterm must be submitted in electronic form, either by email or on a disk, so that it can be uploaded to the course webpage.

Organization requirement: Complete, unified essay, but welcome to include personal references to the course and your experience with it and others.

Topic assignment: Introduce, define, and explain the concepts of colonial and postcolonial literature in relation to the following course texts:

·        Conrad, Heart of Darkness

·        Achebe, Things Fall Apart

·        Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness,"

·        A poem by Walcott

·        At least one reference to Literary Theory handout

·        At least one reference to student postings on course webpage

One way to imagine the assignment is to describe your learning curve in this course. What knowledge did you come in with of the course’s subject matter, and how have you learned to receive or process its perspectives? What uses may the course and its organization serve in the study of literature and culture? How can colonial and postcolonial texts “talk to each other?”


Class Presentations

Each student will make at least one formal class presentation and be assigned “informal” presentation responsibilities. Formal presentations include a web-posting before or after the presentation.


Formal Presentations

·        Poetry reading-discussion from Walcott’s Collected Poems or handouts

·        Textual Dialogue review & presentation

·        Film highlight


Informal Presentations

·        “discussion-starter”

·        web-highlight of previous student work

·        web review (Research Links)


(Note: In some previous semesters notes of discussions following presentations were recorded. This is no longer part of any assignment.)

Purposes of student presentations: The purposes of these presentations are to develop the class’s seminar style and to give students practice in managing high-level presentations and discussions. See objective 1c for relation to course objectives. The purpose is not to relieve the professor of his assigned duties; the easiest class to prepare is one in which I just show up and talk for three hours.

Presentation assignments will be decided partly by student choice and partly by chance; student preferences are not guaranteed. On the opening class day (23 August), students may indicate preferences for presentations on an ID card, and volunteers will be solicited for the presentations on 30 August. Before 30 August I will prepare a draft of the presentation schedule and email it to the class for review. On 30 August everyone will receive a printed-out class schedule assigning students to presentation assignments for the rest of the session.


“Silent Grade” for presentation, responses, web postings, etc.

            You are graded for the quality of your work in presentations, responses, general class participation, and helpfulness in web postings, but this grade is not announced until the end of the semester, when it is recorded in your “Final Grade Report” (see below).  The reason for this “silent grade” is to avoid unproductive behavior from students in relation to the presentations, such as second-guessing, comparing grades, competing to each other’s detriment, or performing to the teacher.  Altogether the presentations are a cooperative exercise on the part of the class, so it’s better to keep grading out of sight; however, since some students would work less otherwise, the leverage of a grade is necessary.


General Rules for All Student Presentations:

1.     10-15 minute time limit. Beyond 10 minutes, you’re mostly talking to yourself. The major purpose of your presentation is not to lecture but to share a reading and lead a discussion. Make your major points as quickly and forcefully as possible. To conclude, reinforce your major points and lead into discussion.


Formal Presentations


·        Poetry reading-discussion from Walcott’s Collected Poems or handout

Reader: The chief purpose of this presentation is for the class to share the aesthetic experience of the poem and then to discuss its themes and techniques. The “reader” is responsible primarily for reading the poem in a clear and appropriate style and secondarily for interpreting the poem and leading a discussion of it.


Web posting and webpage use: The reader must use the web projector at least for the review of previous semesters’ discussion of the poem. The reader may also use the web project to show major points of interpretation and questions. These parts may be provided in the week following the class, or they may be mailed to the instructor for posting before the class meeting. In any case, a web posting of your presentation is required around the time of the presentation.


Steps in poetry presentation:

·        Announce the page number and title of the poem.

·        Briefly announce the major themes you’re going to highlight in the poem.

·        Read aloud the poem or, if the poem is long, some central passages.  Look up and practice pronunciations of unusual or foreign words before reading aloud. Avoid stumbling over words and asking professor if you got it right. If you are reading passages rather than the whole poem, provide some context for your selections.

·        Briefly comment on the thematic elements you observed in the poem and the meanings you gathered.  Relate the poem to ideas from the course or other texts. But don’t interpret for more than 3 or 4 minutes—the class is usually ready to begin discussing as soon as the poem’s reading is finished, so don’t lose that energy.

·        Begin discussion by asking a question regarding your interpretation.

·        Lead and respond to discussion.

·        At the end of discussion, presenter may be asked to summarize highlights.


End Presentation & begin discussion with a question. The primary purpose of your presentation is to stimulate a seminar discussion, which the presenter leads. The best way to begin a discussion is by asking a question.

·        Sometimes the students will just sit there, so you might have an extra question ready. Sometimes they’ll want to discuss something besides what you asked, which is okay. Sometimes you have to keep asking and trying different angles until you get a response. Sometimes you simply have to wait a little.

·        If you don’t ask a question to conclude your discussion, I will ask you a question, to wit: “What’s your question?” or “Why didn’t you ask a question?”

·        Your question should not be something feeble and formulaic like, “What do you think?” or “Do you see what I’m trying to say?” Base your question on your presentation, identifying a problem you faced in developing your point or highlighting a sensitive issue your presentation raises and how that issue may be addressed. Ask for help!

·        Student comments should be directed to the presenter, not the instructor, though some variance is natural.


·        Textual Dialogue review & presentation

As in the exams, the idea is to “make the texts talk to each other”—in these cases, texts from different cultures that meet in the context of colonialism. On days of these presentations, all students should bring both texts.

Presenter: The presenter chooses one or two scenes or passages in both texts that are worth reading together for any relevant reason. The scenes may involve similar situations seen from different perspectives, or they may show contact, conflict, or change (for good or bad) in the cultures involved. Or the scenes may simply involve a similar theme or motif, such as religion, exchange, gender, place, etc.


·        The presenter announces the basic subject of the dialogue—the reason or pretext for reading the scenes or passages together.

·        The presenter directs the class to the pages on which the scenes occur, sets the context, highlighting language or motifs, then repeating the process in the second text, making comparisons and contrasts.

·        The presenter summarizes the point or insight that emerges from the dialogue.

·        At some point in presentation or discussion, the presenter reviews some element of a previous course webpage posting on the same dialogue, assuming it exists.

·        The presenter begins discussion by asking a question based on the presentation, then leads the discussion.

·        At the end of discussion, presenter may be asked to summarize highlights.


(Previous incarnations of this presentation featured a respondent—no longer required.)


·        Film highlight

The assigned student will introduce and show a scene or two from a film relevant to the course’s readings or subject. In some cases the instructor will provide a copy of the film; in others the student may rent a copy.


In introduction, follow-up, and/or discussion, connect the film’s subject, treatment, character or action to colonial-postcolonial literature. How does it fit this classification? Compare to other course texts and connect to course objectives.


Presenter leads discussion following presentation. Given that other students may not know the film otherwise, an extended discussion may not be possible, so a formal discussion-starting question is not required. However, presenter should encourage discussion at least through broad questions; e. g., “How many people have seen this movie?” or “What else did you see in the clip?”


This assignment didn’t occur in earlier versions of the course, so no web postings exist. Your posting should involve a listing of the basic information above.



Web postings required for formal presentations

(check other courses for bullets recommendations)



Web summary: Both the poetry presentations and the textual dialogue presentations require written summaries to be emailed within a week of performance to the instructor, who will post them to the course webpage.


The web summaries should including a 3-4 paragraph synopsis of the presentation, including references to previous web summaries and the discussion question(s), followed by the respondent’s comments and the discussion notes.

Informal Presentations

These presentations do not require a formal posting, though the “web” presentations will require some use of the webpage.


·        “discussion-starter”


·        Identify idea, theme, problem, or issue in the reading assignment. Ideally, relate this idea to a course objective, but not required.


·        Direct class (page numbers) to one or two brief passages and read selections, briefly commenting on application to opening theme or idea.


·        (The order of the first two steps may be reversed.)


·        Ask a question to begin discussion. The question should follow from your reading, but it may also appeal more broadly to the challenges that the text may present to the class. It may also refer to other class readings.


·        Lead discussion.


·        No requirements for written summary or email / webpage posting.



·        web review


·        Before class, student will “tour” assigned websites on course webpage’s “Research Links” page.


·        For presentation, student shows each relevant link (omitting 1 or 2 if convenient) and briefly mentions materials available on course webpage. Student may also include additional websites, but not required or expected.


·        Student intensively reviews organization, contents, and highlights of 1 or 2 selected websites.


·        Student summarizes learning from preparation and review of websites.


·        Refer to 1 or 2 objectives somewhere in presentation.


·        Student invites questions or comments from seminar.



·        web-highlighter

The student takes the class to the “Model Assignments” subpage  and reviews one or more passages from previous student contributions.


If your assignment is for midterm or final samples, choose passages relevant to the day’s reading assignment or the course’s continuing concerns. Ideally, show passages referring to the day’s readings in pursuit of a larger point.


This informal presentation usually leads to a discussion, but a question is not required. The student is required only to find passages before the class meeting, to use the class computer to find and highlight the passage, read it over with the class, and to comment about why s/he chose the passage and either what s/he learned from it or how s/he differs from it. The student presenter should lead discussion for a few minutes, but the instructor takes over eventually.


How to prepare for or present these materials:

·        Copy and paste the highlighted materials and sent them before class to the instructor, who adds them to the day’s webpage.

·        Simply navigate the webpage to the “Model Assignments” sub-page, find the passages, and use the cursor or block to highlight them.


Overall, this assignment is difficult to describe, but after a few examples most students get the hang of it.


Final Exam

Conditions: The conditions under which you take your final exam are variable. All options are open-book and open-notebook.

·        You may write your exam in-class during the final class period, using the full class period of 2 hours and 50 minutes and turning in the exam by 9:50pm.

·        You may write your exam out-of-class and send it to me by email, using a time span of up to four hours, with the exam due by 11pm on Tuesday, 6 December.

·        Since the assignments are known, you may prepare your answers. In writing your submission, however, please observe time allotments.

Content: 2 essays of approximately 1-1.5 hours each.

Essay 1: Evaluate this course’s subject matter and / or methods as a model for your research or teaching.

·        What aspects of the course have you found most challenging and / or rewarding, and what are your outcomes in terms of your future career as a reader, teacher, or scholar?

·        How have you resolved or balanced “American ways of thinking,” which tend to be nationalistic, isolationist (despite our international presence), and hegemonic, with the internationalist mediations developed by Colonial and Postcolonial Studies?

·        This question is less text-intensive than the next one, but try to refer at least briefly to some texts throughout our course.

·        Refer to at least one previous student submission and at least one subject reviewed in the web reviews or Research Links this semester.


Essay 2: Compose a dialogue between 3-5 texts, including at least 2 novels since the midterm and one Walcott poem. You are welcome and encouraged to refer to one or more student presentations or Research Links from this semester or before.

·        Novels since midterm: A Passage to India, Train to Pakistan, Jasmine, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Lucy

·        The theme or subject of this dialogue is your choice. You might refer to the course objectives for inspiration, or propose an idea that you saw emerging in the class.

·        How specific should be the subject of the dialogue? As in all writing, the greater the unity amid diversity, the better. You could choose one of the course objectives as the center of your discussion, or you might choose a more evolutionary topic, such as "What may one learn from putting these texts in dialogue?" (Exam writer should make efforts to summarize and unify as the essay progresses.)


Length: Since the final exam is a timed exercise, and different writers have different rates of production, I can only say that you should probably use at least two and a half hours of the exam period. A surprisingly brief but wonderfully efficient exam occasionally happens under these circumstances, but it remains surprising. Most students do better by covering as much ground as possible as well as possible in the time allotted.


Email test-takers should keep a log of when they start and stop writing. Pauses or interruptions within the time allotment are acceptable and sometimes inevitable. Include your log at the beginning or end of your exam.


Final Grade Report: Final grades will be submitted to the registrar according to the usual procedures. I will also email each student a tally of their grades that should be accurate but will be “unofficial” in that none of its information aside from the final grade will be recorded or supported by the university registrar. The message will appear thus:


LITR 5734 2005: Colonial & Postcolonial Literature


Contact information (email & US Mail addresses, phones, etc.)


Presentation/participation grade:

Midterm grade:

Final exam grade:

Course grade:


Reading & Presentation Schedule

Tuesday, 23 August: introduction


Tuesday, 30 August: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, pp. 3-54 (up to part III); Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness, pp. 251-262

·        Discussion starter(s) relating Achebe article to Heart of Darkness

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Koenig of the River” (379-82)


·        film highlight: Apocalypse Now


·        Web review: animism



Tuesday, 6 September: Conclude Heart of Darkness (54-76; complete); begin Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1-51; through chapter 6).

·        Dialogue between Heart of Darkness & Things Fall Apart:


·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Two Poems on the Passing of Empire” (35)


·        Web review: Intertextuality



Tuesday, 13 September: Things Fall Apart (52-161; through chapter 18)

·        Discussion starter(s) on formal elements of novel in Things Fall Apart:

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “A Far Cry from Africa” (17-18)


respondent:                             recorder:

·        Web review: Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, Ngugi wa Thiong’o


·        Web highlight (previous midterms):



Tuesday, 20 September: Take-home midterm due within 72 hours of class meeting. Conclude discussion of Things Fall Apart (through p. 209; complete); Kirsten Holst Petersen, "Problems of a Feminist Approach to African Literature" (handout); Walt Whitman, "Passage to India" (handout); begin Forster’s Passage to India, section I (“Mosque”), chapters 1-3, pp. 3-34.

·        Discussion starter(s) relating Holst Petersen article to Things Fall Apart

·        Poetry reading from Whitman's "Passage to India"


·        Web review: article on wife-beating in Africa (under “Miscellaneous”)


·        Web review: E. M. Forster sites


·        film highlight: Passage to India (d. David Lean, 1984)



Tuesday, 27 September: Continue E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (pp. 35-212; through II, "Caves," chapter xx); Edward W. Said, "Orientalism" (handout)

·        Discussion starter(s) relating Said article to A Passage to India

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “The Season of Phantasmal Peace” (464-65)


·        Web review: novel of manners


·        Web review: karma




Tuesday, 4 October: complete Forster, A Passage to India (through part III, "Temple"; 212-362)

·        Discussion starter(s) for Passage to India

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" (91)


film highlight: Hawaii


·        Web review: Partition of India



Tuesday, 11 October: Begin Train to Pakistan.

·        Dialogue between Passage to India & Train to Pakistan


·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Ruins of a Great House” (19-21)


·        Web review: Khushwant Singh


·        Web review: Punjab and the Sikhs



Tuesday, 18 October: conclude Train to Pakistan

·        Dialogue between Passage to India & Train to Pakistan


·        Poetry reading from Walcott: from Another Life: The Divided Child, ch. 1 (143-149)



Tuesday, 25 October: begin Jasmine

Discussion starter(s) for Jasmine

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Map of the New World” (413)


film highlight: White Teeth (part 1)


·        Web review: Bharati Mukherjee


·        Web review: “Passage from India” article (under “Miscellaneous”)



Tuesday, 1 November: conclude Jasmine

Discussion starter(s) for Jasmine

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Exile” (100-102)


film highlight: White Teeth (part 2)


·        Web review:


·        Film review:



Tuesday, 8 November: begin Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (25-86; up to "The Journal"); Ian Watt, "Robinson Crusoe, Individualism, and the Novel" (handout)

·        Discussion starter(s) relating Watt article to Robinson Crusoe:

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Crusoe’s Island” (68-72)


·        Web review: Defoe sites on webpage


film highlight:



Tuesday, 15 November:

Robinson Crusoe (complete, but especially 160 ("You are to understand that now I had . . . two plantations . . . ") through page 233 ("There was another tree . . . )

·        Discussion starter(s) for Robinson Crusoe

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “Crusoe’s Journal” (92-4)


film highlight: The Comedians


·        Web highlight (final exams):



Tuesday, 22 November: Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy (1-83; up to chapter titled "Cold Hearts"); visit from M. A. candidate writing thesis on Lucy

Discussion starter(s) for Lucy

·        Poetry reading from Walcott: “The Gulf” (104-108)


·        Web review:



Tuesday, 29 November: Lucy (through 164; complete)

·        Dialogue between Robinson Crusoe & Lucy:


·        Poetry reading from Walcott: from The Estranging Sea, ch. 20, part 1 (271-73)


·        Web highlight (final exams):



Tuesday, 6 December: final exam (timing depends on whether you take it in-class or by email; see above)