LIT 115 - Introduction to Literature

 Lessons and "Lectures" -- Fiction

    In the guise of fiction, books offer opportunities, choices and plausible models. They light up the whole range of human character and emotion. Each, in its own way, tells the truth and prepares its eager readers for the unknown and unpredictable events of their own lives.
    (Loudon Wainwright, "A Little Banning is a Dangerous Thing," Life 1982, 491)

Introduction and Preview Units

The primary aim of this course is to introduce you to a variety of literary works and to help you learn to read them closely, looking at both their form and content (and perhaps their historical, cultural or social contexts). I suspect some of you will feel that studying a work closely "ruins" your enjoyment of it (especially poetry). Nevertheless, that is what we will be doing in this course--examining pieces of literature to see how they work, which often means taking them apart to see what devices the author has used and how all the pieces fit together. And in the end, I hope you will have learned that such close reading in fact enhances your enjoyment, as you discover the subtle artistry that good writers employ in their craft.

The focus will be on the literary elements which are at work in a story, poem or play. How do setting, characters, point-of-view, and other elements work to create the overall effect of a piece? What clues to the overall meaning or to key aspects do they contain? How can you, as reader, learn to recognize these elements and these clues? And what what can we learn about ourselves, others, and life in general--being "human"-- through reading literature?

The works that we will read are chosen on the basis of how they address what it means to be "human." Therefore, we also will be paying attention to how race, gender, class, and/or sexuality are represented in these works. We will look at how some perspectives have changed over the years and how others have remained relatively the same, and how literature can help us to understand contemporary society. (You might want to look again at the Course Goals and Objectives to review all of the course purposes.) To meet these various aims, you must learn and practice techniques for interpreting literary works and understanding their use of literary devices. This involves reading works closely and becoming familiar with those literary techniques. The course is designed to help you do this, but also requires that you work hard at reading and thinking.


For each assignment I expect you to read carefully, meaning that you read the selections more than once and take notes on them, since this will also better prepare you for posting to the discussion forums. We will be concerned not only with what a writer says, but how he or she says it. A general overview of the work's plot is not enough; you should prepare for discussion by thinking about the internal structure of the work, how it is put together, and how the work relates to other readings in the course and to your own experience. In the first week or so I will demonstrate most of these tasks by annotating one of the stories you read to help you understand what I expect you to do throughout the semester.

In the "preview" unit of the course, you first will learn about some helpful guidelines for reading literature effectively and decide which of these guidelines you may already follow (and, therefore, which ones you need to practice more). You also will get an overview of the fictional elements a writer uses to create a story and read samples focused on each element. You will learn that in reading literature, we always read a piece at least twice--once just to learn what the story is about and what is happening; then again (and perhaps again and again) to analyze its elements and discover how these elements contribute to the story's effects and to our responses.

You will also practice sending me e-mail messages, learn how to use the World Wide Web, move around the various course pages to explore what is here to help you in the course, and use the discussion forums to communicate with each other.