Writing Program

English 2100: Obsession in Literature

Instructor: Dr. Beth Howells

Course Description: 

When we attempt to understand our own individual experiences, we shape them through memory and reflection.  Sometimes we tell stories when we remember our experience to ourselves or to others.  When writers go to understand the human experience, or humanity, they turn to literature for that same purpose.  Literature can make sense of the human experience for the writer and the reader.  This course will examine how various kinds of literature address one particular and powerful topic: obsession.  In reading novels, a play, poetry, and non-fiction, from America and England, written in diverse time periods, we will explore together the complexity of obsession as a theme, a motivation, or a narrative device. 

While this course has a thematic purpose, it is also purposeful for you as individual students, as writers, readers, thinkers, more broadly.  Moving beyond the foundation established by your 1100 courses, we will continue to address writing issues in terms of both process and product.  We will explore the ways in which writing, reading, and thinking work together.  As much as it is a writing and reader course, this is a critical thinking course.  We will emphasize the nature of argument and evidence.  Finally, we will focus on producing compelling, organized, well researched, and well-documented projects inspired by these texts on topics of your choosing. 

Required Texts:

various handouts
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
William Shakespeare, Othello
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Ed. Johanna Smith  (This particular edition is required.)
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray


  1. Daily In-Class Responses.  In order to encourage you to keep up with the reading and to ensure your preparedness to participate in class discussions, you should expect to be asked to respond to your reading in class every day.  These in-class reading responses will sometimes take the form of quizzes, sometimes they will be a written response to a particular prompt, and sometimes they may be more creative or experimental.  They will require that you read the assigned texts in order to be successful.  This grade will be 20% of your final grade.
  2. Two Exams.  At mid-term and at the final, you will be required to take an in-class essay exam reflecting on your learning experience.  You will want to address how you have synthesized your reading, writing, and thinking.  These essays must be detailed and thorough in your analysis of the particulars of your learning process.  You will want to have prepared an outline to make sure that this essay is properly purposeful, organized, and thorough.  A written assignment sheet will follow.  These exams will be worth 10% apiece and 20% of your final grade.
  3. Two Formal Papers.  Earlier in the term, you will be required to write an argument paper on a topic of your choosing relating to the texts we have read up until that point.  You will be required to clear the topic with me beforehand.  This essay needs to be an argument using textual analysis to prove your thesis to be true.  You will want to focus on correct citation style.  The second paper can be thought of as an elaboration of the first in some ways.  You are to construct an argument using textual analysis along with secondary sources to prove your thesis to be true.  This will necessitate outside research.  We will turn to the library to understand strategies for research and documentation.  Again this topic is up to you but must be cleared in conference with me.  These essays will be worth 15% and 25% respectively or 50% of your final grade.
  4. Group Presentations, Class Participation, and Conferences. This course also demands collaboration and group work: we are working on creating a learning community.  You are required to actively participate in workshops organized to offer peer review.  You will also have a group presentation on a particular school of literary criticism.  A detailed written assignment outlining this requirement will follow. 

    This course depends on your participation.  Learning only happens when you choose for it to happen.  It only happens when you are engaged and active.  Therefore, you must participate in class discussion.  Part of being engaged with the class involves your getting with me and keeping me posted on your work.  Therefore, you are required to meet with me in conference twice during this term: once before midterm and once after.  You will need to come to see me with an agenda prepared.  These are your conferences.  In this way, through the evaluation of group work and class participation, this course could be considered “speaking intensive” as well as “writing intensive.”  These requirements are worth 20% of your final grade.




This is a class that depends on your being there.  Your participation and daily writings cannot be made up.  Therefore, you must be in class.  After 4 absences, your grade will drop a letter until you have failed the course.  You can be removed by me at that point with W or WF. 


The Writing Center located in 109 Gamble Hall can be a good resource for revising your essays if you would like a little extra help with your writing.  It is a free service.  Please consider taking advantage of it.


Be aware that plagiarism can result in dismissal from the university, failure of the course, or failure of an assignment.  Cite any sources you use at any time in this class whether you are quoting directly or paraphrasing.  See me or consult the Armstrong Atlantic State University Handbook if you are ever uncertain about the issue.  Plagiarism will not be tolerated.


Week One: August 20-22
W-Bring in individual obsession; Rossetti and Browning (handouts)

Week Two: August 27-29
M-Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily” and Perkins Gilman, “Yellow Wallpaper” (handouts)
W-Virgin Suicides, 3-66

Week Three: 3-5
W-Virgin Suicides, 66-141

Week Four: September 10-12
M-VS, 141-249
W-Othello, Act I

Week Five: September 17-19
M-Othello, Act II
W-Othello, Act III

Week Six: September 24-26
M-Othello, Act IV
W-Othello, Act V

Week Seven: October 1-3
W-PAPER 1 DUE, Poe, “Cask of Amontillado” (handout), Review

Week Eight: October 8-10
W-Picture of Dorian Gray, chs. 1-5, pp.1-59

Week Nine: October 15-17
W-Picture of Dorian Gray, chs. 6-15, pp. 59-151

Week Ten: October 22-24
M-Picture, chs. 16-20, pp. 151-184
W- Song, 1-55

Week Eleven: October 29-31
M-Song of Solomon, 56-152
W-Song, 153-216/ LIBRARY DAY

Week Twelve: November 5-7
M-Song, 219-259
W-Song, 260-337

Week Thirteen: November 12-14
M-Frankenstein, 19-90
W-Frankenstein, 90-188

Week Fourteen: November 19-21
M-Rd. your group’s criticism/ BOOK CLUB

Week Fifteen: November 26-28
Week Sixteen: December 3-5