Studies in Fiction

“Call me Ishmael,” begins Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851). “It’s not my fault,” starts off Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child (2015), a novel that she dedicates simply “For You.” These conversational openings pick up a long-running national dialogue about who Americans are, what they have experienced, and what it cost. Toni Morrison and Herman Melville bring much to the national conversation and are also deeply concerned with the saying itself: with voices and issues, with who gets into the discussion and who is kept out. In this seminar, we will pair their works at critical junctures, thinking about talk and silencing in Morrison’s God Help the Child and Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno”; imagined communities in Morrison’s Beloved and Melville’s Moby-Dick; violence, migration, and identity in Morrison’s Paradise and Melville’s Israel Potter; and history, authority, and authorship in Melville’s Billy Budd and Morrison’s A Mercy. Students will deliver in-class reports on secondary and critical readings, submit periodic response papers, and write essays based on research and reflection.