: Interrogating Morality in Literature

Home/ : Interrogating Morality in Literature
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Discipline CoreSOL2EN3034

Semester and Year Offered: Semesters I and III, Monsoon Semester

Course Coordinator: Dr. Bhoomika Meiling

Email of course coordinator: Bhoomika[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

Social life comprises different poses acquired to project a normal image of self. Morality is one such pose. It is ostensibly a very significant aspect of human activity: intellectual, cultural, religious and even physical. It is also one of the main criteria on which we judge and test each other and form our opinions. Our thoughts regarding propriety, legitimacy, legality, honour and even truth can be traced back to our long drawn out and often coercive training in morality.

The idea of morality differs from society to society. This difference, however, has often been disregarded in favour of a ‘universal’ morality. The concept of universal morality when perused through the postcolonial lens seems suspect as all it does is to foreground ethnocentric views of politically dominant groups. Morality then becomes a hegemonic site where people’s standards of good and bad are played out on the basis of their position in the social hierarchy. Religion is an important tool used often to ensure such hegemonic control. Moral deviance has therefore historically meant deviance from the moral code of conduct formulated, though informally, by the powers that be. In the erstwhile colonies the idea acquires many more layers due to the detailed effort of the colonial regime to ‘civilize’ the savage other. This course seeks to sensitize students about critical issues related to the seemingly simple and ‘universal’ category of morals. Through a selection of texts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the course will interrogate prevalent notions on morality and invite the students to revisit, review and re-judge their own moral standpoints.

Course Outcomes:

On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the concept of conditional morality as opposed to universal morality to which we are supposed to make a gesture almost always. By reading intensively some narratives which deal with deep moral dilemmas and conflicts, the course expects to train students in questioning all that is given to us.
  2. Inculcate of a critical and lifelong understanding of literature and life itself.
  3. Appreciate and value the plurality of attitudes towards moral questions.
  4. Apply research skills to source materials for class presentations and assessment tasks.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules and Reading List: The course would consist of at least 7-8 primary texts comprising novels, plays, poems as well as non-fiction interlinked through commonality in theme or context. The long list would provide students with a variety of texts to choose their presentation and term paper topics from. The general purpose of the course would be to acquaint students with different literary genres also while sensitizing them towards the problematique of morality in literature.

Module 1: Studying the human mind: Monster or Tabula Rasa?: This module introduces the early modern thought on human mind and motivations. A reading of Hobbes’ Leviathan provides an understanding about the prevalent notions on the inherent immorality of human beings. Through a contextualization of the religious history of the turbulent mid-seventeenth century, this reading provides a perspective about moral behaviour as it was understood at that time. A useful counter-narrative to this thought in the semi-philosophical treatise of Locke will also be briefly examined.

Selections from Leviathan- Thomas Hobbes

Selections from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding- John Locke

Module 2: Restoration Comedy- A Celebration of All that is Immoral?: This module engages with the rise and fall of restoration comedy while deeply studying the motivations behind such representations of immorality onstage for an indulgent gentry. The question of gender, with reference to playwrights and actors on stage is also explored here.

The Country Wife- William Wycherley

The Rover- Aphra Behn

Module 3: Dawn of the Age of Reason?: This module deals with satire and its publication at the turn of the century. It interrogates the label ‘Age of Reason’ through a reading of select satirical material on morality.

The True-Born Englishman – Daniel Defoe

A Tale of a Tub- Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal- Jonathan Swift

Module 4: Rise of the Novel and Debates around Morality: This module engages with the intense debates on sexual morality through publication of early novels especially between Samuael Richarson and Henry Fielding.

Pamela, Or Virtue Rewarded- Samuel Richardson

Tom Jones- Henry Feilding

Assessment Details with weights: End Semester Examination 30%; Class assignments and participation: 20%; Presentations: 30%, Term Paper: 20%

Long List:

  • Alice Walker, The Color Purple.
  • Alka Saraogi, Over to You Kadambari
  • Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (novel and film)
  • Arthur Miller, All My Sons.
  • Bama, Kuruku.
  • Bibhuti Bhushan Bhattacharjee, He Who Rides The Tiger
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
  • Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders.
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe.
  • Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (play and film)
  • E.M. Foster, A Passage To India
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment.
  • Harold Pinter, Birthday Party.
  • Harper Lee, To kill a Mockingbird.
  • Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews.
  • Henry Fielding, Shamela.
  • J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace.
  • Joe Orton, Loot.
  • Joe Orton, What the Butler Saw.
  • John Osborne, Look Back in Anger (play and film)
  • John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men.
  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels.
  • Krishna Sobti, Listen Girl.
  • Krishna Sobti, Sunflowers of the Dark.
  • Krishna Sobti, To Hell with You Mitro.
  • Lakshman Gaekwad, The Branded (Uchalya). Trans.P. A. Kolharkar.
  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
  • Maitreyi Pushpa, Alma Kabutari.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein Or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text.
  • Nadine Gordimer, My Son’s Story.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.
  • Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint.
  • R.K. Narayan, The Guide (film and novel).
  • Samuel Richarson, Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded.
  • Sidney Lumet, Twelve Angry Men.
  • Thomas Hardy, Tess Of The D'Urbervilles.
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved.
  • Toni Morrison, Love.
  • Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon.
  • Toni Morrison, Sula.
  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye.
  • Tsitsi Dengarembga, Nervous Conditions.
  • Umberto Eco, Five Moral Essays.
  • Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.
  • U.R. Ananthamurthy, Samskara.
  • Virginia Woolf, Orlando.
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.
  • Vladimir Nabakov, Lolita.
  • William Golding, Lord of Flies.
  • William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
  • William Shakespeare, Othello