Women Writers Around the Globe (Section 1)

Discipline: Modern and Contemporary Literature
Instructor: Fraiman
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1250
End: 1405
Field Work: Day 1 | India Download Syllabus

Following the path of our voyage, this course treats contemporary texts—mostly short fiction—by women from Mexico to Morocco. A guiding question will be: To what extent can we generalize about women and their concerns across national boundaries? Do women around the world seem drawn to many of the same topics, face common problems, and take similar approaches to writing about these things? Or do women’s lives, issues, and literary strategies vary widely from place to place? How do our writers think about their national identity, their place in the global economy of the twenty-first century? How would they define and what do they think of feminism? How do their works comment on such matters as growing up, family, war, history, ethnic identity, sexuality, the United States? Do their writings seem to confirm or challenge your ideas about women in other parts of the world? In addition to exploring what our texts have to say, we will also be analyzing how they say it. Using the literary critical method of close reading, we will pay microscopic attention to the formal characteristics of our works. How is a particular story narrated and from whose perspective? Where does it begin and how is it structured overall? What kinds of images and vocabularies are deployed, and to what effect?

Field Work

Country: India
Day: 1

The village of Chendamangalam, a two-hour drive from Cochin, is located in a scenic part of Kerala state.  Our visit will give us a taste of village life, with a particular focus on the social and economic roles of rural women.  After a traditional welcome (with drums, dancing, jasmine garlands, etc.), we will be invited into a family house and treated to a home-cooked meal, served on banana leaves.  Following this demonstration of women’s culinary skills, we will visit a factory where a different kind of work takes place: there women earn a living weaving cloth on handlooms.  They have been enabled to do so by Kudumbasree, a government program launched in 1998 aimed at eradicating poverty among women.  By interacting with those who administer and benefit from Kudumbasree, we will learn something about the achievements and challenges of such a project.  In conversation with local residents, we will also have a chance to ask some general questions about women’s issues in Kerala and perhaps to share some stories about the gender dynamics of our own culture.  We will, of course, be interested in how our field experience echoes and/or revises the impressions we’ve received from fictional works by Jhumpa Lahiri, Bharati Mukherjee, and Mahasweti Devi.
Academic Objectives:
  1. To identify pressing issues for women in the host country
  2. To ponder which women’s issues seem to be “universal” and which are particular to their history/setting
  3. To see how an NGO operates in an Asian or African context