ENGLISH 201 - Readings in Multicultural American Literature
Fall 2022, Section 001 - The Hustle: American Fictions of Con Artistry and Upward Mobility
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
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In this course, we will consider the role of “the hustle” in American literature and culture, paying special attention to ethnicity, race, and the art of fiction. 

Quite often, we think of “hustling” as an admirable trait: it’s about drive, diligence, and dynamism—being a go-getter, working hard, or playing with alertness and energy. But just as frequently, “hustling” carries negative connotations—of luring unsuspecting victims, of defrauding and deceiving others for money or similar rewards. How, then, does the praiseworthy “hustle” of initiative and enterprise intersect with concepts of “upward mobility” and “the model minority”? How, too, do the illegal or unsavory acts of swindling and con artistry intersect with systemic racism, inequality of opportunity, and the mechanisms of American capitalism? And why do we use the same term to describe both gumption and duplicity? 

As we think through “fictions of con artistry and upward mobility,” we will work to understand how novels, short stories, films, and TV shows (especially those by and about African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans, and Native Americans) have dramatized and questioned illicit schemes and social advancement. Yet we also will investigate how the concepts of “con artistry” and “upward mobility” are themselves fictions—social and semantic constructions whose meanings and implications shift over time. 

Among other topics, we will address: racial and ethnic “passing” and “identity theft”; the distinctive functions of the trickster and the conjurer in Black, Indigenous, and Asian diasporic literary histories; the genre of the heist narrative; the politics of reconnaissance and espionage; shadow economies and the black market; the stereotyping of certain groups as “frauds” and “cheats”; and cultural differences in conceptions of ethics and criminality. 

Novels we will read include Oscar “Zeta” Acosta’s Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, Han Ong’s Fixer Chao, and Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. We also will watch a few films (The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Out of Sight), as well as episodes of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.

Course Requirements:

Course assignments will include regular reading responses, two short essays, and a final research project.


ENGLISH 201 - Readings in Multicultural American Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM

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