ENGL289J - What is Justice? Literature and the Invention of Ethical Imagination
0101-0104 - Amanda Bailey


How is it that we crave justice as much as we crave love or money?  This course seeks to answer this question by examining literature’s unique ability to animate the concrete human passions underlying the most abstract ethical dilemmas.  We will consider how literary texts have shaped our understanding of justice, and more particularly, how fiction defines, critiques, challenges, and even alters a given society’s comprehension of equity and inequity, crime and punishment, pardon and torture, and ideas about civil liberties and human rights.  By attending to the ways writers have described the just and the unjust within their historical moment, we will gain insight into crucial role of imaginative writing in the formation of ethical citizens across time.  We begin with Plato and Aristotle, and then move onto Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Medea.  We will also read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Kafka’s The Trial, Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  In order to consider justice in the context of an emerging human rights discourse, we will read portions of Hannah Arendt’s groundbreaking Eichmann in Jerusalem.  We will end the course with Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and two recent documentaries “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” and “The Central Park Five,” both of which altered the outcome of the criminal trials they depict.  There will be two formal papers, an in-class presentation, weekly reading quizzes, a midterm and final examination.