Michigan State University

English majors are trained to be skilled readers, attentive to the complexity and nuance of language and literature. Our two gateway courses focus on the skill of “close reading,” both of works of literature and literary and cultural theory. ENG 210 introduces close reading in four genres, and ENG280 offers a second semester of coursework that refines the skill of close reading. At the same time, close reading is never neutral; theory requires that students reflect on the definitions and assumptions that support literary study. As a site to investigate and question the terms of their critical practice, theory gives a context for students to understand that close reading is but one approach to literary study.

A writing-intensive course in close reading, with substantial attention to poetry, drama, and narrative prose, drawing broadly on texts taken from more than one century and more than one national literature. The writers featured include women and writers of color.  Students write frequent shorter papers, rather than fewer longer essays, with the emphasis on articulating a clear thesis, developing a coherent interpretive argument, and supporting claims with evidence from the text. This course introduces students to major genres; explores differences between poetry, prose fiction, drama, and covers the basics of narrative and poetic form. A fourth genre, such as comics, creative nonfiction, or experimental writing, may be included with the three that must be covered. Students leave 210 with a sense of the differences across literary periods and national literatures, and encounter literary from a diverse range of voices and perspectives.

A writing-intensive introduction to critical and literary theory, ENG280 teaches students to examine the ideological or theoretical frameworks that guide our attention to the text, bringing those orientations into focus for students in order to cultivate student’s facility in recognizing and using them. In this course, students further refine their close reading skills, but also understand the interpretive payoff and the limitations of any particular approach to a text, as well as how to analyze the assumptions behind and implications for an argument interpreting a text.

No particular theoretical approach is privileged, but a range of different theories should be considered, and the relation of these theories to specific literary works should be included.  The objective is for students to develop their ability to pose critical questions, think reflexively about their interpretations, and situate their claims in relation to other interpretations, so that they become more deliberate, careful readers, critically self-aware of their own processes of interpretation.

Close Menu