English R1B

Reading and Composition: Passing Narratives

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
14 Spring 2022 Elias, Gabrielle
TTh 8-9:30 122 Wheeler


This course will focus on passing narratives, stories, in which, a character is perceived as belonging to a racial or ethnic group different from their own. In particular, we will direct our attention to a series of twentieth-century texts that explore a multiracial character’s decision to “pass” for white. In conversation with those texts, we will investigate what passing narratives reveal about the performance of identity, the (in)stability of identity categories, and the anxieties that surface when the rigidity of those categories is called into question. We will also discuss key topics, like community, belonging, isolation, and visibility, which our texts have in common. 

Building on those readings, we will also think about the passing narrative in relation to genre, moving from tragedy to melodrama to mystery to science-fiction. Through that work, we will interrogate the flexibility of the passing narrative, questioning its continued popularity and varied forms. 

This course is also centered on composition; you will complete a series of writing assignments designed to help you think through the course’s main ideas and to help you develop your writing and research skills. 


Texts likely to include: James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Jessie Redmon Fauset’s There Is Confusion, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Langston Hughes’ “Passing,” Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress

Films likely to include: Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

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