Toughen Up and Take This Course

Or rather, think about why “manning up” is a concept in Studies in American Literature topics course examining how concepts of manhood were created and what they’re doing.

The usual narrative is simple. Men are oppressors; America is a nation of “self-made men.” Yet, how are these men made? What do these men experience? What do they do to be called ‘men’?

Moving well beyond just “man up,” Jermaine Singleton’s Studies in American Literature topic course “Staging Masculinities” will really look at where gender fits into the larger schematics for discussion.

“Typically, the narrative of gender oppression renders men perpetrators of oppression (as opposed to objects of oppression via societal expectations, codes, and constraints),” Singleton said. “I wanted to create a course that not only disrupts this narrative but brings the operations of gender oppression into sharper focus through an intersectional framework.”

“More specifically,  an opportunity to highlight the ways gender order works through the discourses of class, racial, and sexual difference to do its work provides an apt context for contemplating models for being that accounts for and circumvents this ideological work.”

To do so, the course will be looking at various representations of men and masculinity in literature, film, and artistic visuals under a variety of interpretative lens including psychoanalytic, queer, Marxist, and feminist theory to explore the ideas of manhood and how they’ve changed over time as responses to social climate, economy, or national movements or demands.

Students will read widely from the course readings list and use the variety of texts to finds patterns and connections between them.

“When we place texts in conversation with one another, unique understandings emerge from the inherent tension between the texts.  There is no better way to expand the range of questions we apply to literary texts and attend to their unique issues, themes or complexities.”

This will be assigned as an Intertextual Analysis to eventually prepare for a final paper.

“I teach through inquiry and modeling close readings more often than not, Singleton said. “I’m also deeply invested in using texts and writing to supplant binary thinking and false consciousness wherever possible.”

The readings for this course are plentiful, but promise to be engaging and to produce interesting analysis together. They include five plays, three films, and three books.

The plays range in time period from 1949 through to a recent spinoff in 2010 with titles Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, and M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang.

  • Death of a Salesman is about Willy Loman and his wife Linda, who have lived in the same house for the past 25 years which are depicted in a montage of memories and dreams about the confrontations, arguments, and happenings during the time in their home.
  • A Raisin in the Sun is about the Youngers, an African-American family in Chicago struggling in poverty, but suddenly see a way out when they receive a life insurance payment.
  • Clybourne Park is the spinoff play by Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and the loose historical context of Chicago.
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  is set in the Mississippi Delta on a plantation and focuses on the relationships within Big Daddy Pollitt’s family members.
  • M. Butterfly follows the relationship between a French diplomat and a male Peking opera singer.

The films are more modern featuring Brokeback Mountain by Ang Lee, Moonlight by Barry Jenkins, and Fences by August Williams.

  • Brokeback Mountain from 2005 is about two cowboys who share a secret relationship over several years.
  • Moonlight follows a African American gay man growing up in Miami. Most recently, it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture
  • Fences is the film adaptation of Wilson’s play examining race against the backdrop of Major League Baseball. Wilson wrote the screenplay for the movie directed by Denzel Washington.

The books are also more recent with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance, and Between the World and Me by Te-Nehisi Coates.


  • Fight Club is a novel from 1996 about a protagonist struggling with insomnia that leads to him developing an underground fighting club as psychotherapy.
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is a recent publication from 2016. It is the memoir of Vance’s personal experiences in the white working class.
  • Between the World and Me is written as a series of essays written as letters to his son where Coates discusses race in America.

The course offers the Hamline Plan requirement for Writing Intensive (W) and is a 3000-level literature course for English majors.

The class is set for Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm in Bush Memorial Library room 306. It’s required that a registering student have taken ENG 3010 (now 1900) and ENG 3020 (which may be taken concurrently).

Find the course’s full information here.

This article was written by staff, Franki Hanke. 

Franki Hanke, or Francheska Crawford Hanke, for long, is a student administrative assistant with the Hamline University English Department, and she’s in charge of the running of Hamline Lit Link. As a staff writer for the blog, she loves the opportunity it gives her to interact with different perspectives and learn more about the realm of English. Her essays “Why I Write” and “I Couldn’t Say No” were published in Wise Ink publishing’s anthology Why We Ink in 2015. Her poetry has been published on The Drabble (2017) and Oakwood Literary Magazine (2017).

She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Professional Rhetoric Focus at Hamline University and plans to graduate in 2019. Along with managing the blog, she runs the social media outreach and accounts for the department. Outside of the English Department, she writes for The Oracle newspaper and Odyssey Online.

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