Course ID EES87X5
Department English
Subject Core English
Can you take this course more than once? No
Periods per Day 1.0
Special Permission Yes
  • All of the following are true:
    • Student GPA in a subject greater than E,92
    • Student is in 11th grade
  • Fulfills the following graduation requirements
    Also in the following groups
    Syllabus No Syllabus Found


    Society and Self is a year-long course focusing on the ways that individuals define themselves in the context of wider social forces - religious, cultural, political, economic, and technological. We’ll read books to help us think about ways stories help shape our sense of our selves and of what is possible in the world.  

    While there are a million books I’d love to have time to read with students, we’re limited to two semesters, so readings will come from a long list of potential novels, plays, poems, and works of nonfiction. Some are quite old (like the folktales of One Thousand and One Nights and the moral challenges of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet), some quite recent (like Ta Nehisi Coates’s memoir Between the World and Me and Mohsin Hamid’s magical-realism refugee novel Exit, West). We’ll read stories about monumental historical moments (like Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, J. M. Coeztee’s Disgrace, and Beowulf - the story of a heroic kingdom facing monstrous threats). We’ll read some books that focus on the development of the self (like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, and Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex). We’ll read books that challenge us to think about our moral choices (like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, and Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion). And we’ll read some books that push our expectations about what writing can do (like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy).

    We’ll write in a variety of styles. Sometimes we’ll write analytical papers to help understand and challenge the works we’re reading. Other times we’ll write as a way to emulate the books we’ve read, or as narrative explorations of the ideas raised in our texts and conversations.

    Some big questions we’ll address in class include:

    • How much are we shaped by the society around us? Is it possible for a state or a society to completely overtake the individual?
    • How (if at all) do our lives relate to our parents’ and ancestors’ lives?
    • Are humans essentially different from the way we were five hundred years ago? A thousand years ago?
    • How bound are we by our memories? How accurate are they?
    • How much do our race, culture, gender, religion determine who we are? How much can we change our experience of those categories?
    • How can an individual make changes in the world, when the world seems so big and each of us seems so small?
    • How do the stories we read (and tell) affect the way we view the world?
    • Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? How can stories challenge our sense of right and wrong?

    Society and Self is considered an Advanced Placement course, and students are encouraged to take the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam in the spring.


    Applicants must have at least a 92% English average.