Literature of Vice

Teacher:Benjamin Gross
Extra Help:Thursdays in room 303 & by appointment

Literature of Vice


Couse Overview:

Why is it that bad people, or good people doing bad things interests people so much. Or why is it that often the best literature is centered around violations of the ethical and moral normative values of a society, rather than the upholding of them? Whether depicted comically or tragically, with good or bad ends, literature centered around people committing crimes and breaking the rules of their society ranks amongst the best. In this class, we will examine some of these violations of the social structure, and whether the crime is adultery as is the case of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, murder as is the case of Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Grey , or the mass-murder depicted in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, all function to highlight the central values their society upheld, while showing their limitations of hollowness through their violation. The class will provide us the opportunity to deeply examine some of the real masterpieces of literature, because as Flaubert said, “what a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half dozen books”; by the conclusion of the semester, we will have that knowledge and be those scholars.


Essential Questions:

1. What is Vice?

2. How do character’s vices reflect the values of their society?

3. How does language influence meaning?

4. How does embodying a written text affect our understanding of the text?



Ÿ Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Ÿ Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Ÿ Madame Bovary, Gustav Flaubert

Ÿ A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess


Major Projects & Portfolio Pieces:

Ÿ Analytical response to literary criticism related to Heart of Darkness

Ÿ Ugliness is the One Reality, 19th Century Portraiture Exposé for Picture of Dorian Gray

Ÿ Compare & Contrast between Madame Bovary

Ÿ Literary Analysis of A Clockwork Orange informed by philosophic readings.



Many of the texts we will be examining in class are difficult, often with complex themes that are not always clearly discernable. Advancing a hypothesis about a text, film, or piece of art and being ‘wrong’ is central to the learning process. I hope we can use the risk-taking of the writers and artists we are studying in class as an inspiration, and try to push ourselves in order to enhance our thinking skills and impact how we see the world around us.



Academic Honesty: Plagiarism is a serious offense in this classroom as it involves theft and dishonesty. Intellectual integrity is central to learning, so I implore you to engage in original thought and cite sources when they are used (including Sparknotes and Schmoop). Work that is plagiarized, either from a fellow student or from an online source, will receive a zero with no chance to make it up, your parent or guardian will be contacted, and the office will be notified.


Revision: Revision is central to the writing process; no one that writes professionally turns something in they have not revised themselves and had others revise for them. We will follow this same professional behavior towards the written word in class, using class time to revise what we write in order to improve ourselves as writers. Additionally, work turned in will be revisable as my feedback on it is meant to improve your abilities as a writer.


Timeliness: If a student is not able to turn in a major assignment on time, he or she must make arrangements with the teacher within 24 hours of the due date. At the discretion of individual teachers, students may be provided extra time to receive partial credit on major assignments. Make-up assignments must be submitted within 7 calendar days (1 week) from the original due date. Assignments submitted before the 7 day window will receive a lower grade in the Work Habits strand (5 points lost for every day late) but fully assessed in all other strands. Assignments turned in after the 7 day window will be graded as a zero in all strands. Late homework must be turned in by the next class.


Honors: Honor in English is an opportunity to challenge yourself and enrich your experience of the literature we will read in class. The goal of honors is to challenge you in order to advance your independence, time management, and self-direction, and to strengthen your compositional and analytical skills. It is open to all students, but there is a good deal of independent, supplemental work involved. In order to qualify for honors credit, you must:


·      Maintain a grade of 80 or higher in all strand areas.

·      Read and respond to one piece of literary criticism for each text.

·      Complete an honors version of each project.

·      Evidence the characteristics of a classroom leader, socially and academically, including: being regularly prepared for class, speaking respectfully while advancing the tone and terroir of class discussions, assist other students when appropriate, and evidence the characteristics of good scholarship in English.


The honors assessments will supplement the cumulative assessment for each unit, and will provide an opportunity to enhance your understanding of the text. Upon completion of all the honors requirements, your semester grade will be raised by 0.5 points. Should you choose to pursue honors in English and later reconsider, the honors work you do complete will be graded for extra credit, but your semester grade will receive no additional points.


Grading Policy:

Composition (30%) Composition is synonymous with writing, and will take the form of analytical paragraphs, in class responses to the text, analytical essays, and creative writing pieces.

Analysis (30%) Analysis represents critical thinking about a text and can take the form of study questions and other assessments where you have to think about and analyze a text. It is also embedded in many of the composition assignments, so when you write an analytical paragraph, the analysis is the thoughts you have about the text, whereas the composition is how you express those thoughts. How fluidly you embed a textual quotation would fall under composition while what you have to say about that quotation and how it contributes to a theme in the text is analysis.

Oral Presentation (10%) Oral presentation may take the form of student presentations, participation in class discussions, participation in small group discussions, and other forms of vocalizing one's ideas in class, formally or informally.

Work Habits (30%) Work habits are the study skills necessary to gain mastery over the curriculum. It might take the form of reading quizzes, book annotation checks, revisions of essays, and self-reflections.

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Course Documents