"Woman is endowed with the passive qualities of chastity, modesty, devotion and power of self-sacrifice in greater measure than man is."
-Rabindranath Tagore, "Woman"
When Tagore gave this description of the modern Indian woman during his lecture tour in the US in the early twentieth century, he was referencing a fairly new idea of who the modern Indian woman was, one that had begun to take shape during the colonial era. How and why did the Indian woman become such a central topic of literary and public debate among Indian writers and political leaders? What are the changing characteristics of this figure, and how do they reference key moments in South Asian history? This course answers these questions by examining literary representations of the modern Indian woman and the ways they have fashioned popular understandings of national belonging and community identity in South Asia. We will use two main lenses, social reform and law, to trace the ways that representations of women in literature articulate meanings of gender, caste, class, and religion. We will read novels and short stories by influential South Asian writers such as Tagore, Sharatchandra, Premchand, and Manto, and our literary analyses will be guided by texts in South Asian historiography and social theory, as well as films. Additionally, this course seeks to strengthen skills in literary and historiographical analysis and academic writing through in-class discussion on the process of academic writing, class presentations, written assignments, and a final research paper.
By the end of the course, students will be able to identify recurring literary representations of gender in the Indian subcontinent, explain how they respond to social, cultural, and political changes over time, and relate these connections to theoretical debates on citizenship and community belonging in the South Asian context more broadly. Students will furthermore develop skills in academic writing in the field of South Asian history and literature.
This course fulfills the SAS Core Curriculum Requirements for Cognitive Skills and Processes: Writing and Communication, goals t, u, and v.