Download the Syllabus in PDF format

How you are graded for reading-responses

Participation self-evaluation


Underdogs, Outcasts, & Loners

603-103-MQ, section 11, Fall 2016

Mondays, 12:00-2:00 in 3H.17 & Thursdays, 8:00-10:00 in 3F.27


Jeff Gandell     

Tel.: (514) 931-8731, local: 4980

Office: 3D.3-1           E-mail: MIO

Office hours: Mondays, 9:45-11:45, Tuesdays, 12:30-1:45, Thursdays, 10:00-11:30 & 12:30-1:45, Or by appointment

The best way to communicate with me outside of class is MIO. I check my MIO once per day between the hours of 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Please allow up to 24 hours for a response (I’ll usually get back to you sooner than that). I do not check my email outside of these hours or on the weekend. So, if you email me on the weekend, don’t expect a response until Monday.


Course hours per week:            2 hours of theoretical work

                                                                  2 hours of practical work

                                                                  3 hours of homework


Course Description and Content

Writing novels is a lonely vocation. It is not uncommon, then, for novelists to create lonely heroes—men and women who are disconnected from the people around them. Such characters’ stories often take the shape of discordant, abrasive struggles between their own emotional particularities and an often brutal and unfeeling world. Most forms of storytelling lean heavily on this trope of the hero as the other, set apart from his or her environment. We will read three novels in this class, each of which is told through the voice of a narrator who is, in his or her own way, an underdog, an outcast, and a loner. Their profound sensitivity sets them apart, and they frequently choose the solace of their own minds over the cruelty of other people. They are each unforgettable characters who manage to provoke profound feelings of empathy in readers. In becoming engaged in their stories, we can’t help rooting for these protagonists to succeed, against all odds. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, while none of us aspire to be shunned or set apart, we all struggle to assert our own places in the world—an effort that can be as beautiful as it can be tragic.

All of the work you do this semester will be geared toward two specific projects: one in the first semester, and one in the second semester. This are process-based projects, meaning that emphasis is not only on a final product, but in all the steps that go into creating a final product you can be proud of.

The work that you’ll be asked to produce in this class might be a little different from previous English classes. The two projects you’ll be working on are not strict literary essays per se—they are genres that have specific audiences, purposes, and tones. Though everything you’ve previously learned about literary essays in the past still applies—and you will certainly have to lean on those skills already attained—you’ll have freedom and space to depart from the literary essay to some degree. You’ll have to work your way through all the assignments using your creativity and the height of your problem-solving abilities.

There is a class blog that will serve as an online hub for the course. All (or almost all) the assignments you produce will be published on this blog. This means the work that you produce in this class will be visible your peers. I believe this is essential for growth as a writer. Writing is a social act. Almost everything you write in your life is meant to affect other people in a significant way: to persuade, to convince, to argue, to appease, to praise, to connect, to disconnect, etc. Writing with the notion that it will be seen by other people is an excellent motivator to put forward your best effort. If you have a problem with this or feel uncomfortable with it in any way, please come and speak to me about it in my office. Alternative arrangements can be arranged in individual cases. Though much of your work will be submitted online, you must still be present on the day an assignment is due in order for it to be graded. This is not a correspondence course.

One class per week will be in a regular classroom. During these classes, we will spend most of our time discussing the assigned reading. The other class per week will be in a compu-class. During these classes, we’ll go over certain writing skills, and perform writing or research activities.

The goal of studying literature and writing about it, as far as I see it, is to gain greater empathy and understanding for the complexities of the human condition. The analytical skills you learn in this class may not be directly relevant to your career, but reading a lot makes you a more well-rounded, interesting, and creative person. These criteria are crucial for any direction your life may take. The writing and revision skills we will work on will aim to give you the skills to continue improving your written expression after this class has ended. The ability to write well will open any door you want it to open in your life. The world needs creative people who can write well. More, specifically, the world needs you to be a creative person who can write well. This class aims to help you focus your energies in this direction.



All texts are available at the Dawson College bookstore.

 Assignments and Grade Distribution

Reading Responses                                                                                                 16%

Short, at-home reading responses based on assigned readings. The purpose is to ensure that you are thinking about specific themes and ideas at stake in what you are reading. Best 8/9, worth 2% each.

Film Adaptation Assignment                                                                              32%

For your first major assignment, you will write an essay where you will explain how you would adapt Motherless Brooklyn into a compelling screenplay. You will have to choose which aspect of the novel you think the film should focus on.

  • Preliminary exercises 7%
  • First draft 10%
  • Final draft 15%

Creative Assignment                                                                                                42%

For your second major assignment, you will produce a creative piece that reimagines a specific aspect of either Voyage in the Dark or Ham on Rye (your choice). You have the choice to work in different mediums: writing, visual art, music, etc. Along with this, you will produce an essay that offers complimentary analysis of the aspect of the novel that you focused on in the creative piece. Everyone will participate in a showcase of their creative pieces.

  • Preliminary exercises 7%
  • Essay 15%
  • Creative product 15%
  • Showcase 5%

Participation                                                                                                                     10%

  • Office meeting                         2%
  • Contribution to

classroom environment           8%

A minimum of 60% is required to pass the course.


Late reading responses and preliminary exercises will not be accepted, under any circumstances.  If you miss the creative showcase, you cannot make up those marks.

The only assignments I will accept late are the following: for the Film Adaptation Assignment: first and final drafts; for the Creative Assignment, essay and creative product. These will be deducted 5% for each day they are late (not including weekends). If these are handed in outside of class time will be considered late (even if they’re handed in early, unless you’ve made special arrangements with me in advance). These are due at the beginning of class. Any work that is handed in more than ten minutes after class has begun will be considered one day late. Work that is more than one week late will not be accepted.

I can grant extensions on the drafts of your projects. If you would like an extension, you must come and talk to me about it in person at least one week before the assignment is due. I will not reply to requests for extensions sent by email.

Cheating and Plagiarism Policy

 Cheating “includes any dishonest or deceptive practice relative to formal final examinations, in-class tests, or quizzes.” Plagiarism is “the presentation or submission by a student of another person’s work as his or her own” (ISEP IV.C). If you are unsure about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, consult me before submitting work. Any form of cheating or plagiarism will automatically result in a mark of 0 for the assignment and may result in failure in the course.

 According to ISEP, the teacher is required to report to the Sector Dean all cases of cheating and plagiarism affecting a student’s grade. (ISEP Section IV-C)

If you are feeling overwhelmed, confused, unmotivated, or generally lacking in ideas, please come and speak to me about it. The major assignments are not easy, and it’s totally normal to experience moments of discouragement. I am very good at coaching students into crystallizing their ideas.

 Attendance and Discipline

 Course attendance and participation is crucial to successful assimilation of the concepts and material we will be covering. In order for each student to benefit as much as possible, the classroom should be a place of lively and respectful discussion, debate, and cooperation. Any student attending class will be expected to be a part of the sharing of ideas that will make up the fabric of this course. This means that you will be expected to come to class having read the assigned readings, and ready to contribute to the scheduled discussion.

There is no mark for attendance, but a large percentage of your grade depends on work being done in class (participation, reading responses, preliminary exercises, etc.). Missing a couple of classes throughout the semester is not a problem, but once you start to miss three or more classes, your grade will be affected. Because of the in-class work you’ll be missing, being absent for more than six classes will put you in danger of failing the course. In the event that your grade does not add up to a 60% at the end of the course because of missed assignments due to not attending class, you will fail the course. In this case, I will, under no circumstances, offer any kind of make-up assignments.

Being punctual is important. Things happen, and an occasional inadvertent lateness is no problem. If you’re late frequently, we’ll need to have a chat. Usual rules of common sense, honesty, and respect apply. I reserve the right to not let you into class if I feel your lateness is disruptive.

The use of cell phones or any similar electronic device is forbidden during class time. I am very strict about cell phones. Seriously. Students using them in class bothers me, a lot. If you are in this class, you are agreeing to not use your phone for the entire time. Please keep your phone on silent and in your bag. If I see you using your cell phone, I will stop the class and everyone will sit and wait for you to put it away. Don’t be that person, please.

When the entire class is working on computers, you may use your laptop. Otherwise, you’re not allowed to use it during class time.

Students should refer to the Institutional Student Evaluation Policy (Section Ill-C) regarding attendance.

Everyone has the right to a safe and non-violent environment. Students are obliged to conduct themselves as stated in the Student Code of Conduct and in the ISEP section on the roles and responsibilities of students. (ISEP Section II-D)

If a student is attending an intensive course, the student must inform the teacher within the first two (2) weeks of class of the specific dates of any anticipated absences.

 Religious Holidays and Alternate Plans (if applicable)

 Students who intend to observe religious holidays must inform their teachers in writing as prescribed in the ISEP Policy on Religious Observances. (ISEP Section III-D). You can send me a MIO about it.

Office Hours

I can be VERY HELPFUL if you come to see me in my office, especially if you are short of ideas for your essays, or are having grammatical difficulties. Two hours of my workload per week is set aside to meet with people from this class outside of class time. This is a really great resource for you guys. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the help I am more than happy to give you outside of class time.

Ministerial Objectives and Standards

The objective of this course is to enable students to apply a critical approach to literary themes.  Students will learn to recognize a work’s literary themes, cultural context, and value system.  Students will also be able to analyze a text from a thematic perspective.

On successful completion of this course, students will be able to produce a 1000-word analytical essay with the aid of reference material.  This essay will demonstrate a comprehension of themes, literary elements and rhetorical devices.  This essay will also demonstrate use of appropriate terminology and thorough revision of form and content.


 A student graduating from an English 103 course:

 In reading

  • identifies one or more themes in a literary work
  • understands the literal meaning of the text studied
  • recognizes ways in which stylistic, rhetorical, and formal features of the works studied contribute to the expression and development of a theme
  • perceives and appreciates the significance of historical and cultural context to the works studied

In writing

  • can develop a literary analysis of a theme or themes within the works studied
  • can develop a critical analysis that is distinct from a personal reaction or plot summary
  • can locate supporting evidence within the literary work, present it clearly and logically, and explainhow the evidence supports the thesis
  • can maintain unity and coherence throughout the essay
  • can write relatively clear and error-free sentences

Competency 4EA2: To apply a critical approach to a literary theme.

The following elements of the competency will be fully addressed:

  1. To recognize the treatment of a theme within a literary text.
  2. To situate a literary text within its cultural context.
  3. To detect the value system inherent in a literary text.
  4. To explicate a discourse from a thematic perspective.
  5. To edit the discourse.