Sample Paper Topics
Literature of Dissent, Spring 2003

1. Formulate a brief definition of dissent or of a dissident, or else find one you like in a dictionary. Choose one of the writers we have read so far and critique their statements or writing from the point of view of that definition.

2. Compare two of the writers we have read from the point of view of their practice dissent. Which do you consider more artistically convincing, and why? Which, on the other hand, do you consider more persuasive to the reader? Does one (or do both) seem to project the psychology or personality of a dissident, or does the dissenter merely tend to offer a new, competing orthodoxy?

3. Compare and contrast the ways state (or other) authority is depicted in two or three of the works we have read so far (choose, say, from among Avvakum, Tynyanov, Tolstoy, Zamyatin, and Gogolí). To what extent is that authority given a voice in the work itself?

4. What is the role of the state (and its subsidiary organs, including perhaps the state church) in provoking and shaping dissidence? Base your argument on one or more of the texts we have read.

5. According to one or more of the texts we have read, what is or should be the dissident's relationship to politics and political power?

6. What are the relationships between dissidence and social class? What is the relationship (if any) in one or more of the works we have read between class and the demand for liberation or reform, or seeking an alternative kind of political power, or even collaborating in one's own oppression?

7. Which faculties or vehicles do the authors see as the origin of dissidence (souls, brains, ideas, words, culture?), and what are the resulting differences in their views or definitions of dissidence?

8. Take on the persona of a tyrant (or a subservient bureaucrat) responding to Avvakum, or a peasant responding to Tolstoy, or a materialist scientist or else a revolutionary responding to Dostoevsky, and critique one of the texts we have read. (Although argument from intuition or gut feeling is fine, strive to be analytical: an educated peasant, still in touch with her roots.)

9. To what extent does any one (or more) of the works we have read address dissent explicitly, and to what extent is the dissident content implicit ≠ and perhaps even most strongly expressed in stylistic features?

10. Argue that one of our authors, or works, is not dissident but rather the opposite (defining what you consider to be the opposite). What can studying non-dissidence teach us about dissidence?

11. Choose one work we have read where the author polemicizes with a theory or movement that is itself dissident rather than conformist in its society. On what basis does the author reject what is attacked? To what extent is the author's work an endorsement of the existing system, and to what extent does its polemical energy threaten the existing order as well?

12. To what extent do the works we read (choose two as examples) trace out the biographical background of someone who goes on to become a dissident? From the perspective of todayís psychological orthodoxy (post-Freud, and also post-Realism), do you find the authorís depiction of the characterís development and the outcome in the text psychologically plausible?

(I can make more of these if you find them useful!)



Return to Lit of Dissent syllabus.