Gwybodaeth Modiwlau

Module Identifier
Module Title
Literatures of Captivity
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Oral Presentation  A 20-minute individual orally presented research paper, to be delivered in week 7. Accompanying documentation to include an annotated bibliography, any presentation materials used and an electronic copy of the PowerPoint presentation.  40%
Semester Assessment Essay  6000 words  60%
Supplementary Assessment Supplementary Assessment  Resubmit failed or make good any missing elements. In the event of failure in the oral presentation element, a 20-minute written script on a new topic to be submitted, written as if for delivery, to include an annotated bibliography, any presentation materials used and an electronic copy of the PowerPoint presentation  100%

Brief description

In response to a history of human rights abuses in recent centuries, writers from Frederick Douglass to Alexander Solzenhitsyn, Nelson Mandela to Vaclav Havel, have spoken out against such acts, and served to draw the world's attention to the abuses of its peoples. This module will explore the role of the literatures of captivity in the struggle for human rights, focussing upon such areas of interest as the literature of slavery and abolition; representations of the Gulag; the Holocaust; Japanese American internment; memoirs of Communism; memoirs of northern Korean labour camps; and African national struggles for independence. The module will consider how imprisoned writers represent the tortured body, how many of these narratives turn to querying the construction of the past and the workings and function of memory in their representation of history, and how these narratives insistently return to themes that illustrate the aesthetic problem of reconciling normality with horror, the displacement of consciousness of life by the imminence and pervasiveness of death and torture, and the constant violation of the coherence of the self. Many of these writers raise issues to do with aesthetics: can torture be represented 'aesthetically'? How can physical traumas performed on the body be represented in writing? Can one speak about an 'aesthetics of incarceration'? How do literary aesthetics intersect with gross violations of human rights, and how can the power of the imagination conjure up images when a writer is confronted with the dilemma of converting into literature a history too terrible to imagine? Finally, to what extent have the concerns about `witness literature' and `trauma' emerged as a set of concerns guided by postmodern literary theories and their interests in identity, subjectivity and minority (or `ex-centric') rights?


1. To familiarise students with several crucial areas where literature has engaged with the implications of imprisonment for writers;
2. To investigate the role of the writer in the struggle for human rights, considering the relationship between writing and rights, and the extent to which prisoners of conscience can best express and protest their situation in literary representation.
3. To consider different forms of writing that have emerged from different historical and geographical sites of imprisonment.
4. To consider the extent to which the focus on literatures of captivity and witness literature has emerged as a phenomenon of postmodern theoretical concerns


Seminar Programme

1. Captivity Narratives, Trauma and Bodies
Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain (1987)
Ioan Davies, Writers in Prison (1990)
Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History (1996)

2. Puritan Captivity Narratives
Mary Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682)

3. African American Slave Narratives
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845)
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) extracts

4. Japanese American Internment Narratives
Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660 (1946)
Joy Kogawa, Obasan (1981)

5. Holocaust Reflections (1)
Primo Levi, If This is a Man (1956)
Taduesz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (1959)

6. Holocaust Reflections (2)
Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After (1997)

7. The Russian Gulag
Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (1941)
Alexander Solzenhitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963)

8. Anti-Communist Narratives: China
Jung Chang, Wild Swans (1993)
Guo Sheng, The Tears of the Moon (2003) extracts

9. Anti-Communist Narratives: North Korea
Kang-Chol Hwan, The Aquariums of Pyongyang (2001)
Hyok Kang, This is Paradise! (2007)

10. African Imprisonment Narratives
Albie Sachs, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1966)
Wole Soyinka, The Man Dies: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka (1972)


This module is at CQFW Level 7