Literature:Innocence, Guilt and Social Justice

Ref: C3743075

We will discuss two memorable novels, Elizabeth Gaskell’s 'Mary Barton' and Margaret Atwood’s 'Alias Grace'. In 'Mary Barton' Elizabeth Gaskell explores the human experience of the industrial revolution, tensions between the rich and the poor, the struggle for social justice in Manchester in the 1840’s, and the moral courage of the novel’s heroine. In 'Alias Grace' Margaret Atwood uses different points of view to illuminate complex experiences of gender, poverty, innocence, guilt, and psychological trauma. She also investigates some important Victorian values. As well as discussing the themes in both novels, we will also explore the narrative techniques, the methods used to create character, the role that settings play, and the importance of the descriptive writing. N. B. No class on 21 February (half-term)

Course aim

We will discuss the themes, style and structure of two exciting and challenging novels, Elizabeth Gaskell's 'Mary Barton' and Margaret Atwood's 'Alias Grace'.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • The course is for anyone who is interested in Literature. Although the course will be taught at Level 3, there are no entry requirements apart from an interest and enthusiasm for Literature.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Discuss the social, ethical and psychological themes.
  • Analyse the themes and use of language in key passages.
  • Comment on the cultural and social contexts.
  • Discuss different ways of telling a story and the advantages of each method.
  • Develop listening and discussion skills.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • Your tutor will ask you to take part in discussion. You will have the opportunity to introduce a topic, but this is not required. Each week you will be given questions and issues to think about in preparation for the next week’s session.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • The tutor will give you informal feedback on your progress. You can contact the tutor by email if you need advice or feedback. The tutor will give you advice about how to build up your confidence if you feel shy about participating.

What else do I need to know?

  • Please bring a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel ‘Mary Barton’ to the first class. At the first session we will discuss the themes, settings and contrasts of character in the first eight chapters of the novel.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • To prepare for the first class, please think about the themes, contrasts of character and the use of settings in the first eight chapters of ‘Mary Barton’.

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • You could progress to Higher Education courses. Follow link to the PEARL website for information

Download full course information sheet

Literature:Innocence, Guilt and Social Justice


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  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2018
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