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Teaching Australian Literature in a Class about Literatures of Social Reform
  • Per Henningsgaard, Portland State University

This article presents an intriguing thesis about proximity and identification, distance and empathy based on the experience of teaching Sally Morgan’s My Place to American university students alongside Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a class examining literature as an agent of social change. Indeed, its response to the question, “How does the Australian production of My Place influence its American reception?” will surprise many people. Students more readily demonstrate empathy with characters and are prepared to ascribe their unenviable life circumstances to social structures that propagate oppression when reading literature about cultural groups located in geographically distant places. When the work of literature is about cultural groups located in proximal places, however, students are less likely to empathize with the characters and, instead, manifest a neoliberal response. The article concludes by calling for a much more political reading of Australian literature than is common at the present moment; perhaps it is in this shift—rather than in the flattening of possible readings—that Australian literature might find increased relevance in the United States.

Citation Information
Per Henningsgaard. "Teaching Australian Literature in a Class about Literatures of Social Reform"
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