English Literature in the Modern World

Home Admissions Course Guide English Literature in the Modern World

This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


English Literature in the Modern World

ENGL A231 English Literature in the Modern World isa five-credit middle-level course for undergraduate students in all academic disciplines. It is an elective course that introduces literature in English from around the world in the post-colonial context.

Writers whose native language may not be English have been writing and publishing works in English for many years now. We shall read some of these books and also consider some major ideas that have been discussed in recent theories about this ‘post-colonial’ development in literature.

It is a very exciting development, because through their writing in English, people from different cultures are able to entertain readers from many different countries including the United Kingdom. We as readers can now gain insights into different cultures we might otherwise never have known about. We can plunge into the world of an African tribe or observe the lives of a ‘drop-out’ generation group of young North Americans.

Through this course, you will learn to read, understand and appreciate different forms of literary works in the following areas:

  • Identity and its crisis in modern literature
  • The idea of the ‘Other’
  • Multiculturalism
  • The uncanny and the absurd
  • Gender issues and the battle of the sexes
  • Modern values.

Through the theories and concepts discussed and through reading the set creative, literary texts, we can appreciate some of the reasons for this astonishingly rich development that is right now establishing what critics are calling ‘the new literatures in English.’

In this course you may broaden your knowledge of fiction and drama by reading some representative modern works stemming from different Anglophone authors living in a variety of cultures. Their works form part of a growing and exciting range of modern literatures in English. We thus find stories, experiences, and attitudes from very different cultures but all expressed in English. Such readings help us to share in a global modernity that is expressed vividly in the Anglophone world.

All this is partly a result of the end of the British Empire, partly of international business, and globalization.


Course aims

ENGL A231 aims to:

  • Introduce the post-colonial context of literature in English.
  • Introduce a range of literary texts from the genres of fiction and drama.
  • Explore some major concepts in modern literature.
  • Examine literature in the multicultural context.
  • Broaden students' appreciation of English language in the new literatures in English.

Course learning outcomes

Upon the completion of ENGL A231 you should be able to:

  • Evaluate works from different countries by international writers in English.
  • Analyse in a critical manner the works studied.
  • Comment on some varieties of English used in the works studied.
  • Examine major concepts found in modern literature.
  • Discuss the notion of identity in a hybrid society.

This is the nuts-and-bolts, informative section, providing information such as what materials are needed, and how the assignments and marking are arranged. Please read it carefully.


Course materials

In addition to this Course Guide, this course has eight study units. The reading of the set literary texts is of prime importance. But we should not neglect the useful critical and theoretical writings that help us to place the literature in a variety of contexts. These give insights into facets of modern societies. The reference books provide a very useful background for your studies. Internet material can also prove useful. Please ensure that you have all of these materials available.


Study units

Unit 1: Major concepts in modern literature

This unit introduces you to some of the ideas that have preoccupied writers in different parts of the world: colonialism, post-colonial theories, and the rapid changes that are a feature of our modern world, arising mainly from new approaches to the position of women in society, the impact of new technologies, constant waves of migration, and, consequently, people living away from their places of origin. We now often search for our own identity, prompted by contacts with the 'Other,' cultural integration, and multiculturalism.


Unit 2: Identity, the 'Other', and the crisis of culture in Achebe's Things Fall Apart

In this unit we discuss some fundamental consequences of de-colonialization in Africa through the study of Achebe's ground-breaking and much studied novel, Things Fall Apart.

The impact of a western education cannot be underestimated; it is deliberately signalled in the title of the novel, deriving from the Irish, and Nationalist, poet, W B Yeats.


Unit 3: The 'Other' in Conrad's 'Amy Foster'

In Unit 3 we encounter the 'Other' in Joseph Conrad's story, 'Amy Foster.' Conrad's own chosen exile from his native Poland, his career as a sailor, and his adoption of England and its language, gave him plenty of experience as background material for the writing that made him one of the first great international modern writers in English, working at a time when empires were widespread but the notion of empire was being challenged by intellectuals and politicians. Conrad's background for his tale is still in the news nowadays and is a contemporary issue: the smuggling of illegal immigrants by racketeers.


Unit 4: Multiculturalism in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club

A celebrated American novel written by a native-speaker of English, Amy Tan, an American of Chinese ethnic origin is the key text for this unit. The novel deals with particular families arriving in the United States as part of the Chinese diaspora. In tracing the families' fortunes and milieu, Tan shows the differences between first and second generation immigrant experiences, for the immigrant families grow up between at least two different cultures. The novel also explores the changing identities of people in a society that becomes more multicultural than monolithic and homogeneous.


Unit 5: The uncanny and the absurd in Angela Carter's 'A Souvenir of Japan'

This unit deals with Angela Carter's 'A Souvenir of Japan,' an account of lovers from very different cultures living together in a small Japanese town. The different racial characteristics of the lovers' bodies reflect the very evident cultural differences between them. The affair in some ways seems 'absurd' as well as a mutual experiencing of the 'Other.' It stands in ironic contrast to Puccini's Madam Butterfly.


Unit 6 : Doris Lessing's 'Our Friend Judith' and gender issues in recent literature

Units 6 and then 7 offer students the opportunity to explore the ways in which three very different writers, Lessing, Hemingway, and Glaspell, use respectively three different genres, novel, short story, and short play, to present male and female characters and concerns.

Doris Lessing, born in 1919, grew up at a time when women of marriageable age were often destined to be spinsters, because so many men who could have married had instead been killed, maimed irreparably, or mentally damaged in World War I (1914–1918). Yet these young women had proved themselves in war work in factories and in nursing the wounded in makeshift military hospitals not far from the battlefields. The obvious desire for more responsibility, a life outside marriage and equal voting rights are gender issues that could not be ignored by Lessing's generation and earlier ones.


Unit 7: Gender issues in Glaspell's Triflesand Hemingway's 'The Killers'

In Glaspell's generation 'a woman's place was in the home,' and women's work was practical housekeeping as well as the rearing of small children. These things were considered by men to be of minor importance, 'trifles,' compared with the work of men in a real and sometimes pitiless world outside the home. Trifles is a short play that calls into question an entire scale of conventional male values of its period.

Hemingway's stories in Men Without Women, of which 'The Killers' is one, deal with different aspects of male experience. In Hemingway's generation, many men had experienced the unprecedented scale of violence that is modern warfare and were confronted with the often jobless years of the great depression. A great deal of hardship dominates the lives he describes.


Unit 8 : Modern values in Douglas Coupland's Generation X

Unit 8 brings us to a contemporary Canadian author whose novel Generation X is composed with an unusual writing style reflecting aspects of late twentieth century 'life styles.' The printed format of the novel recalls 'How to…' books in computer software stores. Some critics might think of this as one example of its 'post-modern' stance. Coupland depicts what might seem to be the 'failure' of Generation X people, if considered from the viewpoint of employed people with good salaries in the modern world. The fictional world envisaged by Coupland has political and moral implications.


Assignment File

There are three assignments for grading, two written ones and an oral. A specific Assignment File is provided for this purpose. You can check for more information on assignments in the Course Guide section on 'Assessment' that follows, and in the Assignment File itself. There is also a final examination.


Presentation Schedule

The Presentation Schedule is included in the course materials, and it gives the dates for completing your assignments, and for attending tutorials, day schools, and so on.


Set textbooks

Students need to obtain the following set texts:

  • Achebe, C (1994) Things Fall Apart, New York: Anchor Books.
  • Coupland, D (1991) Generation X, New York: St Martin's Press.
  • Tan, A (1989) The Joy Luck Club,New York: Putnam's Sons.

Other texts for study

The following texts are included at the end of the Course Guide:

  • Carter, A (2005) 'A Souvenir of Japan' inBooth, A, Hunter, J P and Mays, K J (eds) The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 9th edn, New York: WW Norton & Company, 266–71.
  • Glaspell, S (1998) 'Trifles' in Beaty, J and Hunter, J P (eds) The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 7th edn, New York: WW Norton & Company, 995–1005.
  • Hemingway, E (2004) 'The Killers' in Men without Women, London: Arrow Books, 43–53.
  • Lessing, D (2005) 'Our Friend Judith' in Booth, A, Hunter, J P and Mays, K J (eds) The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 9th edn, New York: WW Norton & Company, 179–91.

The following text can be accessed online:


  • Abrams, M H (2008) A Glossary of Literary Terms, 9th edn, Boston: Thompson.
    [You can use this book in different English courses to find sound brief discussions of current terms and concepts.]
  • Achebe, C (2000) Home and Exile, New York: Anchor Books.
    [An excellent way to know more about this author's thinking; but remember what a writer says in an essay is not necessarily what happens during the writing of his/her fiction.] 
  • Barnet, S J (2006) A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, 11th edn, New York: Longman.
  • Bennett, A and Royle, N (1995) Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, 3rd edn, Harlow: Pearson.
  • Culler, J (1997) Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Culler has clear explanations of various theories but this is sometimes his idea of other writers' theories, not always identical with the original theory. And this is true of many books about theory.]
  • Esslin, M (2004) The Theatre of the Absurd, New York: Vintage Books.
    [This has become a classic book for those interested in 'the absurd.' Although written to introduce dramatists, its discussion of the absurd is admirably clear.]
  • Freud, S (2002) Civilization and its Discontents, Trans. David Mclintock, London: Penguin.
    [Freud has been often by-passed and even dismissed by later psychiatrists and psychologists and it must be admitted that Freud's generation knew little of the workings of the brain from a twenty-first century neurologist's point of view! Freud, however, was a vivid writer who influenced many novelists, psychiatrists and theorists. He is usually interesting and this book is a classic text.]
  • Showalter, E (1998) A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Spack, R (1996) Guidelines: A Cross-Cultural Reading/Writing Text, 2nd edn, New York: St. Martin's Press.
    [The last two books are useful recent assessments drawing on modern theories.]

Audiovisual materials/software

You will need to access the Internet fairly frequently, so Web access capability is necessary for the course.

For those students not having Internet access, HKMU's computer labs provide Web access that is sufficient for this course.



There are video clips from filmed lectures on some of the material covered in the course. These will give a little of the lecture-room experience and help with native-speaker pronunciation of names and terms in English. The video clips will be uploaded to HKMU's Online Learning Environment (OLE).



Students may find some the following websites useful:

www.wikipedia.org/wiki/  [then type in an author, title, or subject and then search]


Equipment needed (IT resources)


  • a PC with a Pentium III 800 MHz processor or better
  • 512 MB RAM (ideally 1GB RAM)
  • 1GB of free disk space
  • earphones and a microphone
  • a broadband connection to the Internet.


  • English Windows XP or better

    Web browser: Firefox 2, Internet Explorer 7, or a compatible equivalent.

These will enable you to write and also consult information available through the Internet. Please note that you may also be required to download some free software to your computer for recording your oral presentation to be submitted online for Assignment 3.



Continuous assessment

Continuous assessment for ENGL A231 will be built upon two approaches. The first is the traditional essay mode, which will be used in the first two assignments of the course. The second approach is the motivational mode of oral presentation assessment.



There will be two assignments in the form of essays. Assignment 1 covers Units 1 to 3 and Assignment 2 relates to Units 4 and 5. These two assignments emphasize your critical, analytical and written abilities and are designed to help you in exploring the selected literary texts and relevant concepts further. This comprises 35% of the total course marks. You must submit your assignments online through the OLE.


Oral presentation

The second approach to continuous assessment requires students to make an oral presentation by audio recording, to be submitted through the OLE. This comprises 15% of the total course marks.


Final examination

The final examination will be course-wide in scope and will cover all dimensions of ENGL A231. Through a two-hour examination session, students will have the opportunity to display their understanding and analytical ability in the learned areas. Both short questions and essay questions will be included.

The assessment items are outlined in the following table.



Course area covered


Assignment 1

Units 13


Assignment 2

Units 45


Assignment 3 (Oral presentation through audio recording)

Entire course



Entire course




This table brings together the units, the time taken to complete them, the required readings and the assignments that follow them.


UnitTopicRequired reading materialsWeeks
1Major concepts in modern literatureNo readings2
2Identity, the 'Other', and the crisis of culture in
Achebe's Things Fall Apart
Set text to be purchased2
3The 'Other' in Conrad's 'Amy Foster'Can be read online at http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/AmyFost.shtml2
 Assignment 1 due
4Multiculturalism in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck ClubSet text to be purchased2
5The uncanny and the absurd in Angela Carter's
'A Souvenir of Japan'
Reading provided at the end of this Course Guide2
 Assignment 2 due
6Doris Lessing's 'Our Friend Judith' and gender issues
in recent literature
Reading provided at the end of this Course Guide2
7Gender issues in Glaspell's Trifles and Hemingway's 'The Killers'Readings provided at the end of this Course Guide2
8Modern values in Douglas Coupland's Generation XSet text to be purchased2
 Assignment 3 (Oral Presentation) due
 Final examination
 Total 16

Please ensure that you make the most of tutor contact and tutorials, the day school, and online materials.

To reach the desired learning outcomes, good students will need to:

  • Read the materials
  • Interact with the read materials
  • Work through the assigned readings, including online items
  • Attempt the designed activities and connect these attempts to the feedback following the activities or at the end of a unit
  • Produce and present assignments to the tutor/ Course Coordinator within the allocated time specified.

Tutors and tutorials

This course has 16 hours of tutorials (i.e. 8 sessions of 2 hours each) and one day school (2 hours). You are strongly encouraged to attend and participate in these face-to-face learning opportunities.


Assignment extension policy

The assignment policy of the University as stated in the Student Handbook should be observed. Students are required to submit assignments for a course in accordance with the dates communicated by the Course Coordinator. Students may apply for a submission extension on the grounds of illness, accident, disability, bereavement or other compassionate circumstances.

You must make sure that your assignments are successfully submitted to the OLE on or before the due dates. If you have special reasons for not being able to submit an assignment on time, you must apply for late submission on the OLE before the due date to a maximum of seven days from your tutor. Further extension of due date should be approved by the Course Coordinator (between 8 and 21 days) or the Dean via the Course Coordinator (more than 21 days) beforehand. However, for the last assignment (Assignment 3), you cannot apply for late submission.


Online Learning Environment

This course is supported by the Online Learning Environment (OLE). You can find course materials and the latest course information from the OLE. Through the OLE, you can also communicate with your tutors, the Course Coordinator as well as fellow students. For details about the OLE and how to access it, please refer to the Online Learning Environment User Guide.

ENGL A231 is a course designed to introduce students to the new literatures in English or post-colonial literature. It focuses on fiction with some drama. The course also introduces discussion of modern theories of the post-colonial situation, gender issues, and the emergence of new national and personal identities. The course engages with what has become an exciting development in literary studies: the new literatures in English being written by authors from different countries and cultures around the world.

In studying the course, you will be provided with written study units and will also be able to watch short clips of video lectures via HKMU’s Online Learning Environment (OLE). Support will be provided through tutorials, a day school and the OLE. The course will be assessed though two written assignments, one oral assignment to be submitted online, and a final examination.

Good luck and enjoy the course!

Andrew Parkin was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and in the Department of Drama at Bristol University, where he obtained his PhD in Drama. He is a poet and critic who taught in schools in England and Hong Kong early in his career and in tertiary education in Britain, Canada and Hong Kong. He became a Full Professor of English Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he was Chairman of first-year English and also editor of The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. When he stepped down from this editorial post, he gained the Council of Editors of Learned Journals award for Most Distinguished Retiring Editor of a Journal. He became Professor and Head of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1991 and retired as Professor Emeritus and Honorary Senior Tutor of Shaw College. As a poet he won first prize in the international Martini Rossi Sonnet Competition in 1985.


He has published many academic books, including The Dramatic Imagination of W B Yeats (1978), an edition of W B Yeats's play, The Herne's Egg (1991), and, most recently, 'At the Hawk's Well' and 'The Cat and the Moon': Manuscript Materials (by W B Yeats) edited by Andrew Parkin (2010).His study guide to Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1980) was designed for sixth-formers and first-year university students. As a poet, Andrew Parkin has published Dancers in a Web (1987), Yokohama Days, Kyoto Nights (1992), Hong Kong Poems (1997) in collaboration with Laurence Wong and other distinguished translators, The Rendez-Vous: Poems of Multicultural Experience (2003), Shaw Sights and Sounds (2006), and a long poem to celebrate the 100th birthday of Sir Run Run Shaw, Star of a Hundred Years: a Scenariode for Sir Run Run Shaw (2009). This poem appeared in English with a translation into Hindi by the poet-critic Anuraag Sharma. His most recent books are Star with a Thousand Moons (2011) and Another Rendez-Vous: Poetry and Prose from the Cultural Crossroads (2011). Individual poems by Andrew Parkin have been translated into Chinese, French and German.

Carter, A (2005) 'A Souvenir of Japan' in Booth, A, Hunter, J P and Mays, K J (eds) The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 9th edn, New York: WW Norton & Company, 266-71.

Glaspell, S (1998) 'Trifles' in Beaty, J and Hunter, J P (eds) The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 7th edn, New York: WW Norton & Company, 995-1005.

Hemingway, E (2004) 'The Killers' in Men without Women, London: Arrow Books, 43-53.

Lessing, Doris (2005) 'Our Friend Judith' in Booth, A, Hunter, J P and Mays, K J (eds) The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 9th edn, New York: WW Norton & Company, 179-91.

Coming soon