Literary to Cinematic Adaptation

Literary and Cultural Analysis: English 1260W.13

Fall 2017  Monday / Wednesday / Friday:  09:10-10:00 a.m.

Stambaugh House 107

Dr. Nancy Roche

Office: Old Gym 103G

Text: 615 337-3732

Office Hours: 11:30-1:30 Wednesday

and by appointment.

Course Description:

Literary to Cinematic Adaptations:  This course seeks to establish an understanding of the relationship between literary texts and their cinematic counterparts. Through the study of plays, short fiction, novels, children’s literature, graphic novels, and foreign films, students will discern principles governing the process of cinematic adaptation. We will review narrative theory and structure, map changes in plotlines due to particular strategies of filmmakers, and observe cultural differences in foreign to domestic adaptations.  Elements of film art such as cinematography, mise-en-scene, lighting, use of color, costuming, computer generated imagery, and editing will be closely examined.

Focusing on the postmodern era, this class examines literary adaptations in the form of traditional, mainstream Hollywood films and low-budget, independent cinema. In order to scrutinize methods of narrative construction, we will consider stories which are manipulated to fit the objectives, methodology, and means of cinematic production. An analysis of specific literary texts, along with close observation of the films they generate, will allow us to judge the efficacy and merit of their content.

Required Texts:

Capote, Truman.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Dick, Philip K.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,  Random House Publishing.

Gaiman, Neil.  Coraline,  Harper Collins Publishers.

McCarthy, Cormac.  No Country For Old Men, Random House.

Palahniuk, Chuck.  Fight Club: A Novel,  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Shakespeare, William.  Much Ado About Nothing (Folger Shakespeare Library Series),

Simon & Schuster.



Desmond, John.  Adaptation: Studying Film + Literature, Edition 6.  McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Additional materials will be provided via class handouts or posted on Blackboard.

Course Objectives:

Our class will take a close look at how film reflects the postmodern era through literary adaptations and remakes, foreign films, and movies which reveal a distinctly postmodern cinematic technique.  We will pay close attention to representations of gender, race, and class, and discuss how these projections change during various time frames of the era, which begins roughly in the 1960s, and continues to present day.  We will read materials pertinent to this subject and examine the cultural and historical contexts of films viewed in class.  You will engage with readings which locate your knowledge base to current academic thought on the subject of adaptation. Critical thinking and analytical skills will be developed through writing assignments, and by keeping a film journal, quizzes, and class discussion. By the end of this course, students will be able to apply an intermediate knowledge of film language and elements in both class discussion and writing assignments.  You will also be able to demonstrate an understanding of the conventions, narrative style, directorial approach, cinematography, and industry standards within the genre.

We will use our class for discussion and examination of texts, group work, presentations, and peer-review.  You will engage in discourse and debate, while respecting your classmates as individuals with diverse views and beliefs.  Additionally, we will approach essay writing as a process that requires a strong thesis supported by textual evidence and relevant research.  Because all writing benefits from review and revision, you will have the opportunity to practice these skills.  Please keep in mind that the ability to construct and support a compelling argument and to convey it through concise, persuasive, and formal writing is a proficiency that will benefit you throughout your academic career and beyond.

Course Requirements:

Reading:  I expect you to have completed your reading and viewing assignments on the day they are due—and to be able to discuss the content.  Class discussion is one of the most important components of this course. Your participation in class counts for 15% of your final grade, so come to class prepared.  Be sure to write down your thoughts and reactions, and come to class with ideas for discussion based on your assignments.  These notes will help you to start and lead dialogue.  Quizzes will be given which relate directly to your reading assignment and the films you are required to view.

Essays: You will be required to write three formal papers this semester, with a mandatory revision of papers one and two:

1.)  Essay One will be three to four pages and consist of a close reading of a scene in a film and    

it’s correlative literary work.  This essay must include text-based evidence to prove your thesis. 

2.)  Essay Two will be four to five pages and must incorporate at least two secondary, peer- reviewed sources that provide support to your argument.  This information should present a historical or cultural context, or a theoretical framework. 

3.)  Essay Three will be six to seven pages and will not require a re-write.  This

paper must include three or more secondary sources that support your thesis and an Annotated Bibliography.

Your papers should be written in MLA format, typed, and double-spaced.  You are required to use twelve point Times New Roman font.  You may refer to MLA guidelines, which are present in a number of books, including, Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook, or the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.  Or you may access MLA guidelines at this site:

Revisions to your first two papers are mandatory.  Your grade will reflect the amount of effort put into improvement, which will be evident.  However, it is expected that your first paper be polished.  If it appears obvious that you have not attempted your best work on your first submission, the final grade for that paper will be lowered.  Please bear in mind that a revision is more than a correction of grammar and common mistakes.  You must re-think your original work and improve its quality of thought, execution, and logic.  Your first draft is worth one third of the assignment; the revised essay is worth two thirds of the assignment.  Failure to rewrite your essay may result in a lower grade.

Peer Review:  On the day your first two essays are due you will participate in peer response sessions.  Failure to attend class on this day (without a valid excuse) will result in a one-letter deduction from your grade for the assignment.  Be sure to bring three paper copies of your essay to class that day.  Not bringing copies for peer review will result in a five-point penalty.

Journal:  You will be required to keep a journal of one to two pages of writing per week.  This assignment incorporates more informal writing, but you must directly engage the material we read and view.  The purpose of the journal is to help you formulate discussion topics and to encourage critical thinking that will help with textual analysis and writing essays.  This assignment also allows me to gauge how thoroughly you have absorbed course material.  Your journal must not consist of class notes taken during lecture or be written as bullet points or an outline.  The journal is a narrative reaction to the assigned literature and film. 

Conferences:  You are required to meet with me once during the semester.  Please select a time to meet after your Essay One is graded and before the final draft is due.  You are welcome to meet with me at any time during the semester to discuss your writing or class assignments.  Please do not hesitate to drop by for office hours or to make an appointment.

Class Presentations:  You are required to do a class presentation with one or two other classmates during the course of the semester.  You will be expected to present a short overview of a particular aspect of a text you have chosen and then lead the class in a discussion of a focused topic, including questions to be answered or passages to be analyzed. The presentation should be 15-20 minutes in length.  I require that you turn in proof of your work for this assignment, which may consist of a power point presentation, outline, or a list of references you consulted.  Your grade will reflect your effort and should indicate independent thinking and research.  The presentation should not repeat information already covered in class!

Class Discussion:  Please keep in mind that class participation is worth 15% of your grade.  Students should come to class with questions that relate to the week’s material and attempt to engage us in a relevant discussion.

Course Policies:

Attendance— Class attendance is extremely important to your success.  Unlike the lecture course, 118W is structured around your participation.  When you miss a session, you are missing in-class assignments, interaction, and information.  You are only allowed four unexcused absences and then your final grade will drop by 2.5 points for each unexcused absence thereafter.  Please know that I will take attendance.  You are also responsible for notifying me of any absences in advance and you are accountable for getting your work in when it is due.  It is your responsibility to keep up with all assignments, either reading or writing.  Being prepared for class is expected even after an absence.

Late Work— It is important that you submit your work on time.  Ordinarily, I do not accept late work; however, if an emergency arises and you are unable to submit an essay on the due date, you must turn in your work by the next class meeting.  If you encounter a situation that you think warrants an exception, please get in touch with me before the day the assignment is due.  If your paper is more than one class period late, the grade will drop by one letter and I will not offer comments. 

Tardiness— Please do not be late.  Your tardiness interrupts the class.  If you are excessively late (more than ten minutes) that will constitute an unexcused absence.  Please see me if you are having difficulties.

Electronic Communication Devices— At no time should your cell phone ring.   Furthermore, you should never text message in class.  Laptops are not allowed in class.  Having an electronic device nearby presents a temptation to go online, which is not only a distraction, but also disruptive to our purpose.  If you must answer an emergency text or phone call, you may leave the room to do so.  Please respect yourself, your instructor, and your classmates by paying attention and participating in our class.  Please see me if you need to arrange an exception to this rule.  If I observe you texting in class, you will be marked absent for that day and this infraction will constitute an unexcused absence. 


Using another’s work as your own is wrong. The most flagrant instances of plagiarism are:  submitting work that is copied from another’s writing, having someone dictate what should be written, substituting his/her language, and using sources without documentation.  Please know that such violations are very easy for writing teachers to spot because we become familiar with our students’ styles and vocabulary.

At Vanderbilt, cases of plagiarism are turned over to the Honor Council and may result in a failure of this course—and a possible suspension from the university.  Plagiarism is the quickest way to fail this class.  However, I am always available to discuss any questions that you may have regarding what constitutes an offence or how to avoid the temptation to take advantage of another’s work.  Before you plagiarize, talk to me about solving your problem with an assignment.  You may visit the Honor Council website at:

The Writing Studio:

I highly recommend you take advantage of the services provided to Vanderbilt undergraduates by The Writing Studio, located at 1801 Edgehill Avenue (The Seigenthaler Center), Suite 112.  Trained writing consultants are able to meet with you to address your concerns about assignments from the inception of an idea to the practice of revising final drafts.  Any issue you have regarding grammatical or stylistic concerns may be addressed at The Writing Studio and you may take advantage of their services as often as you like.  To schedule an appointment please call (615) 343-2225 or go to their web site at:

Equal Opportunity:

Students with disabilities who need academic accommodations should contact the Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services (EAD) the first week of class.  Their phone number is: (615) 322-4705.  Please have them contact me and I will be happy to form a plan to make sure you have the appropriate accommodations for success in class.  Please know that you must contact the EAD, I cannot do this for you.  Be sure to set up a meeting with me early in the semester so that we may form a plan for your success in the course.  I am happy to work with you in any way possible.

Grading Standards for Papers:

Your writing is expected to effectively communicate your ideas logically, critically and in clearly written Standard English. Grades on papers written in this class range from A to F and they are evaluated based on content, organization, and mechanics. Papers are graded according to the standards below:

A. The A paper shows originality of statement and observation. The writer’s ideas are clear, logical and thought provoking. It contains these positive qualities:

          1. Careful construction and organization of sentences and paragraphs.

          2. Careful choice of words and phrases.

          3. Adequate development of ideas through use of specific, necessary details.

          4. Relative freedom from grammar and mechanical errors.

B. Although it reads clearly, the B paper lacks the originality of thought and style found in the A paper.

C. The C paper shows an average level of competency. It is fairly well organized conveying its purpose to the reader.  It lacks serious errors in the use of English.  It could, in fact, have few or no corrections marked on it, but it lacks the energy of thought and expression that would bring an above average rating.

D. The grade of D indicates below-average achievement in effectiveness and a general lack of competency in the skill level required for the course. Most D papers contain frequent major errors in the use of English and fail to adequately fulfill the purpose of the paper.

F. A grade of F indicates an abundance of serious errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. The F paper may also lack significant grammatical error but have serious problems with organization or development of ideas. In addition, a paper that fails to achieve the purpose of the assignment will receive an F.

Grade Distribution:

Formal Paper One:      15%

Formal Paper Two:     20%

Formal Paper Three:   20%

Journal:                       15%

Class Presentation:      10%

Class Participation:     15%

Quizzes /In-ClassWork:  5%

Final Grade Scale:

A   94-100                    A-  90-93

B+ 87-89                      B   84-86

B-  80-83                      C+ 77-79

C   74-76                      C-  70-73

D+ 67-69                      D   64-66

D-  60-63                       F    59 and Below

Class Schedule:

Week One:  August 23-25

W:  Class Introduction.

F:  Review of film terms (handout).

Week Two: August 28-September 1

M:  Scene: The Maltese Falcon (1941).  We will compare Dashiell Hammet’s opening chapter to director John Houston’s screenplay and his film adaptation (handout).  

W: Read through Act III of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  Discuss parallel structure in Shakespeare’s narrative. 

F:  Finish Much Ado About Nothing.  Outline plot and characters.

Week Three: September 4-8

M:  View clips from dir. Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version of Shakespeare’s play.

W:  Discuss dir. Joss Whedon’s postmodern adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (2012). How do these two versions reflect Classic Hollywood versus American Independent film production.

F:  Continue to evaluate American Independent Film versus Hollywood Film: intent, construction, narrative, and industry. 

Week Four: September 11-15

M: Begin Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast At Tiffany’s.  We will discuss characters. 

W:  Finish Copote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s. 

F:  Discuss dir. Blake Edward’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961).We will examine the narrative construction of literature versus film and discuss plot changes in the adaptation of Breakfast At Tiffany’s due to censorship during the era of The Hays Code.  We will consider how different eras of cinema reflect “the nation state”.  How does the gender fluid Holly Golightly change when she is adapted for a Hollywood film?

Week Five: September 18-22

M:  Essay One Due: bring three copies for peer review.  

W:  Further discussion of postmodernism, including theory and clips from film and television.

F: No Class

Week Six: September 25-29

M: Continue discussion of postmodernism.

W: Read to page 87 in Neil Gaiman’s novel, Coraline.

F:  Finish Coraline and read Freud’s “The Uncanny” on Brightspace. Be prepared to discuss how this essay relates to Gaiman’s text.   

Week Seven:  October 2-5

M:  Read Barabara Creed’s “Horror And The Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection” (On Brightspace), and discuss tropes of Children’s Literature

W: No Class for student conferences. 

F:  Turn in Essay One Rewrite and Journals for midterm check. Discuss changes in plot and addition of characters in dir. Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009).

Week Eight: October 9-13

Monday: Begin Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. Read to page 105 in No Country For Old Men.  Stop at “When Bell walked into the office Torbert looked up from his desk…”. We will discuss characters and setting, borders and boundaries.

Wednesday: Read to page 213 of No Country For Old Men.  Stop at “Bell drove slowly across the cattle guard…”. We will map out the plot of the novel and discuss Cormac McCarthy

Friday: Fall Break

Week Nine:  October 16-20

M:  Finish No Country For Old Men, discuss themes and symbols.

W:  Discuss dir. The Coen Brothers Adaptation of No Country For Old Men (2007).  What do the Coen Brothers emphasize or leave out?

F:  Watch Japanese director Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) in class.

Week Ten: October 23-27

M:  Finish up Ringu in class.

W:  International adaptation: Compare Japanese dir. Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) and American dir. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002).  How does the narrative change for the consumption of a different culture?  Come to class prepared to evaluate how concepts of the Monstrous-Feminine, xenophobia, and the postmodern fear of technology and the Other are incorporated into these two disparate narratives.

F: Essay Two Due: bring three copies for peer review.

Week Eleven:  October 30-November 3

M:  Read to page 100 of Chuck Palahnicuk’s Fight Club.

W:  Read to page 155 of Fight Club.  We will evaluate how Fight Club reinforces or rejects traditional gender stereotypes.

F:Finish Palahnicuk’s Fight Club.  Examine Fredric Jameson’s ideas on “late capitalism” in relationship to Palahnicuk’s novel.

Week Twelve:  November 6-10

M: Begin discussion of dir. David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999).  Discuss this film in relation to how we view “terrorism” in the 21st Century.

W:  Examine Fincher’s use of computer generated technology to visually express themes of the novel and finish discussion of gender, capitalism, and consumption.

F:  Documentary versus narrative film.  We will view documentary footage from the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches and compare it to clips from Ava DuVernay’s film Selma (2014).  Which is more powerful?  Why?  Use your knowledge of film to evaluate DuVernay’s recreation of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Week  Thirteen:  November 13-17

M: Read the first eight Chapters (p. 95) of Philp K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  

W: Essay Two Revision due.  Read to Chapter seventeen (p. 195) of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  We will outline the characters and discuss their motivations.  What role does religion and empathy play in this narrative?   

F: Finish Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. We will examine the main themes of Dick’s novel in light of the era of the 1960s. What are the main themes and symbols of the text?

November 20-24

No class Thanksgiving Break.

Week 14: November 27-December 1

M:  Discuss dir. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).  The adaptation is a complete departure from Philip K. Dick’s novel.  How are some of the original themes incorporated?  How does the film reflect the genre of film noir?  How are the three female characters configured as film fatales?

W: Discuss film techniques and mise-en-secne used in Blade Runner and view clips from a documentary on the making of the film.   Begin to discuss postmodern concepts of the cyborg body and ontology.  View clips from films that engage this topic, such as dir. Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), dir. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014), and dir. Rupert Sanders’s Ghost In The Shell (2017).

F:  Finish discussion of the cyborg body and ontology.  Begin presentations.

Week Fifteen:  December  4-6

M:  Presentations.

W:  Presentations, Class wrap up, and evaluations.

Essay Three and Journal due by 2 p.m., December 8.  Paper copies only.  You may bring these to my office between 12:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.