The field of law and literature has often been divided into two areas: “law-in-literature” and “law-as-literature”. Law-in-literature focuses on the depiction of law and jurisprudential questions in works of literature. What insights can works of literature then contribute to the study of law? Today many U.S. law schools include in their curriculum a “Law and Literature” course in which law students read works of fiction and non-fiction dealing with legal themes such as justice, the judicial process, crime and punishment, equality and legal ethics, just to name a few examples.
In this course, with main focus in the area of criminal law, students will have the opportunity to read engaging works of fiction and non-fiction and to examine the law from a more humanistic and critical perspective. We will compare and contrast how literature and the law addresses “questions that matter”, including individual morality, the purposes of criminal punishment, the pursuit of truth in a case, and gender equality. Students will consider how literary texts, like legal texts, have power to influence politics and society.
At the end of this course, students should be able to (1) engage in comparative and contextual critiques of rhetoric, symbolism, and narrative structures of the law, particularly related to issues such concerning the judicial process, truth and justice, equality (gender, race and class), and (2) improve reading, verbal/discussion and critical thinking skills.
The course will briefly cover three main topics over the course of eleven (11) class meetings:
• The Judicial System, Standards and Presumptions, Finding the Truth. Standards and presumptions: How difficult is it to establish the truth in a case?
• Justice and Moral Considerations. The “Bystander Effect”: Moral considerations and its impact on the pursuit of justice.
• Traditions, Beliefs and Morality. What a short story can tell us about a society and the law. The importance of traditions; intellect versus superstition.
Readings will include works by A.M. Rosenthal, Shirley Jackson, Susan Glaspell, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, just to name a few of the authors, as well as law review articles, commentaries and legal essays from various lawyers, professors and judges.