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Using Classic and Contemporary Literature to Explore Themes in Law and Politics
Unformatted Document Text:  I settled on three novels, a play, and about twenty-four short stories and poems. The major readings included The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding; The Trial, by Franz Kafka; The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood; and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. These works were chosen for their themes and length. I tried to keep the major works below three-hundred pages because the students would have only 4-5 days to read the novels. Golding’s book was selected because it explores man’s inherent nature and the fragile basis for civilized, democratic institutions. Atwood’s more contemporary novel is an example of dystopian literature that creates a near-future world to explore many of the issues underlying the political debates of the 1980s between feminists and religious conservatives. Although it has multiple interpretations, Kafka’s The Trial was chosen to generate discussion of the dangers of a complex, bureaucratic legal system that violates the principles of due process and fairness. Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice was assigned because it examines some important issues in civil law, including contractual obligations, mercy and justice. Most of the short stories on law were selected from Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories, edited Elizabeth Villiers Gemmette. This is a good collection of stories related to different aspects of the legal process but it has its limitations. The anthology was published thirteen years ago and used copies may be hard to find. Another weakness is that the book doesn’t provide much background on the authors, the historical context of the stories, or information about the literary style and form of the stories. Even with these shortcomings the Gemmette text was the best one available for the goals of the course. This volume was supplemented with a few parables, stories, and poems that are available online, including: Before the Law and The Problem of Our Laws, two parables by Franz Kafka; the poems The White Man’s Burden, by Rudyard Kipling and The Lawyers Know Too Much, by Carl Sandburg; and George Orwell’s famous short story, Page | 12

Authors: Fliter, John.
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I settled on three novels, a play, and about twenty-four short stories and poems. The
major readings included The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding; The Trial, by Franz Kafka;
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood; and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of
Venice. These works were chosen for their themes and length. I tried to keep the major works
below three-hundred pages because the students would have only 4-5 days to read the novels.
Golding’s book was selected because it explores man’s inherent nature and the fragile basis for
civilized, democratic institutions. Atwood’s more contemporary novel is an example of
dystopian literature that creates a near-future world to explore many of the issues underlying the
political debates of the 1980s between feminists and religious conservatives. Although it has
multiple interpretations, Kafka’s The Trial was chosen to generate discussion of the dangers of a
complex, bureaucratic legal system that violates the principles of due process and fairness.
Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice was assigned because it examines some important
issues in civil law, including contractual obligations, mercy and justice. Most of the short stories
on law were selected from Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories, edited Elizabeth
Villiers Gemmette. This is a good collection of stories related to different aspects of the legal
process but it has its limitations. The anthology was published thirteen years ago and used
copies may be hard to find. Another weakness is that the book doesn’t provide much
background on the authors, the historical context of the stories, or information about the literary
style and form of the stories. Even with these shortcomings the Gemmette text was the best one
available for the goals of the course. This volume was supplemented with a few parables,
stories, and poems that are available online, including: Before the Law and The Problem of Our
Laws, two parables by Franz Kafka; the poems The White Man’s Burden, by Rudyard Kipling
and The Lawyers Know Too Much, by Carl Sandburg; and George Orwell’s famous short story,
Page | 12


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