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C LIT 251 A: Introduction to Comparative Literature: Themes

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SMI 115
Joint Sections: 
JSIS 480 A
Photo of Cynthia Steele
Cynthia Steele

Syllabus Description:

C LIT 251A / JSIS 480A


SLN 11984

Autumn 2019

5 credits

MW 12:30-2:20


Prof. Cynthia Steele

Office: Padelford C502

MW 2:30-3:20 and by appointment

206-503-4374 (cell)

As the activity and the violence of drug cartels keeps expanding in the Americas, fiction, films and TV series about the ‘Drug Wars’ continue to thrive. From novels like Don Winslow’s The Cartel to Netflix series like Narcos and The Day I Met El Chapo, readers and viewers in the U.S. and Latin America continue to be transfixed by stories of drug kingpins rising from rags to riches, then dying in a volley of gunfire, or evading the law and then being trapped by the allures of Hollywood. We will examine the history of drug usage and its regulation in the U.S. and Mexico, including the rise of cartels, through a history, two novels and two films, along with the first season of the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico.

Among the issues we will consider are the interconnected histories of drug trafficking in Mexico with rampant drug usage, arms trafficking and money laundering in the U.S., and the deeply entwined nature of the state and the cartels in Mexico, complicating issues of law enforcement, enabling widespread violence with inpunity. You will write a 5-7-page comparative essay, participate in a group presentation on another film, and keep a journal of your readings and viewings, which you will turn in twice during the quarter. Regular class attendance and active participation in discussion are essential.You are required to subscribe to Netflix for the duration of the course; if you aren’t currently a subscriber, you can sign up for a thirty-day free trial subscription. All texts are translated or subtitled, so no knowledge of Spanish or Mexican culture is required, though it is very welcome!

Canvas Site:


  1. Don Winslow, The Cartel. NY: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, Mass Market Edition, 2015, 749 pp. ISBN 978-0-525-43651-5. Amazon $6.49 or $3.99 kindle edition.

"It's 2004. DEA agent Art Keller has been fighting the war on drugs for thirty years in a blood feud against Adán Barrera, the head of El Federación, the world's most powerful cartel, and the man who brutally murdered Keller's partner. Finally putting Barrera away cost Keller dearly--the woman he loves, the beliefs he cherishes, the life he wants to lead. Then Barrera gets out, determined to rebuild the empire that Keller shattered. Unwilling to live in a world with Barrera in it, Keller goes on a ten-year odyssey to take him down"

  1. Juan Pablo Villalobos. Down the Rabbit Hole / Fiesta en la madriguera. Trans. Rosalind Harvey. FSG Originals, 2012, 96 pp. 978-0374143350. Amazon $11.16 or $8.42 kindle edition.

“What Tochtli wants more than anything right now is a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. But Tochtli is growing up in his drug baron father's luxury hideout, shared with hit men and dealers. Down the Rabbit Hole, a masterful and darkly-comic first novel, is the chronicle of a delirious journey to grant a child's wish. “

  1. Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace, A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War. Free online access through UW Libraries. Or to purchase: OR Books, 2016. or kindle edition. $10.84 or $8.69 kindle edition.,contains,a%20narco%20history&sortby=rank

“The term “Mexican Drug War” misleads. It implies that the ongoing bloodbath, which has now killed well over 100,000 people, is an internal Mexican affair. But this diverts attention from the U.S. role in creating and sustaining the carnage. It’s not just that Americans buy drugs from, and sell weapons to, Mexico’s murderous cartels. It’s that ever since the U.S. prohibited the use and sale of drugs in the early 1900s, it has pressured Mexico into acting as its border enforcer—with increasingly deadly consequences. Mexico was not a helpless victim. Powerful forces within the country profited hugely from supplying Americans with what their government forbade them. But the policies that spawned the drug war have proved disastrous for both countries. Written by two award-winning authors, one American and the other Mexican, A Narco History reviews the interlocking twentieth-century histories that produced this twenty-first century calamity, and proposes how to end it.”


  1. Narcos: Mexico. Netflix. 2018. “Witness the birth of the Mexican drug war in the 1980s as a gritty new “Narcos” saga chronicles the true story of the Guadalajara cartel’s ascent.” 10 episodes. Watch on Netflix.

  1. Narco Cultura. 2014. dir. Shaul Schwarz. Documentary. Docurama Films. “To a growing number of Mexicans and Latinos in the Americas, narco traffickers have become iconic outlaws and the new models of fame and success. They represent a pathway out of the ghetto - a new form of the American Dream, fueled by the war on drugs. NARCO CULTURA looks at this explosive phenomenon from within; cycles of addiction to money, drugs and violence that are rapidly gaining strength on both sides of the US/Mexican border.” Anonymous, Canvas / Modalis

Journal Article:

Zavala, Oswaldo. “Imagining the U.S.-Mexico Drug War: The Critical Limits of Narconarratives.” Comparative Literature 66.3 (2014): 340-360. (posted on Canvas under Files.)

Distribution of Grades:

Reading and Viewing Journal, Part 1                     20

Reading and Viewing Journal, Part 2                     20

Group Presentation                                                       20

Essay                                                                                    20

Class Participation                                                        20

Reading and Viewing Journal:

Please write at least one page, typed, double-spaced, on each of the assigned films and readings; see the complete list under “Assignments: Journal One” and “Assignments: Journal Two.” For each half of the journal, write a single Word document and begin each entry on a new page. Please number your entries in the order given on the assignment list. You should submit each half of your journal as a single Word document, through Canvas, by 7 pm on October 25 and December 6, respectively.

Class Participation:

Your class participation grade will be based on the frequency and quality of your participation in class discussions. Obviously, a major part of this will involve regular class attendance and being prepared by having read the assigned texts and viewed the required films. In planning your work schedule and doctors’ appointments, please keep this in mind.

Analytical Essay: Write a 5-7-page, typed, double-spaced, analytical essay comparing and contrasting the representation of the Drug Wars in Winslow’s The Cartel and in Narcos: Mexico, including a list of works consulted. Please submit your essay through Canvas by 7 pm on Sunday, December 8. Follow the guidelines of the MLA Handbook:

Please utilize the services of the writing tutors at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center. You can make appointments with them online:

On Sundays through Wednesdays from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm, you can also use the CLUE drop-in writing center in MGH 141.

Group Presentation: In collaboration with several other students, you will make a thirty-minute presentation and lead a class discussion, about an additional film. I will distribute a sign-up sheet in class.


Please be aware that, through Canvas, your written work will be submitted to plagiarism-detecting software. You are responsible for understanding and observing the UW guidelines regarding plagiarism:

It is not acceptable under any circumstances to use a for-pay paper web site as a source of information. Incidents of plagiarism may be reported to the Provost’s Committee on Academic Conduct. A second incident could result in your suspension from the University. Please let me know if you have any questions about these guidelines or about the UW policy on plagiarism.

Students with Disabilities: To request accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 ((V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss such accommodations.



Wednesday, September 25



Monday, September 30

Winslow 1, The Cartel, Prologue & “The Beekeepers,” pp 3-65

Boullosa and Wallace, Introduction: “The Forty-Three,” pp. xix-xxvii

Narcos: Mexico, 1

Wednesday, October 2

Winslow 2, The Cartel, “Christmas in Prison” and “The Hunting of Man,” pp. 66-135

Narcos: Mexico, 2


Monday, October 7

Winslow 3, The Cartel, “The Devil Is Dead” and “Los Negros,” pp. 139-188

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 1 and 2, 1910s-1950s, pp. 1-21

Narcos: Mexico, 3

Wednesday, October 9

Winslow 4, The Cartel, “Los Dos Laredos” and “Jesus the Kid,” pp. 189-244

Zavala essay (posted under ‘Files’ on Canvas)

Narcos: Mexico, 4


Monday, October 14

Winslow 5, The Cartel, “Narco Polo,” pp. 245-286

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 3, 4 & 5, 1960s-1980s, pp. 23-49

Wednesday, October 16

Winslow 6, The Cartel, “Gente Nueva—The New People,” pp. 286-341

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 6, 1990s, pp 51-65

Narcos: Mexico, 5


Monday, October 21
Winslow 7, The Cartel, “Journalists,” pp. 342-385

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 7 & 8: 2000-2006 and 2006, pp 67-93

Narcos: Mexico, 6

Wednesday, October 23

Winslow 8, The Cartel, “Jolly Coppers on Parade,” pp. 386-446

Narcos: Mexico, 7

Friday, October 25, 7 pm: Journal Part 1 due to Canvas


Monday, October 28

Winslow 9 & 10, The Cartel, “The Valley” and “Women’s Business,” pp. 447-537

Narcos: Mexico, 8

Wednesday, October 30

Winslow 10, The Cartel, “What Is It that You Want from Us?” pp. 538-586

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 9: 2006-2012, pp 95-141

Narcos: Mexico, 9


Monday, November 4

Winslow 11, The Cartel,“Each New Morn” and “Jihad,” pp. 587-673

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 10 & 11, 2012 & 2012-, pp 143-178

Narcos: Mexico 10

Wednesday, November 6

Winslow 12, The Cartel, “La Plaza del Periodista,” pp. 674-709

Boullosa and Wallace, Ch. 12: New Directions, pp 179-197


Monday, November 11

Veterans’ Day Holiday: No Class

Wednesday, November 13

Winslow 13, The Cartel, “The Cleansing” and Epilogue, pp. 710-749

Film: Narco Cultura (Canvas/Modalis)


Monday, November 18

Villalobos, Down the Rabbit Hole, Part One & Glossary, pp 3-32 & pp. 73-75

5 pm: Email the members of your group the introduction to your essay, including the working title, thesis statement, and works consulted.

Wednesday, November 20

Villalobos, Down the Rabbit Hole, Parts Two & Three, pp 33-70

In-class peer critiques of the introduction to your essay, including the working title, thesis statement, and works consulted. Email them to the members of your group by Tuesday at 7 pm.


Monday, November 25

Presentation 1: Traffic (2000, Library)

Presentation 2: No Country for Old Men (2007, Library)

Wednesday, November 27

Presentation 3: Traspatio / Backyard (2009, Library)

Presentation 4: El Sicario, Room 164 (Library)

Monday, December 2

Presentation 5: Miss Bala (2011, Library)

Presentation 6: Heli (2013, Library)

Presentation 7: Sicario (2015, Library)

Wednesday, December 4

Presentation 8: Cartel Land (2015, Library)

Presentation 9: The Day I Met El Chapo (2017, Netflix)


Friday, December 6, 7 pm: Journal Part 2 Due to Canvas

Sunday, December 8, 7 pm: Essay Due to Canvas


Catalog Description: 
Reading and analyzing literature based upon rotating themes such as love, sex, and murder, haunted houses, and dreams and memory. Selections drawn from European, English, and American literature, not limited to period and genre.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Literature Major
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:12pm