Themes in Literature

English 1160
Black Magic
Section 01
Donald Quist
McKee 111

In this course we’ll look at different interpretations of the “Magical Negro,” a supporting character in literature who, by use of supernatural powers or quasi-mystical insight, helps a white protagonist get out of trouble. We’ll look at examples of this trope in excerpts of novel-length work and short stories, and trace how the concept of the magical negro has developed from the 19th century to 2019. Our discussions will center on how the invention of black characters with magical abilities functions as more than a plot device. We’ll examine how the magical negro reflects real-world social and geopolitical structures, and what these characters can reveal about our own inherent biases. How can the stories we share oppress others? How can negative and positive stereotypes define the way a group of people are seen and how a population might define themselves? By the end of this course, we will have developed an understanding of how critics and writers have addressed the appearance of these characters in literature, and considered ways we might create and share new narratives that do not make others feel like anomalies.