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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 252A


Autumn 2019

5 credits

MW 12:30-2:20

SLN 11984

Prof. Cynthia Steele

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. There will be six pop quizzes on the readings and viewings that cannot be made up, so please plan your work schedule accordingly. 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, 2015, 616 pp. 0525436510. $7.73 or $9.99 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. $9.18 or $8.52 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. Traspatio / Backyard. Dir. Carlos Carrera. Mexico City: Paramount Home Entertainment, 2015. DVD PARA 264

“An idealistic policewoman arrives in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to investigate the murder of a young woman found in the desert. The film incorporates the reality of the massive number of unsolved crimes against women, including kidnapping, rape and murder, in the border town located in the backyard of the United States.” Watch in class

3. Miss Bala. 2011. Dir. Gerardo Naranjo, Beverly Hills: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2011, 113 min. DVD TCFHE 522

“After entering a beauty contest in Tijuana, a young woman witnesses drug-related murders and is forced to do the gang's bidding.” “At 23, Laura Guerro and her friend Suzu enter the Miss Baja pageant. Both qualify, and while Laura waits at a nightclub for Suzu to break away so they can go shopping, a heavily-armed drug gang murders drug enforcement officials there. Laura escapes unharmed but can't find Suzu, so the next day she looks for her; her dogged behavior brings her to the cartel's attention, and they force her to assist them as they menace her father and younger brother. Lino, the gang's leader, decides Laura should finish the pageant although her only interest is escape. Every day drags her deeper and corruption is pervasive. What alternative is there to death or prison? Written by <>” Watch in class

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