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Module Information 2009-10

Module Aims

By the end of this module you should have:

  • Acquired knowledge of selected narrative and poetic texts in twentieth century North American literature.
  • Developed analytical and critical skills through close reading of the set texts.
  • Acquired knowledge of relevant cultural and critical contexts within which to situate the set texts.
  • Gained an understanding of critical concepts such as modernism, postmodernism; ethnicity and gender; regionalism and cultural geography.
  • Developed strategies for reading texts within the context of twentieth-century American culture,

Texts to Buy

Willa Cather. My Antonia (1918)

F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby (1925)

William Faulkner. Light in August (1932)

Raymond Chandler. The Big Sleep (1939)

William Carlos Williams. Collected Poems, Vol.1 (Poetry Pleiade edition)

Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man (1952)

Jack Kerouac. On the Road (1957)

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar (1963)

Thomas Herr, Dispatches (1976)

Don DeLillo. White Noise (1984)

Adrienne Rich. Poetry and Prose.  (Norton Critical Edition)

Toni Morrison. Beloved (1987)

Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (1984)

Cormac McCarthy. All the Pretty Horses (1992)

Linda Hogan, Power (1998)

Teaching Methods

  • One 2 hour* seminar per week.
  • Seminar times: Tuesday 14.00 -16.00 and Thursday 14.00 -16.00.
  • Seminars will be held in H522 (middle of the English Department corridor).

*N.B. there will be a short break midway through each class. 

Module Requirements

  • Attend seminars, having prepared material as directed by your tutor.
  • Contribute to seminar activities and discussions.
  • Submit one x 5,000-word assessed essay.
  • Write final examination of two hours.



2 hours plus 15 minutes reading time.

  • Write a critical analysis of an extract from a set text. (choice of 3)
  • Write one essay question (choice of at least 6), on a given theme, with reference to one or two syllabus texts/authors of your choice.


1 x 5,000 words.

You will be encouraged to devise your own essay topics in consultation with your seminar tutor. You are expected to demonstrate thorough research, and to include a full bibliography. Do consult journals and periodicals as well as books.

Essay Length: 5,000 words

Due Date: Term 3, Monday of Week 1


Weighting: 50% of the final module mark.



The essay must be word-processed or typed, and must be accompanied by a cover sheet. Two copies must be handed in. Please ensure you fill out the cover sheet before submitting the essay. For details of presentation (references, bibliography, etc.) see Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Style Manual, 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Please use MLA style for citations. Marks will be deducted for poor scholarly presentation.

Useful Background Reading

Starred items may be particularly helpful in providing a general background to the course. 

*Berman, Marshall. All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. London: Verso, 1983

Bloom, Clive, ed. American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal.Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995

*Bradbury, Malcolm and Howard Temperley. eds. Introduction to American Studies.3rd edition. London: Longman, 1998

*Campbell, Neil & Alasdair Kean. American Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1997.

Campbell, Neil. The Cultures of the American New West. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000

Carroll, Peter N. & David W. Noble. The Free and the Unfree. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977

Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation.Oxford: OUP, 2003

Ford. Boris ed. The New Pelican Guide to English Literature 9: American Literature. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991

Franklin, John Hope and Alfred A. Moss Jr. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans.Seventh edition. McGraw-Hill, 1994.

Grice, Helena, Candida Hepworth, Maria Lauret & Martin Padget. Beginning Ethnic American Literatures. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2001

Hartley, John. American Cultural Studies: A Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hoffman, Michael J. and Patrick D. Murphy, eds. Critical Essays on American Modernism. N.Y.: G.K. Hall, 1992

Humm, Maggie. Readers Guide to Contemporary Feminist Literary Criticism. Brighton: Harvester, 1994 (or) Humm, Maggie. Feminist Criticism: Women as Contemporary Critics. Brighton: Harvester, 1986

Lee, A. Robert. Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions. Edinburgh University Press, 2003

*Maier, Pauline at al. Inventing America: A History of the United States, Vol.2. Norton, 2006 

Mauk, David and John Oakland. American Civilization: An Introduction.Fifth edition. Routledge, 2009.

*McDonald, Gail. American Literature and Culture 1900-1960. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007 

*Mitchell, Jeremy & Richard Maidment eds. The United States in the Twentieth Century: Culture. Hodder & Stoughton / Open University Press, 1994. (Second revised edition 2000)

Raban, Jonathan. Hunting Mister Heartbreak. London: Collins Harvill, 1990

Stoneley, Peter (ed) American Fiction 1900-1950. Blackwell, 2008 

Ruland, Richard & Malcolm Bradbury. From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature. London: Penguin Books, 1991

Tallack, Douglas. Twentieth-Century America: The Intellectual and Cultural Context.London: Longman, 1991

Westling, Louise. The Green Breast of the New World: Landscape, Gender, and American Fiction. Athens; London: University of Georgia Press, 1996

Zamora, Lois Parkinson ed. Contemporary American Women Writers: Gender, Class, Ethnicity. London & New York: Longman, 1998

You might find it useful to consult historical surveys of the U.S., such as The Enduring Vision(Heath); Tindall and Shi, America(Heath); Maier at al,  Inventing America(Norton), and Foner, Give Me Liberty!particularly the second volume. You might also find it useful to consult Mauk and Oakland, American Civilization: An Introduction,which takes an American Studies thematic approach and contextualizes contemporary concerns within the historical context.

The library has good holdings in critical texts on twentieth-century American literature. Look out for the “New Essays”, "Cambridge Companion", and "In Context" series published by Cambridge University Press, and the BAAS paperback series published by Edinburgh Unviersity Press.  The library has e-books of all the Cambridge Companion series.



You might find it useful to use the following  facility for American Studies undergraduate students:   Internet for American Studies.  
Essentially it consists of an on-line step-by-step tutorial that helps students understand how best to use the worldwideweb / internet and how to avoid abusing it.