Skip to main content

Further Module Information 2008-9

Module Tutor: Christina Britzolakis (H508)

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

N.B. Where a particular edition is stipulated, please ensure that you purchase the correct one.

Theodore Dreiser. Sister Carrie (1900). Penguin.

Willa Cather. My Antonia (1918)

F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby (1925). Penguin.

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

William Faulkner. Light in August (1932). Penguin.

Raymond Chandler. The Big Sleep (1939)

Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man (1952)

Jack Kerouac. On the Road (1957)

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar (1963)

Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49. (1965)

Thomas Herr, Dispatches (1976)

Don DeLillo. White Noise (1984)

Toni Morrison. Beloved (1987)

Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (1984)

Cormac McCarthy. All the Pretty Horses (1992)

Teaching Methods

  • One 1.5 hour seminar per week, over Terms 1 and 2.
  • Seminar times: Tuesday, 11-12.30 and 3 - 4.30

Module Requirements
  1. Attend seminars, having prepared material as directed by your tutor.
  2. Give one or two seminar presentations during the year.
  3. Submit one x 5,000-word assessed essay.
  4. Write final examination of two hours.

2 hours plus 15 minutes reading time.

  1. Write a critical analysis of an extract from a set text. (choice of 3)
  2. 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.

A list of essay topics will be provided. 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 2, Monday of Week 3


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

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) 

*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 also 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.

The library has good holdings in critical texts on twentieth-century American literature. Look out for the “New Essays” and 'Cambridge Companion' series published by Cambridge University Press. 

Module Outline

This outline aims to show what primary reading is required. The module bibliography (above) provides a list of secondary materials from which you can select further reading.

1. Introductory Meeting

2. Introduction to Course Themes

Please read introductory essays to at least one or two of the background texts listed above, particularly Campbell and Kean; McDonald.

3. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900)

  • Naturalism and the American novel 
  • Modernity and urbanization
  • The “rags to riches” story
  • Femininity and consumer culture

4. Willa Cather. My Antonia (1918)

  • Cather's intervention in contemporary debates on immigration

  • Regionalism: the mid-west 

  • Revision of classical legacies of pastoral and epic

5. F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby (1925)

  • Mythology of the American Dream revisited
  • The 1920s as the 'Jazz Age'
  • Representation of the city

Week 6: Reading Week.

7. William Carlos Williams, Collected Poems Vol.1.

We will concentrate on the poetry AND prose in the volume Spring and All (1923).

Poems to be discussed in this volume include 'By the road...' (p.183); 'The rose is obsolete' p.195; 'The pure products of America...' p.217; 'Everything depends...' (p.224); 'Somebody dies' (p.231); 'The crowd at the ballgame' (p.233).

In addition, please prepare ‘The Young Housewife’(1916) p.57; ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (1920) p.129; ‘Overture to a Dance of Locomotives’ (1921), p.146-7;  ‘The Great Figure’ (1921) p.174; New England' (p.249);  'This is just to say' (p.372). 

- American avant garde poetics 

- response to technological change and innovation

- locality, 'contact' and the everyday

8. William Faulkner. Light in August (1932)

  • Regionalism: the American south 
  • Racial and gender divisions
  • Impact of Christianity on history of Southern racism

 9. Raymond Chandler. The Big Sleep (1939)

  • 'Hard-boiled' American detective fiction
  • Los Angeles

  • Impact of Hollywood cinema

  • Masculinity and 1930s culture

10.  Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

  • Modernism / realism

  • Ralph Ellison's dialogue with African-American literary history.

  • How do we understand the trope of the “invisible man”?

  • Representation of the city

Spring Term

1. Jack Kerouac. On the Road (1957)

    • The Beat Movement

    • Jazz as topic and as stylistic form

    • Race and gender

2.  Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar (1963)

  •  Femininity and mental illness 
  • Therapeutic discourses of 'adjustment'

  • Critique of Cold War culture

3. Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49. (1965)

  • Paranoia and conspiracy 

  •  Postmodernity and 'information overload' 

 4. Thomas Herr, Dispatches

  • Vietnam and American cultural discourse
  • Journalism and 1960s counterculture

5.  Don DeLillo. White Noise (1984)

    • Postmodernism and spectacle

    • Consumer culture

    • The family

    • Death  

6. Reading Week

7. Toni Morrison. Beloved (1987)

    • African-American historical novel and legacy of slavery

    • Revising American history: perspective of the female slave

    • Narratives of suppressed memory and of the Middle Passage

    • Oral vs. written tradition

8.  Louise Erdrich. Love Medicine (1984/93)

  • Use of multiple narrative perspectives

  • Coming to terms with Native American history (cf Morrison)

  • Construction of fictive but “real” place

  • Draws on techniques of oral tradition (cf Morrisson)

9.  Cormac McCarthy. All the Pretty Horses. (1992)

    • Literary versions of the Western.

    • Regionalism: American Southwest

    • Revising myths of the Western & of masculinity

    • Border fiction: questioning 'national' identity

10. Revision