English 100

Junior Seminar: Post-War American Detective Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2006 Fielding, John David
Fielding, John
MW 4-5:30 305 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

The Little Sister (1949), by Raymond Chandler; The Golden Gizmo (1954), by Jim Thompson; For the Love of Imabelle (1958), by Chester Himes; The Quick Red Fox (1964), by John D. MacDonald; The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), by Thomas Pynchon; Mumbo Jumbo (1972), by Ishmael Reed; Like a Hole in the Head (1998), by Jen Banbury; Motherless Brooklyn (1999), by Jonathan Lethem; and a Course Reader


"In this survey of post-war American detective fiction we will examine one of the most popular, long-lasting and diverse literary genres of the modern canon. Beginning in the years immediately following the end of World War II, we will explore the high-point of hard-boiled narrative, an era which some critics claim to be the legitimization of the genre, marking its passage from pulp trash to an acceptable vehicle for serious literary endeavor. Here, the tales of private investigators traversing the shadowy areas inside and outside of the law, between equally corrupt official and criminal codes, present us with voyeuristic trips into a lurid underworld with safe, if jaded, guides whose dark humor is often employed toward critical socio-political commentary alternately revolutionary and reactionary. Through these novels we witness an analysis of immediate post-war concerns such as the challenge of traditional forms of masculinity and the safety and stability of domestic civilian life brought about by anxieties of and about the returning G.I.s. Concerns about race and feminism likewise swirl about this climate of paranoia and disillusion.

Such a notion of the detective genre as a reflection of the zeitgeist continues into the turbulent 60�s and early 70�s exemplified by the post-modern dismantlings and hijackings of the genre by Pynchon and Reed. Rounding off our tour, we will turn to two contemporary forays by Lethem and Banbury which, in turn, voice the concerns of a post-Cold War generation.

Throughout, we will examine the psychological, political, gender, and racial themes treated through tales of deviance and rectification, or crime and capture. The mass appeal and diversity of the genre will also be considered as we look into different readerships, publishing practices, critical assessments and varying attempts by these authors to break into, out of, or otherwise redefine the American literary canon through the vigilante impulse of the solitary crusader. "

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