English 20

Modern British and American Literature: Post-Apocalypse Now

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2019 Snyder, Katherine
MW 1:30-3 305 Wheeler

Book List

Atwood, Margaret: Oryx and Crake; Butler, Octavia: Parable of the Sower; Gee, Maggie: The Flood; Hoban, Russell: Riddley Walker; Lee, Chang-Rae: On Such a Full Sea; McCarthy, Cormac: The Road; Watkins, Claire: Gold Fame Citrus; Whitehead, Colson: Zone One


Apocalyptic stories have been told for centuries, even millenia. But novels, movies, and other forms of media that imagine the end of the world—and what comes after that—seem to have inundated us (floods!) in recent times. In this course, we will consider the post-apocalyptic narrative tradition, and look closely at several particularly elegant 20th- and 21st-century examples of this popular genre. We will ask: what does the imagined end of the world currently look like? What do the most common scenarios—pandemic, ecological collapse, angry robots, alien invasion—tell us about our own world? How are these visions of the end times interwoven with ideas about race, gender, class, and other forms of identity and difference? Why do we seem to have developed such a voracious appetite (zombies!) for narratives about our own obliteration and potential for regeneration? Will we find out before it's too late?

We will read and view a diverse selection of post-apocalyptic novels and movies, with glances at other media such as television, video games, and comics, attending closely to the ways that narrative form and other formal and aesthetic devices contribute to the meaning of these texts. We will also consider the popular and critical reception of our texts in order to gauge their impact (asteroids!) on the planet. Written work for this class will include analytical essays; less conventional types of interpretive or “creative” responses; online posts; and frequent reading quizzes.

The book list given here is subject to change, and certainly to streamlining; please wait until after the first class before purchasing. In addition to these possible novels, possible films include Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Children of Men, Mad Max: Fury Road, and WALL-E.

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