English 130D

American Literature: 1900-1945: Class, Race, Critique, Rewound

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2019 Leong, Andrew Way
MW 5-6:30 182 Dwinelle

Book List

DuBois, W.E.B.: The Souls of Black Folk; Hurston, Zora Neale: Their Eyes Were Watching God; Larsen, Nella: Passing; Smedley, Agnes: Daughter of Earth; Warren, Robert Penn: All the King's Men; Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth


This course is a retrospective or "rewound" survey of American literature and criticism from 1945 to 1900. We'll begin in the 1940s, working our way back in time, not only through key works in prose and poetry, but also through contemporaneous works of literary and cultural criticism. Although "theory" and "literature" are often presented in isolation from each other, the early 20th century provides excellent opportunities for understanding how critical practices and ideas we might take for granted today (e.g., close reading, critique, or sociological analyses of race and class) emerged in dialogue with the production of American literature. For the 1940s, we'll look at how the "close reading" techniques developed by the New Critics centered in the American South might be read in tandem with the political anxieties in a work like Robert Penn Warren's novel All the King's Men (1946). We'll also look at selections from Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), a work produced by two Frankfurt School scholars in exile in the United States, and consider how their insights into the technological transformations of mass culture might inform our readings of American jazz and stories like John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio" (1947). For the 1930s, we'll review how the precursors for the New Criticism among the "Southern Agrarian" or "Fugitives" movement in poetry might be read in contrast to the critical anthropological work of Zora Neale Hurston, both as a novelist in her Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), but also as an essayist in "Characteristics of Negro Expression" (1934). As we move into the 1920s and 1910s, we'll shift to an analysis of poetic, novelistic, and critical works of the Harlem Renaissance before turning to conflicts over the "bourgeois" character of expatriate modernist writers (e.g., Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound) with the proletarian and socialist writings of figures such as Mike Gold and Agnes Smedley. We'll conclude in the 1910s and 1900s through readings of suffragist Charlotte Perkins Gilman and suffrage opponent Edith Wharton, followed by readings of the sociological and journalistic writings of W.E.B. Dubois and Ida B. Wells.

One final exam and two take-home midterms will be required.

*The required books list is still in flux, so please do not purchase until you confirm the final selection of the texts with the instructor.

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