School of American and Canadian Studies







American Literature 2: Since 1900




Q4 A 220





Semester Two: 2000-2001





Module Tutors: Pete Messent and Anna Notaro







Module Name:                         American Literature 2: Since 1900


Module Code:                          Q4A220


Level:                                       A


Year:                                        2000-2001


Semester:                                 Two


Module Convenor:                    Peter Messent


Module Tutors                          Peter Messent and Anna Notaro


Module Tutors’

Office Hours:                            To be posted on office doors (Trent B68 and B42 respectively) and announced in class


Prerequisites:                            None                           


Course Description:


The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to American Literary Culture in the period from 1900 to the present. The period starts with a modernised America well in the process of development, with all the problems and anxieties of urbanisation and industrialisation that accompanied such a process. It includes the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War and the impact that these had on American culture and society. The rapid commercial expansion and consumerism of the immediate post First World War years, and the Depression that followed are part of this story. In the post Second World War period, emphasis will be placed on the further changes occurring in American cultural life and the eventual emergence of a ‘postmodernist’ sensibility. The movements from realism and naturalism to modernism to postmodernism will provide one (generic) way of organising the module. Another way will be the focus placed on cultural dialogue and multiplicity: the number and variety of voices that go to compose American literature over the course of this period.


This module follows in sequence from American Literature 1 (to1900) though students from outside the American Studies Department can take this module as a free-standing one. As in American Literature 1, we do not aim in any way for total coverage of a period here. This would be impossible within the time constraints involved. Instead, the module focuses on a series of key representative texts that will be discussed in detail in seminars and lectures. We intend that you should read carefully all the texts named below, with seminar discussion then generally focused on one part of that reading. It is hoped, and intended, that the material to which you are introduced will act as a springboard for further work on your part. We expect you to read as much of, and as widely as possible in, the American literature of this period as it is represented in the Anthology. This will not only increase your general understanding of the subject but prepare you for the more specialised courses which will follow (for many of you) later in your degree. This is the period in which the America that we now know comes into being and it is important to get some sense of the determining factors behind such an emergence.


The designated text is THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, FIFTH EDITION, VOLUME TWO, edited by Nina Baym and others, available from the University bookshop. You need not buy any other text for the module. This anthology contains a very large selection of texts and should allow you to browse in particular fields and authors that take your interest. The first priority in the module is clearly the specified reading for the lectures and seminars, but your second priority should be reading other texts from the Anthology that are not on the syllabus. You should now be gradually starting to build up your reading of secondary (critical) texts, and to use these as you approach your essays, but your main emphasis should be on the primary reading.




1. To introduce students to a wide range of American literature in the period, and its historical and cultural context.

2. To introduce students to the methods required for the analysis of literary and cultural texts at degree level.


Method and Frequency of Classes.


Generally there will be two lectures a week and one seminar, but this may occasionally be altered to allow for forum discussion in place of a lecture (with small group work followed by report and feedback to the larger group). Lectures will generally be used to place the weekly readings in terms both of the development of different literary forms (narrative, poetry, drama) and their development in the period, and in giving an understanding of the larger cultural context in which such texts belong. Weekly seminars will meet in groups of ten (as the norm) to discuss in detail some specific texts or texts from the week’s reading.


Group lecture times: Monday 10am (Arts Centre Lecture Theatre, by South Entrance) and Tuesday 9 a.m (Portland LTB9). Seminar groups and times to be arranged separately. Students are required to attend all classes, both lectures and seminars. If you are unable for any reason to attend, please inform your lecturer or tutor, with any documentation that may be necessary. Students who fail to attend will be reported to the School’s Director of Undergraduate Studies.




Students must write two essays, 2000 words each in length.

We suggest that the first essay be written on material to which you have already been introduced by this stage of the module. The essay deadline is 12 noon on Thursday 15th March.

As you will notice the essay titles broaden out as they go on, and there are three essays right at the end of the essay list that allow you to take on ambitious topics. You are encouraged to do so if you feel confident enough. The second essay deadline is 12 noon on Wednesday May 9th.


Course-work essays should normally be typed or word-processed. Neat hand-written papers are acceptable where a student has no access to the above facilities or has not yet learned to use them. Each essay counts for 25% of the final module mark.


In the final examination (date to be announced later) students will be required to answer two questions referring to two or three different texts (at a minimum) as they do so. This is where the reading you do for the lectures will be important, and where any further reading you have done in the Anthology could also pay dividends, since the more you have been able to read, the better informed and the wider-ranging your answers should be. The exam will be two hours in length and will count for 50% of the final mark.


Pete Messent’s phone number is 9514265 and e-mail

Anna Notaro’s phone number is 9514241 and e-mail


Students will be required to fill out a questionnaire assessing the module at the end of semester.



Schedule of Lectures, Seminars and Required Reading:

All page references to the Norton Anthology

You are expected to read all texts specified below. Where the seminar will focus on just one of those texts, that text is underlined and italicised.


Week of 29 January and 5th February: Into the Twentieth Century:


Charlotte Perkins Gilman: ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and ‘Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”’, pp. 656-670

Stephen Crane, ‘The Open Boat’, pp. 743-60.

Theodore Dreiser, ‘Old Rogaum and His Theresa’: pp. 792-805.


In the first seminar, we will look closely at the opening of the Crane and Dreiser stories. In the second, we will focus on the Gilman material.



Weeks of 12 and 19 February: Poetry 1:


Selections from Robert Frost (‘Mending Wall’, ‘Home Burial’, ‘After Apple-Picking’, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, ‘Desert Places’ ‘Design’) and William Carlos Williams (‘Spring and All’, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, ‘The Wind Increases’,  ‘This is Just to Say’, ‘The Dance’ (1944), ‘Burning the Christmas Greens’): Week Two: T. S. Eliot: ‘The Waste Land’. See Anthology. Tutors may specify additional poems to read for seminars.


Week of 26 February: Modernism:


William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying: pp. 1532-1630.


Week of 5 March:


Gertrude Stein, From The Making of Americans, pp. 1093-95 (‘a history of each one of them’). From Tender Buttons: pp. 1105-1107 (‘May not be strange to’).


Ernest Hemingway: ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ (not in Anthology: copies to be distributed).


John Dos Passos: from U.S.A.: pp. 1512-19 (‘down over his eyes’).

F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘Babylon Revisited’: pp.1496-1511.


Week of 12 March.


African-American Writing:


Zora Neale Hurston: ‘How It Feels to be a Colored Me’ (1436-38), From Their Eyes Were Watching God (1147-56)

Ralph Ellison: From Invisible Man, pp. 1883-1901


Week of 19 March:


Eugene O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey Into Night: pp. 1289-1367.


Week of 23 April:


Drama 2: David Mamet: Glengarry Glen Ross: pp. 2313-48


Week of 30 April:


Poetry 2: Selections from Robert Lowell (‘My Last Afternoon…’, ‘Skunk Hour’, ‘For the Union Dead’; Sylvia Plath (‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Daddy’), Allen Ginsberg (Part 1 of ‘Howl’) and Frank O'Hara (‘A Step Away from Them’, ‘The Day Lady Died’). See Anthology. Close reading of particular poems in seminars (tutors may specify additional poems to read).


Week of 7 May


 (Bank Holiday on Monday. Monday seminar classes to be re-scheduled)

 Recent Fiction: A selection: Gerald Vizenor, ‘Almost Browne’: (2158-63). Raymond Carver, ‘Cathedral’ (2197-2208),  Sandra Cisneros: ‘My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn’ etc. (2375-84).



Coursework Essay Questions


Do not cover the same subject matter in the two of your essays (i.e. do not do two essays on gender role or the relation of private to public etc.). Generally we allow you here to focus on the texts studied for the module. But if you wish to explore the work of any author further please feel very free to do so. If you are working on any of the poets we have studied you will need to work on the full selection of poems given in the Anthology, and are encouraged to read beyond this too.


1        Take one passage of no more than fifteen lines from any text we are studying. Give a close

analytic reading of that passage illustrating the distinctive artistic techniques used by that writer and the particular thematic concerns that emerge. Then place the passage both in the larger context of the work from which it is taken and the historical and/or cultural context that surrounds it.


2.      Discuss the relationship between the agency of the individual subject and environmental

conditioning (the pressures of the surrounding world) in any one or two of the readings done in weeks one and two (Dreiser, Gilman, Crane).


3.      Discuss what you find distinctive about the style and narrative technique of any prose writer studied on this module and the relationship in their work between style and content (you can restrict yourself to the individual text we have read).


4.      Discuss the representation of space in any one or two texts on this module.


5.      Discuss and illustrate the importance of one of the following subjects in the poetry of Frost, Eliot or Williams:

            The use of the first person voice

            Fragmentation and discontinuity

            The use of metaphor

            The relationship between word and world


6.      Why do you think Faulkner uses the particular narrative technique he does in writing As I Lay Dying ?


     Discuss the relationship between word and action in As I Lay Dying ?


7.      Does any meaning emerge from Gertrude Stein’s writing. What do you think she gains by making her work so resistant to easy readerly access?


8.      Discuss the movement between the different sections (Newsreel, Camera Eye, conventional narrative) in Dos Passos and what he achieves in this interaction?


9.      Discuss the relationship between the public and the private world in ‘Babylon Revisited’ and ‘Hills Like White Elephants’.


Identify the major stylistic differences between Hemingway and Fitzgerald in ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ and ‘Babylon Revisited’


      Discuss the representation of gender role in Hemingway and Stein (you may if you wish focus       just on the set texts you have read, though you will need to do further reading of the Stein             extracts).


10.  Discuss the representation of racial difference in either Hurston or Ellison’s work (please read the full Anthology selection before doing this question).


11. Discuss how either O’Neill in Long Day’s Journey into Night, or Mamet in Glengarry Glen

Ross, use the full range of the language of the theatre (words, actions, setting, dramatic scenes, and tableaux etc.) to foreground their thematic concerns?


12.  Discuss the representation of the self, and the relationship of that self to the larger historical world in any one or two of the poets studied in Week Ten (Lowell, Plath etc.).


       Discuss the differences in poetic technique, and what you see as the results of those            differences, in any one or two of the poets studied in Week Ten.


13.  Discuss any one or two of the texts studied in Week Eleven (Carver, Cisneros etc) in terms of the relationship between narrative technique and subject matter.


14.  State briefly what you understand by one of the following terms and use a selection of texts to illustrate: realism, naturalism, modernism, postmodernism (we would suggest here that you

      focus on two or three key features of these movements and illustrate closely with reference to       your selected texts.


15. Take two novels or plays or a representative range of poetry by any writer named in the                 Anthology and discuss what you see as formally and thematically distinctive about their work.


16. Write a short piece of prose (500 words maximum) or poetry (40 lines maximum) in the style        of one of the writers you have studied. (you are encouraged to read more than the work                 appearing in the Anthology). Then take 1200-1500 words to explain the problems you faced        as you went about this task, as you identified and attempted to imitate the mix of stylistic               tactics and thematic motifs in that author's work.





Secondary Reading


You will find books and articles written on the majority of the authors we are studying in the Hallward Library. We encourage you to fully explore the library’s resources, asking advice of the American Studies subject librarians (Val Housley and Deborah Bragan-Turner on Level Four) where you need their help. The module convenor will also be happy to give recommendations and advice too. Start by looking up the author’s name in the library catalogue and see what critical studies are available. In general the more recent the book, the more likely it is to contain some kind of resume of critical consensus on an author or text up to that point. Don’t forget too the critical journals and the resources they offer (the MLA Bibliography on CD Rom in the Library is an invaluable resource here). And the Yahoo site is a good place to start looking for materials on the Web. Here is a list of general books which may prove useful to you. The majority are in short loan. Any not in SL are asterisked:



Charles Altieri                           Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American                                                                    Poetry During the 1960s

Houston A. Baker                    The Journey Back: Issues in Black Literature and                                                                      Criticism

Gerald Berkowitz                     American Drama of the Twentieth Century

Chris Bigsby                             The Second Black Renaissance*

                                                A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American                                                  Drama, Vols. 1 and 2.

Mutlu Blasing                            American Poetry: The Rhetoric of its Forms

Malcolm Bradbury                    Years of the Modern: The Rise of Realism and Naturalism,

                                                in Marcus Cunliffe (ed) American Literature to 1900*

                                                The Modern American Novel

Malcolm Bradbury

            and J. McFarlane          Modernism

Malcolm Bradbury       

            and Richard Ruland      From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of                                                                       American Literature

R. W. Butterfield (ed.)              Modern American Poetry

Ruby Cohn                               New American Dramatists, 1960-1990

Joanne Feit Diehl                      Women Poets and the American Sublime*                               

Henry Louis Gates                    Reading Black, Reading Feminist

                                                Black Literature and Literary Theory

Richard Godden                       Fictions of Capital: The American Novel from James to                                                             Mailer

Richard Gray                            American Poetry of the Twentieth Century

Ihab Hassan                             Contemporary American Literature: 1945-72*

Daniel Hoffman             The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing

Richard Howard                       Alone With America: The Art of Poetry in the U.S. since                                                           1950

Linda Hutcheon                        A Poetics of Postmodernism

Hugh Kenner                            A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers

Jacob Korg                              Language in Modern Literature: Innovation and                                                                         Experiment

Susan Juhasz                            Naked and Fiery Forms: Modern American Poetry by                                                              Women*

Brian Lee                                 American Fiction: 1865-1940

David Lodge                            The Modes of Modern Writing*

Larry McCafferty        

            and Tom LeClair          Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary                                                   American Novelists*

Brian McHale                           Postmodernist Fiction

Jay Martin                                Harvests of Change: American Literature 1865-1914*

Ann Massa                               American Literature in Context: 1900-1930

Kevin McNamara                     Urban Verbs: Acts and Discourses of American Cities

Peter Messent                          New Readings of the American Novel

Charles Molesworth                 The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary                                                                        American Poetry

Hana Wirth Nester                   City Codes: reading the Modern Urban Novel

Peter Nicholls                          Modernisms: A Literary Guide

Michael North                          Race and Modernist Literature

Marjorie Perloff                        The Poetics of Indeterminacy*

Sheila Roberts                          Still the Frame Holds: Essays on Women Poets and                                                                   Writers

M. L. Rosenthal                        The New Poets

Charles Ruas                            Conversations with American Writers*

Elaine Showalter                       Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American                                                                    Women’s Writing*

Eric Sundquist                          American Realism: New Essays*

Tony Tanner                             City of Words: American Fiction 1950-70

Geoffrey Thurley                       The American Moment: American Poetry at Mid-                                                                     Century*

Helen Vendler                          Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets

R. Von Hallberg                       American Poetry and Culture, 1945-1980

Linda Wagner-Martin               The Modern American Novel 1914-45

Patricia Waugh                         Metafiction*

Cary Wintz                               Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance

Liz Yorke                                 Impertinent Voices: Subversive Strategies in                                                                              Contemporary Women's Poetry*


You may find the following reading on General Critical Approaches helpful (all in short loan)


Catherine Belsey                                   Critical Practice

S. Rimmon Kenan                                Narrative Fiction

D. Tallack (ed)                                     Literary Theory at Work: Three Texts                          

T. Eagleton                                           Literary Theory: An Introduction

R. Reising                                             The Unusable Past

H.L. Gates                                           Black Literature and Literary Theory

A. Durant & N.Fabb                            Literary Studies in Action

E. Showalter (ed)                                 The New Feminist Criticism

S. Gilbert & S. Gubar                           The Madwoman in the Attic

C. Brown & K. Olson                          Feminist Criticism

Judith Butler                                         Gender Troubles