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American Literature EN3116

This course introduces students to the diverse literatures and literary trends of the United States of America.

From its early inception as a colonial project through to the present day, ranging across the 17th/18th/19th/20th and 21st centuries, and exploring the main concepts and contestations which have underpinned the evolution - and various re-shapings - of what has come to be known as ‘American’ literature.

The main areas that will be covered in this course – which proceeds thematically rather than strictly chronologically – include: colonial visions of America; postcolonial/revolutionary and republican inventions of the nation, including Transcendentalism; Native American literature, culture and identity; the Frontier, the West and Manifest Destiny; regional literatures, including the Southern Gothic; constructions and treatments of race and ethnicity, including the literature of slavery, African-American writing, constructions of whiteness and white anxieties, Jewish-American writing; constructions of gender and sexuality, including writing by women, treatments of ‘masculinity,’ and queer texts; and the impact of modernity and globalisation, especially within modernist/postmodernist American writing, including the ‘Lost’ and ‘Beat’ generations.

Students will consider a range of genres (prose fiction, short stories, poetry, plays), and their connections to other creative mediums (especially visual cultures and music), and will be encouraged to explore a host of literary modes (Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, Postmodernism) as they have been constituted and contested in various American contexts.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should:

  • Know some of the key concepts and principles that are central to the formation of American/United States identities as expressed through American literature
  • Critically recognise important themes and debates within American literature and culture
  • Have a critical understanding of some of the linkages between American literary texts and discourses of nation, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and religion
  • Be able to relate the texts studied in their context, identifying how they articulate and shape the intellectual and creative assumptions of that context
  • Be able to apply appropriate critical concepts and terminology in the formation of critical readings of the American literary texts studied

Essential reading

Among authors whose work students may choose to study are:

  • Anne Bradstreet
  • Mary Rowlandson
  • Phyllis Wheatley
  • Louise May Alcott
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Washington Irving
  • Henry James
  • Sarah Orne Jewett
  • Herman Melville
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Mark Twain
  • Walt Whitman
  • Ralph Ellison
  • William Faulkner
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Carson McCullers
  • Toni Morrison
  • Alice Walker
  • Amy Lowell
  • Marianne Moore
  • Ezra Pound
  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Langston Hughes
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Arthur Miller
  • Tennessee Williams
  • Paul Auster