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American Literature II

General data

Course ID: 4219-AW104 Erasmus code / ISCED: 09.2 / (0231) Language acquisition
Course title: American Literature II Name in Polish: American Literature II (Literatura amerykańska II)
Organizational unit: American Studies Center
Course groups: All classes - weekday programme - 2nd cycle
obligatory lectures - weekday studies - MA level
ECTS credit allocation (and other scores): (not available)
view allocation of credits
Language: English
Type of course:

obligatory courses

Short description:

This lecture series discusses the developments in American literature - fiction, poetry, drama, essay - from the end of the Civil War until the present. It looks at major authors, changing literary styles, themes and assumptions concerning the role of literature. Major literary texts (novels, short stories, plays, poems) are examined in some detail, as are key works in the history of aesthetics (manifestos, essays on the nature of literature, etc.). Attention is paid to the philosophical assumptions behind various literary paradigms (e.g. the relationship between naturalism and social determinism; modernism and pragmatism, postmodernism and post-structuralist thought).

Full description:

Chronological in structure, this course examines closely major developments in fiction, poetry and drama from realism, through naturalism and local color, Modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, politically engaged literature of the 30s, the post-war generation, postmodernism, ending with a look at diverse literatures of contemporary multi-ethnic America. Attention is paid to the evolving cultural context of literature: debates about the meaning of American identity, the changing role of race, ethnicity and gender. Works by major women writers, African American literature, and the writing of immigrants and ethnic minorities are important reference points. Participants will also be exposed to visual material (paintings, photographs), audio recordings (authors reading their own work, especially poetry), as well as excerpts of film adaptations of novels and plays, fragments of documentary films about writers, literary movements and cultural developments.


1. Realism in its social and cultural context: narrative techniques, major themes, philosophical assumptions; major writers (William Dean Howells; Hamlin Garland; Henry James and Mark Twain discussed in some detail).

2. Ideological currents at the turn of the century and their impact on literature (debates on race and American identity; Social Darwinism as key to naturalism in fiction; the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner and its cultural/literary significance; Veblen's concept of Conspicuous Consumpti on; the changing role of women).

3. Naturalism and Local Color Fiction: determinism as key intellectual source; detail and nostalgia in local color fiction; importance of regionalism; Edith Wharton's study of the social elites; the color line as a theme in literature of the 1890s. Focus on stories and novel fragments by major writers (Hart Crane, Jack London, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Charles W. Chesnutt, Upton Sinclair, Kate Chopin).

4. Modernism: philosophical, social, historical sources; The Lost Generation and the Jazz Age; Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby discussed in some detail (narrative structure, symbolism, treatment of American Dream); Hemingway's and Stein's stylistic innovations; types of formal experimentation; stream of consciousness; free indirect discourse; Modernism's relation to realism and postmodernism; William Faulkner (focus on As I Lay Dying); realism of the 20s: Sinclair Lewis (his study of middle class lifestyle and conformity in Babbit); Anzia Yezierska (as example of immigrant writing); Modernism in American poetry (key features of a modern poem; focus on specific poets: Pound, Eliot, Williams, Stevens and others; idea of impersonality and tradition; objective correlative; "schools" of poetry - Imagism and beyond).

5. The Harlem Renaissance: political and social background; major works; painting and music of the New Negro; primitivism as a part of modernist aesthetic; black art as integral part of Modernism; debates concerning racial identity among African American intellectuals of the period; major works of the movement (Locke, Toomer, Hughes, Hurston and others).

6. Literature and social responsibility: the 30s and 40s: The Great Depression and the turn towards social issues in art and literature; radicalism and conservatism; the Southern Agrarians and New Criticism; the 'hard-boiled hero' of popular fiction; John Dos Passos and his U.S.A. trilogy; John Steinbeck and his social protest novels; African American literature of the era (focus on Wright).

7. American Drama in the 20th Century: major developments and writers (O'Neill, Odets, Miller, Albee, Williams, Mamet); Tennessee Williams, "A Streetcar Names Desire" discussed in detail.

8. The 1950s and 60s - conformity and rebellion: post-war conservatism; the value of tradition and the problem of conformity; suburbia as reality and state of mind (Updike's Rabbit and his flight); realist prose after 1945 (Bellow, O'Connor, Roth, Updike and others); literature responding to debates about race and ethnic identity; Southern gothic; the Beat Generation; a new generation of women writers (the impact of feminism).

9. Major currents in American poetry since 1945: Confessional poetry; the Beat poets; Black Mountain Poets; The New York School; African American and ethnic poets; Recent developments.

10. Postmodernism and Multiculturalism: postmodernism in cultural theory; the impact of post-structuralism; meta-fiction; self-reflexivity; simulacra; inter-textuality; irony; parody; pastiche; legacy of the 60s and its impact on today's ideological divides; 'Melting pot' vs. 'salad bow'; identity politics and literature (race, gender, sexuality); the shifting canon and the rise of new ethnic literatures (African American; Native American; Asian-American; Latino/ Latina); American literary and cultural studies as a field - reflections on its current politics and methods.


Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Booker T. Washington, “The Atlanta Exposition Address”

W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folk

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Kate Chopin, “Desiree’s Baby”

Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

Frederic Jackson Turner: “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”

William Graham Sumner, excerpt from “The Forgotten Man”

Bret Harte, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”;

Kate Chopin, “The Storm”

Henry James: “Daisy Miller: A Study”

Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”

Edith Wharton, “The Other Two”

Hart Crane, “The Open Boat”

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, “A New England Nun”

F. S. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Gertrude Stein, from The Making of Americans

Ernest Hemingway, “The Indian Camp,” “Hills Like White Elephants,”

Katherine Anne Porter, “Flowering Judas”

T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

Robert Frost, “Home Burial” “The Road Not Taken”; Ezra Pound, “Portrait d’une

Femme,” “A River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” “In a Station of the Metro”; Wallace Stevens, “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock,” “The Snow Man”; William Carlos Williams, “Spring and All,” “The Red Wheelbarrow,” “Young Sycamore”; H.D., “Helen”

William Faulkner: “A Rose for Emily”, “That Evening Sun”

Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”; “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “I, Too”;

Claude McKay, “The Lynching,” “America”, “If We Must Die”;

Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”’

John Dos Passos: from U.S.A (selection)

John Steinbeck, “The Leader of the People” (Norton)

Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”

James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village”;

Marge Piercy, “Through the Cracks”

John Updike, e.g. “Separating” or “The Happiest I have been” (Norton); Flannery O’Connor, e.g. “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”; Saul Bellow, Looking for Mr. Green”; Grace Paley, “A Conversation with My Father”.

Allen Ginsberg, Howl (I); Robert Lowell, “Man and Wife”;

Sylvia Plath, “Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus”; Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel”;

Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died,” “Why I’m not a Painter”; Gwendolyn Brooks, “We

Real Cool”

Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

Sandra Cisneros, “Mericans”

Sherman Alexie, “Every Little Hurricane”

Robert Coover, “The Babysitter”

Jonathan Franzen, “Good Neighbors”

Bharati Mukherjee, “AWife’s Story”

Learning outcomes:

As a result of the course, our students will:


• have basic knowledge about the genres typical for Am. Lit. and about its major representatives,

• be familiar with the basic terminology used in the history of American literature,


• be able to identify the main trends in the evolution of American literature,

• have basic knowledge as regards the American mythology underlying American creative writing,

• understand how the development of American literature was determined by social and political changes in the US and how American literature reflected those changes,

• be familiar with the regional diversity of American literature


• understand the basic methods of literary analysis and interpretation of both fiction and poetry,

• know how to use the basic theoretical approaches, research paradigms, and terms typical of American literary criticism,

• know how to go about identifying workable research questions.

Assessment methods and assessment criteria:

* Final exam (written test of 2 hour duration, including quote recognition, multiple choice and essay questions).

* Optional reading tests during the semester - for extra points (on content of assigned reading).

This course is not currently offered.
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