University of Notre Dame

Why Literature Matters: 20th Century American Literature and Now

Course Number: ENGL 13186-10
Instructor: Jacqueline Brogan

The emphasis of this course will fall on the intersection of recurrent themes in American literature, as seen from a plurality of perspectives. For example, we will consider the position of African-Americans in the American landscape from the perspective of a white male (Mark Twain), an African-American male (James Baldwin), a white female (Kate Chopin), and an African-American female (Alice Walker). We will explore questions of contemporary spirituality as presented by a white male (Wallace Stevens), an African-American male (James Baldwin), a white female (Elizabeth Bishop), etc. Or, we may consider how various authors view the intersection of capitalism in America with ecological damage – as in selected works of Ernest Hemingway and Adrienne Rich. The course will include three novels, several short stories, and a healthy dose of very divergent poetries, while suggesting which genres proved most significant in different periods of our modern history. The course will be demanding, but rewarding, especially as it seeks to explore the apparent contradictions but important overlappings of our rich American literary heritage. All University seminars focus on writing components.

Paper assignments will be discussed the first day of class.Texts (required):
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Kate Chopin, The Awakening Alice Walker, The Color Purple Wallace Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind
Adrienne Rich, An Atlas of the Difficult World Texts (optional)
James Baldwin, Selected Writings
Flannery O’Connor, Selected Short Stories
Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems(and selected handouts, including Robert Frost, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Joy Harjo, etc.)