English 484B: Twentieth-Century American Novel

In this course, we’ll consider the career of the novel in the U.S. over the course of the past eleven decades. This era saw a staggering number of changes in the U.S.: the country’s shifting geopolitical roles, new media and communications technologies, cultural revolutions and radical movements, and institutional transformations in the production and study of literature. We’ll approach the ambitions of novelists in this period of the “great American novel” in two ways. First, we’ll study the country and cultural moments these novelists wanted to speak to and for, through brief lectures and occasional supplemental readings. Second, we’ll consider how the novels themselves document the changing cultural roles novelists have taken on for themselves, as chroniclers of injustice, explorers of the psyche, playful contrarians, wild-eyed prophets, and more. Likely works include novels by Theodore Dreiser, Nella Larsen, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip K. Dick, Leslie Marmon Silko, Toni Morrison, Denis Johnson, and a twenty-first century novel students will select.