Honors | Portraits of American Consumerism (LAMP)
L216 | 11721 | Eric Metzler


It may be said that consumerism is one of the defining features of
contemporary American culture: discarding the old, acquiring the
new, going to the mall, shopping online, keeping up with the
Joneses, buying goods and services to fulfill desires, and so on
characterize common American experience. But has it always been
this way? To what extent does consumerism shape our identity? What
significance does consumerism hold groups or individuals different
from us? What benefit do we derive from consumerism? What prices
do we pay?

The seminar will attempt to answer these and other questions in its
exploration of the beginnings of consumerism as we know it the late
19th and early 20th centuries. Novels from that period will be the
main texts in the course, providing us with diverse portraits of
consumerism: Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Dreiser’s Sister Carrie,
Wharton’s House of Mirth, and Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. In
addition to the fiction, students can expect to read a variety of
non-fiction articles and/or book chapters to construct historical,
sociological, and cultural frames around those portraits of American
consumerism in its nascent period. Part of the course will also be
devoted to writing instruction as students work to improve and
practice their skills at writing persuasive college essays. Grading
will be based on primarily on essays, preparation for class, and
active participation in class.