English | American Literature & Culture 1900-1945
L655 | 26973 | Hutchinson

L655  26973  HUTCHINSON (#5)
American Literature & Culture 1900-1945

11:15a– 12:30p TR


This course will center on American literature in the 1940s, a
pivotal decade in global history and a liminal one in American
literary history, usually divided exactly in half.   R. W. French
was undoubtedly right when he wrote that this is “one of the
longest, unloveliest and most ominously significant decades in human
history,” beginning with Hitler’s invasion of Poland in late 1939
and ending with the invasion of South Korea, encompassing the
dawning global awareness of the Nazi concentration camps and the
invention and use of the atomic bomb.  It marked as well the
decisive emergence of the United States as a global power conscious
of itself as such, even as its most important writers created works
questioning fundamentally its moral bases.  How did these epochal
moments and events register in the literary culture, and how did
writers and artists still armed with the tools and techniques of the
early twentieth century attempt to bring shape and meaning to the
world in their wake?  Centering in the 1940s will allow us to range
backward and forward as we read a range of modernist authors of
different generations.  Against popular recent notions of the “good
war” and the “greatest generation,” authors engaged in the war as
well as conscientious objectors and those largely uninvolved moved
beyond the disillusionment of early modernists with World War I to a
probing of existential guilt.  Yet most of the literature was not
about the war, or was so only indirectly.  The forties was also a
period in which the social consciousness of the ‘30s and imperatives
of the Popular Front lived on even as the Left splintered (Trotsky
assassinated, Stalinism exposed, Zionism drawing Jewish radicals to
the cause of Israel), in which Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln
Memorial and Truman desegregated the armed forces, in which Harlem
Renaissance aspirations transmogrified into new and permanent
achievements—Native Son was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection,
Margaret Walker won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award,
Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize--and in which American
literary and artistic culture became less insular, more deeply
internationalized, than ever before.  It gave birth to film noir,
abstract expressionism, and what later would be called
postmodernism. It was the high point of the “New Criticism” and the
moment when the study of American literature became academically
respectable, when American Studies moved from a small hole-in-the-
wall operation led by socialists and New Deal liberals to an
institutionalized field.

This is distinctly a “readings” course with major texts probably
including Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls; Richard Wright, Native
Son and Twelve Million Black Voices; Ann Petry, The Street; Carlos
Bulosan, American Is in the Heart; Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a
Lonely Hunter; Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men; William
Faulkner, Go Down, Moses; stories by Eudora Welty; Thornton Wilder,
By the Skin of Our Teeth; Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie;
Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman; poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks,
Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Robert
Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Randall Jarrell,
Marianne Moore, Melvin Tolson, Robert Hayden, and Muriel Rukeyser.
We will have a glance at other areas of artistic endeavor,
particularly the visual arts.  Secondary reading will be relatively
light, to help orient you to major notions of modernism, and drawn
from a variety of recent work by Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz
(eds., Bad Modernisms), Charles Altieri, Bonnie Costello, Stephen
Gould Axelrod, Barbara Eckstein, Morris Dickstein, Robert Von
Hallberg, and others.  I may include some criticism from the period
itself if there is student interest.

Class will combine discussion, lecture, and student presentations.
Requirements include an oral presentation, occasional response
papers (usually 1-2 pages on the reading), and a final 10-page