Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Landscapes of Identity in the Early 20th Century American Fiction

ENGL 016.301
instructor(s):
MWF 1

Responding to the injunction to "write what you know," American writers in the early 20th century refocused their attention on the idiosyncracies of the local. The result was a literature of identity and "place" which has been variously described as a natural outgrowth of literary naturalism; as an exemplification of low modernism; as an instantiation of modern primitivism. It will be primarily through the shifting lens of the latter category that we will assess the identic effects of both literal and symbolic landscapes - of local specificity; of "sacred ground." Of particular interest for the seminar, however, will be the ways in which this literature resorts to "place" to found a construction of a new American, a project which, at some times, entails a displacement of the true Native Americans; which at all times entails a place-inflected refiguration of race, of gender, of class. We will read fiction and a little poetry - Toomer, Cather, Hughes, Hurston, Faulkner, among others; view at least one film; take advantage, now and then, of historical and/or literary and fine arts scholarship. Students will write weekly response papers, at least three short essays and a longer "project" paper at the end of the semester.