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Outlaws, Exiles, and Outcasts: Modernist American Literature in the Age of Prohibition, 1920-1933

ENGL 284.601
instructor(s):
W 5:30-8:30

This course examines the literature and culture of the Prohibition era (1920-1933), an historical period characterized by radical artistic, political, and social experimentation as well as by tumultuous social change. We will study representative works of this period--from the Lost Generation to the Harlem Renaissance, from the detective novel to the gangster film, from avant-garde art and poetry to socialist realism and jazz. While recognizing the appeal of these works today, we will examine them in the context of the literary movements, periodicals, politics, and historical forces that shaped modernist expression. In particular, we will focus on literary responses to both the prosperity and the violence of American culture in the immediate aftermath of the first World War. On the one hand, American artists and writers witnessed the rise (and, in 1929, the crash) of consumer capitalism, the invention of film and Jazz, new possibilities for sexual and ethnic relations, and the influx of European styles and ideas. On the other hand, the shock of brutal new forms of warfare was met in the U.S. by the rise of gangsterism, the horrors of racial persecution, the struggles over ethnic integration and gender equality, and the idealistic violence of social protest and labor uprising.

Course requirements: two short (4-5 pp) papers and one final (8-10 pp) paper. No exam.
Readings may include works by Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Ezra Pound, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Nathanael West, Djuna Barnes, Zora Neale Hurston, Horace McCoy, and Langston Hughes. Films may include LeRoy's Little Caesar, Chaplin's Modern Times, King Vidor's The Crowd, and Wellman's Public Enemy.