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American Fiction

ENGL 089.900
instructor(s):
R 6-9:10

Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters

American culture(s) share a number of obsessions and fascinations. We'll read prose fictions, two long, the rest short, that turn on the ideas of war, money, family, ghosts, and the grotesque. (Naturally, the categories overlap.) The works are grouped, with female and male writers in each. Inevitably, questions about race, class and gender will arise from these groupings. We'll begin with money: Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno will be matched with Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, with a quick look at F. Scott Fitzgerald as well. Our sometimes-secret fascinations with ghosts will take us through Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Toni Morrison's Beloved. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying will take us into the sad heart of a Southern family that is pulling itself apart, while stories by Toni Cade Bambara and John Edgar Wideman will show us the energy and love that keeps urban black families going. Historical anger and terror over war animate two recent novels: Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Ella Leffland's Rumor of Peace. Finally, we'll indulge in some dark laughter, reading stories by Flannery O'Connor and Lewis Nordan's collection Sugar Among the Freaks. Because writing helps us read, and reading helps us write, we'll do frequent short response papers. You'll also do a midterm research assignment and a final paper that will be developed from the midterm writing. If you have questions, please feel free to email me: dburnham@english.upenn.edu