Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Literature of the Great Depression

ENGL 263.301
TR 9-10:30 am
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

What role does art, particularly literature, play in a society undergoing a crisis?  Should artists reflect the social issues of their time or should they try to use their art to intervene?  Does art in a time of crisis assert new values or attempt to buttress traditional ones?  This course will use the literature and the arts of the Great Depression as a way of reflecting on the recent financial crisis:  The Great Recession. Just as we do now, readers and authors in the 1930s faced economic, environmental, social, cultural and foreign policy crises. To examine these questions this course will begin with four key novels of the 1930s William Faulkner’s Light in August, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing to consider the meaning of poverty in the 1930s and the ways that race and gender shaped that experience.   Using this lens, the class will then examine short stories and essays by authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Tillie Olsen, and poems by authors such as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Muriel Ruckeyser, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, and Kenneth Fearing.