Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The American Novel

ENGL 089.910
MTWR 10:40-12:15

This course will examine cultural expectations about "the American family" and will explore how various literary representations of American families validate, trouble, and reconfigure social definitions. Ideas and prescriptions about family formation are often linked to how a nation wishes to perceive itself, and we will examine the relationship between family and nation in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American novels. We will also question how cultural conceptions of "family" have developed historically and how issues of economic status, race relations, and gender definitions have shaped American family structures. The literature we will read offers varied images of how American families are formed according to biological relations, cultural demands, economic determinants, and personal choices. We will place fictional narratives in dialogue with historical documents and non-fiction essays in order to develop an understanding of how American writers have engaged with the idea of "the American family" and how literary representations have affected social and political developments. Likely authors will include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Ann Petry, Frank Chin, Toni Morrison, Michael Cunningham, and Helena Maria Viramontes. Requirements involve engaged class participation, short weekly writing assignments, and two longer papers.