Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Landscapes of Identity in the Early 20th Century American Fiction

ENGL 016.301

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.

fulfills requirements