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Jewish-American Literature

ENGL 079.401
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

This course will survey writing (mostly fiction) by Jewish-Americans in the twentieth century -- the century when American Jewish writers decided to be no longer the (somewhat exoticized) subjects of other writers' portrayals and instead to portray themselves and their country directly. Yet they simultaneously chose not to "explain" themselves to those others, and instead wrote for themselves and for anyone else who might want to listen.

Eventually, many of both groups did.

This class will begin early in the last century with a work by Anzia Yezierska and end in the present century with a book written by a Philadelphian. Between these two poles, we will likely read works by Mike Gold, Nathaniel West, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, and Grace Paley, and several others.

In addition, we'll include some jokers: we may read a "Jewish" novel by a non-Jewish Penn parent (John Updike's Bech: A Book); or a memoir by Alfred Kazin; or a rumination on "Jewishness" after Auschwitz by the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (in English, of course).

Requirements: this course expects students to have the ability (1) to read through a good deal of fiction; (2) to deal comfortably with the fact that many of the Jewish writers we will read are "Jewish" in the sense that they are of Jewish descent, but are not therefore also observant; (3) to deal equally comfortably with the fact that they include writers identified with the political left and others identified with the political right, and that such identifications may actually matter to them in ways we might have expected religion to matter to them; (4) to write some very short (1-2 page) and two longer (5-8 page) papers; and (5) to complete at the end of the class either a long (8-10 page) final paper or a final examination.