Topics in 20th Century American Literature: Bookending the Century
The late 1990's saw the U.S. in an introspective mood, contemplating and often celebrating a century of burgeoning influence, rapid social and technological change, and victory in world war and cold war. Recognizing and in some respects working against this mood, a number of well-established writers produced large-in-scope novels that aspired to summarize the preceding decades or define our national character. In the process, they explicitly looked back to the work of novelists from early in the century who were projecting the American future. This course will examine the complicated relationship of definitive novels of American realism by the likes of Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, and John Dos Passos to a number of celebrated works that appeared in 1997-1999, possibly including Philip Roth's American Pastoral, Steven Millhauser's Martin Dressler: Tale of an American Dreamer, Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon and Don DeLillo's Underworld. Class requirements include 3 essays, quizzes, and lively discussion.