An intensive introduction to American literature and society in the Depression decade. Readings will include canonical and non-canonical texts, among them The Big Money, Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Grapes of Wrath, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Good Earth, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Absalom, Absalom!, Native Son, and selections from Proletarian Literature in the United States.
The questions we shall discuss will include: the meaning of ideology and the relation of economic circumstance to aesthetic values; the social and political responsibility of the writer; the role of women in society and culture; the debate over race; the distinctions and the continuity between popular and elite culture; the gains and losses that are entailed in organizing literary study by politically defined periods (e.g., "the thirties"). We will find time to discuss some of the decade’s painting and photography, and we will also take note of political and cultural movements outside the U.S.
Requirements. (1) Students are expected to attend every class and to participate actively in our discussions. (2) Each student will prepare a position paper (three or four sentences) in response to each assigned reading. This statement should identify a particular theme, conflict, or issue that could form the basis for discussion. (3) Working in pairs, each student will present one or two reports on some key historical and literary text [see reserve list]. (4) Each student will report on one of the major magazines published in the 1930s. (5) Each student will complete a research essay (twelve or so pages), due toward the end of the semester. (6) These essays will also form the basis for oral reports in the final weeks of the semester. (7) Quizzes may occur at any time. (8) There will be a final exam.