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2010/1 Module Catalogue
 Module Code: ELI2013 Module Title: THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL
Module Provider: English Short Name: ELI2013
Level: HE2 Module Co-ordinator: MAHN CK Dr (English)
Number of credits: 20 Number of ECTS credits: 10
Module Availability
Semester 2
Assessment Pattern

Unit(s) of Assessment




Weighting Towards Module Mark( %)




Essay (2000 words)
















Module Overview
This module introduces students to keystone American novels of the 20th and 21st centuries, especially in the context of key moments and contexts in American culture.  Opening with the American dream and its success/failure, the module covers the Harlem Renaissance, sexual identity, racial identity, the American diaspora, as well as dystopic literature about , and the novel after 9/11.  By the end of the module, students will have a strong familiarity with the major innovations in the American novel from the last century to the present day, as well as be able to offer insight into the kinds of cultural and literary issues that have conditioned how we understand the term ‘’.  
Level 1 English
Module Aims

The module aims to:




  • deepen and widen students’ knowledge of the American novel


  • increase knowledge and awareness of how variety and sub-categories in the genre


  • develop an understanding of the social and cultural issues raised in the American novel, especially in the context of language


  • further students’ skills in terms of written communication and oral presentations


  • introduce students


  • strengthen students’ ability to undertake analysis and critical thinking


  • develop further skills in independent study and group work


  • the ability to work to deadlines
Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students will have achieved:




  • a wide and relatively sophisticated understanding of American literatures


  • knowledge of and ability to analyse how literature engages with social and cultural issues in the American context


  • a good level of oral and written communication skills


  • ability to make interesting comparisons between a variety of American novels


  • a good level of skill in analysis and critical enquiry, as well as in independent study


  • time management skills.
Module Content

Week 1: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)




In this lecture we will look at one of the great "Jazz Age" novels of American Modernism. We will explore the text's engagement with themes of cultural and material decadence and decay, and the gradual unravelling of the American Dream in the years leading up to the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression of the 1930s. The lecture will argue that the novel is ultimately concerned with the human condition and its anxious meeting with modernity, signalled through Fitzgerald's stylistic preoccupation with excess, emptiness, speed and dislocation. TD







Week 2: Passing, Nella Larson (1929)




This lecture will explore Nella Larsen's short novel in the context of textual, sexual and racial performativity.  We will consider the text as an example of Harlem Renaissance writing, or "black modernism", particularly in terms of its contradictory phenomena of racial "passing" and WEB Du Bois's ideology of racial "uplift". The lecture will set out a double, or two-toned reading of the text, whereby competing plotlines signal Larsen's resistance to easy models of identity - whether of race, sex, class or gender. (TBC)







Week 3: Carol, Patricia Highsmith (1952)




Dealing with lesbianism in 50s , this novel became notorious for its content, and more importantly, its ending.  Engaging with, and challenging pulp fiction accounts of lesbian and homosexual desire, the novel was a seminal moment for articulating alternative sexual identity in an era that has commonly been regarded as sexually and socially conservative.  By reading the novel through women’s consumer/consuming cultures and pulp fiction, the vital contexts of women’s sexuality in 1950s will be explored.  CM







Week 4: The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon (1966)




Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 marks a watershed in twentieth-century American fiction: the moment the modernist novel pushes forward toward into a new paradigm - from the logical procedures for the investigation of crime that we associate with the detective story - to the paranoia & profound uncertainty that characterise the conspiracy theories that have proliferated in contemporary culture. DA







Week 5: Sula, Toni Morrison (1973)




Following the story of two friends who move into two very different versions of American life, this novel uses gothic elements to represent the unconstrained, rebellious and dangerous side of a community and why this dark elements are integral to constructing good and wholesome societies.  One of Morrison’s most disturbing novels, Sula remains one of the most radical interventions in the African-American Literature.  BP







Week 6: The Bonfire of the Vanities,  Tom Wolfe (1987)




Covering issues of wealth, greed and power, this novel offers an insight into how ruthless logic and operation of capitalism in 80s New York created new version of the American Dream, as well as reavealing its nightmarish foundations and eventual unravelling. AF







Week 7: The Joy Luck Club , Amy Tan (1989)




American has always been made up of diaspora: identity, frontiers and roots are always on the move in the tracing of family lineages. This novel traces some of the conflicts in identity that emerge between two generations of woman living in San Francisco. The move from Chinese to Chinese-American is explored in terms of opposing or conflicting elements of identity can be negotiated, and how this impacts the way 'American' can be understood in any stable forms of identity. CM 






Week 8: Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk (1996)




This lecture on the novel & film Fight Club picks up on key themes explored in relation to The Crying of Lot 49 - an underground conspiracy, predicated on profound ontological uncertainties, initiates a campaign of semiotic terrorism, sets out to expose and finally to bring down the systems of thought that structure and control our modern world.  DA







Week 9: American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)




An epic novel that attempts to capture the events and turmoil of the 60s and 70s through the retelling of a personal history, American Pastoral addresses how the personal and the political can become inextricably linked, especially in the way political trauma can be understood as personal trauma.  BP







Week 10: Falling Man, Don DeLillo (2007)




Following a survivor of the 9/11 attacks, Falling Man traces some of the ways in which people ‘fell apart’ in the aftermath of the attacks.  As one of ’s greatest living writers, it was expected that Don Delillo would write some kind of response to the attacks, and although the novel met with wide critical praise, it also met with criticism.  This session will critically engage with the problems and issues at stake in representing post 9/11.  BP







Week 11: Course Overview




This week will have a course overview in the lecture and seminars.







Week 12: Student Revision







Week 13: Exam Week







Week 14: Exam Week







Week 15: Exam Week







Assessment Deadlines:




Essay: 16/03/11




Exam: tbc.
Methods of Teaching/Learning
Seminars and lectures.
Selected Texts/Journals

Essential Reading


DeLillo, Don (2008), Falling Man London : Picador.


Fitzgerald, F. Scott (2008), The Great Gatsby. Oxford : OUP.


Highsmith, Patricia (2005) , Carol. London: Bloomsbury .


Larson, Nella (2002), Passing. London : Penguin.


Palahniuk, Chuck (1998), Fight Club. London : Vintage.


Pynchon, Thomas (1998), The Crying of Lot 49. London : Vintage.


Roth, Philip (1998), American Pastoral. London : Vintage.
Wolfe, Tom (1987), The Bonfire of the Vanities.  London : Vintage.



Recommended Secondary Reading



Annnesley, James (1998), Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture and the Contemporary American Novel.  London : Pluto Press.


Bilton, Alan (2002), An Introduction to Contemporary American Fiction.  Edinburgh : EUP.


Bould, Mark, Kathrina Glitre, et al, ed. (2009), Neo-Noir. London : Wallflower.


Boxall, Peter (2006), Don DeLillo: The Possibility of Fiction. London : Routledge.


Bradbury, Malcolm (1992), The Modern American Novel, 1932-2000. Oxford : OUP.


Brauner, David (2007), Philip Roth. Manchester : MUP.


Brooker, Peter (1996), New York Fictions: Modernity, Postmodernism, the New Modern. London : Longman.


DePietro, Thomas (2005), Conversations with Don DeLillo. Jackson: University of Mississippi .


Duvall, John N., ed. (2008), The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo. Cambridge : CUP.


Dugdale, John (1990), Thomas Pynchon: Allusive Parables of Power. Basingstoke : Macmillan.


Friedman, Melvin J and Ben Siegel, ed., (1995), Traditions, Voices, and Dreams: The American Novel Since the 1960s. Newark: University of Delaware Press.


Furman, Jan (1996), Toni Morrison’s Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.


Hilfer, Anthony Channell (1992), American Fiction Since 1940. London : Longman.


Hutchison, George, ed. (2007), The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance. Cambridge : CUP.


Kalaidjian, Walter, ed. (2005), The Cambridge Companion to American Modernism.  Cambridge : CUP.


Lauret, Maria (1994), Liberating Literature: Feminist Fiction in AmericaI.  London : Routledge.


McCracken, Scott (1998), Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction.  Manchester : MUP.


McLendon, Jacquelyn Y (1995), The Politics of Color in the Fiction of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larson.  London: University Press of Virginia .


Matthews, John T, ed., (2009), A Companion to the Modern American Novel, 1900-1950. Oxford : Blackwell.


Messent, Peter B (1998), New Readings of the American Novel: Narrative Theory and its Application.  Edinburgh : EUP.


Middleton, David L., ed. (1997), Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. New York: Garland .


O’Donnell, Patrick, ed. (1991), New Essays on the Crying of Lot 49. Cambridge : CUP.


Osteen, Mark (2000), American Magic and Dread: Don DeLillo’s Dialogue with Culture.


Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.


Parrish, Timothy, ed. (2007), The Cambridge Companion to Philip Roth. Cambridge : CUP.


Peterson, Nancy J, ed. (1997), Toni Morrison: Critical and Theoretical Approaches. Baltimore : John Hopkins UP.


Prizgozy, Ruth, ed. (2002), The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge : CUP.


Reynolds, Guy (1999), Twentieth-Century American Women’s Fiction: A Critical Introduction.  Basingstoke : Macmillan.


Royal, Derek Parker, ed. (2005), Philip Roth: New Perspectives on an American Author. London : Praeger Publishers.


Seed, David, ed., (2010), A Companion to Twentieth-Century Fiction.  Oxford : Blackwell.


Seed, David (1988), The Fictional Labyrinths of Thomas Pynchon. Basingstoke : Macmillan.


Smith, Valerie (1987), Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative.  Cambridge : Harvard UP.


Tighe, Carl (2005), Writing and Responsibility. London : Routledge.


Tredell, Nicolas, ed. (1997), F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. Cambridge : Icon.

Last Updated
8 July 2010 JG