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Unit information: American Fiction that Matters: US Writing in 'The American Century' in 2016/17

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Unit name American Fiction that Matters: US Writing in 'The American Century'
Unit code MODL23012
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Brian Miller
Open unit status Open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The purpose of the unit is to familiarise students with the most important authors and foundational texts across a crucial period of American literature, covering prose fiction only (not non-fiction prose, poetry or drama). The design of the unit is to approach American literature through the exploration of its most outstanding exponents with detailed examination of their principal works. The authors to be covered will include Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, JD Salinger, Joseph Heller, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Raymond Carver and Alice Walker.


  • To introduce students to a significant body of knowledge of a complexity appropriate to second year level. The content matter will normally include one or more of the following: literature; social, cultural or political history; linguistics; cultural studies; film, television or other media.
  • To facilitate students' engagement with a body of literature, including secondary literature, texts, including in non-print media, primary sources and ideas as a basis for their own analysis and development. Normally many or most of these sources will be in a language other than English and will enhance the development of their linguistic skills.
  • To develop further skills of synthesis, analysis and independent research, building on the skills acquired in units at level C.
  • Some options may prepare students for the experience of the Year Abroad.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Successful students will:

  • be knowledgeable about a significant cultural, historical or linguistic subject related to the language they are studying;
  • be skilled in the selection and synthesis of relevant material;
  • be able to evaluate and analyse relevant material from a significant body of source materials, usually in a foreign language, at a high level;
  • be able to respond to questions or problems by presenting their independent judgements in an appropriate style and at an high level of complexity;
  • be able to transfer these skills to other working environments, including study at a foreign university and on work placements during the year abroad.

Teaching Information

1 x 2hr slot weekly, normally consisting of a lecture followed by discussion.

Assessment Information

4000 word essay 85%, class test 15%

Reading and References

Set texts:

With more US authors to cover from the 20th than from the 19th century, the teaching emphasis will lie upon specific works more than on whole creative lives of authors listed plus historical context. Students should focus upon at least three of the texts below, purchased for deeper study but also available through library sources and in a number of instances via free accessible on-line literature web sites. The texts listed will be discussed in lecture and seminar.

  • Edith Wharton: House of Mirth / Age of Innocence
  • Sinclair Lewis: Main Street / Babbit
  • F Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby / Tender is the Night / Tales of the Jazz Age
  • Ernest Hemingway: In Our Time / The Sun Also Rises / A Farewell to Arms
  • William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury / As I Lay Dying / Light in August
  • Willa Cather: My Antonia / Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • JD Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
  • Joseph Heller: Catch-22
  • James Baldwin: Go Tell It to the Mountain / Tell Me How Long the Trains Been Gone
  • Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie Marsh / Herzog
  • Raymond Carver: Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? / What We Talk About When We Talk About Love / Cathedral (short-story collections)
  • Alice Walker: The Colour Purple