Spring 2013 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Cohen, Milton
Discipline and Number
LIT 4348 Section 001
MW Time 10:00 AM - 11:15 AM
Course Title
American Literature in the 1930s

Description of Course:

In no period more than the 1930s was American literature so deeply entwined in contemporary politics. Caught up in the catastrophes of their times—the Depression and the rise of fascism—writers from across the political spectrum concurred that literature could no longer afford modernist aloofness, that it must be politically and socially engaged.

We shall study this marriage of literature and politics in novels by John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway, in plays by Clifford Odets, and in poems by Muriel Rukeyser, Kenneth Fearing, and others. While these works express shades of leftist politics that most 1930s writers adopted, we shall also hear from the political right: in an essay by Eliot and in poems by Pound, Frost, and Cummings.

Finally, we’ll consider new literary genres this decade generated: the proletarian novel (Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited), documentary reportage, government-sponsored arts projects (FSA photographs, the Federal Theatre and Writers Projects), and collaborations of writers and photographers. Malcolm Cowley's memoir provides a personal overview of the period.

Required Texts:

Malcolm Cowley, The Dream of the Golden Mountains: Remembering the 1930s
Clifford Odets, “Waiting for Lefty” and Other Plays
Jack Conroy, The Disinherited
John Dos Passos, 1919
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Richard Wright, Native Son (unabridged ed)
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
packet of readings, including plays, poems, and essays

Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:

Students will write either one longer research paper (ca. 10 pp.) or two shorter ones (ca. 5 pp. each). A creative project or oral presentation may be substituted for one of the shorter papers. Class participation (including 1-2 pp. reaction papers for each major reading) will weigh heavily in the final grade.

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