American Modernisms

  • 0/5 Stars
Course Length:
13 weeks, plus final exam

Course Description and Objectives

This semester, you will read many acclaimed works of early twentieth-century American literature. The daily readings, writing assignments, and class discussions should promote your personal and intellectual engagement with the literature. This course will highlight the major characteristics of American modernism. By the end of the course, you should be able to address the questions on the nature of literature of this period: “What is American modernism?” “Why do we study it?” “How might we read it for pleasure?” “What can a study of American literature reveal concerning trends in our culture?” “How might we critique such works?” “How does its study reward us?”

By the semester’s end, students should

  1. Possess an understanding of the crisis of modernity: its history and development.
  2. Better understand American cultural responses to modernity
  3. Be better acquainted with the work of several acclaimed early twentieth-century American writers.
  4. Develop skills in analytical and appreciative reading of modernist literature.
  5. Understand the relationship between the author’s work and his or her worldview.
  6. Be able to form a Christian response to the ideas and worldviews expressed in the literature.



Required Texts

  • Baym, Nina, et. al., Eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. D 1914-1945. 7th Ed. New York, W. W. Norton, 20007. (ISBN-10: 0393927423; ISBN-13: 978-0393927429.)
  • Cather, Willa. The Professor's House. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990. (ISBN-10: 0679731806; ISBN-13: 978-0679731801.)
  • Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage International, 1990. (ISBN: 0679732241.)
  • Odets, Clifford. Waiting for Lefty and Other Plays. New York: Grove Press, 1994. (ISBN-10: 0802132200; ISBN-13: 978-0802132208.)
  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 2006. (ISBN-10: 0143039431; ISBN-13: 978-0143039433.)




  • Grades:
    • Annotated Bibliography: 15%
    • Response Papers: 20%
    • Reading Quizzes: 20%
    • Midterm Exam: 20%
    • Final Exam: 25%
  • Compile an Annotated Bibliography on ten scholarly sources about one of the authors we have read. Your annotations should be framed by an introductory essay that raises some of the questions you had when you choose the specific author/text/movement and concludes by summarizing some of your discoveries. Your bibliography should primarily include scholarly (peer-reviewed) sources. Due on 28 March 2008, posted to Blackboard (15% of final grade).
  • Commonplace and Responses: For centuries, voracious readers have kept commonplace books to collect “literary passages, cogent quotes, occasional thoughts, or other memorabilia” (Merriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature {1995} 262). Four times this semester you will need to bring to class a typed, two to three-page, double-spaced response to a “commonplace”: a pithy passage that prompts an epiphany. Unless you receive an exemption to digress, the commonplace that you select should be selected from the material that we have read since your last response. You should offer a thoughtful, informed analysis that brings your own unique perspective and interpretation to ideas in the text that the commonplace educes. You might place it in its context or analyze its significance, but, above all, you should react to it. Your interests, frustrations, and puzzlements are often good starting points for a response provided you investigate how an author prompts responses from you and their significance for understanding the text. You might also offer comparative arguments—comparing your commonplace to other authors and texts—so long as you emphasize the significance of your comparisons.
Your response should adhere to MLA style and practice “good writing” as taught in your college writing class. Thus, it would behoove you to focus your response with an argumentative thesis and use each paragraph to offer support with examples from the literature (be sure to cite line or page number). Your response should also incorporate the terms that we are studying and the analytical strategies discussed in class. Conclude your response with a summary of the points covered in the paper as well as any questions or speculations that you were unable to address in this brief assignment. Remember to include a works cited list. Exceedingly brief or longwinded responses are inexcusable
  • Quizzes: Classes will often begin with a quiz based on the reading assigned for that class and the material from recent classes. Missed quizzes can only be made up by those qualifying for an excused absence (20% of final grade).
  • Midterm Examination: (20% of final grade).
  • Cumulative Final Examination: (25% of final grade).



Course Schedule


Week 1

  • Introductions and Overview: The Modern? Modernity? Modernisms?
  • "Introduction" & Early Modernists: Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, (NAAL 1177-92, 1206-14)
  • Early Modernists: Robert Frost (NAAL 1388-1410)


Week 2

  • Susan Glaspell, Carl Sandburg, & Sherwood Anderson (NAAL 1411-39)
  • Gertrude Stein "The Making of American's," "Picasso," "From Tender Buttons," (NAAL 1356-70, Handout on Blackboard)
  • Des Imagistes: Pound, “A Virginal,” “In a Station of the Metro,” “Portrait d’une Femme,” “The Rest” "From A Retrospect" (NAAL 1477-82, 1505-07); H.D. (NAAL 1514-31);
  • Commonplace & Response #1


Week 3

  • William Carlos Williams (NAAL 1462-69); Amy Lowell (NAAL 1349-56)
  • T. S. Eliot: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" & "Sweeney among the Nightingales" (NAAL 1574-81); "World War I and Its Aftermath (NAAL 1371-85); Marianne Moore, "In Distrust of Merits" (NAAL 1537-39)
  • Some Theories of the Avant-Garde: Vorticism, Futurism, Feminism. Blast including more Pound Poems (Handout on Blackboard), Manifesto of Futurism, "Feminist Manifesto," poem by Mina Loy: (NAAL 1456-62, 1499-1505)


Week 4

  • "High Modernism": Ezra Pound, cont. (NAAL 1477-1498), "How to Read" (Handout).
  • "High Modernism": T. S. Eliot, cont. (NAAL 1581-1607)
  • The NYC poets: William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens (NAAL 1439-56, 1462-77, 1510-11, 1531-39)
  • Commonplace & Response #2 due


Week 5

  • The NYC poets, cont., Edna St. Vincent Millay, & Hart Crane (NAAL 1803-07, 1968-80);
  • "Willa Cather" (NAAL 1214-16), "From The Novel Demuble" (NAAL 1508-09) *Willa Cather, The Professor's House, "The Family" part 1 (pages 1-74)


Week 6

  • Willa Cather, The Professor's House, "The Family" part 2 (pages 74-155)
  • Willa Cather, The Professor's House, "Tom Outland's Story" & "The Professor" (pages 159-258)
  • Southern Agrarians: John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate (Handouts)


Week 7

  • "William Faulkner" (NAAL 1858-60); William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, "April Seventh, 1928" (3-75)
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, "June Second, 1910" (76-179)


Week 8

  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, "April Sixth, 1928" (180-264)
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, "April Eighth, 1928" (265-321)
  • Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen (NAAL 1511-14, 2020-37, 2061-66);
  • Commonplace & Response #3 due


Week 9

  • Harlem Renaissance: Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright (NAAL 1686-90, 1816-22, 2066-76)
  • Modern Anthropology and Ethic Identity: Zora Neale Hurston & From Black Elk Speaks (NAAL 1193-1206, 1700-21);
  • "The Lost Generation": F. Scott Fitzgerald (NAAL 1822-53)


Week 10

  • "The Lost Generation": Ernest Hemingway (NAAL 1980-99)
  • "The Lost Generation": e.e. cummings, John Dos Passos, Kay Boyle (NAAL 1807-16, 1853-58, 2037-49)
  • John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapters 1-9 (pages 1-89)
  • Annotated Bibliography due


Week 11

  • Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapters 10-16 (pages 90-192);
  • Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapters 17-21 (pages 193-283)
  • Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 22-26 (pages 284-405)


Week 12

  • Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 27-30 (pages 406-55)
  • Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty (1-32)
  • Clifford Odets, Awake and Sing (33-58)
  • Commonplace & Response #4 due


Week 13

  • Clifford Odets, Awake and Sing (59-101)
  • Memories of Modernism: Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night, Acts 1-2 (NAAL 1607-47)
  • Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night, Acts 3-4 (NAAL 1647-85)
  • Katherine Anne Porter, "Flowering Judas" (NAAL 1690-1700) & Thomas Wolfe (NAAL 1999-2020)


Week 14

  • Final Exam