This course will examine late twentieth century and early twenty-first century literature that specifically interrogates the myth of the American Dream – texts that explore what it promises, whom it fails. We will explore why the American dream is so often depicted as a literary nightmare. In this pursuit, we will read a broad range of important American fiction and interpret what writers from very different vantage points (historically, racially, geographically, culturally, economically) have to say about the American Dream, an idea that sustains its potent cultural resonance even as it seems to be challenged at every turn. In addition, we will consider these texts in the light of the postmodernist movement and reflect on how they conform/resist the expectations we have for postmodernist literature. Finally, we will use contemporary pop culture as a means to examine how these texts can help inform us about what is happening in the world today. Texts we will consider include Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948), Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), Wallace Stegner’s The Angle of Repose (1971), Toni Morrison’s, Beloved (1987), Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (1997), and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (2019).
To provide students with a deep understanding of an important period in American literature; to broaden their understanding of American late twentieth century and early twenty-first century cultural conflicts; to expand their knowledge of postmodernism; to improve their reading, writing, analytical and research skills.
We will meet for three hours every Wednesday morning (9:30am-12:20pm), with a short break in the middle. On-time attendance is expected at every meeting. I will take attendance at the beginning of class. Late arrival will be noted. More than 2 lates and more than 2 absences will affect your classwork grade. Our meetings will include lecture, open class discussion, small group discussion, oral presentations by individual students, and pop culture videos.
Assessment is by 100% coursework, consisting of:
Reading Responses (2 short essays): 30%
Class Attendance & Participation / Moodle Responses / Pop Culture contributions: 20%
Oral Presentation: 15%
Final Essay: 35%
Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery” (1948)
Martin Luther King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose (1971)
Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
Philip Roth, American Pastoral (1997)
Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys (2019)
Please note: “The Lottery” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” are available on line. The HKU bookstore will carry the other texts, or you may read them online. An American Dreaming bibliography and critical articles relevant to each text will be posted to the ENGL 2149 Moodle website.
Students are expected to arrive on time. I will start promptly at 9:30pm. If you are late, please see me during the break so that I can record you as late instead of as absent. Please turn your mobile phone to silent during class. You are welcome to take notes on your computer but please do not use it for other purposes – it’s distracting for everyone. Thoughtful and active participation during the lecture is expected during class discussions and small group workshops. Moodle responses, when required, should reflect similarly thoughtful reflection.
I will post all relevant information and supplementary readings for the course on Moodle. Please check it regularly. We will also use Moodle for class assignments, forums, sign-ups, and announcements.
Reading Responses will be one page analytical essays that will be posted to the Moodle site on the Monday before class for all students to read. One third of the class will submit essays each week. We will begin class by engaging the ideas presented in those essays.
Each student will do an oral presentation on an peer-reviewed analytical article about the text under discussion. Students will have the opportunity to both pick the text and the article.
The final essay is due Wednesday, December 2nd. If your paper is late, your grade will go down one mark per day. If you need an extension, please email me. I will give you extra time if I can.
Plagiarism is “the unacknowledged use, as one’s own, of the work of another person, whether or not such work has been published.” (Regulations Governing Conduct at Examinations). You cannot use another scholar’s words or ideas or examples without giving them attribution. If you are caught plagiarizing, you will receive an F for that assignment and may well receive an F for the class. You are also liable to disciplinary action by the Faculty of Arts. It is a serious offense and will be treated seriously. For more information, please see: