American Fiction: The 20th Century

Subject ENGL40015 (2014)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2014.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 4 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2014.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 2
Total Time Commitment:



Admission to the postgraduate diploma or fourth year honours in English & theatre studies.



Recommended Background Knowledge:


Non Allowed Subjects:

ENGL40015 The Black Presence in American Fiction

ENGL40015 American Fiction: Cooper to Cather

Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Students Experiencing Academic Disadvantage Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Description, Subject Objectives, Generic Skills and Assessment Requirements of this entry.

The University is dedicated to provide support to those with special requirements. Further details on the disability support scheme can be found at the Disability Liaison Unit website:


Anne Maxwell

Subject Overview:

In this subject students study a range of canonical literary texts and critical articles that relate literary and artistic concerns to important historical developments. We will especially study the way that concepts of race, and in particular the subjects of slavery and the colour line have been approached by writers. But we will also examine what writers have had to say about the role of heredity, race mixing and miscegenation on the nation's health and prosperity, and on African Americans' ability to achieve equality and freedom. Finally, we will look to see how in these texts categories like gender, class, and sexuality change over time, including the way they intersect with notions of blackness.

Learning Outcomes:

Students who complete this subject will:

  • be able to demonstrate a familiarity with some of the key texts, assumptions and political and rhetorical strategies of American writers that are preoccupied by the concepts of race, gender and class;
  • have a broad understanding of the political and social changes affecting both black white relations and black as well as white class relations that occurred from the late 19th century to the 1960s and how these were reflected in American literature;
  • have an overview of the many different political positions regarding the colour line and race relations adopted by writers;
  • have an understanding of the different ways in which social concerns about genetic inheritance of diseases and undesirable social traits in addition to race mixing and miscegenation affected the aesthetic forms and conventions of American fiction;
  • have an understanding of how and in what ways in the texts of both Black and white writers categories like gender, class, and sexuality intersect with notions of blackness;
  • have acquired a transportable set of interpretative skills;
  • have developed their capacity for independent research;
  • have developed their capacity for critical thinking and analysis; and
  • have developed their ability to communicate in writing.

An essay of 5000 words 100% (due in the examination period). All students will be required to give a class presentation in order to submit work for assessment. Students are required to attend a minimum of 80% (or 10 out of 12) classes in order to qualify to have their written work assessed. Any student who fails to meet this hurdle without valid reason will not be eligible to pass the subject. All required written work must be submitted in order to pass the subject. Essays submitted after the due date without an extension will be penalised 2% per day. Essays submitted after two weeks of the assessment due date without a formally approved application for special consideration or an extension will only be marked on a pass/fail basis if accepted.

Prescribed Texts:

A subject reader will be available.

  • N Larsen, Passing.
  • E Wharton, The Age of Innocence.
  • W Cather, Saphira and the Slave Girl.
  • T Dreiser, Sister Carrie.
  • E L Doktorow, The Waterworks.
  • K Vonnegut Jr, Mothernight.
  • T Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.
  • U Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.
Recommended Texts:

  • K Daylanne English, Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
  • The Cambridge History of American Literature Vol 2 1820-1865.
  • The Cambridge History of American Literature Vol 3 1865-1920.
Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • have the ability to critically analyse and discuss a wide range of reading materials through participation in class discussions, the reading of critical essays and the writing of a class paper and an extended scholarly essay;
  • have the ability to both develop and modify one's thinking by participating in class discussions and writing an essay that requires one to respond to literary critics ideas;
  • have the capacity for independent and targeted research as a result of preparing a class presentation and writing a scholarly essay;
  • have the capacity for creative thinking through participation in discussions and the writing of essays that apply critical and theoretical ideas to the reading and interpretation of texts;
  • have the capacity for making ethical judgements and informed political choices as a result of engaging with and discussing texts by people from different social and cultural backgrounds to oneself;
  • have the capacity for critical self awareness through participation in discussions and the reading of critical texts that acknowledge where one's ideas and assumptions come from as well as what kinds of social privileges one enjoys;
  • have the capacity for lucid and logical argument as a result of careful essay planning and writing;
  • have competency in the use of library and other information sources such as on line websites and search engines through the researching and writing of essays that require the use of these resources; and
  • have the ability to organise oneself and manage one's time efficiently and effectively through the successful completion of a class paper and a written essay by the due date.
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: English and Theatre
English and Theatre Studies
English and Theatre Studies

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