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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Spring 2010

AMS 311S • Special Mirrors: Fiction and Race in America, 1877-1935-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
29680 MWF
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
BEN 1.104

Course Description

"If art mirrors life it does so with special mirrors." --Bertolt Brecht The relationship between a work of art and the culture in which it was produced has long been a subject of vexed interest. Does art comment directly on the culture of which its author is a part? Or does art merely reflect the meaning of culture through words on a page or paint on a canvas? This course will explore the question of how works of literature—novels and short stories— come to have meaning within American culture and what imaginative works can teach us about American culture and society. We will examine this subject through the history of literary culture as it developed from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th, in domestic fiction and realism to modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. As is the case in America today, race is a major factor in questions about the meaning of America in the years between the Civil War and World War II. With the end of slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, immigration and expansion, and American imperialism, the question of the relationship of African Americans to American culture became a central political, legal, and intellectual question of the second half of the nineteenth century. The subject of the course will be works of fiction that explore the construction and meaning of race, one of the major themes of both American cultural and literary history. We will read novels, short stories, and critical pieces that will extend our understanding of American fiction, the production and consumption of literature, and the construction of race in America. The course will focus on the close reading of primary texts—both literary and historical—in order to understand the ways in which texts reflect cultural discourses of race, gender, class, region, nation, etc. Our primary questions will be: what were the major meanings of race in America during this period and how were these issues reflected in the literary forms that authors chose to use? In this class, we will read texts that explore the relationship between white Americans and black Americans (as well as Americans of other races) as it was explored in books, magazines, and newspapers. Through lectures, discussions, and written assignments we will explore both the function(s) of literature and the construction of race in America. Since this is a writing intensive course, we will focus on the process of writing about primary sources through close textual analysis. This course will be a writing flag course focused on improving analytic, historical, and literary writing skills through a series of short, interpretive essays on class readings. The goal will be to help each student improve his or her writing skills by focusing on the process of writing and revising more than the final product.

COURSE OBJECTIVES: * Provide a solid base for future study in both American Studies and English * Increase your knowledge of the time period between the Civil War and WWII * Improve your ability to analyze the connections between literature and cultural context * Develop your ability to discuss the history and theory of race in America * Sharpen your writing and revision skills


Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) Charles Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899) W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk (1903) Sui Sin Far, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912) Anzia Yezierska, How I Found America (1920) Alain Locke, The New Negro (1925) Nella Larsen, Passing (1929) We will also read short pieces of writing by a large variety of authors from the time period.


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