E 314L • Fiction and Race in America (34460-34465)
"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. The relationship between literary text and historical context will be the object of inquiry in this course. We will examine this subject through the history of literary culture as it developed from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th, from domestic fiction and realism to modernism and the Harlem Renaissance.
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. The course will be divided into three major units that aim to connect the history of literature to American cultural history through individual literary works: 1) realism, dialect, and segregation, 3) education, citizenship, and nation, and 3) modernism, alienation, and renaissance.
Two 2-page literary essays on class readings (15% each)
One 5-page essay on class topics (15%)
A major revision of the final paper (7 pages) (35%)
Participation and attendance (20%)
Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)
W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
Charles Chesnutt, Tales of Conjure and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899)
Sui Sin Far, Mrs. Spring Fragrance
Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro
Readings may also include shorter works as well as historical and theoretical pieces.