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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2009

E 377K • The American Novel after 1920

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
36134 TTh
9:30 AM-11:00 AM

Course Description

On, a typical reader's comment on Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is that reading it was life-changing. Similar praise has been given the other novels we will read this semester. How can we understand that stories like these may change lives? We'll do so by studying our novel's rhetoric in the historical context that shaped today's world.

We'll study the forms and themes of selected novels in two complementary ways: in their historical context, and in terms of their rhetoric. In the sense used in this course, rhetoric is the study of persuasion, or the designed effects of a text on its implicit or actual readers. For our purposes, historical context includes influential political-economic events (urbanization, World War I, the Great Depression, women's and civil rights movements, etc.). It also includes broadly cultural trends in the arts, intellectual life, as well as other customs and practices of everyday existence (modernity, religion, gender roles, issues of assimilation and resistance for various regional and minority groups, etc.). Within this context we will consider specifically literary matters such as the modernist write's experimenting with and developing new forms of the novel. So we will pay close attention to literary form in its thematic implications and rhetorical impact.

In class discussions and lectures and in your writing, then, the aim will be to synthesize broad historical overviews and close, detailed readings of the texts. As a result, you will be assigned relatively few novels but will be expected to read each at least twice.

Grading Policy

Several short essays in and out of class and brief exams. An "A" is not possible without significant class participation.

Essays and exams 85-90%, Participation10-15%

Two unexcused absences allowed.


F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury
Toni Morrison, Beloved
Louise Erdrich, Tracks


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