Gwybodaeth Modiwlau

Module Identifier
Module Title
Visions of Culture and Society in Twentieth-Century American Literature
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Oral Presentation  1 x 15 minute individual oral presentation  40%
Semester Assessment Critical Essay  1 x 3500 word critical essay  60%
Supplementary Assessment Revisit Failed or Missing Oral Presentation  1 x 15 minute indivdiual oral presentation  40%
Supplementary Assessment Resubmit missing or failed written assignment  1 x 3500 word critical essay  60%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the key thematic concerns and formal characteristics of twentieth-century American literary texts.

2. Relate twentieth-century American literary texts to their relevant social, cultural, and/or historical contexts.

3. Engage with critical and theoretical sources in an informed manner.

4. Discuss twentieth-century American literary texts in a critically-informed, focused, and well-structured manner.


This module examines a range of issues pertaining to the character of American culture and society as they are dramatised in literature produced within three discrete periods of the twentieth century. The focus is primarily upon prose fiction and particular attention will be paid to the ways in which writers have sought to engage with history and politics in their texts.

Brief description

This module examines a range of issues pertaining to the character of American culture and society as they are dramatised in literature produced within three discrete periods of the twentieth century.

Section One, ‘American Modernism’, examines manifestations of modernist writing between World War I and II, from Willa Cather's nostalgic evocation of the landscapes and communities of the western prairies in her novel My Antonia (1918) to Alain Locke's New Negro anthology (1925), which celebrated the `renewed race-spirit' of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. This section also addresses innovative forms of narrative adopted by William Faulkner in the seven connected stories that comprise Go Down, Moses (1942).

Section Two, ‘Cultures of Conformity and Consent’, focuses on Cold War fictions. Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man (1952) anticipates the landmark Civil Rights campaign of the later 1950s and 1960s through its dramatization of the existential plight of an unnamed African American narrator. Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road (1957) articulates the impulse celebrated by other Beat Generation writers to escape all manner of social constraint. Kerouac's celebration of youthful energy, spontaneity and a Whitman-esque sense of the radical possibilities of American democracy contrasts markedly with the ultimate failure of Frank and April Wheeler, the protagonists of Richard Yates's novel Revolutionary Road (1961), to challenge the limitations of their circumscribed lives in suburban New York.

Section Three explores radical visions of American nationhood in late-twentieth century fiction. Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian (1985), which provides a harrowing and mesmerizing vision of the violence that lay at the heart of American territorial expansion during the 1850s, radically calls into question meta-narratives of national development. In her novel Almanac of the Dead (1991), the Native American author Leslie Marmon Silko provides an expansive and deeply troubling vision of the legacy of European colonization and US expansion in a contemporary setting.

Estimated Student Workload
Contact time: 20 hours
Preparation for seminars: 20 hours
Reading of primary texts: 60 hours
Research for assignments: 80 hours
Writing assignments: 20 hours


Week 1. Introduction to the module

SECTION ONE: American Modernism

Week 2. Cultural Memory and the Settling of the American West
Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918)

Week 3. The Harlem Renaissance
Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro (1925) [photocopied selections]

Week 4. Imagining the South
William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses (1942)

SECTION TWO: Cultures of Conformity and Dissent

Week 5. In Search of African American Identity
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Week 6. The Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)

Week 7. Suburban Angst
Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road (1961)

SECTION THREE: Revisionist Views of American Nationhood

Week 8. Regeneration through Violence, Revised
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (1985)

Week 9. The Americas in Apocalyptic Vision
Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (1990)

Week 10. Revision session

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number N/A
Communication Written: By developing a sustained critical argument. Oral: Through class discussion, small group exercises, and assessed individual presentations.
Improving own Learning and Performance Through independent and directed research and reading.
Information Technology By using word-processing packages; using AberLearn Blackboard and other e-resources to research and access course documents and other materials; by submitting assignments via Turnitin.
Personal Development and Career planning Through increased critical self-reflection and the development of transferable, ICT, communication and research skills.
Problem solving By evaluative analysis and the use of critical skills.
Research skills By directed and independent research; by synthesizing information in an evaluative critical argument.
Subject Specific Skills Through the reading, writing and researching skills involved in the interrogation of literary texts; through comparative models of reading and understanding; and through the conceptual/theoretical analysis of works of imaginative literature in relation to a range of other non-literary texts.
Team work Through group work in seminars; and through preparation for paired presentations in seminars


This module is at CQFW Level 7