Spring 2004

American Literature and Culture in the 1950s


01/26/2004 - 05/08/2004
Wednesday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Fisk Hall 403

Like the 1920s, the 1950s was a period of now legendary ferment in American literature. Many of the most important writers of the late 20th century first began their careers during the decade, including, among many others, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Allan Ginsburg, Jack Keroac, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O'Connor, Sylvia Plath, Jean Stafford, John Updike, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Yates. Others, like John Cheever, Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, J.D. Salinger, and Vladimir Nabokov, began the work for which they are now renowned. Still others first began to explore the inventive styles that would burst into prominence during the subsequent decade. John Barth, Joseph Heller, Adrienne Rich, Philip Roth, and Thomas Pynchon all belong to this latter group.

This course will focus on some of the major works of the period. We will examine the way such novels, poems, and plays charted new literary directions and negotiated with some of the prevailing models inherited from previous eras, and we will consider various explanations for the cultural ferment of the period. In particular, we will consult historical readings to examine the role of the Cold War, economic growth, mass higher education and the mass media, and ethnic assimilation and demographic mobility in creating America's new postwar culture and its flourishing literature.

Although this list is subject to change, major readings might include: Baldwin, GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN; Bellow, THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH; Cheever, THE ENORMOUS RADIO AND OTHER STORIES; Connell, MRS. BRIDGE; Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN; Keroac, ON THE ROAD; Lowell, LIFE STUDIES; Nabokov, LOLITA; O'Connor, THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY; Roth, GOODBYE, COLUMBUS; Williams, THE GLASS MENAGERIE.

Requirements include several short papers and a 10-15 page research paper due at the end of the semester.

Sean McCann (B.A. Georgetown University; Ph.D. City University of New York) is professor of English and American studies. He is author of A Pinnacle of Feeling: American Literature and Presidential Government, (Princeton University Press, 2008) and Gumshoe America: Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction and the Rise and Fall of New Deal Liberalism (Duke University Press, 2000). He was awarded Wesleyan's 2004 Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Click here for more information about Sean McCann.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
James Baldwin, GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN (Dell) Paperback

Saul Bellow, THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH (Penguin USA) Paperback

Ray Bradbury, FARENHEIT 451 (Del Rey) Paperback

Ralph Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN (Vintage) Paperback

Allen Ginsburg, HOWL AND OTHER POEMS (City Lights) Paperback

Jack Kerouac, ON THE ROAD (Penguin) Paperback

Robert Lowell, LIFE STUDIES AND FOR THE UNION DEAD (Noonday Press) Paperback

Marcy McCarthy, MEMORIES OF A CATHOLIC GIRLHOOD (Harcourt Trade) Paperback

Vladimir Nabokov, LOLITA (Palgrave MacMillan) Paperback

Flannery O'Connor, COMPLETE STORIES (Noonday Press) Paperback

Ann Petry, THE STREET (Houghton Mifflin) Paperback

J.D. Salinger, CATCHER IN THE RYE (Little Brown) Paperback


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