Fall 2005

American Fiction and the Cold War


09/12/2005 - 12/17/2005
Wednesday 06:30 PM - 09:00 PM

Fisk Hall 412

In this course, we consider some of the ways that major American novelists responded to the four-decade long period of global conflict and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. Between 1947 and 1989, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R battled for preeminence in ideology, culture, diplomacy, and numerous proxy wars around the globe. The conflict affected American life directly and indirectly in profound ways, reshaping the structure of the nation's economic and political institutions and strongly influencing its core values and beliefs. American fiction, too, took up the Cold War in direct and indirect ways--sometimes embracing the ideological convictions central to the American war effort, sometimes challenging them, sometimes doing both at once. This course will consider the ways American fiction registered the influence of the Cold War in its themes and stories and in its styles and forms, and it will trace the way attitudes shifted over the course of the war and after.

We will read major works of American fiction from the 40s through the 90s by, among others, James Baldwin, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, Marge Piercy, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, John Updike. We will also read several short essays for historical and cultural context.

Students will write several 3-4 page essays and a longer 1-15 page research essay, and be actively engaged in class participation.

For the first course meeting, students should have read: Michael Gold, JEWS WITHOUT MONEY (Carrol and Graf Publishers), Paperback

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 (Delta), Paperback

Don DeLillo, LIBRA (Penguin), Paperback

Joan Didion, DEMOCRACY (Vintage), Paperback

Ralph Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN (Vintage), Paperback

Michael Gold, JEWS WITHOUT MONEY (Carrol and Graf Publishers), Paperback

Norman Mailer, ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF (Harvard University Press), Paperback

Toni Morrison, PARADISE (Plume), Paperback

Thomas Pynchon, THE CRYING OF LOT 49 (Harper Perennial), Paperback

Lionel Trilling, THE MIDDLE OF THE JOURNEY (New York Review of Books), Paperback

John Updike, COUPLES (Ballantine), Paperback

Gore Vidal, WASHINGTON D.C. (Random House), Paperback

Richard Yates, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Vintage), Paperback


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