David T Holmberg
Literary responses to an America propelled forward by accelerating and complex forces. Works by Twain, James, and such other writers as Whitman, Dickinson, Adams, Wharton, Howells, Crane, Dreiser, DuBois, and Chopin.
In The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams writes that “the American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he had received bore little relation to the education he needed.” While perhaps a bit hyperbolic, the sentiment that Adams is expressing is certainly understandable, given the profound and shocking transformation of the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century. Between the Civil War and World War I, the United States was in a state of extreme transition as it underwent tremendous societal and cultural transformations, moving from a largely preindustrial nation into a role of economic and international political prominence. The shape of the nation—geographical and cultural—was rapidly changing, with the final thrust of westward expansion, the mass immigration of foreigners to work in new factories, the changing roles of women both at home and in the work place, the emancipated African Americans’ entry into the body politic, urbanization, and an array of technological innovations (including the automobile, airplane, telephone, and film) dramatically altering the country and indeed in many ways giving rise to the nation as we know it today. By focusing on American literature from the end of the Civil War through the beginning of the twentieth century, we will explore a period of rapid social and cultural changes and address questions regarding the corresponding impact of these revolutions on literature and art of this period.
In addition to readings likely covering short stories, novels, poetry, and essays, we will also draw on a number of other archival and secondary materials, including music, paintings, and films from the period as well as more recent secondary criticism. Our primary authors will likely include Stephen Crane, Edith Wharton Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles Chestnutt, Frank Norris, Jacob Riis, Kate Chopin, Henry James, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser.
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