Section Description: The Making(s) of Modern American Fiction

This course will cover some of the major developments in American fiction between World Wars I and II, examining forms of experimentation in both canonical and non-canonical works. Organized around several interrelated thematic nodes, the course will investigate questions of nativism and ethnic identity, language and modernism, literary subgenres, popular vs. high culture, aesthetic innovation, the modernist reimagining of regional roots, etc.


Course Requirements:

Attendance – Attendance in this course is a requirement. If you anticipate problems with attending class, you should reconsider taking this class. Absences or tardiness will impact your grade in a number of ways. You will likely miss important lectures and discussions, as well as in-class quizzes. However, I allow three absences, excused or unexcused. Any absence above three will lower you final grade average by two points. In other words, if your final average is a 90 (or A-), and you miss four class sessions, your final average will drop to an 88 (or B+). Ten absences will result in an automatic failure of the course.


Participation – This course will be both process- and discussion-oriented, and class participation is a crucial part of the final semester grade. Mere presence in the room does not equal participation. However, questions and contributions to class discussion, emails about the material, informal chats before and after class, and scheduled or unscheduled meetings with me will all positively impact your participation grade. If you show no interest in participating in the course, you can expect to receive zero points for participation, dropping your final grade by a full letter. If you are not interested in being an active participant in the course, I suggest you find another class.


Reading – Good writing stems from good reading. The reading load for this course is of the heavy variety, approximately 150 pages per week (occasionally longer – this is an average). Reading assignments are listed on the course schedule and are expected to be completed by the class period listed. Not reading the assignments will make you unable to participate in class, will negatively affect your participation grade, and will reflect poorly on your response papers. You must bring the assigned text to class each day; if you fail to do so, you will be asked to leave the classroom.


Response Papers – Over the course of the semester, you will write a total of three 3-4 page response papers. Each response paper will deal with a single text, and each response paper will ask you to engage the text in a different way; you must submit one of each of the following:

Type A (“Close Reading”): In this response paper, you will bring your skills of reading and interpretation to the text in a close reading. At most, you should consider a single page of text, though your close reading will certainly be more thorough if you deal with a smaller section of text (such as a single paragraph). No outside sources should be used in this response paper.

Type B (“Context Reading”): In this response paper, you will investigate a reference in the text or suggest an important context for interpreting the text. This context might be explicitly stated in the text or might be implied by the narrative. This response paper will require some outside research (books and journals only), and you should use your research to make an argument for how the knowledge of this context enhances our reading of the text. Of course, some traditional close reading skills will come into play as well.

Type C (“Critical Engagement”): In this response paper, you will directly engage on of the literary critics we have read in common. You may take issue with the critic’s argument, offer extensions of her claims, or wholly reject her argument and offer your rebuttal. This response will definitely require quotation from both the critic and the primary text.

You must complete any two of these before spring break. Additional information on the response papers can be found on our course website ( Response papers on a given text are due—at the latest—one week after we have discussed the text. Keep in mind that you need only write on three of the texts, so choose wisely. Also, make sure that you clearly note on your response what kind of response paper you want me to consider it.


Essay: The major writing assignment for this course is an 8-10 page research essay, due at the conclusion of the semester. This essay will involve significant work with one of the texts we are reading in common, along with substantial use of secondary critical sources. The essay will be completed in stages. Due dates are tentative.

  • Prospectus (Due April 11, 2012): In your prospectus, you will identify which of the primary texts you will write about and briefly sketch out – in a paragraph or two – the argument you propose to make. More information on the prospectus will be disseminated later in the semester.
  • Annotated Bibliography (Due April 18, 2012): In the annotated bibliography, you will survey the secondary literature on the text you have chosen to write about. You will briefly summarize the argument of a number of critical sources. More information on the annotated bibliography will be disseminated later in the semester.
  • Final Draft (Due May 2, 2012)



Final Draft of Research Essay 30%

Prospectus                                 5%

Annotated Bibliography          10%

Reading Responses (3)                        45%

Participation                            10%


Statement on the Honor Code

James Madison University takes academic integrity very seriously. You should read the JMU Honor Code carefully and understand its definition of cheating and plagiarism. It is available at <>. This syllabus operates as a contract; by remaining in the course, you agree to abide by the honor code. Violations of the Honor Code will be severely punished: this may involve failure of an assignment, failure of the course, or disciplinary action by the Honor Council.

Required Texts:

Willa Cather, My Ántonia (Vintage), ISBN 0679741879

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage), ISBN 0679732187

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (Vintage), ISBN 0679722610

Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (Scribner), ISBN 0684822768

Nella Larsen, Passing (Norton), ISBN 0393979164

Jean Toomer, Cane (Norton), ISBN 0393956008

Anzia Yezierska, Hungry Hearts (Penguin), ISBN 01411800056

Secondary readings available online



Schedule of Classes (Tentative)

M 1/9 Introduction to the course
W 1/11 Gertrude Stein, “Ada” (1910) + articles on modernism + manifestos
M 1/16 No Classes – MLK Jr. Day
W 1/18 Gertrude Stein, from The Making of Americans (1925), “Composition as Explanation” (1926), “The Gradual Making of The Making of Americans” (1935)
M 1/23 Gertrude Stein, from The Making of Americans (1925)


  • Lisa Ruddick, “The Making of Americans: Modernism and Patricide,” from Gertrude Stein: Body, Text, Gnosis (Cornell UP, 1990).
  • Priscilla Wald, “A ‘Losing-Self Sense’: The Making of Americans and the Anxiety of Identity,” from Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Duke UP, 1995).
W 1/25 Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (1925), “On the Quai at Smyrna” – “Soldier’s Home”
M 1/30 Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (1925), “Chapter IX” – “Big Two-Hearted River, Part II”
W 2/1 Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (1925)


  • Lawrence Stanley, “Hemingway, Cézanne, and Writing: ‘Realities that Arise from the Craft Itself,’” in Literature and the Writer (Rodopi, 2004).
  • Robert Paul Lamb, “Repetition and Juxtaposition: From Stein to Hemingway,” from Art Matters: Hemingway, Craft, and the Creation of the Modern Short Story (Louisiana State UP, 2010)
M 2/6 Anzia Yezierska, Hungry Hearts (1920), “Wings” – “Where Lovers Dream”
W 2/8 Anzia Yezierska, Hungry Hearts (1920), “Soap and Water” – “How I Found America”
M 2/13 Anzia Yezierska, Hungry Hearts (1920)


  • Lisa Botshon, “Anzia Yezierska and the Marketing of the Jewish Immigrant in 1920s Hollywood,” from Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s (Northeastern UP, 2003).
  • Delia Caparoso Konzett, “Administered Identities and Linguistic Assimilation: The Politics of Immigrant English in Anzia Yezierska’s Hungry Hearts,” American Literature 69.3 (September 1997): 595-619.
W 2/15 Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918), Book I
M 2/20 Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918), Books II-V
W 2/22 Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918)


  • Sharon O’Brien, “‘The Thing Not Named’: Willa Cather as Lesbian Writer,” Signs 9.4 (Summer 1984): 576-599.
  • Michael Gorman, “Jim Burden and the White Man’s Burden: My Ántonia and Empire,” Cather Studies 6 (2006): 28-57.
M 2/27 Jean Toomer, Cane (1923), Parts One and Two (“Karintha” – “Bona and Paul”
W 2/29 Jean Toomer, Cane (1923), Part Three (“Kabnis”)

Spring Break

M 3/12 Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)

  • Werner Sollors, “Jean Toomer’s Cane: Modernism and Race in Interwar America”
  • Jennifer D. Williams, “Jean Toomer’s Cane and the Erotics of Mourning”
W 3/14 William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Ch 1-3
M 3/19 William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Ch 4-6
W 3/21 William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Ch 7
M 3/26 William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Ch 8-9
W 3/28 William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)


  • Peter Brooks, “Incredulous Narration: Absalom! Absalom!,” from Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Harvard UP, 1984)
  • Richard Godden, “Absalom! Absalom!, Haiti and Labor History: Reading Unreadable Revolutions,” ELH 61.3 (1994): 685-720.
M 4/2 Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1927-28/1929), Ch 1-14
W 4/4 Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929), Ch 15-27
M 4/9 Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (1929)


  • Thomas Heise, “Going Blood Simple Like the Natives: Contagious Urban Spaces and Modern Power in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest,” Modern Fiction Studies 51.3 (2005): 485-512.
  • Christopher Breu, “Going Blood Simple in Poisonville,” from Hard-Boiled Masculinities (U of Minnesota P, 2005).
W 4/11 Writing from the Harlem Renaissance

Alain Locke, “The New Negro” (1925)

Rudolph Fisher, “City of Refuge” (1925)

Zora Neale Hurston, “The Eatonville Anthology” (1926)

Wallace Thurman, “Cordelia the Crude” (1926)

Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926)

W.E.B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926)

Prospectus Due

M 4/16 Nella Larsen, Passing (1929), entire novel
W 4/18 Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

  • Cheryl A. Wall, “Passing for What?: Aspects of Identity in Nella Larsen’s Novels”
  • Judith Butler, “Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen’s Psychoanalytic Challenge”

Annotated Bibliography Due

M 4/23 Individual meetings on research projects
W 4/25 Individual meetings on research projects
W 5/2 Research Essays due at 12 noon in Keezell 210