LIT369 : The Idea of America

Convener(s): Dr Duco van Oostrum


Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course Convenor.

General Information

The Idea of America” deals with the works of American writers as they renegotiate and critically revise the meanings of America and Americanness in the contemporary period. We will read some of the most famous works of the twentieth century by authors such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Flannery O’Connor, Leslie Marmon Silko, Marilynne Robinson and Maxine Hong Kingston alongside extracts of non-fiction (including the New Journalists and President Obama’s autobiography) and poetry. We will examine the proliferation of different forms and subjects of American writing in the contemporary period and debate the persistence of American myths of self-reliance, the individual, democracy, the frontier/cowboy and the idealism of the ‘American dream’. We will also pay close attention to the ways in which immigration, race, landscape and religion inform the literary constructions of America. The module is structured chronologically so that our discussion of literary representations is informed by an awareness of the cultural impact of watershed periods of American history including: counter-culture, the Civil Rights movement, sexual-liberation movements, the Vietnam War and the ‘War on Terror’. This module as a whole is designed to develop your skills in reading texts in relation to cultural and historical context and also aims to consolidate your understanding of literary terms and theory including (but not limited to) the following: intertextuality, multiculturalism, postmodernism and theories of race, gender and sexuality.


The teaching for this module will comprise one workshop/lecture session a week and a seminar. A MOLE site supports the teaching and learning for this module and you are required to post on MOLE each week. There is also a film club that runs alongside this module screening contemporary American films. Examples of films from previous years include: Far From Heaven, Unforgiven, Taxi Driver, American History X, Platoon, Thelma & Louise and United 93. The film club provides a paralleling filmic narrative of the Idea of America.


Contact Details

Dr Duco van Oostrum 0114 222 8468

Information last changed: Thursday 17th of March 2016 :: 09:49:12 AM (GMT)

may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course convener.


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK