2100 Topics in American Literature


ENG2100HF    L0101    

Class, Culture, and American Realism    

Dolan, N.    

Course Description:  

Sociological inclusiveness – serious mimetic attention to the middle and lower classes – is one of the hallmarks of modern realist literature. But what is social class as a subject of literary representation? What, in particular, is social class in modern industrial-commercial liberal-democratic society as opposed to its agrarian feudal-aristocratic predecessor? Is class a form of collective self-identification or just an academic descriptor? Is a class akin to a culture? How, if at all, do different classes interrelate? How has the nature and experience of social class changed over time? And what are the motivations and the special difficulties involved when the highly literate members of the educated classes attempt to sympathetically represent the less literate members of less educated classes? Why do issues of “culture” come up so frequently in such works?

This course attempts to address such questions in relation to a selection of major works of American literary realism. In the first three weeks we will establish a set of shared conceptual reference points by recourse to some of the major sociological theorists of class, from Marx to Bourdieu. In all subsequent weeks the discussion will focus on a primary work of literature.

Course Reading List:  


Most, but perhaps not all, of the following primary works will be read and discussed, in this sequence:

Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861)
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855)
“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1856)
“Memoranda During the War” (1876)
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Charles Chesnutt, from The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales (1899): 
-“The Goophered Grapevine”
-“Po’ Sandy”
-“The Conjurer’s Revenge”
-“Sis Becky’s Pickaninny”
-“The Gray Wolf’s H’ant”
-“Hotfoot Hannibal”
Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)
Sinclair Lewis, Main Street (1920)
Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road (1932)
James Farrell, Father and Son (1940)
William Faulkner, The Hamlet (1940)
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) / 
Rita Dove, Thomas and Beulah


Most, but perhaps not all, of the following excerpts from sociological and critical-theoretical works will be read and discussed in relation to relevant primary works, with one student each week usually making a brief summarizing presentation. These will generally be available on photocopies on Quercus or online via Robarts Library 

-from Patrick Joyce, ed. Class (1995) pp. 21-64 brief excerpts from the major classical sociological theorists of class – Marx & Engels; Weber; Toennies -- and from postwar adaptations of their approaches [43pp.]; Pp. 74-124, -- brief excerpts from Bauman; Touraine; Baudrillard; Haraway; Bourdieu; Thompson on Giddens; Giddens; Sharrock and Watson on Ethnomethodology; Thompson on Castoriadis; Castoriadis

-from Ferdinand Toennies, Community and Society, translated and with introduction by Charles Loomis (New York: Routledge, 1887; 1988; 99): “The Application of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as Related to Other Typologies” [19 pages]

Emile Durkheim, “The Division of Labor in Society,” from Readings from Emile Durkheim, Kenneth Thompson & Margaret A. Thompson, eds.  pp. 12-33

Pierre Bourdieu, from Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste

Walt Whitman, from Democratic Vistas (1871) pp. 203 – 227 in online edition

George Eliot, “The Natural History of German Life” (1856), pp 107-40, in Selected Essays, Poems, and Other Writings, ed. A.S. Byatt; George Eliot, “On Realism” from Adam Bede (1859) in Becker ed. Documents of Modern Literary Realism Pp. 112-116

Erich Auerbach, from Mimesis, Chapter 19, “Germinie Lacerteux,” pp. 494-524 [30pp.]

Northrop Frye, “Historical Criticism: Theory of Modes,” from Anatomy of Criticism (1957) pp. 33-67

M.M. Bakhtin, “The Art of the Word and the Culture of Folk Humor”; from The Dialogic Imagination, pp.3-40, Chapter One, “Epic and Novel”; From Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics pp. 5-46, Chapter One, “Dostoevsky’s Polyphonic Novel and Its Treatment in Critical Literature”; pp. 47-77, Chapter Two, “The Hero and the Author’s Position with Regard to the Hero in Dostoevsky’s Polyphonic Art”

Raymond Williams, “Literature and Rural Society” (1967) [9pp.]; “Thomas Hardy and the English Novel” (1970) [21 pp.]

Roland Barthes, “The Reality Effect” (1968; 1984)

Gautam Bhadra, “The Mentality of Subalternity: Kantanama or Rajdharma” from A Subaltern Studies Reader, 1986-1995, Ranajit Guha, ed. Pp. 63-99

from Philip Fisher, Hard Facts (1985) and Still the New World (1999)

Lauren Berlant, Introduction to The Female Complaint (2008)

Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements: 

One term paper, 15 pp, worth 60%; constructive participation in class discussions (20%) and one class presentation, (20%)

Term: F-TERM (September 2024 to December 2024)
Date/Time: Friday 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm (3 hours)
Location: JHB 616 (170 St. George Street, Jackman Humanities Building)
Delivery: In-Person