ENGL 4351: Modern American Fiction

Literature is one way of making sense of the world. This course looks at some of the ways modern American writers have made sense, or tried to make sense, of the rapidly changing twentieth century. Although there's a world of difference between, say, the disturbing introspection of Sylvia Plath's heroine and Vladimir Nabokov's rapturous villain, students learn to evaluate each work in its social and artistic context. Students examine how the positions we occupy-for example, our gender, class, or race-determine in part the kind of sense we make of the world, as both writers and readers.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Analyse the characters and modes of dramatization of some representative fiction written in the United States in the 20th century.
  • Describe different narrative techniques used by those selected American writers of the period.
  • Compare and contrast some of the social and psychological themes and literary images developed by those fiction writers.
  • Analyse the links between American literature and American society with respect to political advocacy, explicit or implicit criticism of middle-class values, and the persistent invocation of the "American dream."
  • Evaluate samples of literary criticism (sometimes, contradictory ones) by commenting on the intellectual rigor, bias, and style of each critic.
  • Identify (in the exam) selected excerpts, and comment on their significance.
  • Discuss recent developments in contemporary American fiction.

Course topics

Unit 1 Short Stories:

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"
  • Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"
  • Ernest Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"

Unit 2

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Unit 3

  • William Faulkner, Light in August

Unit 4

  • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Unit 5

  • Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Unit 6

  • Tom Wolfe, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine

Unit 7

  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Required text and materials

  1. Faulkner, W. Light in August: The Corrected Text. Random House of Canada, 1990.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 0679732268
  1. Fitzgerald, F. S.. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 0743273567
  1. Hemingway, E. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
    Type: Anthology - ISBN: 0684804441
  1. Nabokov, V. The Annotated Lolita. With a preface, introduction, and notes by A. Appel, Jr.. Random House, 1991.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 0679727299
  1. Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Canbook, 1988.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 0571081789
  1. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Random House of Canada, 2007.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 9780307278449
  1. Wolfe, T. Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine. Open Learning Agency Reprint 2000. Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
    Type: Novel
  1. Open Learning Agency. Modern American Fiction: Readings from the Critics. 1982.
    Type: Anthology

Students will need to source their own copies of following two novels:

  1. Gilman, C. P.. The Yellow Wallpaper. Virginia: Orchises Press, 1991.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 091406116X
  1. O'Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Orlando: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1983.
    Type: Anthology - ISBN: 0156364654

Additional requirements



Please be aware that should your course have a final exam, students are responsible for the fee to the online proctoring service, ProctorU, or to the in person approved Testing Centre. Please contact exams@tru.ca with any questions about this.

In order to successfully complete this course, you must obtain at least 50% on the final examination and 50% overall. The following chart shows how the final grade is determined for this course.

Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 15%
Assignment 3 15%
Assignment 4 20%
Final Exam* 40%
Total 100%


Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

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