Modern American fiction

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.

Delivery Method



ENGL 1001 and ENGL 1011 or equivalents.


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 Outline

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

Unit 5

  • Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Unit 6

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

Unit 7

  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Maximum Completion

30 weeks

Required Text and Materials

Students will receive all course materials in their course package.

  1. Faulkner, W. Light in August: The Corrected Text. Random House of Canada, 1990.
    Type: Novel - ISBN:
  1. Fitzgerald, F. S.. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
    Type: Novel - ISBN:
  1. Hemingway, E. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
    Type: Anthology - ISBN:
  1. Nabokov, V. The Annotated Lolita. With a preface, introduction, and notes by A. Appel, Jr.. Random House, 1991.
    Type: Novel - ISBN:
  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:
  1. Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. Canbook, 1988.
    Type: Novel - ISBN:
  1. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Random House of Canada, 2007.
    Type: Novel - ISBN: 449
  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

Additional Requirements


Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Primary communication is by phone at a mutually convenient time. You will receive the necessary contact information when you start your course.


In order to successfully complete this course, you must obtain at least 50 % on the final mandatory examination and 50 % overall. It is strongly recommended that students complete all assignments in order to achieve the learning objectives of the course. The total mark will be determined on the following basis:

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