Proseminar: The Question of Social Class in American Fiction

Dozentin: Christina Caupert M.A.
Termin: Fr. 15.45-17.15 Uhr
Raum: 1011

“Many Americans say with pride that there are no class differences in the US, but this is not really true” (Oxford Guide to British and American Culture 1999, 115). The American Dream suggests that with hard work and dedication, anyone can make it in the US, and people’s social stratum seems to be the result of their individual efforts. In much of American fiction, however, writers draw a different picture of their society: the myth of unrestricted social mobility is confronted with stories about morally degenerate closed castes of “old money” anxious to maintain their privileged status, and about degraded and brutalized masses who have never been given a chance for a dignified life. Class affiliation and its various conditions and effects as described in a number of classic American works of fiction will be the central topic of this seminar.
Since the question of social class was particularly prevalent in the literature of realism and naturalism, we will focus on texts from the mid-19th to the early 20th century that will lead us from urban ghettos to the glamour of New York’s high society. Against the background of this leitmotif, the seminar also aims at refreshing and deepening your general fiction-analysis skills.

Teilnahmevoraussetzungen: Introductory course

Scheinerwerb: timely fulfillment of reading and homework assignments, regular attendance, active participation in class, presentation, term paper

Einführende Lektüre bzw. Textgrundlagen:
Rebecca Harding Davis, “Life in the Iron-Mills” (1861); to be read by the 1st session
William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893)
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
Participants are required to read all assigned texts.