In this course we will explore how the experience of war has shaped American literature and how our concepts of national war have been affected by its literary representations. Wars are monumentally disruptive cultural events and their influence on American literature has been massive. Some of our best-known writers, from Walt Whitman to Ernest Hemingway, have built careers partly around their war writing, and it would be difficult to find a major writer who has had nothing to say about the topic.
TR 1:30-2:45 pm
Good war literature transcends the battlefield, so as we study these texts we will be addressing major questions about American history and memory, about the individual’s relationship to the state, and about who decides which stories are worth telling. We will consider America’s war literature in the context of other war representations that reverberate through our culture in the form of Hollywood films, television programs, monuments, and political propaganda. But beneath these particular forms of cultural expression, we will also be considering and interrogating broader narratives of the national past that underwrite dominant premises about American history and identity: that America has been “forged in war,” “torn by war,” “challenged by war,” “confirmed in war,” and “lost in war.” As we explore how writers have imagined American war as an ideal of citizenship, as a racial and gendered heritage, or as senseless carnage we will also be tracing the stories of a complex and often divided nation.
The course will develop your historical knowledge, cultural acumen, literary sensibility, and critical and communication skills, which you will demonstrate through textual analysis, class discussion, writing, and revision. You will be expected to read (and view) all materials carefully by the beginning of the class period for which they are listed, to attend class and film screenings regularly, and to actively engage in class discussions. Your grade for engagement (which may also include quizzes and in-class writing) will reflect how well you adhere to these guidelines. You will also be responsible for delivering an effective group presentation and leading a discussion. Course assignments include several short essays, a revised expansion, and a final exam.
Required Texts Include: The Killer Angels, Company K, and Slaughterhouse-five.