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Literature 5A: American Literature, 1917 to the present


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Literature 1A, 1B, 2 and 3 or 4, or equivalent.


Although the U.S. did not enter the war until 1917, World War I was a watershed in American culture. Marking the end of the old order, the “Great War” gave rise to feelings of both alienation and liberation. Young authors like Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, and Faulkner attest to the widespread sense of anxiety and uncertainty. While their works reflect a longing for the values and traditions of a “lost” civilization, they also seize the opportunity to break with literary conventions and “make it new.” These American writers responded and gave shape to the international Modernist movement that had emerged in Europe in the early 1900s. Modernist symbols such as T.S. Eliot’s “Waste Land,” mythological motifs, and experimental literary techniques such as fragmentation, shifting perspectives, and “stream of consciousness” as well as the new medium of film had a profound impact on American (and European) literature throughout the twentieth century, as modernism gradually shaded into postmodernism after World War II. Reading works by authors form diverse backgrounds and identities, we will also study the ways in which changing perceptions of gender, race, and ethnicity inform the literature of multi-ethnic and multicultural America. We’ll also study the development of feminism in the 20th century, new media such as the graphic novel, and recent post-9/11 literature in the context of trauma theory.

Course objectives

The course aims to offer students:

  • knowledge of and insight into the defining characteristics of modernism and postmodernism (and the relationship between the two) in American literature from 1917 to the present;

  • the chance to develop and/or expand their knowledge of 20th and 21st-century critical fields including feminism and gender theory, postcolonialism and critical race theory, and trauma theory;

  • the ability to place the texts we read in a wider cultural and historical context, such as (post)modernism in the arts, the counter-culture, the civil rights movement, and 9/11, as well as the cultural debates to which they gave rise.

And enables them:

  • to further develop textual analysis skills and also apply them to other media such as quality television series and the graphic novel;

  • to expand their skills at presenting their analyses in spoken and written form.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Research proposal for essay + essay (2500 words)

  • Written exam (Closed and essay questions)

  • Oral presentation


  • Research proposal for essay + essay (2500 words): 40%

  • Written exam (Closed and essay questions): 40%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. Furthermore, to complete the course, the essay grade must be at least a 5.5.

Attendance is compulsory. Missing more than two tutorials means that students will be excluded from the tutorials. Unauthorized absence also applies to being unprepared, not participating and/or not bringing the relevant course materials to class.


If the final grade is insufficient, students have to retake the exam in January or rewrite the essay. There is no resit opportunity for the oral presentation.

Inspection and feedback

An exam review can be requested within 30 days of receiving the results.

Reading list

  • Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), 9th/10th ed. volumes D and E;

  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby;

  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath;

  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale;

  • Morrison, Toni. Beloved;

  • Spiegelman, Art. Maus I + II: A Survivor’s Tale;

  • Homeland, Season 1, Alex Gansa;

  • Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

Further primary and secondary material will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.

General information about MyStudyMap is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal


This is the third of three survey courses in American literature (Literature 3A, 4A, and 5A), which can also be taken independently. The course is also part of the pre-master track in North American Studies.