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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 male and female, white, black and Chicana authors, 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 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.

  • an introduction to trauma theory and its basic concepts.


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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%)

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.


Resit: 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

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

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

  • Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises *

  • Fitzgerald, F. Scott. *The Great Gatsby *

  • Friedan, Betty. *The Feminine Mystique

  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Morrison, Toni. Beloved

  • Cisneros, Sandra. The House On Mango Street (Vintage – make sure you have an edition with Cisneros’ introduction!).

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

  • Homeland, Season 1, Alex Gansa (Netflix)

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Please contact Student administration Arsenaal or the coordinator of studies for questions.


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

Disclaimer: Please note that the course descriptions, in particular the assessment method, might be adjusted (timely) depending on the measures taken regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.