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Literature 5A: American Literature, 1917 to the present


Admission requirements

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


Brief introductory description of the course. Please include course subject and teaching mAlthough 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 Cather, Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald 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 “wasteland,” 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 end by discussing recent post-9/11 literature in the context of trauma theory and new genres such as the graphic novel.aterials used.

Course objectives

This course gives a survey of twentieth-century American literature from World War I to the post-9/11 present, from Modernism to Postmodernism. The course aims to help students develop their text-analytical and research skills and also acquire basic skills in analyzing other media such as film and new genres such as the graphic novel.


The timetable will be available by June 1st at the website.

Mode of instruction

Two-hour seminar per week.

Assessment method

Essay of 3500 words (50%) and written exam (50%)


At least two weeks before the course starts, the Blackboard site will be open for self-enrolment. There you can find the course syllabus.

Reading list

  • Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), 7th ed. volumes D and E (Norton)

  • Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (Scribner)

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (Penguin)

  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (Penguin)

  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (Penguin)

  • Sandra Cisneros, The House On Mango Street (Vintage)

  • Art Spiegelman, Maus I, A Survivor’s Tale (Pantheon)

  • Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Penguin).


Students should register through uSis. Exchange studentens cannot register through uSis, but must see the director of studies and register with her. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Departmental Office English Language and Culture, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:
Studentcounsellor Bachelor: Ms. S.H.J. Bollen, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103B.
Coordinator of Studies Master: Ms. K. van der Zeeuw-Filemon, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.