American Literature

Ref: C2524046

Alongside our examination of novels, plays, poetry and short stories, we will explore the changes in the U.S. during this period. To help us with this, we will explore social, cultural and political ideas to inform our reading. We will also discuss art, architecture and the music of the era to underpin our readings. Novels (and extracts of novels) will include: Henry James’ ‘The Europeans’, Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’, ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’, by Zane Grey, ‘The Iron Heel’ by Jack London, ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkin’s Gilman ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen, ‘Red Harvest’ by Dashiell Hammett, and Djuna Barnes’ ‘Nightwood’. We will also analyse and discuss poetry by Emily Dickenson, Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams, short stories by Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and play extracts from Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’ and DuBose Heyward and the Gershwin brothers’ ‘Porgy and Bess’.

Course aim

The course explores American literature written towards the end of the nineteenth century and before World War II, known as the ‘Age of Modernity,’ in particular, texts written between World War I and World War II.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • The course is for anyone who enjoys reading and analysing texts and discussing their thoughts with other people.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Confidently discuss at least three examples of cultural, social and/or political influences that inform our texts.
  • Name at least three texts that explore either: gender, masculinity, race, religion or class.
  • Provide at least two examples of how the texts examine the American ‘landscape’.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning
  • You will be expected to carry out a range of activities in your own time
  • You will need to read the texts before each session and also research details of the writer.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion

What else do I need to know?

  • It would be helpful if you had access to the internet (Mobile phone, tablet or computer at home or through a library etc.)
  • You will need to buy, borrow, or download, Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’, ‘Passing’ by Nella Larsen and Djuna Barnes’ ‘Nightwood’. All other texts will be provided in a reader.

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • It would be helpful if you could read the novels above. You may find it helpful (but not essential) to read about the time period covered. There will also be a weekly reading/research task.

What can I do next?

Download full course information sheet

American Literature

Is this course right for me? Request more information

This course has been cancelled.


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you book. Please could we ask that you check the list below to ensure you meet our basic criteria:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2018
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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