English 10 (3)
Fall 2009    

Barry O’Connell
Chapel 14
Office Hrs.: W. 11-1 &  Th.  3:30-5

Neal Allar ‘08
Teaching Assistant
Chapel 14
Office Hrs.: TK


the twentieth century: the first half

1) Course Expectations:  Despite the size of the class, this will be primarily a discussion course.  As such, it is essential that each student be in attendance.  There will no unexcused absences (any absences can affect your grade).  If you are absent, I expect you to email me within the day with the reason. Equally important is that each student comes prepared with the assigned reading for the day, text in hand. 

2) Reading:  This will be an intensive reading course.  The first half of the 20th century saw the production of remarkable poetry, essays, novels, memoirs, and plays.  Unfortunately we will get to read only a fraction of these even though we will be doing a great deal of reading.  I expect you to complete all assigned readings.

        Books for the course are available at Amherst Books (next to Subway) in the center of town.  I strongly encourage you to support local and independent bookstores by buying your books there.  They do the best they can to have used copies and to set the lowest prices practicable.  Buying the books there also means you can be sure to have the edition of the text we will be using in the class.


        W.E.B. DuBois,  The Soul of Black Folks (Norton Critical Edition)

        James Weldon Johnson,  Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

        Charles Eastman,  From the Deep Woods to Civilization.

        Sui Sin Far (Edith Eaton),  Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writing.

        Ernest Hemingway,  In Our Time.

        Nella Larsen, The Complete Fiction.

        F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

        Willa Cather, My Antonia.

        Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio.

        William Faulkner, Go Down Moses.

        Daniel Fuchs, The Brooklyn Novels.

        Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio.

 These will also be available on reserve at Frost Library.


WRITING: There will be at least four one page assignments and two five and one seven page paper due in the course.  You will receive ample notice when the longer papers are due and suggested topics in advance, though you are always welcome to create your own.



WK. 1

Sept. 10 Thursday    Introduction to the Course.


        In this section we are going to read one of the towering intellects of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: W.E.B. DuBois.  He reflects on the century gone by but also prophesies what is to come.  Neither Charles Eastman nor Sui Sin Far would claim such stature for him/herself, but both have much to say in their own ways about what has passed and what might be coming.  And we spend time in the unit with James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, as modern and as modernist a text as I know, far ahead of its time, arguably more advanced in its formal inventions than anything written in the 1920s.

WK. 2

Sept. 15 & 17  For Tuesday begin W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), read The Forethought and Chapts. I-IV.  For Thursday FINISH reading Souls, Chapt. V through The Afterthought.

1 pp. Assignment due on Friday,  Sept. 18


WK. 3

Sept. 22 & 24  READ:  James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912).

1 pp. Assignment due Friday,  Sept. 25


WK. 4

Sept. 29 & Oct. 1 For Tuesday READ in Sui Sin Far, Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings (1907-1920): “Wisdow of the New,” “In the Land of the Free,” “Tian Shan’s Kindred Spirit,” “The Struggling of Tie Co,” “A Chinese Boy Girl,” “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,” and The Chinese in America, Part III.”  For Thursday READ Ezra Pound, “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” “Lament of the Frontier Guard,” and “Exile’s Letter” (to be handed out).


WK. 5

Oct. 6 & 8  READ:  Charles Eastman, From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1916).                                                   

 1st 5 pp. Paper due Friday October 9.



                  ( & THEN THERE WAS THE “JAZZ AGE”).

        Some historians believe that World War I was a great shock to the essentially optimistic mood of late nineteenth-century America and England; others think that disillusionment with the prospects of European civilization had set in already.  The evidence is not simple though the issue is critical.  The War was the bloodiest in history–in both Britain and France it wiped out nearly an entire generation of young men.  American deaths were far fewer because of our late entry into the War and so the impact on the national consciousness was arguably not great.  But for some, those who had volunteered for service in Europe or were in the ambulance corps., a volunteer service, the impact was lifelong (Hemingway, cummings, Cowley, Faulkner among others).  Whatever else, World War I ushered in the chamber of horrors the twentieth century would turn out to be, horrors so great that they called–and still call–into question the capacity of anything literary to articulate or to alleviate them.


WK. 6

Oct. 13 & 15  READ: For Tuesday, Randolph Bourne, “Trans-National America” (1916);  “Twilight of the Idols” (1917); and “War and the Intellectuals”(1917)–to be handed out.  For Thursday READ T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Gerontion;” and Ezra Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly” (to be handed out).

1 pp. Assignment due Friday Oct. 16.


WK. 7

Oct. 20 & 22  READ: Willa Cather, My Antonia (1918).


WK. 8

Oct. 27 & 29  READ: Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1919)

1 pp assignment due Friday Oct. 30.


WK. 9

Nov. 3 & 5  READ: Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (1924).



Nov. 10 & 12  READ: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby ( 1925).  Also READ Edmund Wilson, “Greenwich Village in the Early Twenties,” and “Greenwich Village at the End of the Twenties” (to be handed out).

2nd 5 pp. Paper due on Monday Nov. 16.


III.                         THE GREAT DEPRESSION

        It may be hard from this distance to have a sufficient sense of the impact of the Great Crash in October of 1929.  Perhaps we have become cynical enough about the dot.coms and Enrons of this world, or, more likely, none of us has ever experienced the collapse of his or her entire world.  Severe as the recent crash in 2008 its reach was relatively small in comparison to that of the Great Depression.  There was no form of meaningful government safety net for the millions who were unemployed, the old who lost their small savings, the women who were abandoned by despairing husbands, and especially not for black people in the South and North who had long been forced to work for wages far lower than those of most, even poor, whites.  The safety nets came later in the New Deal, safety nets we have spent the last thirty years shredding:  Social Security, unemployment insurance, the unionization of a substantial part of the workforce, strict regulation of banks and of the markets, and welfare.  Even with all of Roosevelt’s best efforts and many new government programs there was a second crash in 1938 which reinforced people’s sense there was no escaping privation.  Despair was everywhere, along with terrifying material need.

        In literature the effects were nearly immediate with a whole genre of books setting out to discover America, others trying to discover the proletariat–enough so that “proletarian literature” is whole category now and closely associated with the Thirties.  The lives of the poor, black and white, became both legitimate subjects for writers and, in some cases, mandatory ones.  Critical orthodoxy from the Cold War years held that there was little good writing from this decade because “political” writing could not be good.  But this is its own political foolishness, as I hope you will discover in reading what follows–again a small sample.

WK. 11

Nov. 17 & 19

READ : Daniel Fuchs, The Brooklyn Novels (only the first: Summer in Williamsburg , 1934).  Strongly recommended that you also read Edmund Wilson’s very short essay, “The Literary Consequences of the Crash,” (to be handed out).



WK. 12

 Dec. 1 & 3 READ: Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio (n.d.).


WK. 13

Dec. 8, 10 & 15 READ: William Faulkner, Go Down Moses (1942).                    


FINAL ESSAY of 7 pp. due Monday, Dec.21.