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The Body in Modern American Literature & Culture - ENG00063H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alice Hall
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

This module explores representations of the body, in twentieth century American writing. We will focus on gender, race, sexuality and bodies that are ill, disabled or technologically enhanced. We will consider a range of shifting historical and cultural contexts, from early twentieth century freak shows to contemporary notions of the ‘cyborg’ and posthuman body. 

The module will begin by examining works by early twentieth century writers including William Faulkner and Carson McCullers, and the threat that injured American soldiers returning from World War One posed to American ideals of independence and masculinity. We will then go on to consider African American writing in relation to notions of beauty, strength, pain and property, from Ellison’s Invisible Man to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The relationship between life writing, illness narrative and fiction will be explored through works by Philip Roth and Siri Hustvedt, while Isaac Asimov’s short story, ‘The Bicentennial Man’, will open up a discussion of technology, the body and dystopian visions of the future.

Key ideas will connect these very different texts: the relationship between metaphor and materiality, the crisis of language in the face of pain, and the problems and possibilities of narrating bodily experiences. Particular emphasis will be placed on the act of looking at the body, and the intersection between literature and visual culture. Our discussions will draw on theoretical writing about literature and the body by Mikhail Bakhtin, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, Elaine Scarry and Donna Haraway.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aim of this module is to explore a range of representations of the body in twentieth century American fiction and culture and to introduce students to some wider theoretical writing about literature and the body.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding and engagement with a number of key twentieth century American fictional works and the ways in which they depict human bodies
  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding and engagement with a range of theoretical frameworks that can be used for writing about the body in literature more widely
  • Evaluate the ways in which key cultural and visual contexts inform modern and contemporary American fictional writing about the body.
  • Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

  • You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in the term in which the module is taught (usually in the week 7 seminar).  Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 9 seminar).  Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account.  All students will have the opportunity to give an in-class individual presentation during a seminar in weeks 2-9.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Key texts will be confirmed nearer the start of the module via the module VLE site.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.