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English 255c Topics: Jewish American Literature

Taught by Cynthia Cornell

What can literature about the Jewish American experience tell us about America, about Jews in America, and, more generally, about the place of a minority culture in America? What has it meant and what does it mean now to be a Jew in America? Is there such a thing as “the Jewish community?” and how do conflicts among Jewish Americans reflect the conflicts within other minority “communities” and within the larger American culture of which it is a part? What can “Jewish-American Literature” tell us about American values: the importance in all our lives of family, education, faith, love, work, freedom, equality, justice, success, and group and individual identity? How does “Jewish-American” literature reflect a changing America and changing circumstances of Jews in America?

Through our reading and writing this semester, we will explore these questions. Our selections will span the colonial period to the late twentieth century. Our focus, however, will be on the period from the late nineteenth century to the present, the period of the largest migration of Jews to America and their assimilation, more or less, into American culture.

Our basic text will be the Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature, supplemented by a selection of memoirs, novellas, and novels.  Class will be primarily discussion, both student and professor-led.  Writing will be both informal and exploratory, on the one hand, and more formal and analytical on the other.  For at least one of the analytical assignments, students may substitute memoir, oral history, or archival study on topics related to our reading. This course is a W course.