Department of English

Studies in Film and Literature

ENGL 4550

American Critiques of American Class Structure

Class day(s): MTWRF
Class time: 11:30 AM

Scott Simkins

Senior Lecturer

Interest areas

American Literature

Scott Simkins

Contact information

8070 Haley Center

Course Description

This course will examine the critique of the United States’ social and economic class structure offered by the popular culture of the 20th century, principally film and literature.  This will include considering the complications that arise from the intersections of gender, race, and class.  Having presumably revolted against the social stratification of British society, the United States has always tried to promote itself either as a site of social mobility or even as a classless society. However, even as early as the production of Royall Tyler’s The Contrast (1787), it was evident that such an ideal goal would be a struggle, not the least exacerbated by slavery, racism, sexism, and corporatism.  Nevertheless, the pervasive presence of the theme of class structure in American film and literature indicates that this goal remains a powerful motivator and a defining characteristic of our national character.


Students will acquire both a literary and critical vocabulary that will enable class discussion and, in addition to viewing the assigned films, will be expected to read scholarly articles as well as historical and literary texts.

Students will write an Analysis Proposal and a Final Analysis Essay, take a final examination, and participate in small group and class discussions/informal presentations.


Readings may include John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat,” Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying, Loraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Gloria Anzaldua’s “El sonovabitche.”  Films may include Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes, Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.

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Last Updated: March 21, 2019