Representations of the American Dream in Literature and Film

Liana Odrcic, Senior Lecturer

Course: ENGLISH 192, SEM 005
Class Number: 29280
Credits: 3 HU
Time: MW 2:00 – 3:15 PM
Place: BOL B80

Course Description:

In March 2007, ice-cream makers Ben and Jerry in conjunction with Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report launched a brand-new ice-cream flavor: “Americone Dream.” [sic] On a recent cover of Vanity Fair magazine, actors Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, and Jonah Hill pose behind the caption “Is It Time to Re-Think the American Dream?” The idea of the Dream is both powerful and ever-present in American life, and in this First-Year Seminar, we will ask why. In this seminar, we will consider the various meanings of the American Dream by looking at its representation in nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, contemporary film, and non-fiction texts. Questions guiding our explorations throughout the semester will be: What *is* the American Dream, anyway? Has it changed over time? Does the definition of the Dream change according to who’s defining it? How is the Dream defined and portrayed in different literary works, film, and non-fiction texts? Does everyone have access to the American Dream, or is its accessibility limited? Is the American Dream a myth? A reality only for some? How so? Our reading, viewing, and conversation in this seminar will give you the opportunity to develop your own understanding of the American Dream and crystallize your sense of how your own goals and aspirations as an incoming college student dovetail with this enduring cultural idea.

Work Involved:

In this course, you will read literary texts (both fiction and non-fiction) spanning the 18th century to the 21st) and view several contemporary films. We will make sense of the texts we read and view together through in-class group-work and class discussions, organized in a collaborative, “workshop” setting. Your assignments will constitute informal writing done weekly (both in class and outside of class), three 5-7 page papers, and class presentations done in small groups. Your grade in the class will be determined according to the formula below: please note that your grades are spread fairly evenly over all of the different kinds of work you’ll do in the course.

  • Regular class attendance, careful weekly reading of assigned course texts, & active participation in group-work & class discussions (20%)
  • Weekly one-page (500 word) reflective journal assignments (20%)
  • Two 5-7 page literary analysis papers (30%)
  • Group class presentations (15%)
  • Final Paper (5-7 pages) (15%)

Sample Reading:

Course texts will include literary works by authors such as Richard Wright, Willa Cather, Toni Cade Bambara, and Jhumpa Lahiri, and works of non-fiction by Martin Luther King, Jr., historian of the Dream Jim Cullen, and cultural historian Studs Terkel. Film viewings will include “Lions for Lambs” and “Real Women Have Curves.”

About the Instructor:

Dr. Liana Odrcic is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at UWM. Her doctoral research focused on Wisconsin women’s reading practices in nineteenth-century literary societies and contemporary book clubs. As a first-generation American herself, she is interested in exploring “the American Dream” that brought her maternal grandfather across the Atlantic in 1914 and her father in 1963.