marilynne robinson

Marilynne Robinson

Source: Irish Times

After our reading week for American Literature, we returned to our lectures this week and discussed the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. This novel narrates the maturing of twins Ruth and Lucille as they grow up under the care of various relatives. This story is compelling as it focuses on the relationships between different generations of women, with men playing only a minor role in the development of the story.


Cover of Housekeeping

Source: Faber & Faber

The family tree begins with Sylvia and Edmund, who have three daughters, Helen, Molly, and Sylvia, who is known as Sylvie. Edmund dies early in the story as the train he is travelling on suddenly flies off the tracks and crashes into the lake in Fingerbone, Idaho, where the story is set. Later on in the novel, Helen, the mother of Ruth and Lucille, commits suicide by driving into the same lake where her father had died years earlier.

The twins are then passed between several guardians including their grandmother Sylvia, their great aunts Lily and Nona, and finally their aunt Sylvie, who returns to her home town after living her life until this point as a wanderer, never settling in one place. While Ruth and Sylvie become quite close, Lucille never reciprocates the same feelings towards her aunt, and eventually leaves Fingerbone and her relatives behind.

I found this novel intriguing to discuss as it the first text we have looked at this semester which focuses on the relationship between women within a family and how the family dynamic can shift as the twins move between different guardians.

The title of the novel, Housekeeping, is also interesting as it can be interpreted both in the literal sense of keeping the home organised and tidy, and also the idea of the relationship between the various generations of women living within this particular house. I enjoyed discussing this novel in the lectures and am looking forward to talking more about the themes and other elements of the narrative in my tutorials. If you have read Housekeeping what did you think of the novel?

I’ve only a few weeks of American Lit lectures left, and I’ll be back next week with another blog post on the latest author we’ve looked at!


American Literature So Far…

This week for American Literature we had a reading week with no lectures or tutorials. Since we haven’t had any texts to read this week, I’ve decided to do a post on what I’ve enjoyed most about the module so far this semester.

For the first week of the semester we focused on short stories by William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. I enjoyed reading these short stories as both narratives are very interesting and cause the reader to have to analyse the text very closely to uncover what the main plot of the story really is. I particularly enjoyed studying ‘Hills like White Elephants’ by Hemingway as I had already looked at this story in one of my classes while on Erasmus last semester and found it really enjoyable to read.

After Faulkner and Hemingway, we moved onto W.E.B Du Bois, who was highly influential in the fight for civil rights for coloured people in America. I already did a blog post a few weeks ago on Du Bois where I wrote about his work The Souls of Black Folks and some of the ideas which emerged from his work, such as ‘double consciousness’.  It was fascinating to read about how people such as Du Bois fought for the basic rights of African Americans at a time when racial prejudice and violence against coloured people in America is such a current topic. It is terrible to think that despite the actions of Du Bois and other civil rights activists who came after him that there is still such a strong racial prejudice present in the US.

After Du Bois, we moved onto one of my favourite authors that we have studied so far this semester, Allen Ginsberg. I really enjoy reading the work from Beat Generation authors like Ginsberg and also Jack Kerouac as their writing is completely different from the other works that had been published in the years before, both in the style they wrote in and also the topics that they discussed. Ginsberg’s poems, such as Howl, deal with themes which would have been viewed as controversial in America at the time, such as homosexuality and drug use. His poetry is very thought-provoking and gives an insight into what life was like for him in America in the Sixties as a gay Jewish man.

I’ve really enjoyed the works we’ve looked at so far this semester and am hoping that the last few weeks of the module will be just as enjoyable.



John Updike

Source: The New Yorker

During American Literature lectures this week, we have been discussing the novel Terrorist by John Updike, which examines the concept of the relationship between religion and terrorism. This novel is significant in its examination of terrorism as it was one of the first post 9/11 literary works to discuss the topic at a time when other writers were hesitant to approach such a sensitive topic.

During the lecture at the beginning of the week we were shown a short clip from a documentary which shows the moments before, during and after the two planes hit the World Trade Centre. Seeing the terror and destruction which this event caused alters the way in which Terrorist is read as the reader can imagine how people would react if the terrorist attack was to take place in the novel.


Cover of Terrorist

Source: New York Times

While on Erasmus, I studied another novel which also examines how American society changed  after the September terrorist attacks. In the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, the main character Changez, who is of Pakistani origin, lives a privileged life in pre-9/11 New York as an employee at a prestigious law firm. While away on a business trip, he sees coverage of the attacks on TV and it becomes very apparent upon his return to the US that attitudes towards people of Middle Eastern descent have suddenly become extremely negative. There is a sense within the narrative of the novel that this particular race of people have now become associated with violence and terrorism.

Reading Terrorist after studying The Reluctant Fundamentalist is interesting as it is fascinating to see how different writers have approached and discussed the same topic Terrorist is a very different literary work to what we have studied so far in American Literature in terms of when it was published, but I have found it intriguing to read a novel which discusses such a recent and emotional event.

W.E.B Du Bois


W.E.B Du Bois.


In creating my blog, I have decided to focus my posts for the next few weeks on the people and texts that I am studying in my American Literature module this semester. For the first few weeks of lectures so far we have been looking at racial tensions in America and how coloured writers in America discussed the social problems that were present at the time.

One of the most interesting people that was mentioned in the lectures is W.E.B Du Bois. We read some extracts from his influential collection of essays entitled The Souls of Black Folk and examined how Du Bois discussed how being both African and American caused a sense of confusion as to where coloured people belonged   in society.

It was fascinating to learn about African Americans and racial tensions in this way as I had never thought about how people may feel conflicted between two identities, particularly Mixed race people who may not view themselves as part of either White or Black society.


Source: The University of Chicago Library News.

In The Souls of Black Folk Du Bois mentions the idea of double-consciousness and how African Americans view society as both Africans and Americans, and also how their own identity is affected by how White Americans view them.

It was also interesting to learn about how proactive Du Bois was in furthering the lives of African Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was very passionate about securing more political and educational rights for African Americans, and in 1905, along with other influential social activists, founded the Niagara Movement. This organisation eventually led to the founding of the NAACP in 1910.

Even though there are clearly racial tensions still present in America, it is inspiring to learn about how African Americans such as W.E.B Du Bois have played a significant role in the bettering of the lives of African Americans today.