Studies in Literature and Culture: Fiction and Financial Crisis


In this class we will examine 20th- and 21st-century novels and films that in various ways depict the impact of large-scale financial systems on the lives of individuals and communities. We will analyze works of fiction that emerged during the Great Depression of the 1930s as well as during the buildup and aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. These events raised urgent questions about how our society thinks about money, wealth, debt, risk, and personal and collective responsibility, and these questions inform our current concerns about income inequality, the uncertainty of the job market, student-loan debt, and the high cost of housing.

As we read these texts together, we will organize our discussions around these broad questions:

  • How are our relationships with other people (and with ourselves) shaped by our relationship with money?
  • How are our own aspirations, anxieties, and illusions regarding money reflected in fictional narratives?
  • How do the distinctive structures of fictional discourse—the way stories are put together—shape our perceptions of the social worlds and individual experiences they depict?

Alongside the novels, the other readings for this class will deepen your understanding of the economic ideologies and institutions that created the conditions for the financial crises of 1929 and 2008. We will chart the rise of neoliberalism and consider its effects on our current social and political systems. In addition, selections from works of narrative theory and The Living Handbook of Narratology will give you a critical vocabulary for discussing the structures of the stories we will be reading.

This is a fully online course. All class activities will take place within the online learning environment.

You will be interacting with your classmates throughout the week in the discussion forums, responding to questions from me and commenting on your classmates’ responses.

You will also participate in peer reviewing of your classmates’ proposals for their final research projects and of their drafts of these projects. We will exchange and comment on written work using the peer-reviewing feature of the learning management system, and you will discuss work with your reviewing partners in the videoconferencing section.

In addition, you will produce and share a short “unboxing” video as one of your assignments.

The course has the UHM Written Communication (W) Focus designation.

The class uses writing to promote the learning of course materials. You will get feedback and support from the instructor and your classmates while you do the assigned writing. Your writing for this class will be substantial—a minimum of 4,000 words, or about 16 pages. Written assignments make up to 60% of your final course grade. You will turn in drafts of all your major writing assignments; I will make suggestions for improvement and you will have a chance to revise before turning in the work for a final grade. You peers will also contribute to this reviewing process.

The mid-term and the final exams will be in a take-home essay format.

For office hours, you have the option of meeting me for office hours in my physical office in Biomed B104 or via the video conferencing feature. You and your peers can use the conferences feature for study sessions, collaboration, and other class-related interactions throughout the semester.

Required Materials

The books are available at the UHM Bookstore


Alger, Christina. The Darlings (2012)

Babb, Sanora. Whose Names Are Unknown (1939/2004)

Hamid, Mohsin. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013)

Haslett, Adam. Union Atlantic (2010)

Steger, Manfred B. and Ravi K. Roy. Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (2010)

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Walter, Jess. The Financial Lives of the Poets (2010)


Allen, Woody (dir). Blue Jasmine (2013)

Ferguson, Charles H. (dir). Inside Job (2010)



Your grade will be based on your performance in the following assignments. I will provide more detailed descriptions of these assignments within the first two weeks of the semester.

  • two weekly contributions to the class Forum discussion and four comments on your classmates’ contributions (25%)
  • an “unboxing” video in which you reflect on the marketing of a particular product, your motivations for purchasing it, and your experience of using/consuming it (5 minutes) (10%)
  • a proposal for a term paper (1 page) (10%)
  • a critical evaluation of a peer’s draft (10%)
  • a term paper based on independent research (20-25 pages) (25%)
  • a take-home midterm examination (10%)
  • a take-home final examination (10%)

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course you should be able to

  • read literary texts and view films critically, attending to details such as narrative structure, style, figurative language, allusions, and dominant themes
  • situate literary texts and films in their historical and social contexts, accounting for formal, stylistic, thematic, and other relevant features in relation to these contexts
  • identify and describe major developments in the domain of economics in the past two centuries and discuss their ongoing impact on culture and society
  • demonstrate the ability to design and conduct an independent research project in literary/cultural studies
  • write clear, coherent analyses of literary texts, films, and other cultural artifacts for an academic audience
  • employ the terminology of literary criticism with confidence and precision
  • demonstrate sound argumentation in your writing
  • document sources accurately and responsibly in your writing using a standard academic style
  • employ online collaboration tools effectively