American Labor Struggles in Fiction

How have beliefs about justice, class, race, sex, and material goods been refashioned  during the 20th century as a result of changing attitudes toward work? Do we conceive of work differently than people in the 19th century? If so, why, and how have these changes affected the lives of American citizens? Are we better off than workers in the 19th century or worse? Will our descendants be better or worse off than we are, with regard to work?

In this course, we will explore literary representations of labor consciousness and changing ideas about the nature of work in the United States during the 20th century. Our goal is to better understand the consequences that these disruptive changes have had on workers and on American society as a whole.

Course Requirements

  • Regular attendance and participation
  • Reading of all required texts
  • Completion of all required writing assignments

Required Texts (this is a working list and will change; feel free to email me at for a more current list of texts)

  • John Steinbeck—In Dubious Battle
  • William Attaway—Blood on the Forge
  • Harriette Arnow—The Dollmaker
  • Chang-Rae Lee—On Such a Full Sea
  • Excerpts from Labor in America: A History and Nickle and Dimed,by Barbara Ehrenrich (will be provided)