Literature & the Pursuit of Happiness

English 390-7.01

This course begins from the premise that the religious promise of heaven as the fulfillment of life and self, plentitude and perfect love, persist on in modern secular society. These vestiges of paradise arguably become the driving force of a world organized by capitalism where human life must seek and find self-transcendence in the world. This is powerful stuff! To seek and understand this elusive, deeply contradictory, and rarely instantiated secular ideology, this course will examine some major intellectual arguments that both advocated and critiqued it, including those by Locke, Mill, Marx, Weber, Freud, and Coetzee. But the main emphasis will be on American and British fiction that not only provides a delivery system for this ideology but also demonstrates where it breaks down or fails to deliver on its promise, including, Johnson’s Rasselas, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray, Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Roth’s Goodbye Columbus, Tobin’s Brooklyn, Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, and Whitehead’s Underground Railroad.