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20th-Century American Fiction  By  cover art

20th-Century American Fiction

By: Arnold Weinstein,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Arnold Weinstein
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Publisher's Summary

Hemingway. Fitzgerald. Faulkner. These and other giants of literature are immediately recognizable to anyone who loves to read fiction and even to many who don't.

Now, thanks to these 32 lectures, you can develop fresh insight into some of the greatest American authors of the 20th century. Professor Weinstein sheds light not only on the sheer magnificence of these writers' literary achievements but also explores their uniquely American character as well. Despite their remarkable variety, each author represents an outlook and a body of work that could only have emerged in the United States. As such, the aim of these lectures is to analyze and appreciate some of the major works of American fiction, using as a focal point the idea of freedom of speech.

The works you'll investigate here include Winesburg, Ohio (among the most poignant descriptions of life at the beginning of the century); Light in August (which depicts the ravages of racism in the American South); Their Eyes Were Watching God (the first – and perhaps the best – account of growing up black and female in America); Slaughterhouse-Five (a poignant and wacky take of mass destruction and aliens); Sula (an experimental novel that makes rubble out of the conventions of black and white culture); and White Noise (which depicts our encounter with the technological madhouse in which we live).

These American fictions, seen together, tell a composite story about coping, about fashioning both a story and a life. Much is dark in these stories, but the honesty and integrity of these writers makes us realize that reading is as much a lifeline as it is entertainment or education.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©1996 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1996 The Great Courses

What listeners say about 20th-Century American Fiction

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No longer wasted on the young!

Where does 20th-Century American Fiction rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have listened to many wonderful audiobooks, and this is the best I have heard.

Any additional comments?

Thank you for adding the great courses to Audible. I can't imagine that any of the others will hold a candle to this one however. This series of lectures is insightful, profound, challenging and ultimately uplifting. The last one is more profound than any sermon I've ever heard. I previously read some of these books (like Light in August available as audiobook) and never understood them as I do now. Its understandable for the non english major but not dumbed down. There was so much in it, so much food for thought, I listened to several lectures multiple times.

23 people found this helpful

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America comes to Life in 20th Century Fiction

Do you love to read and now wish you would have taken the American Lit course in college or, worse, that you had actually paid attention when you took the course?

If so, or if you just love lit and don't care if you'd taken it in college or not, this is a perfect chance to listen to over 16 hours of a soft-spoken, lively and enthusiastic Ivy League (Brown) professor Arnold Weinstein covering American literature in the 20th century. From the charm of small-town American life (with the secrets) of Sherwood Anderson; to the loss of innocence and the love of booze portrayed by Fitzgerald and Hemingway; the racism in the American South explored by Faulkner; God, religion and the religious (particularly in the South) in the short stories of Flannery O'Connor; the explosion of drugs in William Burroughs' novels; the mass destruction of war and extra-terrestrials in Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut; the Nixon administration and execution mocked by Coover; the prevalence of technology in DeLillo's White Noise; as well as the exploration of feminism and race by the wonderful authors, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Each of these novels and authors provides a fictional, provocative account of the issues of its/his/her day.

If you haven't read a lot of these materials, do not let that dissuade you. I hadn't either, but Professor Weinstein inspired me to read many of them and his teaching method doesn't require you to have read them to enjoy and learn from the course.

I highly recommend all of Professor Weinstein's lit courses. In my opinion, just a lecture or so out of the course's 32 lectures over 16 1/2 hours is worthy of a credit.

20 people found this helpful

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Now what I expected

What disappointed you about 20th-Century American Fiction?

I expected a more general treatment of 20th century American fiction. In addition to Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald the following authors are covered: Sherwood Anderson, Zora Herston, Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O'Connor, William Burroughs, Robert Coover, Toni Morrison, and Don Delilo. There is no mention of well known authors such as Wharton, Hersey, McCarthy, Roth, Ellison, Wright, Dos Passos, Malamud, Doctorow to name a few. Is Robert Coover more significant than these authors? I've talked to several English majors and they don't even know who he is. It turns out he's on the same faculty (Brown University) as the lecturer.
The limited coverage of the course is accentuated because the lecturer covers essentially only one book per author. And the one book per author is not necessarily the most well known book of that author. For example, for Fitzgerald "Tender is the Night" is analyzed and not "The Great Gatsby" and for Morrison "Sula" instead of "Beloved".
There is also an emphasis on extreme experimental novelists as opposed to the broad spectrum of American authors in the 20th century.
To the lecturer's credit he does say in his first lecture that the course is not a survey course. But the course should have been described as such. So the course title could have been modified to indicate that e.g. Sample of Experimental 20th Century American Literature.
If the course had been better described I would not have given it such a poor grade. But just as in an exam, if you don't answer the question you get a poor grade.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Lectures on Broadway musicals

What about Professor Arnold Weinstein’s performance did you like?

He displayed an in depth understanding of the books that he covered. He was also enthusiastic describing and analyzing them.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment because I expected a broader treatment of 20th century American fiction.

17 people found this helpful

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A Truly Enriching Experience

I've just spent the most delicious, rich16 hours with this audiobook course. This course is organized around the central theme of American individualism - its presence and absence in the texts, the making and breaking of persona, the way it plays into society and the way society affects it. It's a nuanced, deep dissection of how that has played out in the American novel and other ancillary writings.

Prof. Weinstein offers some vibrant new ways into reading some familiar, and some not so well-known pieces of American literature. I'd buy any course he taught.

16 people found this helpful

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Weinstein is an artist

Great Courses couldn't possibly be paying this lecturer enough. I never give 5 stars, much less in all available categories. But Prof. Weinstein's lectures not only reveal profound insight into the material, but also shows his diligent prep through his fluency which makes the difficult concepts so very accessible. Truly admirable.

4 people found this helpful

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Remarkable performance by Weinstein

Deftly navigating a series of brilliant close readings to share a lifetime of study, Weinstein demonstrates a mode of critique that dialectically links critical theory with previous styles of critique that are less suspicious of the text. A must-listen for anyone interested in 20th century US literature or culture.

1 person found this helpful

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Misnamed

This would've been better titled "20th Century EXPERIMENTAL American Fiction." Anyone who takes Burroughs seriously is automatically suspect and the Hemingway fetishization notwithstanding, I didn't get much from it but don't think it will do any harm. Too many qualifiers undermines the thesis and all his analysis.

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Disappointing

when I began this course I hoped to gain some insight into contemporary American Lit, but it seemed that all selections were about sex; after listen to a few lectures he seemed to find sex in every author's work. Highly suspicious and thus disappointing.

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Great Experience

I hadn't read half of the authors discussed in this course but now feel I have a great introduction to their work. I was surprised about the authors that were not included like Steinbeck.

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Weinstein is Brilliant, But…

I’ve taken and very much enjoyed several TGC courses led by Arnold Weinstein. He is superb. He understands great literature and teaches it extremely well.

I didn’t care much for this course, though, largely because I don’t care much for 20th century American literature. This, of course, is not Weinstein’s fault.

But he did emphasize that part of the century and those authors I care least for, and he neglects that part and those authors I liked better. I would’ve appreciated authors from the earlier part of the century, like Wharton or Cather. Toward the end, I would’ve preferred Updike or Bellow.

But I get it. Weinstein wanted to get Burroughs and Coover in among the Hemingways and Faulkners. Fine. But that just supports my point. They are more sensational - a little more sex and wildness.

The modernism of the 20th century has seen a deconstruction of our society and values in the wake of the wars and the tyranny we experienced. And that’s understandable, too, if literature required it. But my beef, also, is these books reflect a decline in the quality of literature, too.

Weinstein makes the point that these books are pressing ahead to make a whole of us, to connect us., to weave together the fabric of us. I don’t agree at all. They play, in my view, a further fracturing role. Compared to Camus’ The Plague or even Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, they’re inferior literature, and they leave me with little hope.

So, I must pull a star off my usual five stars for Weinstein. Having said that, I still can’t blame anyone for choosing this or any of his courses.