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ENGL3081 Money and Meaning in American Fiction

Module Overview

We all think we know what money is, but do we really? There is still much debate as to whether money is an object with value, a representation of a promise, a unit of storage or a means of exchange. Does money embody and facilitate social relations by freeing us from some of the constraints of time and space or does it do the reverse, does it actually harm social relations? This module examines the way in which money has been discussed in American literature and culture, from the so-called ‘Gilded Age’ of the late nineteenth century to the financial crisis of 2008.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- introduce you to a variety of texts that represent the debates about the meaning of money in twentieth century US - enable you to historically contextualise these texts in US culture and politics. The module will specifically focus on the role of money as a national currency and the role of money as a speculative instrument, with reference to the US’ two ‘gilded ages’ - familiarise you with the theoretical and aesthetic debates that have interrogated money as both a form of representation and as a social relationship - encourage you to work independently and undertake personal research.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • what money is: what money has represented in a variety of different social contexts and the role that both cultural texts and theory have played in exploring and critiquing these representations
  • what money does: the social, political and economic functions that money has played in a variety of different historical contexts and the role that cultural texts and theory have played in exploring and critiquing these functions
  • the distinctions between a range of literary, cinematic and visual forms (the gothic, realism, modernism, postmodernism and genre forms such as the thriller and the documentary) and their significance in terms of the politics and possibilities of representation
  • the importance of the dollar to America, in terms of both national and international identities and politics, from the late 19th Century to the contemporary
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • read a variety of texts in an historically relevant way
  • develop analysis and discussion based on a range of sources, both published and electronic
  • use electronic sources and a variety of library holdings effectively
  • employ research skills and initiative in identifying additional relevant source material
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • draw upon the different kinds of understanding generated by a range of literary and non-literary texts
  • analyse the pressures and influences which shaped the meaning of the American dollar from the late 19th Century onwards
  • contrast different theoretical models for reading money and assess their relevance for different kinds of literary texts
  • make use of contemporary critical writing to inform your thinking about the issues raised in the module


The module will introduce you to key literary texts from American literature, from the late nineteenth to the early twenty first century. Authors to be examined include Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton, F Scott Fitzgerald, Nella Larsen and Don De Lillo. The module explores the two theoretical traditions that have tried to understand money’s complex cultural and social roles. The first approach explores what money is by looking at money as a form of representation: it asks what it means to read money as a social, political and aesthetic text. The module uses this approach as it explores the different ways in which money has been represented in a range of cultural forms, including naturalism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and genre fiction, visual art, popular cinema and documentaries. The second approach, which asks what money does, focuses on the role which money has played in broader political and economic systems. The module will draw on this approach as it explores the significance of ‘finance capitalism’ in American political and cultural life from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

- Lectures - Tutor-led seminars - Small group work within seminars - Individual research opportunities - One to one tuition around assessment and feedback This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Completion of assessment task81
Preparation for scheduled sessions117
Wider reading or practice21
Follow-up work21
Total study time300



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 50%
Essay  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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