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American Literature (Course) Unit 6

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This page is part of the American Literature high school curriculum page. To see the entire curriculum, click here.


This page is a draft.

The information on this page may be outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete. Use this page with caution.

Unit 6: The Center Cannot Hold (1945-?)


The Postmodern Period in American literature begins with the conclusion of World War II. Scholars debate its end point.

Enduring Understandings

Essential Questions

Standards and I Can Statements

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

  • I can determine how an author chose to structure specific parts of a text. (R)
  • I can analyze specific parts of text and explain how the individual parts fit into the overall structure. (R)
  • I can analyze how an author's choice of structuring specific parts of a text affects the overall meaning. (R)
  • I can analyze how an author's choice of structuring specific parts of a text creates an aesthetic impact. (R)

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

  • I can identify multiple interpretations of the same source text. (K)
  • I can analyze how authors interpret a source text in different mediums. (R)
  • I can evaluate various works that have drawn on or transformed the same source material and explain the varied interpretations of different authors. (R)

Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • I can define a central idea. (K)
  • I can determine two or more central ideas of a text. (R)
  • I can determine how two or more central ideas of a text interact and build on one another to develop a text with complex meaning. (R)
  • I can analyze how central ideas develop over the course of a text. (R)
  • I can compose an objective summary stating the key points of the text without adding my own opinions or feelings. (P)

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

  • I can choose a topic and identify and select the most significant and relevant information to develop and share with my audience. (S)
  • I can define common organizational/formatting structions and determine the structure or structures that will allow me to organize my complex ideas so that each new element builds on what precedes it. (R)
  • I can analyze the information; identify domain-specific vocabulary for my topic; incorporate techniques such as metaphor, simile; and organize information into broader categories using my chosen structure or structure(s). (R)
  • I can present my information maintaining an objective tone and formal style that includes an introduction that previews what is to follow, supporting details, varied transitions and syntax (to clarify and create cohesion when I move from one idea to another), and a concluding statement/section that supports the information presented. (P)

Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

  • I can define a point of view as how the speaker feels about the situation/topic being presented. (K)
  • I can determine a speaker's point of view and explain his or her reasoning. (R)
  • I can define rhetoric (a technique used to persuade a listener to consider a topic from a different perspective). (K)
  • I identify when a speaker uses evidence and/or rhetoric and analyze how these techniques strengthen his or her point of view or purpose. (R)
  • I can assess the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used by the speaker. (S)

Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

  • I can define and identify various forms of figurative language. (K)
  • I can interpret figures of speech and analyze their overall role in the text. (R)
  • I can recognize word relationships and use the relationships to further understand multiple words. (R)
  • I can recognize the difference between denotation and connotation. (K)
  • I can analyze how certain words and phrases that have similar denotations can carry different nuances. (R)

Lesson Sequence





Literary Resources

A good list of postmodern novels is available from the L.A. Times.


  • Hansberry, Lorraine: A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • Miller, Arthur: Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953)
  • Williams, Tennessee: The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1948)


  • Alexie, Sherman: Reservation Blues (1995)
  • Baldwin, James: Got Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
  • Banks, Russell: Rule of the Bone (1995)
  • Barth, John: Giles Goat Boy (1966), Lost in the Funhouse (1968)
  • Bellow, Saul: Seize the Day ()
  • Bradbury, Ray: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  • Burroughs, William: Naked Lunch (1959)
  • DeLillo, Don: White Noise (1985)
  • Dick, Phillip K: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  • Eggers, Dave: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius ()
  • Ellis, Bret Easton: Less Than Zero (1985)
  • Ellison, Ralph: Invisible Man ()
  • Erdrich, Louise: Love Medicine ()
  • Fowles, John: The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
  • Heller, Joseph: Catch-22 (1961)
  • Hersey, John: Hiroshima (1946)
  • Krakauer, Jon: Into the Wild ()
  • Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • McCarthy, Cormac: All the Pretty Horses (), The Road ()
  • McInerney, Jay: Bright Lights, Big City (1984)
  • Momaday, N. Scott: House Made of Dawn (1968)
  • Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons: Watchmen (1984)
  • Morrison, Toni: Beloved (1987), Song of Solomon ()
  • Pynchon, Thomas: V (1963), Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
  • Robbins, Tom: Still Life with Woodpecker (1980)
  • Roth, Philip: Goodbye, Columbus (1959)
  • Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  • Thompson, Hunter S.: "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)
  • Vonnegut, Kurt: Cat's Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions (1973)
  • Walker, Alice: The Color Purple (1982)
  • Wallace, David Foster: Infinite Jest (1996)
  • Wright, Richard: Native Son ()


  • Bishop, Elizabeth: "The Fish" (), One Art (), "Sestina" ()
  • Brooks, Gwendolyn: "The Bean Eaters" ()
  • Carver, Raymond: "Happiness" (), "The Current" ()
  • Forche, Carolyn: "The Visitor" ()
  • Ginsberg, Allen: "America" ()
  • Jarrell, Randall: "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" ()
  • Kleinzahler, August: "The Tartar Swept" ()
  • Lowell, Robert: "Skunk Hour" (), "Memories of West Street and Lepke" ()
  • Merrill, James: "The Black Swan" (), "The Octopus" (), "Days of 1964" ()
  • Merwin, W.S.: "My Friends" ()
  • Plath, Sylvia: "Mirror" (), "Mushrooms" (), "Tulips" ()
  • Sexton, Anne: "The Bells" (), "Young" ()
  • Wilbur, Richard: "The Beautiful Changes" (), "Boy at the Window" (), "The Writer" (), "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" (), "Advice to a Prophet"

Short Stories (and collections)

  • Barthelme, Donald: Sixty Stories (1981); "Game" (1968)
  • Carver, Raymond: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), Cathedral (1983); "Everything Stuck to Him" ()
  • Cheever, John: "The Swimmer" ()
  • Jackson, Shirley: "The Lottery" (1948)
  • Kaplan, David Michael: "Doe Season" (2005)
  • LeGuin, Ursula K: "She Unnames Them" (1985)
  • Oates, Joyce Carol: "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" ()
  • O'Brien, Tim: The Things They Carried (1990)
  • O'Connor, Flannery: "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (1955)
  • Olsen, Tillie: "I Stand Here Ironing" (1961)
  • Tan, Amy: The Joy Luck Club (1989)
  • Welty, Eudora: "Petrified Man" ()
  • Wright, Richard: "The Man Who Was Almos' a Man" ()
  • Updike, John: "Pigeon Feathers" (1962), "A&P" (1962), "How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time" (), "Son" (),


  • Kennedy, John F.: "Inaugural Address" (1961)
  • Minow, Newton: "Address to the Broadcasting Industry" (1961)
  • Reagan, Ronald: "Brandenburg Gate Address" (1987)

Teaching Resources

Background Reading



Academic Language

Tier 2

Tier 3