About the Young Idea: Adolescence in Literature and Culture
Pam Thurschwell
This module will explore the development of adolescence as a modern identity from the end of
the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, considering class, gender and sexuality. We’ll look at the
ways in which the adolescent morphs into the teenage consumer (and consumed) in the 1950s in
novels such as Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. We’ll consider
the adolescent as a site of cultural fantasy and cultural fears in relation to class, race, gender and
sexuality. We’ll look at the adolescent’s positioning in radical politics, subculture, utopia,
nostalgia. We’ll wind up by considering one or more popular culture representations of the
teenager in films such as Back to the Future, Ghost World, and The Hunger Games, and ask what
Katniss might teach us about contemporary neo-liberal culture.
READING LIST WILL CHANGE (and be cut down).
1) What is an adolescent?: selections from G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence (1904) ; Jon Savage,
Teenage; Henry James Foreman, Our Movie Made children (1935); selected writing on adolescent
psychology and juvenile delinquency
2) Henry James, The Awkward Age (1899)
2) Queer adolescence: Willa Cather, “Paul’s Case” (1905) and Sigmund Freud, “A Case of
Female Homosexuality” (1920)
3) James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and/or Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of
the Heart (1938)
4) Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding (1946)
5) Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955/58)
6) Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners (1958) and Nell Dunn, Up the Junction (1963)
7) Toni Morrison, Sula (1973)
8) Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)
9) Theorizing counterculture/subculture: Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces (1989) plus readings on
subculture, Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979);
10) Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document (2006)
11) Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
12) Films (possible): Back to the Future (1985); Ghost World (2001); The Hunger Games (2012)
Secondary Readings: Kett, Joseph. Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790 to the Present. (New
York: Basic Books, 1977); Lesko, Nancy. Act Your Age!: A Cultural Construction of Adolescence (New
York and London: Routledge Falmer, 2001); DeLuzio, Crista. Female Adolescence in American
Scientific Thought, 1830-1930 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils
and Moral Panics; Chinn, Sarah E. Inventing Modern Adolescence: The Children of Immigrants in Turn-ofthe-Century America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2009); Gilbert, Geoff. Before
Modernism Was: Modern History and the Constituency of Writing (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan,
2004); Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive; Kathryn Bond Stockton, The
Queer Child or Growing Sideways in the 20th Century; Judith Halberstam on subculture, etc.
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