What Is the Great American Novel?

25 thoughts on “What Is the Great American Novel?

  1. Blood Meridian, Invisible Man, Underworld, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom, The Color Purple, Call It Sleep, Lolita, Catch 22, The Adventures of Augie March, Stoner, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Women and Men, Mulligan Stew, Jesus' Son, Lolita, The Things They Carried, Gravity's Rainbow, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Good Earth, East of Eden, The Stones of Summer, Tobacco Road, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Beloved, Moby Dick, The Left Hand of Darkness, Dhalgren, The Tunnel, Slaughterhouse-Five

  2. 1) Blood Meridian  2) Gravity's Rainbow  3) The Recognitions  4) Call It Sleep  5) Moby Dick  6) Huckleberry Finn  7) Beloved  8) The Sound and the Fury  9) The Things They Carried  10) Stoner  11) By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept  12) Lolita  13) Underworld  14) The Adventures of Augie March  15) Uncle Tom's Cabin  16) Invisible Man  17) Jesus' Son  18) Suttree  19) The Great Gatsby  20) The Sheltering Sky  21) V  22) Native Son  23) The Underground Railroad  24) The Color Purple 25)  Infinite Jest

  3. I think Moby Dick is the best novel by an American, but as far as "Great American Novel" I would go with Blood Meridian, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Light in August.

  4. As one from the US, I would consider the GAN to be one consisting of a great adventure. I still think "On the Road" might exemplify the GAN.

    Try "Cosmic Banditos". It may be a quick read, but what an adventure the life that inspired that novel must have been ("In Search for Captain Zero" contains many of the nonfiction adventure stories of the author of "Cosmic Banditos").

    Currently reading "Against the Day" and am enjoying it greatly. May end up so inspired as to write the screenplays/fanfictions for the various titles of adventures the Chums of Chance had outside AtD.


    No contest!

    The only honest contest would be with Moby-Dick.

    But if I am forced to choose one: hands down, long before anything Don Delillo has written: Huck Finn, full stop.

    Of course…I don't believe the Great American Novel actually exists.

    My requisites ask for a text that could only have come from the U.S. It must speak in the highly specific vernacular of America, in one time period or another. It should contain sights and behaviors and traditions, a mythic time, folk characters, etc., that can only come from America. Finally…It should deal with the human roots of the peoples here, and the inhumane legacy of what birthed this place — at the same time that it alludes to what was here before, and what could come next. It should, with either full mastery in irony or a pure-hearted honesty, ideally both, deal with American hope. It should, in short, be something with its teeth sunk deep, deep, in the American skin.

    So, the only thing that boils all that down, and at the same time manages to be a novel, is Huck Finn. But, several things come close to it:

    – The play "Angels In America" by Tony Kushner (the HBO mini-series is a great adaptation)
    – The poem "An American Poem" by Eileen Myles, & Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"
    – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    – The short story "The Secret Interrogation" by Thomas Pynchon
    * The 1927-32 Anthology of American Folk Music by Harry Smith * except for, as a body of work, everything by Bob Dylan — or, again, Moby-Dick — perhaps this and only this would come close to matching Huck Finn.

    Oh. Novels?

    -Their Eyes Were Watching God
    -To Kill A Mockingbird

    Short of these…Only 2 other novels I've ever read deal honestly, frankly with U.S. racism, U.S. vernacular, the sense of history and time made folkloric and unique in the U.S., American "progress," etc. all at once …and that is Gravity's Rainbow, and Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain.

  6. This summer i tried to read City on fire because you suggested it in one of your "best of year" video and because i read that it was considered the Great American Novel of 2015, therefore i thought of it as a reading like Underworld… the problem was that i tried to read it two times and i always stopped at the first 60/70 pages… maybe i'll retry in the future, now i'm enjoying an old classic like Moby Dick 🙂

  7. Hey, great vid — what about 10 or 15 min on 'The American Dream,' wd love to hear your take. And what do you think 'Americans' think it is? How has it become cheesy, as you say, what's still good about it if anything? And then, of course, all the shit in there that will influence the lit — love yr channel!

  8. Eustace Chrisholm and The Works by James Purdy is written in a freewheeling American idiom. I think it's his best work honestly. Plus it avoids the grandeur of an attempt to define our shared national character, which not the healthiest way to write. The G.A.N. as a genre can end up in a rather satinized and mawish place, and, for me, Underworld was about this process. The artist ends up in the Americana curio cabinet with the other kitsch. But that's my two cents.

  9. Just want to say, I absolutely love your content! There are very few youtube channels that engage in thorough discussions on literature and yours is my favorite by far!

  10. Cormac McCarthy's Suttree. This is both his breakout book and his masterpiece. Uniqueness, Individuality and existential pain in the underbelly of Knoxville, Tennessee. Violence, poverty, alcoholism and hopelessness enervate the landscape, and Cornelius Suttree alone among the characters knows any other life, a life hes given away.. McCarthy channels some of the best American and non-American (Joyce comes to mind), and through Suttree we witness the darkest of "American" themes and landscapes.

  11. I've been living in the US for almost a year now, and I can see many instances of IJ in American culture, especially a kind of obsession that from a Third World perspective is really appalling. The way that Desire (in the Buddhist sense, or libido in Freudian terminology) occurs in the US seems to me just like that crazy IJ world, full of people with so many quirks that it's very overwhelming to try to make sense of.

  12. What about moby dick? I always see people writing about that book with the honour of the 'great american novel'. i personally could never see the connection beyond the surface level observations of hierarchical meritocracy, fraternity and capitalist enterprise.

  13. On the road- Kerouac.
    In cold blood- Capote.
    Hollywood- Bukowski.
    Funny theyre all roman a clefs, are we just talking pure fiction?

  14. Last semester I took a literature course defining and poring over what might be the Great American Novel. We concluded that generally, the Great American Novel would have to in some way address or tackle the psychological effects of race or slavery on the American consciousness, which by its exploration favors books following the Romantic rather than the Realist tradition. That said, I think that certain novels that more explore the stoicism of the prototypical, idealized American are also quite valuable in the conversation. To my estimation, the novel that fulfills all of these requirements would either be William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! or Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Both novels function as children of a Romantic style of writing, both novels find at their core the conception and boggling over of race in the white (and black) mind respectively, and both exhibit the stoicism and the cracking of the stoicism of the people living in those realities (in Quentin Compson and the 'Invisible Man' Narrator, respectively). In terms of scope, Moby-Dick is pretty clearly the winner of the conversation, although at times Moby-Dick is so transcendent of the bounds of the American that it might be hard to list it as just a 'Great American Novel'. Stoner may be the greatest representation of an American novel where that stoicism dictates the novel and refuses to break, as to reaffirm the convention as opposed to the other novels mentioned. Overall though, it really is just a matter of preference, but certain qualifiers such as these make the narrowing of the topic a little simpler, as can be justified.

  15. Jr by William Gaddis would have to me the great American novel as its about what Americas all about…. Money!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *