Nighthawks: Origins, Influences, and Implicit Urban Narratives

Few paintings occupy as much space in the American imagination as Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. In part inspired by fiction (Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers”), it went on to inspire poets, songwriters, and fiction writers as diverse as Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Waits, and Stuart Dybek (not to mention its endless parodies and pastiches). In this seminar, we will examine the sources of Hopper’s vision of the city, along with writers the painting influenced. We will also read short fiction roughly contemporary to the painting by other writers (especially Nelson Algren) in order to delve into the implicit narrative of identity the painting depicts, in contexts not often considered: vice or criminal culture, and urban commercial architecture.