In this course, we will read novels with protagonists who die young. How does early death shape plot? Why do abbreviated lives make the most fascinating stories? Is there a literary history of dying young? Though we often think literature contains the meaning of life, we don't ask whether it might give us the meaning of death. But what could be more meaningless than the death of someone cut off in the prime of life? Through a survey of European and American literature, this course will explore the pathos and desire that turn so many plots into death sentences for young men and women. We will read novels in conjunction with philosophical and theoretical texts to examine how death makes meaning in literature and how literary death reframes issues of identity such as race, gender, and class.