English 2130 - Survey of American Literature

The Conversation of American Literature, History, and Culture.

Who is an American?What values makes an American? How Should an American Live?

Back to Teaching Portfolio

Course Objective:

  • This course attempts to introduce students to a wide range of American authors and genres from the Colonial Period to Contemporary American writing. For this reason, we will not only encounter well-established writers, but we will also explore the works of less well-known authors.
  • The syllabus presents an array of writers coming from various historical periods--history is an important component of this course--as well as, from different social, economical, cultural and racial background. We will read exponents of African American,, Hispanic American, Asian American, native American Literature and we will discuss how their use of canonical genres and conventions contributed to the creation of a distinctively American literary tradition as well as the creation of an American cultural self while aiming at interrogating the very notion of national cultural production.
  • Issues such as periodization, canon formation, national identity and the interrelationships between literature and other elements of culture are a vital component of this course. In addition, we will study various literary terms and critical theories as they apply to the works read for this class. As a reading and writing intensive course, students will focus on reading comprehension along with writing as a method to learn about and explore various historical and social contexts within American literature.



Mond., June.9  


 Syllabus handout/Introduction to the class

 Textual analysis and close reading – What is it?

 Concept: Narration, Reading between the lines, and the UnreliableNarrator


 Wed., June.11                 

Theme:   Defining the New Nation: "He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, the new rank he holds.  He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater.  Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world."—St. John de Crevecoeur


Reading 1: vol 1. pp 1-14 + 151-159.

Online Resources: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/oal/oaltoc.htm



Crevecoeur (309-324), Winthrop (75-86), John Smith (43-57)


Key Terms you will hear in class: Manifest Destiny, Sacrifice, Frontier Thesis, Captivity narrative, Plymouth Rock, Puritanism. Persuasive Speeches-- Speaker's qualification, audience, occasion, technique-- metaphors


Further Reading: Richard Slotkin Gunfighter Nation, Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier

Online Resources: American Literature on the Web: John Winthrop; PAL: John Winthrop; Excerpts from Winthrop's Journal. John Smith: http:www.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl310/smith.htm


WEEK 2: 1800-1840 A Growing Nation: From Reason to Romance 


Mond.,June 16

Theme: The American Destiny fulfilled and the Birth of the American Hero. The rise of the short story


Reading 1: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/oal/lit4.htm


Reading 2: Introduction pp.431-449. Washington Irving Rip van Winkle (453-467), James Fenimore Cooper 


Key Terms you will hear in class: Setting, heroic figures--Natty Bumppo as "Adam in the fiction of the New World."  The Noble Savage, The Vanishing Indian, Hudson River School, Landscape as Motif, link between land and the human body, the American hero.


Wed.,June 18 


Theme 1: Competing Narratives-Contradictory Spheres: Slavery and the corruption of the Pastoral Ideal . 



Reading: Harriet Beecher Stowe (764-803) and the use of the Captivity Narrative


Further Suggested Reading: Henry Nash Smith Virgin Land, Leo Marx The Machine in the Garden, R.W.B. Lewis The American Adam. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (second version 1855, revised in 1892). Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

More on Washington Irving: Selections: The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" "Rip Van Winkle"



Theme 2:  American Romanticism-sentimentalism and self-reliance, romantic period and Transcendentalism in poetry.


Online Resources: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/oal/lit3.htm


Reading: Ralph Waldo Emerson (488-491 + Self-Reliance, 532)

Margaret Fuller, The Great Lawsuit (739-747)

Henry David Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government (829-844)

Walt Whitman, When I learned the Learn’d astronomer (1067).


Key terms you will hear in class:  Self-reliance, Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, Transcendentalism, America as the subject of poetry. Gender identity vs. Sexual Identity


Further Suggested Reading: Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 1011-1053. Preface to Leaves of the Grass, 996. Fuller as a Feminist, Judith Butler.


WEEK 3: Romanticism (1830-1870) 


Mond., June 23            

Reading: Edgar Allan Poe Romanticism, and the Gothic



Edgar Allan Poe ("The Black Cat", "The Fall of the House of Usher"   671-732) 


Key terms you will hear in class:  Romanticism in Poe, Elements of the Short Story--setting, single effect and theme. Anxiety.


Further Suggested Reading: Poe, "The Oval Portrait"
Poetry. "The Raven". Additional short stories: "Cask of Amontillato". "The Tell-Tale Heart" "To Helen".


Concepts in these stories and poems: Alliteration, consonance, and assonance, allusions; when the text compensates for the absence of order and the sense of chaos found in the story.


Wed., June 25                  

Online Resources: Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Works . Edgar Allan Poe: Etext . Edgar Allan Poe: Selections Edgar Allan Poe (Poetry and Prose) . The Collected Works of Edgar. Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (This is a nice site where you can take a virtual tour of Old Philadelphia. Check out the map and click on the taverns to which Poe might be referring in his story, "The Black Cat." ) . Edgar Allan Poe: Tales and Criticism-a hypertext of Poe's work


Theme 2 : Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Gothic and Anti-Transcendentalism ("Young Goodman Brown" , The Minister’s Black Veil)

Assignment: Discussion questions on Minister’s Black Veil


Concepts we will discuss in class: Anti-Transcendentalism, the concept of Foils in Literature, static vs. dynamic characters, the Gothic

Balance between Head, Heart, and Will in Hawthorne's characters, Key literature concept: dramatic irony


Further Reading on Hawthorne: Novels and Short Stories. "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" . "The Birthmark"The Scarlet Letter . The Scarlet Letter . The House of Seven Gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of Seven Gables . Hawthorne Poetry Archive . Hawthorne Etext of Gothic Works



Due: Book/Article Review  (Précis) Assignment due

Reading 1: Catching-up on Poe and Hawthorne

Reading 2: Anti-Transcendentalism, from Herman Melville, read: Moby Dick;(chapters 66-72) 
Concepts: Anti-transcendentalism, symbolism, theme, access to knowledge, communion with the natural, hubris and tragic flaw, hamartia, Key literary concept: tragic hero.

Online Resources: Moby Dick: a hypertext . Moby Dick: online . Herman Melville . Herman Melville . Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street


WEEK 4:1860-1914

Late Romanticism and The Riseof Realism:


Mond., June 30     


Reading 1: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/oal/lit5.htm


Reading 2: Emily Dickinson
"'Hope' is the thing with feathers--"
"There is a certain Slant of light--"
"A narrow Fellow in the Grass"
"Because I could not stop for Death--"

"The Bustle in a House"


Concepts we will discuss in class:  Style, unconventional punctuation  and capitalization, brevity of lines and stanzas; figurative language, quatrains, poet of inwardness, writing aphoristically, ABCB rhyme schemes, Carryover rhymes, iambic tetrameter, verbal shocks.


Online Resources: Emily Dickinson: Selections . Emily Dickinson's Online Archive. Emily Dickinson Electronic Archives This site focuses on the work of Emily Dickinson, her writing practices, writings directly influencing her work, and critical and creative writings generated by her work.


Reading 3: Local Color Writers: http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/lcolor.html


Reading 4: Mark Twain (your anthology: 101-289 + The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County")


Concepts: Humor-- Point of View, Exaggeration, Regional dialects and tone, reconciliation of America(s), self-deception, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson. 


Online Resources: Mark Twain: Selections The Adventures of Tom Sawyer . The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . Huckleberry Finn e-text

Further Suggested Reading: "Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn" by Leo Marx; "Morality and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Julius  Lester; and "Reading Gender in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Myra Jehlen. 


Wednesday, July 2 - From Realism to Naturalism


Reading 1: Kate Chopin. "Desirée's Baby" "The Storm"

Concepts: Irony, the role of women in society, The fall of Adam and the garden, Masculinity in Bobinot and Laballière, objective correlative


Further Reading: Kate Chopin, “The Story of An Hour”. Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book,"  "The Ending of the Novel" by George M. Spangler, and "Progression and Regression in Edna Pontellier" by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Online Resources:
Kate Chopin on PBS . Kate Chopin Homepage . Kate Chopin . Kate Chopin-More . A Respectable Woman. Click here for a web site for Kate Chopin


WEEK 5 - Realism to Naturalism (1870-1910)


 Monday, July 7        


Reading 1: Henry James's Daisy Miller
Assignment: Click Here for discussion questions on Daisy Miller.


Further suggested reading: Displays of the Female: Formula and Flirtation in Daisy Miller". Kramer, David Scott. Masculine Rivalry in The Bostonians: Henry James and the Rhetoric of "Newspaper Making" The Henry James Review - Volume 19, Number 2, Spring 1998, pp. 139-147


Online Resources for further reading: Henry James – The Bostonians . Henry James: selected work. Henry James Hyper-Condordance. Henry James  The Turn of the Screw . Daisy Miller Part One . Daisy Miller Part Two . The American. http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/classrev/thebosto.htm

Reading 2: Jack London. "To Build a Fire" . 

Key Concepts: Conflict, Theme, Realism, Instincts, Survival, Nature vs. Individual

Online Resources: The Jack London Collection.- If you are a fan of the writings of Jack London, you will like this site. The Call of the Wild White Fang The Sea Wolf More Jack London


Reading 3: Stephen Crane. "The Open Boat" ( 603-620)
Concepts: Realism and Naturalism, Symbols

Suggested Reading: The Red Badge of Courage . The Stephen Crane Society. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

Hypertext Richard Wright, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris etc. 


Key Terms: Ethnic Diversity, Dialects, Naturalism, progressivism. Nature fights back.

Assignments: Click Here for Notes on Naturalism and journal assignments on London and Crane.


Wednesday, July 9  - From Naturalism to Realism

Reading 1: Finishing Daisy Miller

Reading 2: "American Literature between the Wars: 1914-1945" in your Anthology.
Reading 3: Willa Cather's pages 725-757 in anthology: Neighbour Rosicky and  The Sculptor's Funeral



Monday, July 14 - American Poetry 1914-1945

Reading 1: Robert Frost (selected poems)

"Directive," "Design," or "Desert Places"
"Mending Wall"
"After Apple-Picking"
"The Wood-Pile"
"The Road Not Taken"

 Reading 2: Sherwood Anderson - "Sophistication"

Key Concepts: Modernism, a different look at small town life, understanding a character's motivation, materialism invading America.

Further resources: Sherwood Anderson - Sherwood Anderson - Winesberg Ohio

Key concepts: Stream of consciousness, Allusions, Dramatic Monologue, Mok Epic, Choice and Free Will

Suggested additional poems:
"The Hollow Men," "Aunt Helen"
If we have time: Wallace Stevens- "Anecdote of the Jar."
Concepts: Interpretating Symbolism

William Carlos Williams - "The Red Wheelbarrow" - "This Is Just To Say"
Concepts: Rhythm, Imagism. Writing an Apology

 Monday, July 21: Short stories.  

Reading 1: F. Scott Fitzgerald(p. 1008)- "Winter Dreams"(p 1010)

Key Concepts: Characterization, historical context.

Further Reading: Babylon Revisisted (your anthology, 1025)F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary: U of South Carolina F. Scott Fitzgerald F. Scott Fitzgerald: Literature online This Side of Paradise


Reading 2: William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" (1040-1042 and 1048-1060)
here for a web site on William Faulkner


Reading 3 : Richard Wright's The Man Who Was Almost a Man"  (p. 1111-1121)

Wednesday, July 23d: American literature since 1945

Reading 1:  American Literature since 1945 (p. 1129-1143)

Reading 2: Arthur Miller's The Death of a Salesman (1286)
Click Here for discussion questions for The Death of a Salesman
For a good web site on The Death of a Salesman click here.
For a second web site on The Death of a Salesman, click here.
For a link to literary criticisms of The Death of a Salesman click here.

Monday, July 28th

Reading 3:  Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (p. 1158). Click Here for discussion questions on A Streetcar Named Desire.

Reading 4: Eudora Welty (p. 1147-1149) - "Petrified Man" (your anthology, p 1149) .

Key Concepts: Ambiguity, the Monstruous Body, paralysis and movement. Symbolism, Allusions, Flashbacks, Point of View, Diction

Further Reading: Eudora Welty Foundation - "Why I Live At the P.O"- "A Worn Path" (For your final paper, you could read the heroine in A Worn Path in the light of the argument presented in : "Carving an identity and forging the frontier: the self-reliant female hero in Willa Cather's O pioneers" by Rula Quawas, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia, international review of English Studies.