Christopher B. Patterson
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
Melting Pot, Salad Bowl, or Chop Suey?: The Question of Diversity in American Literature
In the aftermath of World War I, the political philosopher Randolph Bourne wrote that America was poised to become "a wholly novel international nation," which had the power to "harmonize" peoples of different cultural backgrounds by accepting their "foreign savor." Though this call for cultural acceptance was controversial in 1916, today, in an era of American military and economic dominance, concepts like "tolerance," "diversity" and "multiculturalism" seem just as accepted in political speeches as they are in advertisements. How did these values become dominant today, and can they carry deeper social or philosophical meanings? Who gets excluded from this discourse, and is there a threshold point, where one's sexuality, cultural attitude, or religious beliefs become "intolerable"? In this course, we will read American literature from the late nineteenth century to the present day, focusing on American attitudes towards immigration, assimilation, empire and diversity. In contrast to the "national harmony" suggested by the concept of e pluribus unum, the literature we read will focus on the ambiguous, tumultuous, and often regressive dimensions of cultural, racial, class and sexual difference.
The work for this course is designed to keep you reading and writing daily. There will be weekly reading responses, two 4-5 page papers, and one group presentation every week. Required texts include Quicksand by Nella Larsen and Cebu by Peter Bacho. We will also have a coursepack with short stories, poetry and essays. This course satisfies the W credit and the VLPA credit.
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Class assignments and grading