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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Donald L Anderson
ENGL 250
Seattle Campus

American Literature

Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.

Class description

English 250A: Introduction to American Literature: Reflection and Narration.

One of literature’s chief characteristics is its ability to think about itself and the culture and history it is a part of while simultaneously projecting an engaging narrative. When literature reflects on both itself and the surrounding culture, it becomes a particularly rich tool for literary critics and readers to engage history and, more importantly, the present socio-cultural landscape. This can be most glimpsed at in the simple question: how did we get here? The job of readers is to work within an explicit narrative in order to excavate the implicit cultural commentary. This self-reflective characteristic of literature couldn’t be more pronounced in American literature where authors have, not only reflected, but have critiqued, parodied, and even attacked the culture they are writing within. Whether in the quiet contemplation of Thoreau, or the vibrant rhetoric of Anzaldua; whether in the cut ups of Dos Passos representing the industrial revolution, or the parody of consumerism in "Fight Club"—American literature has regularly interrogated itself and the surrounding culture through both its form and content. In order to engage how literature thinks about itself and its culture as well as its historical moment our course will be split into themes accompanied by appropriate authors. The themes that follow are not the only ones imaginable. However, I’ve selected the themes I feel will help us answer the following questions: How is literature supporting and perpetuating a particular cultural project, such as, for example, nationalism? How is literature critiquing such projects and what forms do these critiques take? Basically, we want to examine how literature thinks and to do so we must carefully examine the reciprocal relationship between American literature and American culture.

Themes will be the following and will appear in this order: “Nation Building” (Benedict Anderson, Hector St. John De Crevecoeur, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Nathanial Hawthorne); “The Antebellum Period and Slavery” (Frederick Douglass, Octavia E. Butler), “Utopia/Dystopia” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Nathaniel Hawthorne); “Reflections on America” (Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Gloria Anzaldua); “American Modernism and Postmodernism” (Herman Melville, John Dos Passos, Chester Himes, Hubert Selby Jr., Jack Kerouac, Pulp Fiction/Tarantino, Thomas Pynchon); “American Consumer Culture” (Bret Easton Ellis, Fight Club/Fincher/Palahniuk, Jean Baudrillard, Don DeLillo). While most of these texts appear in chronological order, we will not allow time to determine the trafficking of these texts. Therefore, I hope that we will be able to discuss, write, and think across these themes and period during the quarter.

Students will compose regular goposts on the course online forum and compose two 5-6 page papers. Students will also participate in group presentations correlating with the above themes.

*Texts and films might shift slightly between now and Fall quarter.

Texts: Kindred, Octavia E. Butler; Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Bartleby, Herman Melville; If He Hollers Let Him Go, Chester Himes; On the Road, Jack Kerouac; The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon;

Films: Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino; Fight Club, David Fincher/Chuck Palahniuk; (or, possibly the original Dawn of the Dead...we'll see).

Course Packet Materials: Imagined Communities (excerpts), Benedict Anderson; “What is an American?,” Hector St. John De Crevecoeur; “Common Sense” (excerpt), Thomas Paine; “The Declaration of Independence,” Thomas Jefferson; “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” Nathaniel Hawthorne; “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,”; Frederick Douglass “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne; Walden (excerpt), Henry David Thoreau; “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Walt Whitman; “A Supermarket in California,” Allen Ginsberg; Borderlands (excerpts), Gloria Anzaldua; The Big Money (excerpt), John Dos Passos; Last Exit to Brooklyn (excerpt), Hubert Selby Jr.; Underworld (excerpt), Don DeLillo; American Psycho (excerpt), Bret Easton Ellis; “Consumer Society,” Jean Baudrillard;

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Lecture, class room discussion, group work.

Recommended preparation

Have an incredibly open mind.

Class assignments and grading

Students will compose regular goposts on the course online forum and compose two 5-6 page papers. Students will also participate in group presentations correlating with the above themes.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Donald L Anderson
Date: 05/14/2009