Literary responses to an America propelled forward by accelerating and complex forces. Works by Twain, James, and such other writers as Whitman, Dickinson, Adams, Wharton, Howells, Crane, Dreiser, DuBois, and Chopin.
A study of representative American texts culled from the latter half of the nineteenth century and deliberately selected to span a gamut of genres: the novel, the short story, the extended verse form, the short lyric poem, autobiography and the essay. Students should expect that in taking this course, they will keep needing to re-test the aesthetic ground-rules, and to keep re-adopting to radically different varieties of voice, ranging from Huck Finn’s down-home utterances to Dickinson’s gnomic phraseology to Henry James’s elaborately woven syntax. Themes will include race, immigration, industrial revolution, class, and the frontier—lots of long-familiar subjects. Even so, there’s no getting around the absence of a single perspective or voice through which to treat these themes. What is representative about the American texts selected, that is to say, is the fact that either individually, or sometimes in juxtaposition, they force one to think from several different standpoints all at once, to read different voices, and to span a gamut of worlds. Throughout this course the threshold between differences will often prove more important than whatever that threshold seems to separate and divide.
Provisional Reading List:
Course Pack (Whitman’s poems and “The Yellow Wallpaper”); The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson; Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills and Other Stories; Stephen Crane, The Portable Stephen Crane; Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Henry James, The Portable Henry James; Kate Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories
Student learning goals
Read texts closely and intelligently, developing, in the process, a sensitivity to the powers of language and voice, and differences between various genres.
Write cogent, well-organized essays.
Learn how to situate literary texts within a socio-political context that they are shaped by and help to shape.
General method of instruction
I do quite a bit of lecturing, although often students like to interrupt my lectures with questions and comments, and at certain points, the discussion itself takes off on its own, and I flow with it.
Class assignments and grading
Essays and journal entries.
Largely the essays, although journal entries (if especially good--or poor)will sometimes influemce the overall grade.