Michelle S. Liu
A literary form in which America has found its distinctively American expression. Selected readings among important novelists from the beginnings until 1900, including Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Chopin, James, and Wharton.
It is an accepted fact today that our nation first achieved a distinct cultural voice in the mid-19th century, a period dubbed the â€œAmerican Renaissance.â€? Yet while Emerson, Hawthorne, Poe, Whitman, and Melville are now revered as the bedrocks of our national literature, these men achieved their iconic status due to the concerted efforts of Cold War literary critics, who desired to identify a period in the past that might restore a sense of American dignity and drive in a new age of atomic nihilism. This course is designed to critically examine how the idea of an American Renaissance was a response and salve to the fears and uneasiness of a post-WWII United States. The roots we revere, in other words, say as much about our present as it does the past.
As history always dialogues with the current, we will examine how and why the themes of slavery and the seductions of idealism were resonant in both the 1850s and 1950s, and explore how they continue to haunt our contemporary moment. We will also explore who was included in the American Renaissance and why, as a way of interrogating how our search for tradition is a sensitive barometer of our trepidations and ambitions for the nation. The courseâ€™s tracing of American literatureâ€™s long-standing contemplation of certain themes is key to understanding the forces that bond our nation, and at what costs. Some of the texts we will be covering this quarter are: Uncle Tomâ€™s Cabin, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Billy Budd, The Blithedale Romance, and The Manchurian Candidate.
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