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Paul A Jaussen
ENGL 352
Seattle Campus

American Literature: The Early Nation

Conflicting visions of the national destiny and the individual identity in the early years of America's nationhood. Works by Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and such other writers as Poe, Cooper, Irving, Whitman, Dickinson, and Douglass.

Class description

A Romance of History: American Literature, 1800-1865

“Call him an American," Herman Melville declares, speaking of the writer, “and have done, for you can not say a nobler thing of him.--But it is not meant that all American writers should studiously cleave to nationality in their writings; only this, no American writer should write like an Englishman, or a Frenchman; let him write like a man, for then he will be sure to write like an American" (“Hawthorne and His Mosses"). A somewhat romantic sentiment, that. But a duplicitous, even ironic, one as well. Are American writers somehow no more or less than self-made men? Or is the American character a peculiar concentration of universal humanity? Alternatively, is the American writer a certain kind of man whose distinct qualities will come naturally as long as one does not stifle them? Or, more ironically, is “American"? for Melville simply another name for “man"? And, if that is the case, can one say that the American writer quite properly does not exist?

There is more to be said about this fascinating passage, which appeals to a national literary character even as it disavows nationalism, calls for a break from history even as it trusts in the future, equates “American" with an essential humanity even as it leaves the definition of both terms open. In torquing these ideas, the passage embodies many of the tensions of Melville’s intellectual, aesthetic, and political world. The nation was rapidly becoming imaginatively self-conscious, alongside its equally accelerated material and geographic growth--a growth that was driven, in part, by the institution of slavery and at the cost of native peoples. The conflicts and contradictions would lead, eventually, to civil war.

This course will survey the literature of this period by attending to the literary responses to those pressures. We will begin and end with a careful reading of two romances, Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland (1798) and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), considering how the genre developed its potential and purposes over the era. In between, we will examine to a number of topical clusters, including the literature of slavery and freedom, modernist antecedents, the transcendentalist experiment, and poetic evolutions. Exact readings to be determined, but expect to see selections from James Fenimore Cooper, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. Secondary readings will also be assigned.

Students will be expected to read with rigor and imagination, contribute to class discussions with intelligence and deliberation, and write with clarity and passion. There will be a midterm and final exams, a paper proposal, and a term paper, as well as a collaborative project in which students will develop a cultural and literary map of the period.

Texts: Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (Norton, 2010, ISBN 978-0-393-93253-9)

Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. B (Norton, ISBN 978-0393927405)

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (U California P, 1983, ISBN 9780520045484)

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General method of instruction

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Class assignments and grading


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 Paul A Jaussen
Date: 11/17/2010