American Literature is a survey of American literature from colonial times to the late twentieth century. Once again, we take a generally historical approach to the material, tracing the development of particular themes, ideas, and techniques of writing, and examining the kaleidoscopic interactions of the many strands of the American population and culture.
The course is built around a basic textbook, The United States in Literature, part of the "America Reads" series from Scott, Foresman. It is slightly less thorough than its companion volume England in Literature, which serves as the backbone for English Literature, but I have supplemented its readings quite extensively with outside readings. Please see the required texts and readings pages for particulars. Contact me about this if you are interested.
The course has no absolute prerequisites, but English Literature or its equivalent is virtually required to assure success. If you have not taken my English Literature course, please contact me before enrolling in this one. We try to build on the cumulative skills of the previous years' work. World Literature introduces basic concepts of literary reading; Western Literature to Dante encourages extensive reading, while English Literature deals more with close reading. Here we attempt to combine techniques, looking minutely at some works while also reading an assortment of others in a way that will require a mixture of methods and techniques. We especially try to dig into issues of theme and symbolic language in the works of the great nineteenth-century masters Melville and Hawthorne. Meanwhile, we will continue to explore:
Issues basic to all written material:
- What is the author trying to say?
- Why has the author used these particular words, in this particular order?
- What is the structure of the work?
Questions of universal import in the literary enterprise:
- How does the author create and use characters?
- What is a hero?
- How does the author create and use mood and tone?
- What is the function of symbol and metaphor?
- In poetry, how does the author use sound to express sense?
Questions relating to the historical context of the work:
- How does this work compare with other works in the same tradition? In other traditions?
- Is the author reacting to contemporary issues? Does this limit or extend the work?
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