Dr. H. E. Wyss

9080 Haley Center



Office Hours:

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 11:30-12:30 and by appointment


Required Texts:

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter 5th edition

The internet

One novel [choose from 5 options]


Course Description:

            You have chosen to take a literature course at an exciting time; in universities across the country, many of us in literary studies are in the process of asking ourselves what exactly we are supposed to do as critics of literature and how we engage people in our work. This form of questioning is called “canon revision,” which simply means that we look closely at why we read what we read and who benefits (and loses out) in the ways we define ourselves and our literature as American. As a class, we will examine writers who are considered very important (or “canonical”) by most people, and we will try as well to look at some lesser known writers and what they have to contribute to our understanding of ourselves.

            This course is a survey of American Literature from 1492 to the present. In trying to cover over 500 years, we will have to ask ourselves several questions:

            What constitutes literature and how does it change over time?

            What does it mean to call literature “American?”

            What social and cultural factors affect literature and how is it produced and understood?

            How do we choose what to read and what not to read?



This course will operate primarily as a discussion class. For this to be successful, you must do the assigned reading carefully and ON TIME. When you come to class unprepared, you not only waste your own time, but you let down your classmates as well. To facilitate discussion and to insure that everyone is in fact keeping up with the reading, I will begin every class with a short (5 minute) writing assignment based on the reading you have done for class that day. This will also be my way of taking attendance. If you cannot complete the writing for the day, you will be considered unprepared, and therefore you will be counted absent for the day.

We are on a tight schedule this summer, and a lot is compressed into each class. Furthermore, there is no midterm and no final exam to test your overall knowledge of the course materials. For this reason, I am going to insist on a rigorous attendance policy. ANY unexcused absences will affect your participation grade, and with more than four unexcused absences you will fail the course, so keep in mind that missing class or not being able to complete the writing assignment has significant repercussions. Twenty percent of your final grade is based on class participation—that that means you must PARTICIPATE in the activities of the day. Keep in mind that merely showing up for class having done the reading do not assure a good participation grade—active engagement with the questions and concerns of the course are required for a high participation grade.

As well as completing all the assigned reading for the course and participating actively throughout the five-week term, you will be required to write two papers. You will also be expected to do several informal class presentations. You will receive a more detailed assignment sheet for each assignment, and you should feel free to talk with me at any point if you have questions or concerns about any of the assignments. Remember, though, that assignments are due on the day listed on the assignment sheet. Because of the time constraints we are dealing with in this 5-week summer session, late papers will not be accepted, which means you will fail the class if you do not hand in all assignments early or on time. This is non-negotiable.


            Participation (in-class writing, discussion, attendance)…………20%

            Paper #1...……….….……………………………………………40%

            Novel Paper……………………………………………………...40%








Tuesday 22:

INTRODUCTION Genesis (handout); Iroquois and Pima creation stories (23-31)


Wednesday 23: Adventurers

   Literature to 1620, 1-10  


   Christopher Columbus 11-14


   John Smith 37-49



Thursday 24: Settlers

   Early American Literature, 77-87;

   William Bradford 88-106


Friday 25: American Poets, part 1

   Anne Bradstreet 127-29, 140-47;

   Phillis Wheatley 358-65





Tuesday 29: Defining the new nation

   J. Hector St Jean de Crevecoeur 292-302;

   Thomas Jefferson 322-329



Wednesday 30: American Romanticism—sentimentalism and self-reliance

   American Literature 1820-1865, 409-25

   Ralph Waldo Emerson 493-96, “Self-Reliance” 550-67; Harriet Beecher Stowe



Thursday 31: Romanticism continued

   Henry David Thoreau 849-52, Walden 868-910


JUNE Friday 1: Discussion; PAPER #1 DUE



Monday 4: American Poets, part 2

   Walt Whitman 1001-19, 1049-55, “Song of Myself” #1-16 (pages 1057-68);

   Emily Dickinson 1190-94; poems #214, 241, 258, 303, 341, 449, 465, 632, 650, 1129, and Pages 1210-11


Tuesday 5: American Gothic <>

   Edgar Allan Poe 697-704, 708-30;

   Nathaniel Hawthorne 584-87, 630-50


Wednesday 6: Catch-up in class 


Thursday 7: The American Dilemma

   Herman Melville 1103-08, 1134-90


Friday 8: Sentimentalism and Self-Reliance, part 2


   Harriet Jacobs 826-48;

   Frederick Douglass 967-1001



Monday 11: Discussion


Tuesday 12: Local Color Writers

   American Literature 1865-1914, 1241-57

    Mark Twain 1258-64

   Charles Chesnutt 1639-40, 1647-55;    

   Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1656-69



Wednesday 13: The Expatriate

   Henry James 1491-1533 


Thursday 14: Reconstruction <>

   W.E.B. DuBois 1685-1701;

   Booker T. Washington 1629-39


Friday 15: Discussion



Monday 18: The Expatriate, part 2

   American Literature between the Wars 1914-1945, 1799-1811

   T.S. Eliot 2040-46, 2048-60


Tuesday 19: The Playwright

   American Prose since 1945, 2261-71

   Tennessee Williams 2282-2348


Wednesday 20: Postmodernism

   American Poetry since 1945, 2581-92

   Maxine Hong Kingston 2511-21

   Li-Young Lee 2813-17


Thursday 21: Postmodernism, part 2

   N. Scott Momaday 2465-76

   Joy Harjo 2787-91


Friday 22: Discussion









As the term progresses, you will be expected to explore several web sites and report back to the class what you found. As you are thinking about these reports, which will be very informal in nature, I want you to be able to tell us

a)      exactly what kind of information was available on the web site

b)      some specific examples (dates, biographical information, historical information) of the information that you learned

c)      how that information changed the way you thought about the primary text in question

You should expect to speak for no more than a few minutes about what you found, so be ready with specific information and focused ideas.


Here are the dates and addresses you need to remember:

Wednesday May 23—PICK ONE

Introduction to American colonial texts:


Christopher Columbus


John Smith



Tuesday May 29—EVERYONE


(Browse this site in some detail. I especially want everyone to familiarize themselves with the Sally Hemmings controversy—go to “Plantation” and then to “Related Resources” to find out more about this topic.)


Tuesday, June 5—Group 5



Friday, June 8—Group 1



Tuesday, June 12—Group 2



Thursday, June 14—Group 3



Thursday, June 21—Group 4








Conference: Required

Outside sources: at least 2 must be cited using MLA style

Due date: Friday, June 1

Length: 5-6 pages


For your first written assignment you will create an argument about some feature of a single work written before 1800 on our syllabus. For this paper you will argue for an interpretation of the work based on textual evidence (examples from the work itself), but you will contextualize the work you analyze by doing a little research into related art, philosophical ideas, social movements, laws, historical events, modern portrayals, etc. The possibilities are almost endless. As you try to decide, think about what outside interests you have that might help you with your reading--psychology, music, art, economics, etc. Be sure to use at least two outside sources in your argument. Use proper MLA format to document your research.


Some examples:

·      Christopher Columbus and the Taino people

·      Phillis Wheatley and the problem of slavery during the American Revolution

·      William Bradford and the Pequot War

·      Anne Bradstreet and the experience of American colonial women




1) Be careful to limit your topic. If you don’t, you will probably end up treating either your outside source or your work of literature superficially. Don’t rely on generalizations about either work to create your argument.

2) Be sure to create an argument, not a report. Use your research to help you make an original argument about how the work of literature represents a problem or trend in the larger culture. YOU must decide how the things you have chosen work together or struggle against each other.

3) Feel free to expand on the work you have already done for one of your class reports.

4) If we read an excerpt of the work you have chosen, you should read the entire work before you write about it. Come see me if you have questions about this—there are some exceptions.




Conference: Required

Groupwork: Required

E-Mail correspondence: at least 3 substantial postings required; these must be sent

to your group and to me.

Documentation: MLA Style

Due Date: Monday, June 25

Length: 5-7 pages


  1. Toni Morrison Beloved and the slave narrative
  2. Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale and the feminist tradition
  3. Ralph Ellison Invisible Man and the American intellectual tradition
  4. Thomas King Green Grass, Running Water and Native American identity
  5. William Faulkner Absalom, Absalom! and the Gothic tradition

To complete this jam-packed survey of American literature you will read one of the five novels listed above and write a final paper on it due Monday, the 25 of June. You will not be alone reading this novel; you will sign up for a novel and read it together with at least five other students—the perfect size for a reading group. You will decide in your group how you want to proceed—do you want to do outside research on your novel and report back to each other? Do you want to have weekly/bi-weekly discussions? All I ask is that you communicate at least some part of your discussion over e-mail and that I be included in that e-mail correspondence. You will each be expected to post a minimum of THREE substantial e-mail comments about your novel although other than that you can do as much or as little as you want over e-mail. I have listed broad topics for you to think about; as you think more specifically about your paper you will need to meet with me in my office or send me an e-mail specifying what you will write your paper about.


Your paper should be 5-7 pages; document all references using MLA style; the due date is Monday, June 25.


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