American Literature Survey

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Course Length:
13 weeks, plus final exam


Course Description

American Literature Survey is a chronological study of the development of American literature from Colonial and Revolutionary authors through the American Renaissance into the twentieth century. This course provides an extensive factual overview with in-depth study of selected works to develop both wide and critical reading. American Literature Survey aims to introduce students to the ideas and emphases of the major periods in American literature from the reports of the early explorers through to the writers of postmodernism.

This semester, you will read many acclaimed works of American literature. The daily readings, writing assignments, and class discussions should promote your personal and intellectual engagement with the literature. This course will highlight the major characteristics of American literature, and by the end of the course, you should be able to address the questions on the nature of our literature: “What is American literature?” “Why do we study it?” “How might we read it for pleasure?” “What can a study of American literature reveal about our twenty-first century culture?” “How does its study reward us?”


Course Objectives

By the end of this course, students should be able to

  1. Explain the relevance of literature as it pertains to the development of philosophical worldviews in America.
  2. Evaluate the influence of cultural, philosophical, and religious movements upon American literature.
  3. Define the major literary periods in American literature providing supporting examples from key authors and texts.
  4. Devise a Christian response to the authors and worldviews studied in this course.
  5. Describe the development of American literature.
  6. Explain the relationships between the authors and the intellectual movements of their eras.


Required Text

McMichael, George and James Leonard, Eds. Concise Anthology of American Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006. (ISBN 0131937928.)


Assignments and Grades

  • Commonplace and Responses: 20%;
  • Rhetorical Analysis: 10%
  • Quizzes: 15%;
  • Exam #1: 15%;
  • Exam #2: 15%;
  • Comprehensive Final Exam: 25%.

Commonplace and Responses: For centuries, voracious readers have kept commonplace books to collect “literary passages, cogent quotes, occasional thoughts, or other memorabilia” (Merriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature). Four times this semester you will need to submit to blackboard a typed, three-page, double-spaced response to a “commonplace”: a pithy passage that prompts an epiphany. Unless you receive an exemption to digress, you should select a commonplace from the material that we have read since your last response. As the commonplace passage educes, you should offer a thoughtful, informed analysis that brings your own unique perspective and interpretation to ideas in the text. You might place it in its context or analyze its significance, but, above all, you should react to it; then, explore how the text prompts your reaction by providing textual evidence. Your interests, frustrations, and puzzlements are often good starting points for a response provided you investigate how an author prompts responses from you and their significance for understanding the text. You might also offer comparative arguments—comparing your commonplace to other authors and texts—so long as you emphasize the significance of your comparisons to better understanding the text.

Your response should adhere to MLA style, the standard of English literary studies, and practice “good writing” as taught in your college writing class. Thus, it would behoove you to focus your response with an argumentative thesis and use each paragraph to offer support with examples from the literature (be sure to cite line or page number). Your response should also incorporate the terms that we are studying and the analytical strategies discussed in class. Conclude your response with a summary of the points covered in the paper as well as any questions or speculations that you were unable to address in this brief assignment. Remember to include a works cited list. Exceedingly brief or longwinded responses are inexcusable (20% of final grade).

Rhetorical Analysis Paper:Write a four-page, double-spaced paper that analyzes a work of nonfiction prose that we have read and discussed this semester (10% of final grade).

Quizzes: Many classes will include a quiz based on the reading assigned for that class and the material from the recent classes. Missed quizzes can only be made up by those qualifying for an excused absence through the academic affairs office (15% of final grade).

Examinations: We will meet for two examinations during the semester (each is 15% of final grade) as well as a comprehensive final held during the final exam period (25% of grade). The exam format will be comprised short answer question and essays.


Course Schedule


Week 1

  • Introductions and Overview of American Literature.

Fri (Pages 1-37 (All readings from McMichael and Leonard))

  • “The Literature of Colonial America”
  • Christopher Columbus' "Letter Describing His First Voyage" and Excepts from his diary from October 1492.
  • From Captain John Smith's The General History of Virginia, read "Book Three"
  • "Powhatan's Discourse of Peace and War"


Week 2

  • Native American Voices I: "How the World Began" & "How the World Was Made" (38-48)
  • William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, (53-73) Chapters I, III, IV, VII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIV, XXVIII, and XXXVI
  • The Bay Psalm Book, excerpts (85-89)
  • The New England Primer, excerpts (89-96)
  • Anne Bradstreet (96-97, 110-21)
"The Author to Her Book."
"Before the Birth of One of Her Children."
"To My Dear and Loving Husband."
"A Letter to Her Husband Absent Upon Public Employment"
"In Reference to Her Children, 23 June, 1659"
"In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet"
"On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet. . ."
"[On Deliverance] from Another Sore Fit"
"Upon the Burning of our House, July 10, 1666"
"As Weary Pilgrim"
From Meditations Divine and Moral
  • Edward Taylor (122-37)
From Preparatory Meditations
"The Reflexion"
"Meditation 6 (First Series)"
"Meditation 8 (First Series)"
"Meditation 38 (First Series)"
"Meditation 39 (First Series)"
"Meditation 150 (Second Series)"
From God's Determinations
"The Preface"
"The Joy of Church Fellowship Rightly Attended"
"Upon a Spider Catching a Fly"
"The Ebb and Flow"
"A Fig for Thee Oh! Death"
  • Jonathan Edwards (171-91)
"Sarah Pierrpont"
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
From Images or Shadows of Divine Things
  • Commonplace and Response #1 due


Week 3

  • William Byrd II, excerpts from The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover (166-71)
  • Introduction to "The Literature of Reason and Revolution" (191-96)
  • Jean de Crevecoeur, from Letters from an American Farmer (259-69)
Letter III--What is an American?
Letter IX--Description of Charleston
  • Benjamin Franklin, Excerpts from The Autobiography (196-211, 234-35, 248-58)
  • Thomas Paine, Excerpts from Common Sense and The American Crisis (274-84)
  • Thomas Jefferson (284-98)
The Declaration of Independence
From Notes on the State of Virginia, Query V, VI, XVII, XVIII, XIX
Dec. 20, 1787, Letter to James Madison
Oct. 28, 1813, Letter to John Adams
  • The Federalist No. 10 (304-11)
  • The Federalist No. 51 (311-14)


Week 4

  • Phillis Wheatley (314-23)
"On Virtue"
"To the University of Cambridge, in New England"
"On Being Brought from Africa to America"
"On Imagination"
"To S.M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works. Recollection"
"To His Excellency General Washington"
  • Philip Freneau (323-35)
"The Power of Fancy"
"The Hurricane"
"To Sir Toby"
"The Wild Honey Suckle"
"The Indian Burying Ground"
"On the Universality and Other Attributes of the God of Nature"
  • Hannah Webster Foster, The Coquette; or, The History of Eliza Wharton (335-55)
  • William Apess, excerpts from A Son of the Forest (372-80)
  • Examination #1: American Literature to 1820


Week 5

  • "The Age of Romanticism" (399-404)
  • Washington Irving (404-05, 413-28)
"Rip Van Winkle"
  • J. Fenimore Cooper (450-52, 472-78)
Chapter XXII, "Slaughter of the Pigeons" from The Pioneers
  • Edgar Allan Poe (508-36)
"The Fall of the House of Usher"
"The Purloined Letter"
  • Edgar Allan Poe (487-97, 539-48)
Selected Poems
"Sonnet–To Science"
"To Helen"
"The City in the Sea"
"The Raven"
"Annabel Lee"
"The Philosophy of Composition"


Week 6

  • William Cullen Bryant, Selected Poems (478-87)
"To a Waterfowl"
"To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe"
"To the Fringed Gentian"
"The Prairies"
"Abraham Lincoln"
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Selected Poems (874-83)
"A Psalm of Life"
"The Arsenal at Springfield"
"The Jewish Cemetery at Newport"
"My Lost Youth"
"The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls"
  • James Russell Lowell (883-86)
"To the Dandelion"
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Poems (610-19)
"The Rhodora"
"Each and All"
"Concord Hymn"
"The Problem"
"Give All to Love"
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (548-79)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" & "Self-Reliance" (579-609)
  • Commonplace and Response #2 due


Week 7

  • Henry David Thoreau
"Civil Disobedience" (763-82)
Chapter II, "Where I lived and What I Lived for" from Walden (826-37)


  • Nathaniel Hawthorne,
"Young Goodman Brown, (622-32)
"The Birth-Mark" (641-52)
  • Herman Melville,
"Bartleby, the Scrivener" (652-80)


Week 8

  • Walt Whitman
"Preface" to Leaves of Grass
"Song of Myself" sections 1-6, 24-25, 49-52 (992-1015, 1028-30, 1055-57)
"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" (1060-64)
"Out of the Cradle Endless Rocking"
"When I Heard the Learned Atronomer" (1064-69)
  • Emily Dickinson (1101-1118)
Selected Poems: 49, 67, 125, 130, 165, 185, 210, 214, 216, 241, 249, 258, 280, 301, 303, 328, 338, 401, 435, 441, 449, 465, 510, 536, 585, 640, 650, 670, 675, 712, 764, 976, 986, 1052, 1078, 1207, 1463, 1624, 1732, 1755.
  • Antebellum Slave Narratives
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Chapters I and IV from Uncle Tom's Cabin (900-15)
Frederick Douglass; Chapters 15-17 of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (941-59)
Harriet Ann Jacobs; Chapters I, V, & VI from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (960-70)


Week 9

  • Responses to the Civil War
Abraham Lincoln (988-92)
August 22, 1862, Letter to Horace Greeley
"Gettysburg Address"
"Second Inaugural Address"
Herman Melville, Selected Poems (756-59)
"The Portent"
"Malvern Hill"
"The College Colonel"
Walt Whitman, Selected Poems (1070-83)
From Drum-Taps
"Beat! Beat! Drums!"
"Cavalry Crossing a Ford"
"Bivouac on a Mountain Side"
"Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night"
"A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown"
"A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim"
"The Wound-Dresser"
From Memories of President Lincoln
"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
Ambrose Bierce (1418-25)
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
  • Examination #2: American Literature: 1820-65
  • "The Age of Realism" (1119-25)
  • Mark Twain (1126-36)
"The Dandy Frightening the Squatter"
"The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"
  • Bret Harte (1330-38)
"Tennessee's Partner"


Week 10

  • Henry James, "The Real Thing" (1359-61, 1400-18)
  • Stephen Crane, Selected Poems (1445-49)
"Black riders came from the sea"
"In the desert"
"A God in wrath"
"I saw a man pursuing the horizon"
"Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind"
"A man said to the universe"
"A man adrift on a slim spar"
  • Charolette Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wall-Paper (1425-39)
  • The Modernist Era (1509-14)
  • Robert Frost, Selected Poems (1537-53)
"The Tuft of Flowers
"Mending Wall"
"Home Burial"
"The Black Cottage"
"After Apple-Picking"
"The Wood-Pile"
"The Road Not Taken"
"An Old Man's Winter Night"
"The Oven Bird"
"For Once, Then, Something"
"Fire and Ice"
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
  • Rhetorical Analysis Paper due


Week 11

  • Eugene O'Neill, The Emperor Jones (1600-32)
  • High Modernism:
Gertrude Stein, (1567-70, 1590-92)
"Susie Asado"
Ezra Pound (1632-39)
"Portrait d'une Femme"
"A Pact"
"In a Station of the Metro"
"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
"Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"
  • T. S. Eliot (1648-53, 1657-75)
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,"
The Waste Land
  • e. e. cummings, Selected Poems (1675-83)
"[all in green my love went riding]"
"[when god lets my body be]"
"[in Just-]"
"[O sweet spontaneous]"
"[Buffalo Bill’s defunct]"
"[the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls]"
"[Poem, or beauty hurts, Mr. Vinal]"
"[my sweet old etcetera]"
"[anyone lived in a pretty how town]"


Week 12

  • Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems (1703-15)
"Peter Quince at the Clavier"
"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock"
"Sunday Morning"
"Bantams in Pine-woods"
"Anecdote of the Jar"
"To the One of Fictive Music"
"A High-Toned Old Christian Woman"
"The Emperor of Ice-Cream"
"Of Modern Poetry"
"No Possum, No Sop, No Taters"
"Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"
"The Plain Sense of Things"
  • William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems (1715-28)
"Con Brio"
"The Young Housewife"
"Danse Russe"
"Spring and All"
"To Elsie"
"The Red Wheelbarrow"
"At the Ball Game"
"Between Walls"
"This Is Just to Say"
"The Yachts"
"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"
  • Marianne Moore, Selected Poems (1728-34)
"To a Steam Roller"
"The Fish"
"No Swan So Fine"
"The Student"
"The Pangolin"
"The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing"
"In Distrust of Merits"
  • Earnest Hemingway, "The Killers" (1782-90)
  • William Faulkner, "That Evening Sun" (1790-1803)
  • John Steinbeck, "Flight" (1808-21)
  • W. E. B. DuBois, Chapters I & IV from The Souls of Black Folk (1514-31)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, "John Redding Goes to Sea" (1748-59)
  • Langston Hughes (1803-1808)
"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
"Young Gal's Blues"
"I, Too"
"Note on Commercial Theatre"
"Dream Boogie"
  • Commonplace and Response #3 due


Week 13

  • "The Postmodern Era" (1837-44),
  • Ralph Ellison, Chapter I from The Invisible Man (1864-75)
  • Amiri Baraka, Selected Poems(2040-49)
"In Memory of Radio"
"The Bridge"
"Notes for a Speech"
"An Agony, As Now"
"A Poem for Democrats"
"A Poem for Speculative Hipsters"
"A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand"
"Poem for Half-White College Students"
  • Closely read two or more poems each from of these later twentieth-century poets: Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, James Dickey, W.S. Merwin, Louise Glücke (1923-77). Carefully note the possible meanings of the poems you select.
  • Alice Walker, "Everyday Use" (2104-11)
  • Gloria Naylor, "Lucilia Louise Turner" from The Women of Brewster Place (2133-44)
  • Sandra Cisneros, "Mexicans" from Women Hollering Creek (2156-59)
  • Toni Morrison, "1922" from Sula (2212-22)


Week 14

Two Hour Final Exam