The American Novel

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Course Length:
13 weeks, plus final exam


The American Novel is a chronological study of the American novel from its beginnings in the Nineteenth Century to the present. Emphasis will be on works representative of major authors (i.e., Hawthorne and Twain), important types (i.e. , novel of manners, historical fiction), and significant American themes (i.e., Nature, slavery, racism, immigration, etc).

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 Amerian literature, and by the end of the course, you should be able to address the questions on the nature of 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 semester’s end, students should

  1. Possess an understanding of the American novel as a genre: its history, development, and character.
  2. Better understand American culture: its values, intellect, art, and spirituality.
  3. Become well acquainted several acclaimed American novelists and their work.
  4. Develop skills in analytical and appreciative reading of fiction.
  5. Understand the relationship between the author’s work and his or her worldview.
  6. Be able to form a Christian response to the ideas and worldviews expressed in the literature.



Required texts

  • James Fennimore Cooper. The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757. New Ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford World Classics, 1998. (019283505X.)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter: A Romance. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s (Bedford College Editions), 2006. (0312446497.)
  • Herman Melville. Billy Budd, Sailor: An Inside Narrative. New Ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford World's Classics, 2001. (0192839039.)
  • Henry James. The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Fiction. New York: Signet Classics, 1995. (0451526066.)
  • Mark Twain. Pudd’nhead Wilson & Other Tales. New Ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford World Classics, 1999. (0192837303.)
  • Willa Cather. My Ántonia. New Ed. Oxford, UK: Oxford World Classics, 2006. (019283200X.)
  • Zora Neal Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. (0060838671.)
  • Ernest Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea (1952). Reissue Ed. New York, Scribner: 1995, (0684801221.)
  • Paul Auster. The New York Trilogy. Reprint Ed. New York: Penguin, 1990. (0140131558.)
  • Marilynne Robinson. Gilead. New York: Picador, 2004. (031242440X.)




  • Four Response Papers: When listed on the course calendar, you will need to bring to class a titled, typed, three-page, double-spaced response paper. You should offer a thoughtful, informed analysis that brings your own unique perspective to one of the texts for that week. You might respond to the ideas in the text or develop your own response based on the readings and class discussions. Your interests, frustrations, and puzzlements are often good starting points for a response provided you investigate how an author in the text prompts responses from you and their significance for understanding the text. You might also offer comparative arguments so long as you emphasize the significance of your comparisons.
Your response should adhere to MLA style 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 due to the concise nature of this assignment. Remember to include a works cited list. Exceedingly brief or longwinded responses are inexcusable (20%)
  • Quizzes: Many classes will include a quiz based on the reading assigned for that class and the material from recent classes. Missed quizzes can only be made up by those qualifying for an excused absence. (20% of grade).
  • Critical Research Paper: Write an seven-page argumentative research paper that synthesizes at least six scholarly sources (not including primary sources), develops your own argumentative thesis, and conforms slavishly to MLA style. Due before Thanksgiving break (or Tuesday 11/20 before 5 p.m.). In addition to submitting a hardcopy at the deadline, please submit a “backup” copy to blackboard (20% of grade).
  • Informal Presentations to Prompt Class Discussion: During the semester, you will each be asked to introduce some of the material being discussed for that class. A superb presentation will help the class better to understand the material we are discussing. Your presentation should assert and explore several important questions raised (not necessarily answered) by the novel. The questions can be literary (artistic), historic, philosophical, theological, scientific, etc. This presentation should be intelligent, reflective, and interesting. We will sign up for these presentations during the first week of class, so look over the syllabus and the readings to select several options in case your preferred date is unavailable.
You should consider yourself a discussion starter; ask opened questions that will help lead others in discovering more about the material for that class. Do not worry about discussing all of the material for that class (unless you wish). Here are some questions that you might consider for your presentation:
    • How does this story relate to the topics that we have been discussing?
    • Can you relate this topic to literary topics or concepts that we have in previous class?
    • Can you find similarities to other works we have read? What is the author doing differently in the text?
    • What do you think are the goals of the text, aesthetic and/or didactic?
    • What do you think that text means, literally and metaphorically? You might point out how you see the author combining literary elements to accomplish this meaning?
    • What is confusing or ambiguous about this text? Can you help the class work through these problem areas?
    • Is there anything in the author’s life that would be helpful in better understanding the text?
    • If you choose, what scholarship have you found helpful in trying to better understand the text?
    • If you are sharing a longer work that we are discussing over more than one class, you should communicate with the other presenters so that your presentations compliment each other with little overlap.
    • Presentations tend to be better when you thoroughly plan what you are doing and intentionally involve the class in the conversation.
    • A handout or PowerPoint, while optional, may be an effective teaching tool. A warning, do not merely read your handout.
I am more than willing to brainstorm and discuss the ideas that you have for the presentation. Note that the most successful presentations allow space for the entire class to respond to your ideas. When you ask questions, allow the class a minute to think about what you have said before you expect a response
You are also encouraged to “team up” and to lead discussion. Please note that you will need to present one class for each member of your group. For example, If you are in a group of three people, you will need to sign up for three class sessions. If you choose to work in a group, the members of the group will share one common grade for their work.
You are required to hand in a copy of your notes during the class in which you make your presentation (10% of grade).
  • Midterm Examination: (10% of final grade).
  • Final Examination: This exam will be cumulative in nature (20% of grade).



Course Schedule


Week 1

  • Introductions and Overview
  • James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans "Preface" and "Introduction" - Chapter 10


Week 2

  • James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, Chapters 11 - 33


Week 3

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, "Preface" and "The Custom-House" - Chapter XII (33-78)
  • Response paper (#1) due


Week 4

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Chapters XIII - XXIV (176-220)
  • Herman Melville, Benito Cereno (164-204)


Week 5

  • Herman Melville, Benito Cereno (204-47)
  • Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor
  • Response paper (#2) due


Week 6

  • Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson & The Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins


Week 7

  • Henry James, Daisy Miller


Week 8

  • Henry James, The Turn of the Screw & The Alter of the Dead
  • Response paper (#3) due


Week 9

  • Willa Cather, My Ántonia
  • Research proposal and working bibliography due'


Week 10

  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God


Week 11

  • Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
  • Seven-page research paper due


Week 12

  • Paul Auster, City of Glass


Week 13

  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
  • Response paper #4 due


Week 14

  • Comprehensive Final Exam