American Literature 1920-Present

One-semester course
Open to 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty 1-3

1. Rationale

Some core questions for this course are: What does American Literature have to say about the American promises of freedom, equality and independence? What makes “American Literature” American? What distinguishes American Literature from World Literature? Are there transcendent themes in American Literature? This course also provides students with an introduction to and overview of the literature of the United States from 1920 to the present day. There are many possible approaches to the study of American Literature. A teacher may choose a chronological approach starting with literature from the 1920s and move through twentieth century. Or, a teacher may choose texts from different periods using a single theme or set of themes as a common thread. Grouping American Literature by genre is yet another possible approach.

2. Topics and Themes

• Democratic Principles: Freedom, Equality, Independence
• The dialectic between American History and American Literature
• Canonical vs. Non-Canonical Works and Who Decides
• The American Dream
• Class and Materialism
• The Individual in Society
• Religion in America
• War and Peace
• Race
• Gender
• Insider vs. Outsider
• American Aesthetics
• Satire
• Family
• Relationships

3. Methods
The primary methods are close critical reading, discussion, brief lectures, formal essays, journaling, and informal “writing to learn” exercises. Connections are made between works, historical contexts and themes.

4. Expectations for Students
In addition to the department-wide expectations, students are expected to be capable readers and good writers. Students are expected to come to class prepared with observations, thoughts and questions on the nightly reading. In class, students are expected to participate regularly and to listen carefully to one another. Later in the course, students are expected to draw conclusions, make intertextual connections between, and generalizations from the reading.

Reading: Students have nightly reading that varies with the difficulty level of each text: As I Lay Dying, 20 pages; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 30-35 pages, for example.

Writing: Students have regular formal and informal writing assignments. 4-6 formal essays in the course, plus reading journals, in-class “writing to learn” exercises, and activator questions to stimulate discussion. Students are expected to keep notes on the reading, lectures and class discussions.

Exams: There is a semester examination in June.

5. Reading List and Other Materials

The Great Gatsby
Their Eyes Were Watching God
A Farewell to Arms
As I Lay Dying
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
A River Runs Through It
The Color Purple

Song of Solomon

Short Stories:
There are many stories taught. The following are the most commonly taught:
Short Stories and In Our Time (Hemingway)
The Collected Stories (Flannery O’Connor)
The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)
Redeployment (Phil Clay)
“A Rose for Emily”
“Barn Burning”
“Sonny’s Blues”
“The Gilded Six-Bits”
stories from Eight Men

A Streetcar Named Desire
Death of a Salesman

There are many poems taught. The following are the most commonly taught poets:
T.S. Eliot
Robert Frost
e e cummings
Allen Ginsburg
Sylvia Plath
William Carlos Williams
Elizabeth Bishop
Maya Angelou
Theodore Roethke
Wallace Stevens
Robert Hayden
Yusef Komunyakaa

Non Fiction:
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, William Faulkner

On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, A River Runs Through It, Wag the Dog, Smoke Signals, Faulkner: A Life on Paper, Death of a Salesman, The Color Purple, The Sting, Far From HeavenThere Will Be Blood

General Texts Available: American Short Stories, The Mentor Book of American Poetry, The Norton Anthology of Poetry

6. Bibliography
Faulkner: A Biography, Blotner
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, O’Connor (ed. Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald)
God and the American Writer, Kazin
The Great Circle, Yu
The Cycle of American Literature, Spiller
The American Novel and Its Tradition, Chase
Part of Nature, Part of Us, Vendler
Contemporary American Writing, Hoffman
Literary Democracy, Ziff
Silences, Olsen
The Portable Faulkner, Cowley

Sample Assignments:

1. In a multi-paragraph response answer the following question: Is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest McMurphy’s story or Chief Bromden’s story? Explain.

2. Using As I Lay Dying as your model, write a Faulknerian narrative or series of narratives describing an L-S class period or school event.

rev. 10/17

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