American Literary Consciousness
English 311: American Literature I, Fall 2003
Section 01: MWF 8:00-8:50AM, Bingham Humanities Bldg 101
Section 75: TR 7:00-8:15PM, Bingham Humanities Bldg 101
The Norton Anthology offers much more writing by most of the authors
that we're going to read than we can possibly examine in a survey course. I
encourage you to read all of these texts, but we'll only have time to examine
a limited number of them in class. Please be prepared to discuss the following
Stories of the Beginning of the World
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
"A Dialogue between Old England and New"
"To Her Father with Some Verses"
"The Flesh and the Spirt"
"A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public
"In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet"
"In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet"
"On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet"
"In Reference to Her Children, 23 June, 1659"
"To My Dear Children"
Annis Boudinot Stockton
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The American Scholar" (1135-47)
"Young Goodman Brown" (1263-72)
"The Minister's Black Veil" (1280-8)
"The Birth-Mark" (1289-99)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
John Greenleaf Whittier
Edgar Allan Poe
"The Fall of the House of Usher" (1534-46)
"The Purloined Letter" (1575-87)
"The Imp of the Perverse" (1588-92)
"Bartleby, the Scrivener" (2330-54)
"Billy Budd, Sailor" (2431-86)
Henry David Thoreau
"Resistance to Civil Government" (1788-1806)
Walden, or Life in the Wood, Chapters 1-3,
5, and 18 only (1807-66, 1875-81, 1974-82)
"Life without Principle" (1788-2028)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,
an American Slave, Written by Himself (2029-97)
Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)
"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
Letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson [Whitman's 1856 Manifesto]
"From Pent-up Aching Rivers"
"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
"Song of Myself" (1881) [note: not the 1855 version]
"I Sing the Body Electric" (online)
read all poems, but these are the ones we'll most
67 [Success is counted sweetest]
185 ["Faith" is a fine invention]
258 [There's a certain Slant of light]
280 [I felt a Funeral, in my Brain]
324 [Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—]
341 [After great pain, a formal feeling comes—]
448 [This was a Poet—It is that]
465 [I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—]
536 [The Heart asks Pleasure—first—]
547 [I've seen a Dying Eye]
712 [Because I could not stop for Death—]
1126 [Shall I take thee, the Poet said]
In order to actively keep up with the reading, as well as to prepare for class
discussion, answer the following study questions before class. For each question,
I suggest writing a short, informal response and citing key passages in the
text that support your response. I also strongly recommend that you annotate
your texts. Actively keeping up with the reading in this manner will serve you
well on the exams and the final paper.
- Stories of the Beginning of the World
- Compare and contrast the Native American creation and flood myths with
the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman myths. In what ways are they similar?
In what ways are they different?
- Christopher Columbus, from letters
- Contrast the tone of the letter to de Santangel with that of the letter
to Ferdinant and Isabella. Why does Columbus have a chip on his shoulder
in the second? Do you think it's justified?
- Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca,
from The Relation of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
- What was Cabeza de Vaca's goal in the New World? How did that goal change
as his station and relations with its inhabitant's developed?
- Anne Bradstreet, poetry
- How does Bradstreet feel about being a wife and mother?
- Thomas Paine
- Common Sense: List the pros and cons of reconciling with Britain,
according to Paine.
- Crisis: Define the tory position, according to Paine.
- The Age of Reason: Explain Paine's conception of religion, organized
- Annis Boudinot Stockton, poetry
- Describe Stockton's relationship with her female friends. How do they
figure in her writing?
- Phillis Wheatley, poetry
- How does Wheatley feel about her origins? How does she feel about America
religion? American freedom?
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Nature: Describe the relation between Nature and Spirit.
- "The American Scholar": Define "Man Thinking." What
is creative reading?
- "Self-Reliance": Why does Emerson believe we should trust
in ourselves more than in our society? What kind of society does he envision
for America's future?
- "The Poet": What is the function of the poet? What is to be
the function of the poet in American society?
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
- "Young Goodman Brown": Why does Goodman Brown lose his faith?
- "The Minister's Black Veil": What does the veil represent?
What is being veiled and, perhaps more importantly, from whom is it being
- "The Birth-Mark": Compare Hawthorne's understanding of religion
in previous stories to his use of science here.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poetry
- How might "A Psalm of Life" and "Excelsior" constitute
a Transcendentalist ethic?
- John Greenleaf Whittier, poetry
- What is an idyll? How do Whittier in "Snow Bound: A Winter Idyl"
and Longfellow in "My Lost Youth" regard the past? How does
the past relate to the present?
- Edgar Allan Poe, poetry and short stories
- In "The Imp of the Perverse," Poe suggests that excessive
Thought breaks from reason and logic and becomes Perverse. How does Perversity
run through all of Poe's works, poems as well as stories? How do Poe's
other works enact the dichotomy between rationality and irrationality?
- Herman Melville
- "Bartleby, the Scrivener": Bartleby prefers not to. What does
he prefer to do? Perhaps more importantly, what does the narrator prefer
Bartleby to do? What, if anything, does Bartleby force the narrator to
confront about himself and his preferences?
- "Billy Budd, Sailor": Why does Billy Budd aver "God Bless
Captain Vere!" as his last words?
- Henry David Thoreau
- "Resistance to Civil Government": Why does Thoreau argue
for civil disobedience? What is "the machine"? What is the difference
in Thoreau's mind between governmental law and justice?
- Walden, or Life in the Woods: Why did Thoreau go into the woods?
What does he wish to simplify? Why did he leave?
- "Life without Principle": Define Thoreau's critique of work
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life .
- Although Douglass is writing autobiography (more specifically a slave
narrative), how might some of his messages correspond with some of the
Transcendentalists we've read? What's his belief regarding education,
and how might it relate to Emerson's "Man Thinking"? What's
his attitude toward slaveholding society, and how might it relate to Thoreau's
resistance to government? What's His attitude toward religion, and how
might it relate to Melville's in "Billy Budd"?
- Walt Whitman, poetry
- According to the Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855), what is the
role of the poet in American society? Do you think he achieves that function
in "Song of Myself"?
- Emily Dickinson, poetry
- Judging from her poetry, how do you think Dickinson lives her life?
What is Dickinson's relationship with life? According to her mindset,
how are life and death related? How does her world view contrast with
You've explored authors and their works in study questions and class discussion.
You've come to general conclusions about the nature of the period in exams.
Now, you can devote an entire paper to one author, to one work. Select a work
of literature (or two or three closely related essays, poems, or short stories)
that we've read in class. See me if you want to pursue a text not covered.
Rigorously and interpret and analyze that piece, and use 3-4 scholarly journal
articles, books, or book chapters to support your interpretation (Click here
to learn how to conduct literary research
at U of L). Although this is a research paper, the emphasis should be
on your ideas, your way of reading the text; the research is necesary but
of secondary importance: do not let it overwhelm your voice.
I'll be glad to discuss paper topics with you at any time.
- Length: 5-7 pages, 1250-1750 words
- Format: MLA style
- Due: Turn in on Thursday or Friday, depending on which section you're
- MWF Section: Friday, November 14 at 8:00AM.
- Note: Any papers received between
8:00AM Friday and 8:00AM Saturday will be considered
one day late, between Saturday and Sunday two days late, and so
- TR Section: Thursday, November 13 at 7:00PM.
- Note: Any papers received
between 7:00PM Thursday and 7:00PM Friday
will be considered one day late, between Friday and Saturday two
days late, and so forth.
- Format: I'll accept papers in hard copy or electronic format.
- Turn in to me in class. If late, turn in to my mailbox in HM315.
Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect only. I will
not read papers submitted in other formats; consequently, your paper
will be considered late until you turn it in in the appropriate format.
- Turn in to me or my mailbox on PC-formatted floppy disk, zip-100
disk, or cdr.
- Turn in via email attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
in via Blackboard.
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