Dr. Alex E. Blazer Course Site Syllabus
In Class Activities Selected Reading Study Questions
Discussion Board Peer Response
Paper 1 Paper 2 Exam


American Literary Consciousness from Huck Finn to House of Leaves

English 226.01: American Literature II: from 1860

Fall 2007, Wednesday 6:00-8:50PM, 1116 AuSable Hall

In Class Activities

1. Dickinson

Since we have a large class that meets only once per week, I've designed an in-class activity for us to introduce ourselves to one another, commence our analysis of Emily Dickinson, compare Dickinson with Whitman, and generate a spirit of class participation. Break into groups of three or four, discuss the poem assigned to your group, and answer the three questions.


241 [I like a look of Agony,]

448 [This was a Poet!—It is that]

650 [Pain—has an Element of Blank—]

1129 [Tell all the truth but tell it slant—]

  1. What is the core conflict of the poem?
  2. What is the theme of the poem?
  3. How do Dickinson's conflicts and themes compare to the issues and ideas of Whitman that we've just discussed?

2. Eliot

We're going to commence our discussion of The Waste Land by breaking into small groups and breaking the poem down into manageable sections, one section per group. Each group is responsible for answering the following questions:

  1. Who is/are speaking?
  2. What is the narrative plot or plots in the section?
  3. List and define some of the allusions in the section.
  4. What is the overall tone and idea of the section?

3. Alain Locke, from The New Negro

Our two goals for this in class group activity are to 1) break down The New Negro into an understanding of its component stories and 2) then interpret the stories' collective significance.

  1. Rudolph Fisher, "Vestiges: Harlem Sketches"
    1. Group Representative: Mary Barrett or Allie Chandler
    2. Describe the conflicts regarding religious, generational, and country vs city world views.
    3. Taken collectively, what do these diverse sketches say about Harlem?
  2. John Matheus, "Fog"
    1. Group Representative: Eric Brinks or Jon Koehler
    2. Describe the ethnic, racial, and religious conflicts among the trolley passengers.
    3. What does the fog symbolize? What does the fog do to the world view of the trolley car passengers?
  3. Jean Toomer, "Fern"
    1. Group Representative: Audrey Lovett or Danielle Houghton
    2. Describe the literal and literary relationship between the male Northern narrator and the Southern female Fern? Is there any difference between the Northern narrator's relationship with Fern and the Southern men's relationship with her?
    3. What does the story suggest about black female sexuality and African-American literature?
  4. Zora Neale Hurston, "Spunk"
    1. Group Representative: Shawnna Gunnink or Arianna Hendrix
    2. Describes the ways in which this modern folk/folksy story goes beyond its regionalist roots?
    3. What does the story suggest about patriarchy and the status of women in the African-American folk community?

4. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

One pathway into the complex, time- and perspective-shifting novel The Sound and the Fury is through the simple image of a girl in a tree peering in at her grandmother's funeral while her brothers look up at her muddy drawers. This is the primal scene that undergirds the psyche of the characters, the author, and the novel. Our two goals for this in class group activity are to 1) break down The Sound and the Fury into an understanding of its component points of view and 2) then interpret the collective significance of its points of view.

  1. Benjy
  2. Quentin
  3. Jason
  4. third-person narrator focusing mostly on Dilsey

Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

Day 1


Because Danielewski's book is so fascinatingly difficult, I want to make sure that we're all on the same page regarding the structure and plot of the book. To that end, we'll spend much of our first day of discussion entertaining questions about format and what actually happens in the first half of the novel. Take a few moments to write about what you do know and do not understand about the book and then we'll use your responses to guide class discussion today.

Day 2


Last week, we brought many diverse issues to the table in an effort to understand the plot and format of the book. For our second day of discussion, I'd like us to focus on character and theme in not only Danielewski but also Barth and Coover as well so that we can grasp the the larger picture of their postmodern effort. Divide into five groups. Each group will be responsible for answering five questions regarding its assigned character.


The characters:

  1. Ambrose
  2. the projectionist
  3. Bill Navidson
  4. Johnny Truant
  5. Pelafina H. Lièvre

The questions:

  1. Do a character sketch.
  2. What is the character's core conflict?
  3. Describe the character's journey through the story: where does the character begin and where does the character end?
  4. Looking at just the one character, what is the key idea or theme of the story?
  5. What is the theme of the entire work? How does the theme of the character's journey fit into the overall theme of the novel?
    • If your group is interpreting Ambrose or the projectionist, how does the theme of "Lost in the Funhose" or "The Phantom of the Movie Palace" compare to that of House of Leaves?

Selected Reading

The Anthology of American Literature offers over 130 pages of writing by Whitman and over 40 by Dickinson. I encourage you to read all of these poems, but we'll only have time to examine a limited number of them in class. Please be prepared to discuss the following texts.


Walt Whitman

Preface to Leaves of Grass

"Song of Myself"

"To You"

"One's-Self I Sing"

"I Hear America Singing"

"Poets to Come"

"From Pent-Up Aching Rivers"

"Once I Pass'd through a Populous City"

"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"

from Democratic Vistas

Emily Dickinson

125 [For each ecastic instant]

241 [I like a look of Agony,]

249 [Wild Nights—Wild Nights!]

258 [There's a certain Slant of light,]

303 [The Soul selects her own Society—]

324 [Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—]

341 [After great pain, a formal feeling comes—]

414 ['Twas like a Maelstrom, with a notch,]

435 [Much Madness is divinest Sense—]

441 [This is my letter to the World]

448 [This was a Poet— It is That]

650 [Pain— has an Element of Blank— ]

754 [My life had stood—a Loaded Gun—]

1129 [Tell all the truth but tell it slant—]

H. D.

Note: Selected poems are also bookmarked in the Blackboard > Course Documents > H. D. file.


"Sea Rose"

"Sheltered Garden"

"Sea Poppies"



"Hermes of the Ways"


"The Pool"

"Fragment 113"

"Fragment Thirty-Six"

"Fragment Forty"

"Fragment Forty-One"

"Fragment Sixty-Eight"

Study Questions

It's easy to get behind in a fast-moving survey course. In order to actively keep up with the reading and prepare for class discussion, I suggest the following strategy:

  1. Read the author biographies in the Norton anthology, for they often frame the themes of the selected texts.
  2. Peruse anthology's companion website, Anthology of American Literature.
  3. Take notes while you're reading, either in the margins or in a notebook (highlighting doesn't count).
  4. Record at least three significant or favorite passages for each work.
  5. Read your peers' discussion board responses on Blackboard.
  6. Answer the study questions, which will typically be available the Friday before the work will be discussed. I suggest writing a short, informal response and citing key passages in the text that support your response.

Actively keeping up with the reading in this manner will serve you well on the papers and exams.

Peer Response

1. Goals

As this is Supplemental Writing Skills course, you have the opportunity to revise your two formal papers based upon comments by your peers and myself. You will provide constructive criticism to 3 or 4 other members of the class as will they to you. Take this opportunity to re-see and hone your papers, not only in terms of grammar and style but analytical content.

2. Peer Response Groups

3. Written Peer Response

Answer the following questions as you formulate your one page, double-spaced response to each peer's paper. Because these peer response papers and sessions help your peers revise their papers and thus improve their grade, it is very important that you offer the best constructive criticism in the strongest possible terms, both in writing and in the group meeting. Do not simply say that a peer's paper is okay. Even if you find no problems, engage a dialogue with the paper's interpretation.

4. Verbal Peer Response

In the peer response meeting, group members will share their responses in verbal form. Writers take turns listening to their group members review their work. Specifically, the group should go around the circle and address the following issues. The process should take 7-10 minutes per writer and last 35-50 minutes depending on the size of the group.

Discussion Board Response

Blackboard Post: You will respond to a reading, and post your response to our course discussion board at Blackboard > Discussion Board. The response should

Informal Presentation: You will also be responsible for a brief, informal presentation which introduces the key issues and possible themes of the text as you see them and also broaches issues for class discussion.


Due Dates:

  1. Your discussion board response will be due in Blackboard > Discussion Board on the Wednesday before we discuss an essay in class. If you do not submit your response to Blackboard before the text is discussed in class, you will fail the assignment.
  2. Your brief, informal presentation will be due on the day we discuss the reading in class. This date is approximate for we sometimes fall a day behind.
  3. I will return your graded response to you in Blackboard > My Grades > Discussion Board Response by the next class period.
  4. For example, we are scheduled to discuss James on 9-12. Therefore, the summary will be due in Blackboard > Discussion Board by Wednesday, 9-5. In class on Wednesday, 9-12, the respondent will informally present her reading of James's story and I will grade her response and return it to Blackboard > My Grades > Discussion Board Response by Wednesday, 9-19.

Note: It is your responsibility to remember to post your response on time.



Due Date


Due Date


Reading Student
F, 8-31 W, 9-5 Freeman  
W, 9-5 W, 9-12 Twain Caitlyn Knapp
W, 9-12 W, 9-19 Crane Santana Aker
Norris Amy Funk
W, 9-19 W, 9-26 Eliot Danielle Houghton
W, 9-26 W, 10-3


Amy Sprouse
Williams Kristopher A. Snyder
W, 10-3 W, 10-10 Cullen Jon Koehler
Hughes Audrey Lovett
W, 10-10 W, 10-17 Glasgow Mary Barrett
Fitzgerald Shaynon Munn
Hemingway Allie Chandler
W, 10-17 W, 10-24 Faulkner, "That Evening Sun" Dan Kilian Jr
Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury Lindsay Nienhouse
W, 10-24 W, 10-31 O'Neill Teresa Stillman
W, 10-31 W, 11-7


Ariana Hendrix
Ginsberg Jim Munchow
W, 11-7 W, 11-14


Shawnna Gunnink
Wilson Brooke VanHouten
W, 11-14 W, 11-21 No Class: Thanksgiving Recess  
W, 11-21 W, 11-28 Danielewski (first half) Danielle Lewis
Barth Eric Brinks
W, 11-28 W, 12-5 Danielewski (second half) Mike Golczynski

Short Paper

The goal of the first paper is for you to articulate a general understanding of an important topic within American literature between the Civil War and 1910 by connecting and differentiating readings. Compare and contrast two authors (Whitman, Dickinson, Freeman, Jewett, Chestnut, Twain, James, Crane, Norris, London) on a general topic like (but not limited to) individuality and agency, society and nature, morality and racism, or gender and sexuality, by first positing a particular, comparative yet differential, and argumentative thesis and then proving that thesis with rigorous analysis of textual evidence. As this is an SWS course, you will be given feedback on your first draft and allowed to revise if you so choose.

Research Paper

You've explored authors and their works in study questions and class discussion. You've come to general conclusions about the nature of the regionalist, realist and naturalist period through your first comparison/contrast paper. Now, you can devote an entire paper to one modernist author, to one modernist work (Eliot, H.D., Williams, Cullen, Hughes, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, O'Neill). Select one modernist work of literature (or two or three closely related poems by one poet) that we've read in class. See me if you want to pursue a text not covered. In a focused, thesis-driven paper, rigorously interpret and analyze that piece using specific textual evidence (i.e., quotations) and literary research (3-4 scholarly journal articles, books, or book chapters) to support your argument. 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 support: do not let it overwhelm your voice. I'll be glad to discuss paper topics with you at any time.


Answer two essay questions, one from Group A and one from Group B. Use an individual author only once and write 3-4 pages for each essay, 6-8 pages for the entire exam.

Organize essays by argument and analysis. Have a controlling idea, an interpretation, a thesis that bridges the two authors. Support your points with textual evidence (explanation, paraphrase, and/or quotes) but avoid plot summary. Make complex connections and subtle distinctions between the texts; in other words, compare and contrast the authors and their world views.