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 Americana

English 226C: American Literature II: from 1860

Winter 2007, Thursday 6:00-8:50PM, 2113 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. Ginsberg: Culture/Counter-Culture

Today we are going to discuss the attitudes of the Beat Generation in general and Allen Ginsberg in particular toward American culture of the fifties and sixties. Break into five groups and answer some of the following questions for the Ginsberg poem your group is assigned.

  1. Howl, Section 1
  2. Howl, Section 2
  3. Howl, Section 3
  4. "A Supermarket in California"
  5. "America"

3. Williams: Memories, Menageries, and Movies

In an effort to break up the long period and put more responsibility on your shoulders, today we are going to break into five groups for about 20 minutes in order to tackle some key themes in Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Here is each group's task:
  1. Character: Amanda: 1) Do a character sketch of Amanda that 2) highlights her core conflict by 3) selecting the most significant section of dialogue. 4) Write a thesis statement for a possible paper on the theme of the play focusing on Amanda's character.
  2. Character: Tom: 1) Do a character sketch of Tom that 2) highlights his core conflict by 3) selecting the most significant section of dialogue. 4) Write a thesis statement for a possible paper on the theme of the play focusing on Tom's character.
  3. Character: Laura: 1) Do a character sketch of Laura that 2) highlights her core conflict by 3) selecting the most significant section of dialogue. 4) Write a thesis statement for a possible paper on the theme of the play focusing on Laura's character.
  4. Symbol: Menageries, Movies, and Gum : 1) Determine what the glass menagerie, movies (or better yet, the fire escape), and gum represent for Laura, Tom, and Jim, respectively. 2) Write a thesis statement for a possible paper that compares and contrasts what these symbols of illusion mean for the theme of the play.
  5. Idea: Memory and Time: 1) List Amanda, Tom, and Laura's relationships with and/or attitudes toward memory and time and 2) select the most important dialogue regarding these ideas. 3) Write a thesis statement for a possible paper that uses memory and time as its theme.

4. Albee, Vonnegut, Silko, Wilson

Break into five groups, discuss the issue assigned to your group, and then present your answers to the rest of the class.

  1. Albee's Contemporary Communion: Compare and contrast The Hairy Ape's Yank's search for belonging and zoo symbol with Jerry's desire for "contact"—"to understand and just possibly be understood"—and zoo symbol. How is modern life in the 1920s similar to yet different from contemporary life in the 1960s through the present?
  2. Vonnegut's Sexual Dystopia: What social oppressions does the authoritarian government in the story practice and, more importantly, why does it practice them? If Vonnegut were to write this story today, 39 years later, what would he keep and what would he change in order to maintain his critique of American culture's sexual pathology?
  3. Silko's Hybridity: How do Native American traditions and American Catholicism interact in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds"? In what ways is the narrator of "Coyote Holds a Full House in His Hand" decidedly Native American, and in what ways does the typical American dream define him?
  4. Wilson's Fathers and Sons: Compare and contrast the play's father and son relationships. What is the play saying about fatherhood in general and African-American fatherhood in particular?
  5. Wilson's Responsibility and Storytelling: Discuss the conflict between responsibility on the one hand and dreaming, storytelling, lottery playing, sports playing, drinking, philandering and so forth on the other hand. By the end of the play, what is our attitude toward Rose? toward Troy? What is the play's theme regarding the conflict between practicality and illusion?

5. DeLillo's America

"America can be saved only by what it’s trying to destroy" (256). What is America trying to destroy? What can save David, us? Americana is a big novel with big themes. For our final discussion we'll need everyone's input. In five groups, we'll break down the novel in terms of structure, identity, death, media, and a comparison with Huck Finn and then reconstruct the larger import of the novel as a class.

  1. Structure
  2. Identity
  3. Film, Television, Radio, Advertising
  4. Death
  5. From Adventures to Americana

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—]

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 Thursday 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 1-25. Therefore, Mandy Noble's summary will be due in Blackboard > Discussion Board by Thursday, 1-18. In class on Thursday, 1-25, Mandy 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 Thursday, 2-1.

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



Due Date


Due Date


Reading Student
M, 1-15 R, 1-18 Freeman

Adrienne Briggs

Jewett Benedict Hahnenberg
R, 1-18 R, 1-25 Twain Brad Wancour
James Mandy Noble
R, 1-25 R, 2-1 Crane Brittny Heys
Norris Shelly Reese
R, 2-1 R, 2-8 Eliot Ben Knight
Janine L. Elliott
R, 2-8 R, 2-15


Kristi Correll
R, 2-22 R, 3-1 Cullen Megan McPoland
Hughes Don Ivers
R, 3-8 R, 3-15 Glasgow Jessica Folkhert
Fitzgerald Kristin Day
R, 3-15 R, 3-22 O'Neill Dan Kyle
Monica Birchman
R, 3-22 R, 3-29 Plath (note: do not respond to the same poems) Kelsey Root
Jeffrey Resloniec
Ginsberg Davey Johnson
R, 3-29 R, 4-5 Williams Tiffany Gates
C. Scheil
R, 4-5 R, 4-12 Albee Susan Plasman
Wilson Jon Gano
Allan Vander Laan
R, 4-12 R, 4-19 DeLillo Tracy Brosseit

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 paper. Now, you can devote an entire paper to one modernist author, to one modernist work (Eliot, Moore, Williams, Cullen, Hughes, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, O'Neill). Select a modernist work of literature (or two or three closely related poems, or short stories) 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., quotes) 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 importance: do not let it overwhelm your voice. I'll be glad to discuss paper topics with you at any time.

Student Author/Topic

Monica Birchman

O'Neill, The Hairy Ape
Dren Briggs
Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby or "Winter Dream"
Tracy Brosseit
Fitgerald, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair"
Kristi Correll
Kristin Day
Kristin Day, The Great Gatsby
Janine Elliott
Jessica Folkert
Fitgerald, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair"
Jon Gano
Tiffany Gates
Benedict Hahnenberg
Moore or Cullen
Brittny Heys
Don Ivers
Davey Johnson
Ben Knight
Dan Kyle
Megan McPoland
Mandy Noble
Susan Plasman
Shelly Reese
Fitgerald, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair"
Kelsey Root
Jeffrey Rosloniec
Christopher Scheil Oppen
Allan Vander Laan Hughes
Bradley Wancour Moore


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.