American Lit to Mid-19C

This course provides an historical and critical overview of the development of “American” literature from the arrival of European settlers through the Civil War. We begin with Toni Morrison’s contemporary novel, A Mercy, as both a portrait of the historical complexity and diversity of “Early America” and a critical analysis of the economic and psychic drives through which settlement took place. We will read her analysis as well of the ways that “American” self-definition formed in relation to an Africanist presence along with essays that analyze Native-Settler relations from the colonies forward. It is out of this historical matrix that an “American” literary tradition (the emergence of a new class of professional imaginative writers) emerges in the 19th century, one of whose major themes is a concern with its own historical emergence, as in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, an exploration of what has been called “the Puritan origins of the American self” which will be read against source texts. Likewise, we will read selections of canonical 19th century authors that address ethical quandaries relating to New World Slavery (Benito Cereno), Industrial capitalism, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and the ethics of U. S. expansion in Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (a text that will be juxtaposed with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and John Rollins Ridge’s Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta). In tracing the emergence of “American” literature we will read as well from authors representative of different genres and traditions, including Mary Rowlandson, William Apess, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Jacobs, Fredrick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, Hector Crevecoeur, Henry David Thoreau, R. W. Emerson, as well as from later scholars who have sought to unsettle the definition of “American” literature as a category, such as Jose Marti, C. L. R. James, Paul Gilroy, Amy Kaplan, and Gregory Jay.


REQUIRED TEXTS will include Herman Melville, Typee; Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym; John Rollins Ridge, Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta; Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter; Toni Morrison, A Mercy, as well as a variety of essays, poems, and stories available as PDFs on the course website on Laulima.


GRADING: This is primarily a reading and discussion class. There will be daily short in-class writings relating to the reading, a few postings on the course web-site, short oral presentations, two period-long exams, and a final examination.