Alternative Syllabus I

Here are a couple of examples of how some teachers are structuring their non-traditional courses.

Course Title: Engaging Pairs

Instructor: Carol J. Singley, Swarthmore College

This syllabus describes an introductory literature course for freshmen and sophomores. Designed to satisfy the college's primary distribution requirement and to serve as students' first course in the English department, it emphasizes writing, especially literary analysis, and includes the major literary forms (novel, short story, play, and essay).

I have designed the course with two additional goals in mind: to offer a survey, however skeletal, of American literature, with the chronology and diversity that such a course implies; and to focus, through the pairings of male and female writers, on the differences of gender in American literature and in writing in general.

My approach to "Engaging Pairs" is to teach a text by a given female author with a text in the same genre and from a similar period by a male author. Selected theoretical and critical texts about gender accompany the literary texts. In selecting the pairs, I am not placing "canonical" writers alongside "non-canonical" writers; such pairings would have the inevitable and unfortunate result of continuing to marginalize the "non-canonical" writer. Rather, I wish to place texts by men and women in equal juxtaposition, allowing students' reading and discussion of the literature--as well as of critical and theoretical texts about gender, exclusion, and oppression--to lead them to their own insights about gender difference, men's and women's writing; and, ultimately, the construction of American literary canons, myths, and values.

Writing assignments for this course include standard literary analyses (for example, the speaker's response to loss in "Upon the Burning of My House"); comparative analyses (for example, nature as metaphor in Twain and Jewett); the relation of theory and literature (for example, Gilligan's theory in light of Hansberry or Miller); and assignments such as writing a "ghost chapter" or developing a paper from the point of view of a character whose perspective is not provided (for example, the "Indians" in the Rowlandson captivity), or writing as a person of the other sex. There is a mid-term in the form of an in-class essay and a final exam.

Students write a total of 20-25 finished pages, submitting at least one outline or rough draft and one revision. If Writing Associates (peer tutors) are not assigned to the course, I set aside parts of at least two classes for peer review of first drafts or for group "brainstorming" for upcoming papers. To further encourage student involvement and collaboration, two students are responsible for leading discussion for each writer.

Booklist: Students purchase copies of the novels and plays and an anthology of American poetry. I supplement these texts with photocopied handouts and/or place materials on reserve.

I have highlighted the engaging pairs below in bold, listing in some cases alternative texts which the instructor might use to create different versions of the course.

Week 1
Ernest Hemingway, "A Very Short Story"
Susan Glaspell, "A Jury of Her Peers"
Robert Scholes, "Decoding Papa"
Judith Fetterley, "Reading About Reading:"

Weeks 2 and 3
Anne Bradstreet, "The Prologue," "Before the Birth of One of Her Children,"
"To my Dear and Loving Husband," "The Author to Her Book," "On My Dear Grandchild
Simon Bradstreet," "Upon the Burning of Our House"
Edward Taylor, "The Preface," "The Joy of Church Fellowship Rightly Attended,"
"Huswifery," "Upon a Spider Catching a Fly," Meditations 8, 22, 38 (first series)
Gilbert and Gubar, from The Madwoman in the Attic

Weeks 4 and 5
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," "Native Moments,"
"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," "A Noiseless Patient Spider" Emily Dickinson, #s 199, 214, 216, 258, 280, 288, 303, 322, 324, 332, 401, 435,
465, 508, 585, 657, 754, 1138, 1545
Adrienne Rich, "Vesuvius at Home"
Sandra Gilbert, "The American Sexual Politics of WW & ED"
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," "The Poet"

Week 6
Elizabeth Sullivan, "Legend of the Trail of Tears"
Black Elk, from Black Elk Speaks
Chief John Ross, correspondence
Jane Tompkins, "`Indians': Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History"


Nathaniel Hawthorne, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux"
Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron"
Carol Gilligan, from In a Different Voice
Annis Pratt, from Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction
Nina Baym, "Melodramas of Beset Manhood"

Weeks 7 and 8
Mary Rowlandson, Captivity Narrative
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Tompkins essay


Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs
Leslie Fiedler, from Love and Death in the American Novel
Nancy Chodorow, from The Reproduction of Mothering
Dorothy Dinnerstein, from The Mermaid and the Minotaur

Weeks 9 and 10
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
Arthur Miller, The Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller, "Tragedy and the Common Man"

Weeks 11 and 12
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
Alice Walker, The Color Purple
(with Walker) Adrienne Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality"
(with Pynchon) slides of Remedios Varo's painting
Luce Irigaray, "When the Goods Get Together"

alternatively with Pynchon:

Joan Didion, Democracy;
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping; or,
Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time

Week 13
Robert Hayden, "Frederick Douglass"
Laureen Mar, "Chinatown 1, 2, 4"

alternatively with Hayden:

Gwendolyn Brooks, "What Shall I Give My Children?"

Contents, No. II