Syllabus #6

ENG 142C: Life and Thought in American Literature
Fall 1991

Professor John Edgar Tidwell
Miami University

Required Textbooks

Paul Lauter, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature, vol. 2

Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson

Objectives of the Course

Our goal for this term is to read, analyze, and appreciate texts by famous American writers and by relatively unknown ones. In the course, we will encounter an "American" literature that has undergone reshaping and redefinition, having benefitted from efforts to expand the canon of "traditionally" anthologized texts and authors. As we encounter this new, richly diverse collection of writers and texts, we will be guided not only by an attention to formal qualities but by historical contexts too. Ultimately, our challenge is to develop not only skills in critical reading and writing but an informed sense of what is of value in literature.

Course Requirements

Each student will be asked to take a written mid-term and final examination. Supplementing these major exams will be a number of quizzes, both announced and announced. Moreover, students will be divided into groups of four to five to conduct research on a problem related to the materials we study in the course. Each group will submit a collaboratively-written paper and present to the class the results of its research. An option to the research paper (e.g., musical recital, debate, display of original art work, etc.) is also possible.

Tentative Schedule of Readings

Aug. 27, 29

Introduction; "To Reader"; and "Late Nineteenth Century"

Sept. 3, 5

EXCHANGE DAY; Development of Women's Narratives 35-35; Davis 41-67

Sept. 10, 12

Regional, National Voices 192-213; African-American Folktales 194-213


Sept. 17, 19

Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson

Sept. 24, 26

James's Daisy Miller

Oct. 1, 3

Chesnutt 445-73

Oct. 8, 10

Issues and Visions 738-39; Gilman's "Yellow Wall-Paper"; New Explorations, 850-51; Booker T. Washington 851-77

Oct. 15, 17

Mid-Term Examination

Oct. 22, 24

Modern Period 933-960; Toward Modernism 961-62; E.A. Robinson 962-72

Oct. 29, 31

Masters 1033-36; Frost (TBA)

Nov. 5, 7

Brown 1519-35; Hurston 1535, 1545-52

Nov. 12, 14

Alienation 1163; Williams 1205-1206, 1208 ("Portrait"); Hemingway 1387-92; Stevens 1393-97

Nov. 19, 21

Faulkner 1406-21

Nov. 26, 28

Issues and Visions 1587; LeSueur 1648-54; Schuyler 1610-15; THANKSGIVING RECESS

Dec. 3, 5


Dec. 10, 12

Conclusions; Course Evaluation

December 19


Suggested Research Paper Topics

As indicated early in the semester, I am interested in forming the class into a series of research teams to write collaboratively on different topics. The list of subjects follows; after each group comes to an agreement about the topic it chooses, please let me know. The group will do all of the research collectively, from preliminary library research, formulating the thesis, to writing the final draft. The final product will be a fifteen to twenty page paper; it is to be typed or word-processed. All papers are due no later than class time on December 3rd. Evaluation will be of two kinds: first, the paper will be evaluated on its own merits as written work; and a second grade will be assigned to the oral presentation of the work to class, which will occur in the last two weeks of the semester. The following topics are options:

1. Research an Ohio writer not on our reading list and analyze a sampling of fiction, drama, or poetry by this writer.

2. In light of the controversy generated by "political correctness," research the origins of the term and then discuss its implications for defining American literature.

3. Booker T. Washington in chapter 14 of Up From Slavery and W.E.B. DuBois in chapters 3 and 6 of Souls of Black Folk (1903) offer radically opposed versions of educational and political goals for African Americans. Research and discuss the implications of their differing visions.

4. Although American poets have not yet--according to critical consensus--produced an epic poem, several twentieth century poets have made the attempt. Research features of classical epic poetry and identify epic characteristics in Williams's Paterson, Pound's The Cantos, Eliot's Four Quartets, or Crane's The Bridge.

5. Research and come to consensus on a working definition of biography. Then select an emeritus member of Miami's faculty (preferably one from the English Department, although you will not be limited in that respect), and write a "biography" of that person.

6. Select a written work that has been made into a movie. After reading and researching the work, explore how the work undergoes change from one medium to the other.

7. Several writers and critics, usually in discussions of Southern Writers like Faulkner, have set forth the importance of place as a literary critical idea. From your research, offer a working definition of place and apply it to an analysis of several short stories by Faulkner that are not on our reading list.

8. After researching a working definition of feminism, apply it to an interpretation of a novel written in the period 1920-1940.

Second Examination

Part I. Longer Answers: Select two of the following for extended answers. A few small reminders: For obvious reasons, be sure to answer this section first. Take a minute and outline your response so that an argument emerges. The best answers make use of specific details from the work; and each answer is self-contained.

1. Before we reached "High Modernism," we first encountered the "early modernists"--Robinson, Masters, Frost, and Brown, who collectively sought to explore the "extraordinary in ordinary experience." Discuss how three members on this list used poetry to celebrate the language and lives of everyday people.

2. How would you define "modernism"? Illustrate your definition with examples from the poetry of Stevens and Williams.

3. Faulkner and Hemingway represent two very different writing styles. Drawing liberally from examples in the works we read, how would you describe their differences?

4. Define "dramatic poetry." Then illustrate the definition using Frost, Hemingway (yes, consider Hemingway's short story as if it were poetry!!), and another poet of your choosing if time permits.

Part II. Short Answer: First, identify five of the following quotations, by citing the author and name of text. Then, in two or three pointed, direct sentences, offer an interpretation of the quotation by explaining what it says and why it is important in the text. Do NOT select more than one quote per author. (Worth 6 points each.)

1. "It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. "It's not really an operation at all." The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on. "I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in."

2. There was not much that was ahead of him,

And there was nothing in the town below--

Where strangers would have shut the many doors

That many friends had opened long ago.

3. What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,

Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?

Degenerate sons and daughters,

Life is too strong for you--

It takes life to love Life.

4. "You're getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning, would? Don't you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat? Eh?"

5. He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

6. Complacencies of the peignoir, and late

Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair

And the green freedom of a cockatoo

Upon a rug mingle to dissipate

The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

7. An' den de folks, dey natchally bowed dey heads an' cried,

Bowed dey heavy heads, shet dey moufs up tight an' cried,

An' Ma lef' de stage, an' followed some de folks outside."

Dere wasn't much more de fellow say:

She jes' gits hold of us dataway.

8. Your thighs are appletrees

whose blossoms touch the sky.

Which sky? The sky

where Watteau hung a lady's

slipper. Your knees

are a southern breeze--or

a gust of snow. Agh!

9. They listened at his heart.

Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Contents, No. VII