English 116: American Literature Survey
Professor Carolyn Karcher
Professor Karcher generously shared with us her syllabus, notes on her course, essay and exam questions, and extensive comments/reactions from her students.For the first time since 1981, I radically revamped and reconceived my Survey of American Literature in order to make full use of the multicultural possibilities offered by the new Heath Anthology of American Literature. Although I had previously been supplementing the Norton Anthology with xeroxed selections by Native Americans, African Americans, and white women, the outlines of my former survey course had continued to be relatively traditional, and I had essentially been incorporating modestly increasing quantities of new wine into old bottles. The Heath, however, contains such a wealth of material, much of it hitherto unfamiliar to me, that using it entails abandoning previous conceptions of American literature and culture and letting other patterns emerge from the juxtaposition of canonical and noncanonical texts.
As I made clear to the students, the course was as much a process of discovery for me as for them. Especially in the early part of the course, I found myself lecturing more than usual (instead of relying primarily on class discussion of texts), because the number and diversity of the selections made it necessary to try to provide some kind of synthesis before focusing on individual texts. Compounding the challenge of bringing coherence to such a vast and diverse body of material was the shorter time frame in which I was operating, this semester being my first experience of teaching the survey as a three-credit hour course. And further compounding the intellectual and practical difficulties of the task was the current backlash against multiculturalism and "political correctness," which I felt needed to be addressed forthrightly at the outset and tactfully throughout the semester.
Despite the frequent sense of being overwhelmed and the discomfort of no longer having "control" over the course, I believe the class went well. I was particularly pleased by the consistently strong participation of African American students in class discussion and by the openness of exchanges on issues of race (in which many of the white students showed great sensitivity). One factor may have been that Native Americans, rather than African Americans, served to introduce issues of race in the Heath. The African American students may also have been an unusually self-confident lot, since several were older students, and two were among the best writers in the class.
The students responses to the questionnaire I gave about the readings were very positive. Nearly all expressed special interest in the selections by Native Americans and African Americans, and several pronounced the Heath a "valuable asset" that they intended to keep in their personal library. One student wrote, "I heard a voice that had been hushed or ignored in previous courses." Many others echoed that sentiment. I hope this will continue to be true, but a class at Temple University Carter City (night school), where students tend to be more mature, may not be representative.
English 116 Survey of American Literature
Required text: Heath Anthology of American Literature,Vol. I
Tu Jan. 21: Introduction to the course
Th Jan. 23: Native American Traditions-Winnebago, Pima, Zuni: pp. 3-7 ("Colonial Period"), 22-40 ("Native American Traditions," "This Newly Created World," "Emergence Song," "Talk Concerning the First Beginning"); 2641-63 ("Native American Oral Poetry," "Sayatasha's Night Chant")
Tu Jan. 28: Native American Traditions-Navajo, Tlingit, Tsimshian: pp. 40-52 ("Changing Woman and the Hero Twins"); 59-66 ("Raven and Marriage," "Raven Makes a Girl Sick")
Th Jan. 30: Spanish Explorers, Captives, Conquerors: pp. 7-10 ("Colonial Period"); 67-69 ("Literature Of Discovery"); 69-80 (Columbus: Journal Of the First Voyage to America), 89-99 (Cabeza de Vaca: Relation); 120-31 (Villagra: History of New Mexico)
Tu Feb 4: Spanish Colonizers and Native Americans: 52-55 ("Coming of the Spanish and Pueblo Revolt," Hopi); 431-32 ("Pueblo Revolt and Spanish Reconquest"); 433-40 (Otermin, "Letter on Pueblo Revolt"); 756-61 (Report by Delgado); 80-88 ("Virgin of Guadalupe")
Th Feb. 6: English Colonists in Virginia and the Puritan Mission in New England: pp. 10-21 ("Colonial Period"); 146-59 (Smith: True Relation, General Historie, "Description of New England," "Advertisements"); 172-76 (Frethorne, Letters); 188-99 (Winthrop: "Modell of Christian Charity")
Tu Feb. 11: Puritan Colonists and Native Americans: pp. 210-32 (Bradford: Of Plymouth Plantation); 31742 (Rowlandson: Narrative of Captivity)
Th Feb. 13: Puritan Poetry: 256-60, 272-73, 276 (Bradstreet: "Prologue," "Author to Her Book, "Before the Birth," "To My Dear Husband," "Letter to Her Husband," In Memory of My Grandchild"); 295-97 ("Bay Psalm Book" and "New-England Primer"), 304 (Psalm 23); 308, 309 (New England Primer: Alphabet, Verses); 342-46, 363-65, 366-67, 373-74 ("Huswifery," "Upon Wedlock," "Prologue," "Meditation 26")
Tu Feb. 18: Colonial Period 1700-1800- Varieties of Eighteenth-Century Religious Experience, Puritan and Quaker: 448-69 ("Colonial Period); 512-16, 545-66 (Edwards: "Personal Narrative," "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"); 604-10 (Woolman: "Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes" )
Th Feb. 20: Who (What) Are Americans?-Revolutionary Ideals and their Contradictions: 890-91, 895-907 (Crevecoeur: "Letters from an American Farmer" #3, #9); 957-64, 965-71 (Jefferson: Declaration of Independence; Notes on the State of Virginia, Queries 6, 11,14 [xerox handout], 18); 1042-43, 1059-61, 1067-68 (Freneau: "To Sir Toby," "The Indian Burying Ground"
Tu Feb. 25: Who (What) Are Americans?-African American Voices: 694-712 (Vassa/Equiano: Interesting Narrative); 712-15, 718, 720-24, 727-28 (Wheatley: "On Whitefield," "On Being Brought from Africa," "To University of Cambridge," "Phillis's Reply," "To Washington," Letter to Occom), 685-94 (Prince Hall: "Petition," "Charge to African Lodge")
Th Feb. 27: Who (What) Are Americans?- Native American Voices: 728-35 (Occom: "Short Narrative"); 1752-53 ("Issues and Visions"); 1753-60 (Apes: "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man"); 1760-69 (Boudinot: "Address to the Whites"), 1769-72 (Seattle/Suquamish: Speech)
Tu Mar. 3: Who (What) Are Americans?-Benjamin Franklin, Embodiment of the American Dream: 776-80, 823-81 (Franklin, Autobiography)
Th Mar. 5: Myths, Tales, and Legends: 1214-16 ("Myths, Tales, and Legends"); 1216-22 (Schoolcraft: "Mishosha" ); 1228-36 (Hispanic Cuentos: "La comadre Sebastiani," "Los tres hermanos"); 1238-39, 1248-60 (Irving: "Rip Van Winkle")
Tu Mar. 17: Early Nineteenth Century- Versions of Transcendentalism: 1180-1213 ("Early Nineteenth Century"); 1467-70, 1499-1528, 1568-69, 1579 (Emerson: "American Scholar," Self Reliance," "Snow-Storm," "Days") PAPER # 1 DUE
Th Mar. 19: Versions of Transcendentalism: 1964-1981, 2016-31 (Thoreau: "Resistance to Civil Government," "Plea for John Brown"
Tu Mar. 24: Women's Rights: 1825-26, 1886-90 (S. Grimke: Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, #8); 1580-82, 1604-26 (Fuller: Woman in the 19th Century); 1893-95, 1897-99 (Stanton: "Declaration of Sentiments"); 1899-1902, 1903-1904, 1907-1908 (Fern: "Hints to Young Wives," "Soliloquy of a Housemaid," "Working-Girls of NY"); 1908-13 (Sojourner Truth)
Th Mar. 26: Varieties of Narrative and Representations of Women: 2063-65 ("The Flowering of Narrative"); 1322-25, 1333-44, 1362-64 (Poe: "Ligeia," "Oval Portrait")
Tu Mar. 31: Varieties of Narrative and Representations of Women: 2065-69, 2101-2132 (Hawthorne: "The Birthmark," "Rappaccini's Daughter")
Th Apr. 2: Varieties of Narrative and Representations of Women: 2286-2307 (Kirkland: A New Home); 2596-2613 (Cary: "Uncle Christopher's")
Tu Apr. 7: Varieties of Narrative and Representations of Women: 2400-2404, 2431 note 1, 2438-64 (Melville: Encantadas Sketch #8, "Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids")
Th Apr. 9: Slavery and Rebellion: 1781-91 (Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World); 1858-71 (Higginson, Nat Turner's Insurrection" )
Tu Apr. 14: Slavery through the Eyes of Slaves: 1637-1704 (Douglass: Narrative); 2671-74, 2676-79 (Slave Songs: "Lay Dis Body Down," "Steal Away," "There's a Meeting," "Many Thousand Go," "Go Down, Moses," "Didn't My Lord")
Th Apr. 16: Slavery through the Eyes of Slaves and Women: 1723-50 (Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl); 1795-98, 1809-12 (Child: "Preface" to Appeal. "Slavery Pleasant Homes")
Tu Apr. 21: A Fictional Perspective on Slavery: 2464-2522 (Melville: "Benito Cereno" )
Th Apr. 23: Emergence of American Poetic Voices-Whitman: 2638-40 ("Emergence"); 2709-12, 2778-88, 2790-91, 2793-98, 2810-17 (Whitman, "Sleepers," "There Was Child," "In Paths Untrodden," "Out of the Cradle," "When Lilacs Last")
Tu Apr. 28: Emergence of American Poetic Voices-Dickinson: 2838-44 and Poems # 219, 258, 280, 315, 328, 341, 435, 465, 520, 569, 632, 712, 754, 1129
Th Apr. 30: PAPER #2 DUE; Review for Final Exam; Course Evaluation
This exam will consist of TWO ESSAY QUESTIONS, to be chosen from the following list. Try to show as much breadth as possible in your choice of questions. In questions that involve comparisons, choose texts that allow you to draw contrasts as well as comparisons (e.g. across cultures or historical periods, between races or genders, between different literary forms). You should discuss a total of SEVEN different authors or texts between the two essay questions. At least TWO of your authors or texts should be from the first half of the course. Be specific in supporting your generalizations with references to texts, though not of course quotations.
1. Choosing FOUR representative texts, two of which should be Native American and two of which should be Spanish and/or English, compare and contrast the religious and cultural values they reflect.
2. Choose FOUR of the following, and compare and contrast the perspectives they offer on what Christianity has meant to different peoples at particular historical moments. Be as specific as possible in your references to the relevant texts: the Hopi; the Virgin of Guadalupe; Father Carlos Jose Delgado; the Hispanic "cuentos"; John Winthrop; Mary Rowlandson; Jonathan Edwards; John Woolman; Phillis Wheatley; Gustavus Vassa/Olaudah Equiano; Samson Occom; Elias Boudinot; Chief Seattle; David Walker; Frederick Douglass; the slave spirituals.
3. "What is an American?" Choose FOUR authors representing different answers to this question. One of your authors should be Crevecoeur. Refer to specific texts, and discuss them in as much detail as possible.
4. From the beginning the "American dream" (or the dream of a "New World") has been articulated and experienced very differently by different classes and ethnic groups, and sometimes within the same ethnic group by men and women, or by those who celebrated and those who questioned the dominant view. Choose FOUR authors or texts to illustrate these differences.
5. In 1845 Margaret Fuller wrote, "Though . . . freedom and equality have been proclaimed only to leave room for a monstrous display of slave-dealing and slave-keeping; . . . still it is not in vain that the verbal statement has been made, 'All men are born free and equal."' Do you agree? Choose at least THREE writers, including Jefferson, and discuss the uses to which they have put the Declaration of Independence.
6. Benjamin Franklin's ideal of the self-made man and Emerson's ideal of self-reliance have been central to American ideology. Explain how Franklin and Emerson defined these concepts, and discuss the ways in which they have been applied or redefined by TWO of the following: Thoreau, Fuller, Douglass, Jacobs, Whitman, Dickinson.
7. Compare and contrast the cultural purposes and literary styles of FOUR of the following: (1) a Native American trickster tale; (2) a Hispanic "canteen"; (3) a story by Irving, Poe, or Hawthorne; (4) any of the three Melville stories we have read; (5) either Cary's "Uncle Christopher's" or Kirkland's "A New Home-Who'll Follow?"
8. Compare and contrast the narrative point of view used in THREE of the following: (1) "The Birth-mark" OR "Rappaccini's Daughter"; (2) "Benito Cereno"; (3) "Ligeia" OR A New Home-Who'll Follow?" OR "Uncle Christopher's." What effect does the narrative point of view have on the reader in each case? How does each author use point of view to influence the reader's interpretation of the story?
9. Compare and contrast the poetry of FOUR of the following: Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Phillis Wheatley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson. You should consider such points as: the subject matter and purpose of the poetry; the verse form; the language and imagery used; the way in which the poet presents herself/himself (i.e. the poetic persona). You will not be able to do justice to this question unless you remember specific poems well enough to illustrate your generalizations with quotations. If you have read other poets in the anthology besides the ones listed you may include ONE example from these poets among your four choices.]
10. Compare and contrast the perspectives on slavery provided by FOUR of the following: Thomas Jefferson; Hector St. John de Crevecoeur; John Woolman; Gustavus Vassa/Olaudah Equiano; David Walker; Thomas Wentworth Higginson; Frederick Douglass; Harriet Jacobs; "Slavery's Pleasant Homes"; "Benito Cereno."
11. Compare and contrast the perspectives on women's lives or on the issue of women's rights provided by FOUR of the following: Anne Bradstreet; Sarah Grimke; Margaret Fuller; Fanny Fern; Sojourner Truth; Harriet Jacobs; "The Birth-mark" OR "Rappaccini's Daughter"; "A New Home-Who'll Follow?"; "Uncle Christopher's"; "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" OR the "Hunilla" sketch from The Encantadas.
12. Compare and contrast the attitudes toward nature displayed by Hawthorne's scientist characters in "Rappaccini's Daughter" and "The Birth-mark" with those reflected in the Navajo "Changing Woman" story and the Zuni "Talk Concerning the First Beginning."
In the process of doing my end-of-semester cover statement for student evaluations of my course, I was rereading comments they had made on the Heath, which I thought you would want me to share with you. The student comments I quote are in response to the following questions: 1. Overall, how would you rate the Heath Anthology? What would you describe as its strengths? Weaknesses? Please note particular selections (if any) for which you found the introductions or footnotes inadequate. 2. What did the course (or the anthology) contribute to your understanding of American history or American literature?
Like the students in my fall 1991 class, my current crop of students turned out to be much more receptive to the Heath Anthology's multicultural conception of American literature than I had feared-indeed as far as I could tell, the attacks on so-called "PC" had either made almost no inroads among them or were easily put to rest by acquaintance with the Heath. On my end-of-semester questionnaire, one student commented that the Heath was "much more interesting reading than the dull, dry Norton." Another called it "a powerhouse of heady literature" that enabled her/him to experience for the first time "the early settlement of this country and the literature that describes it." A third found the readings so "pleasurable" that "I almost felt like I wasn't doing school work." Nearly all praised the "wonderful" introductions to the authors and the "terrific objective historical background" provided in the in the chapters, and several also commented on the helpfulness of the footnotes. Only one complained about the "bleeding heart attitude toward American history" and "over-emphasis on non-white works" (but even this student felt that the Heath had contributed "to a certain extent" to his/her understanding of American history and American literature and added that a strength of the course had been the "enthusiasm and skill of the instructor").
In addition to the answers I quoted above, let me add a few more:
1. "I thought it contained a good selection of narratives. However, I hoped that the readings would have been longer."
2. "The background information on the writers and the times was helpful, in putting the selection in perspective." And in answer to question 2: "Basically, the white race [were] not the only writers in AMERICAN history. Blacks, Spanish and French were also essential in forming our heritage."
3. I cannot think in terms of "weaknesses" in the anthology. "The anthology introduced me to and educated me about the real story about the Native American and the enslaved African American.'
4. "Very thorough with introductions to authors.... Also oddly enough most of the footnotes were helpful."
5. "It helped to understand the correlation between history and literature, and how they influence each other. I've always undermined [underrated, denigrated] American literature, and I have learned to appreciate it."
6. "The introductions are wonderful. They explain the cultural, political, & religious views of the period of the piece, which leads to better understanding." "I learned a lot, especially about slave history."
7. "You can see differences between Intros depending on the strengths/ weaknesses of each person who wrote it."
8. "Excellent text-the footnotes helped to show the background of the literature. " "I never knew this side of Ben Franklin or Christopher Columbus. This course really opened up a new understanding."
9. "Heath: EXCELLENT. Strengths: wide range & terrific objective historical background." "Realized the extreme Hypocrisy of country & found inspiration in writers."
10. "Too much emphasis on 'liberal' topics...." (This was the student who complained about the Heath's "bleeding heart" perspective.)
11. "The section and author intros are very helpful." Strength: "its variety. "
12. "It's a book I definitely will keep to go back & read selections I did not get a chance to .... "
13. "I think it's the best anthology out there. The footnotes were very good. More history could be given though. "Many views-interesting."
14. "It is very good; the biographies & introductions cover a lot of material. And in answer to question 2: "[I learned] a lot more than I could fit in this space. I guess I wasn't kidding when I said I led a sheltered life "
The above were all from Spring 1992. Only two students failed to fill out the two questions about the Heath. Perhaps an indication of dislike or hostility?
Below are responses by my Fall 91 students, which include answers to an additional question about the value of the excerpts from novels. I did not teach these excerpts in Spring 92, because the responses of the Fall 91 students were overwhelmingly negative. I did not include such a question in the Spring 92 questionnaire.
1. "I think it is a great text with a good mixture of reading. The only weakness that I can comment on is the amount of excerpt of readings" (i.e. presumably the excerpts from novels, which most of my students felt they did not get much out of). In answer to another question this student "found getting bits and pieces of a writing to be confusing."
2. "Heath covers a lot of literature, but in some cases it leaves out crucial sections of major works. The pages are too thin.' "The best contribution To my understanding of American history or literature] was Native American and Hispanic literature, and it enlarged my understanding of their culture . "
3. "I believe that some of the commentaries were biased, as was found in the introduction to Phillis Wheatley . " "American history is rich with people of different ideals. One day, we will be able to appreciate each other for the vast cultural cloth that we share in America.'
4. "Strengths-the number and variation [variety] of works inclided."
5. "I was pleased to see Native Ameican writings included in the Heath Anthology.
6. "I guess-overall I liked the intros to our authors-Very few of them [I] had any knowledge of-just to get a little better understanding of who the authors in American literature were was at least a help." "My education dealt a lot in history courses-but this course gave me a little better understanding of some, especially the Native Americans-brought to different light Franklin and Jefferson."
7. "I liked the Heath Anthology much better than the Norton Anthology I had for my English Lit. class." "I really enjoyed the selections concerning American Indians and slaves. I learned a great deal about the views towards/of both groups during those time periods "
8. "The excerpts were very difficult, especially Cooper, Sedgwick and Minister's Wooing. They needed at least some preview if you're going to use them." "I have Vol. II. [of the Heath] [for a course on] American Realism and Naturalism-and I love it and this one for the diversity-But it's almost too much to be able to group in any coherent way." "I was moved to read more about American Indians-Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee-and I feel strongly that these writings should be part of the wider-used canon."
9. "I love it [Heath]! It is a much more valuable asset to my library than the Norton would have been." "I heard a voice that had been hushed or ignored in previous courses."
10. "I think the Anthology is terrific. The introductions are comprehensive and the works are varied." "I was introduced to names I'd never heard before-names like Walker, Jacobs, Fuller, Grimke. I learned that there were more early American voices in literature than I'd imagined."
11. "This is a good book with representations for many diverse works. It is a bit thick (on a physical level). The teachers should edit out works not taught in the next edition." "It helped me to be aware of who the other voices in American Literature were. I knew they were out there, now I know some of their names, etc."
12. "Stowe's work was butchered. I'd recommend assigning the entire work in place of some other wnters. Usually I found extracts to be lacking." "Footnotes were usually extremely helpful, but the Heath Anthology's greatest weakness is that it lacks comprehensive selections in well organized categories. Its great strength is the inclusion of many previously unheard voices."
13. "It was hard to understand some of [the excerpted] selections. Maybe a brief summary before reading the extracts would be helpful." "All selections had adequate intros and footnotes."
14. "I found the [excerptsl sufficient. It also tempts you to continue with the novel." "It was very good for me to have been exposed to such a text." "There is a lot more out there than just our Founding Fathers. "
15. "It [Heath] was tremendous. The biographies were particularly interesting and helpful.
16. "I enjoyed learning about different novels without having to read them in their entirety" [refers to excerpts; a minority opinion]. "I like the biographies before the stories. They were very helpful in trying to understand what the author is saying." "I enjoyed the works about the Indians and the white settlers when they came to America. I liked reading Franklin and Jefferson as an author not just for what they are famous for." [This refers in part to my handout of Jefferson's Query 14, which I have recommended be included in future editions of the Heath.]
We are very interested in hearing other students' comments about the Heath Anthology. If our records show that you are using the text, we've included a Student Survey with this issue of the Newsletter. Please consider duplicating and distributing it to your students; we've sent along a postage paid return envelope for the completed surveys. If you have student comments in another form that you are willing to share with us and your colleagues through this newsletter, please send them to either Lauren Gill or Paul Smith here at D. C. Heath.