Department of English
Choate Rosemary Hall
AMERICAN LITERATURE AND COMPOSITION
Mr. Ned Gallagher
Hypertext Course Syllabus
Fall 2010 term
|TABLE OF CONTENTS
Goals of the Course
Course Policies and Grading
Texts and Course Materials
Program and Workload
Schedule of Meetings and Assignments
Memorial House #114, 697-2340
Johnson Athletic Center #105, 697-2418
"Literature must be the ax for the frozen sea within us."
- Franz Kafka
Goals of English 300
The study of any academic discipline involves the pursuit of two kinds of knowledge: methodological knowledge, what we understand simply as "skills," and propositional knowledge, often referred to as "content." The two kinds of knowledge are acquired hand-in-hand; in fact, they are inseparable. Any discussion of which of the two is more important, therefore, misses the point entirely. Suffice it to say we will pursue both kinds of knowledge in our course of study together this year.
Methodological Knowledge: English 300 emphasizes close reading of literary texts and the development of prose skills, particularly the critical essay. Inherent in any such study of literature is the recognition and thoughtful consideration of the stylistic and technical elements (e.g., plot, narrative, characterization, theme, tone, imagery, symbolism, metaphor, simile, foreshadowing, assonance, alliteration, and so on) of various literary genres. The course will also encourage freewriting skills and personal expression through regular use of a journal and a major creative work in the spring term.
Propositional Knowledge: This course is designed to introduce students to the rich and varied heritage of American literature. It is mainly chronological in its structure, so that students can see how American writing evolved through time. Rather than embracing a fixed canon of authors and works, English 300 exposes students to a broad range of texts which give voice to diverse perspectives on being "American." In the course of such a study, students can expect to encounter a range of literary forms, including novels, short stories, essays, autobiographies, plays, and poems. When appropriate, we will draw from such other disciplines as literary criticism, history, philosophy, psychology, art, and film to augment our understanding of American literature.
Some generic questions to consider as you proceed through the syllabus. According to the writer . . .
what does it mean to be American?
what values, attitudes, and/or attributes are particularly American?
what is the role of Nature in American life?
what is the role of religion in American life?
how are gender roles defined in American life?
how is racial and/or ethnic identity defined in American life?
what is the nature of the relationship between the individual and the community?
Course Policies and Grading
A summary of course policies and grading standards can be found online by clicking here.
Departmental Policy on the Use of Outside Sources
A student is not permitted to utilize information from secondary sources in English classes at Choate without the explicit permission of his or her teacher. These sources, whether in hard copy or on the Web, are off limits, as we feel that learning--and, at times, struggling--to derive the meaning of a primary text on one's own is an essential mission of our department. This policy does not prohibit students from consulting online dictionaries or from accessing information about allusions and other cultural or historical references which might appear in a text; it does prohibit accessing material which in any way summarizes or interprets the primary text or the works of the author being studied. As mentioned above, an individual teacher may have occasion to encourage or to direct students to refer to particular sources. In such instances, students are obligated to cite properly any information or quotations appearing in their own written work.
Required Texts and Course Materials
The course begins with the assumption that all students have completed the assigned summer reading:
• Mark Twain, The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.
The following texts for the fall term--available at the school store--should be purchased by all students immediately:
• Arthur Miller, The Crucible. Penguin. ISBN 0140481389
• Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter. Pocket. ISBN 0743487567
• Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Dover. ISBN 0486290735
• Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance and Other Essays. Dover. ISBN 0486277909
• Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. Dover. ISBN 0486284956
• The Classic Slave Narratives, edited by Henry Louis Gates. Signet. ISBN 0451528247
Used copies of some of the above may be available for purchase at the school store. You will need to purchase a journal, but wait until I explain in class how we will use them so you will know what to buy. If you don't already have one, you also should purchase a good desk dictionary. In addition, we will be reading the following short works, to be distributed electronically:
• Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown" 
• Washington Irving, "Rip van Winkle" 
• Herman Melville, "Bartleby, the Scrivener" 
Program and Workload
Our approach will be fairly standard: most nights you will be assigned something to read and then in class we'll discuss the text. You can expect frequent, brief reading quizzes as a matter or course in this class.
Every effort has been made to keep daily assignments manageable. Many worthwhile assignments were abbreviated or scrapped from the syllabus altogether. It's important, therefore, that commit yourself to keep up with what is included among the assignments below; you'll be expected to complete your homework before each class.
Schedule of Meetings and Assignments
What follows on the next pages is what we'll try to cover during the year. It may be adjusted from time to time for any number of reasons. The homework for the next class is always the next numbered assignment unless you are told differently. You'll find many entries on the schedule below contain some instructive questions and ideas you should consider in preparing for class; get into the habit reading the syllabus carefully each night before you begin your reading.
Unit I: Introduction to the Study of American Literature
We will start this introductory unit assuming that you have, of course, finished the assigned summer reading. Our discussion of these works will introduce several of the major thematic undercurrents of the course. You'll also have your first crack at a critical essay, so we'll spend some time together working on the rudiments of such writing. We will also review the principles behind the School's expectations regarding academic honesty.
4. "Stand And Unfold Yourself."
No assignment (other than completion of summer reading, of course). We'll spend the time in this class getting to know one another. The syllabus and other course materials will be introduced.
5. Summer Reading Wrap Up.
Read Leslie Fiedler, "Come Back To The Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey." In class we will consider how the thesis of this article connects to major themes of the course.
Unit II: Early America in Literature
We will begin our study of American literature with an exploration of the genesis of a national mythology. What does the word mythology mean? What elements are common to all myths? Why do all cultures tell stories about themselves? Why is a national mythology necessary, particularly in a nation like the United States?
Although each of the works we'll read in this unit is set in seventeenth- or eighteenth-century America, all but one of the works were created in the either the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. The first two authors we study offer accounts of Puritan America written long after the age of Puritanism. Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper represent the earliest voices of "classic" American literature, though they also wrote about earlier periods in the nation's history. While Benjamin Franklin may be better known for his political, social, and even scientific achievements, we'll see he plays an important role in shaping the mythology of American identity, setting the tone for much of the literature to follow.
6. The Puritans of Salem I.
Read Arthur Miller, The Crucible , Act I (pp. 3-48). Also read the note on page 2. Contrast the task of a dramatist with that of a novelist. What advantages does a playwright have? What limitations? What kind of people are the Puritans presented by Miller? What is the nature of the dramatic conflict in the play? What does the title of this play mean and how is Miller using it? What kind of Puritan community is Salem? Why is there so much tension? Why had the settlers begun to turn toward individualism by 1690? What were the beliefs and attitudes about witches and witchcraft held by the Puritans in the late 17th century? What is the relationship between/among Reverend Parris, Betty, and Abigail? What is Betty’s motivation for raising the specter of witchcraft? Why does Parris initially fear rumors of witchcraft and then welcome them? Why does he suggest calling in Reverend Hale? Who is Tituba, and what is her relationship to the family? Why does Abigail accuse her? What is Tituba’s motivation to confess? What are the motivations of Abigail Williams? of the Putnams? of Mary Warren? Who is John Proctor and what is his relationship with his community? with his wife? with Parris? with Abigail? Why do Proctor and Rebecca speak out against Hale’s coming?
7. The Puritans of Salem II.
Read Miller, Act II and the at least first half of Act III (p. 49 through at least p. 100). Some of you may have read, seen, or performed this play before, but this time through, pay attention to some of the themes of the course we discussed vis-a-vis the individual and community relative to the American Dream. What role does religion play in the community of Salem? Why doesn’t Proctor go to Salem to report what Abigail has told him? Why does Elizabeth want him to go? Why does she mistrust him? How does Proctor feel about the court and Mary Warren’s part in the proceedings? How has Hale changed since his arrival in Salem? Why is he testing Proctor and Elizabeth? Why does Proctor insist that Mary Warren testify in Elizabeth’s defense? Why does she refuse? What is the professed purpose of the court? Why doesn’t the court need witnesses? Why is Giles Corey expelled from court? Why won’t Danforth hear the evidence? Why is Danforth suspicious of Mary and Proctor? How does Parris rebut Proctor’s testimony? How is Giles' deposition turned against him? Why does Proctor confess to lechery? Why don’t Danforth and Hathorne believe him?
8. Journal Essay #1.
The journal essay is, by nature, shorter and less formal than a critical essay. It is a more personal form of expression. The concept here is to flesh out some concepts explored in your daily journal entries.
9. The Puritans of Salem III.
Read Miller, the remainder of Act III and the entirety of Act IV (through p. 146). How was this work a reflection of America in the 1950s, when the play was first produced? Does it apply to our world today? How is Elizabeth’s testimony turned against Proctor? How does Abigail turn the court against Mary? Why does Hale denounce the proceedings? Why is his denunciation ineffective? Why weren’t the trials stopped sooner than they were? How has Parris changed? Why doesn’t the news that Abigail and Mercy have left town affect the decision of the court? How is Danforth a victim of his own logic? Why has Hale returned? How has he changed? What is the implication of his conversion? Why does Danforth allow Elizabeth to speak to her husband? How has their relationship changed? Why doesn’t she take Hale’s advice? Why does Proctor confess? Why will he not name names? Why does Danforth rejoice when Proctor confesses? Why will Proctor not let Danforth have his signed paper? Why does Proctor choose to hang? What does he discover about himself before he dies? What are the themes of this play?
10. Hawthorne's Puritans I.
Read Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown" . Note the atmosphere of the story. Where is it set? When? What does the word nomenmorphic mean and how does it apply to this story? Why is Young Goodman Brown setting out on his journey? What misconceptions does he have regarding his Puritan ancestors? About present-day Puritan society? Compare Nathaniel Hawthorne's Puritans to Arthur Miller's. Any obvious similarities? Differences? What symbolism does Hawthorne employ in this tale?
11. Hawthorne's Puritans II.
Read Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter , chapters 1–4 (pp. 55–89). Study carefully the very brief first chapter. Look for symbols that foreshadow the chapters to follow. Keep track of setting, plot, narrative, characterization, theme, and tone. Make an entry in your notebook on your first impressions, comparing what you've learned about the Puritans from earlier reading to what appears in Hawthorne's novel. Make a list of the characters who appear, and note the changes in their personalities as the novel progresses. Are the names nomenmorphic? Analyze the writing here: what do you think of the exposition, the scenery, the dialogue?
12. Hawthorne's Puritans III.
Read Hawthorne, chapters 5–8 (pp. 91–138). It's important in reading fiction to get the "narrative:" who are the characters in the action and what are they doing? Only after you can answer that question can you decide what it is that the author wants you think it all means. Note the irony in Hester's livelihood; do you think her intentions were aimed at specific targets?
13. Hawthorne's Puritans IV.
Read Hawthorne, chapters 9–12 (pp. 139–188). Some critics think Pearl the most important character in the novel; pay attention to her. Is she realistically portrayed? Don't forget the vocabulary bank.
14. Hawthorne's Puritans V.
Read Hawthorne, chapters 13–17 (pp. 189–238). Pay special attention to Hawthorne's imagery and symbols. Do they illustrate his important themes? It should be clear to you by this time what the major themes are.
15. Hawthorne's Puritans VI.
Read Hawthorne, chapters 18–21 (pp. 239 –281). Is the author's portrayal of the psychological issues believable? Recall Hawthorne's use of the forest in "Young Goodman Brown."
16. Hawthorne's Puritans VII.
Read Hawthorne, chapters 22–24 (pp. 283–316). Write your reaction in your notebook: what do you think of the ending? Were all the themes resolved?
17. Critical Essay #1.
This paper is due at the beginning of class. Suggested topic questions:
You can choose a topic of your own, but I advise you run it by me before investing too much work in it.
18. A Founding Father I.
Read Ben Franklin, Autobiography, pp. 1-21 (middle of page). In what ways is Franklin's account of his life as a child and young man quintessentially American? What kinds of attitudes and values is Franklin promoting in his memoirs? What is Franklin's purpose in telling his life story? How does he justify the vanity of it? What is Franklin's background? How religious is he? Why is his brother's treatment of him such an important experience in the shaping of his values? What is the role of the rich and powerful in Franklin's ideal society? Please focus on Franklin's account of his entry into Philadelphia: how is he mythologizing his experience such that it will come to symbolize the American experience for all Americans? What enabled Franklin to become such an American success story? Did he have any advantages other Americans lacked? How is Franklin the quintessential man of the Enlightenment (look up that term in an encyclopedia of you are unfamiliar with it)?
19. A Founding Father II.
Read Ben Franklin, Autobiography, pp. 38 (middle of page)–53. What is the relationship between virtue and success for Franklin? Is there a connection here to Puritan beliefs? What is the Protestant work ethic and how does Franklin embody it? What did he believe was the proper relationship of an individual to his society?
20. A Founding Father III.
Read Ben Franklin, Autobiography, pp. 55–72. What is Franklin's "bold and arduous project of arriving at moral Perfection"? How does he try to attain it? What is the significance of "speckled ax" metaphor?
21. A New Nation.
Read Washington Irving, "Rip van Winkle," . How is Rip van Winkle a "symbol of the mythic American, representing a near-perfect image of the way a large part of the world looks at us"? How is Rip the antithesis of the Franklinian hero, or how does Irving satirize the values of Franklin's America? What kind of world is Irving trying to evoke? Why? How has Rip's world changed in his absence? How does he respond to the changes? In what ways does this short story function as a satire? (Hint: the temporal setting is important here.) What is Irving telling us about historical change in America at the beginning of the 19th century (We will look at Quidor's painting "The Return of Rip Van Winkle" in class).
Unit III: The American Renaissance
The term American Renaissance refers to the flowering of literary and intellectual activity in the early/mid-1800s, centered in New England, and embracing a cluster of themes regarded as especially "American." The Renaissance is generally considered to include Hawthorne, whose works we have already studied, and the range of writers and lecturers to whom we now turn our attention. Remember that this nineteenth-century literary, philosophical, and intellectual movement coincided with dramatic social and political developments in a rapidly changing nation that was dealing with expansion, early industrialism, and an emerging identity distinct from its European forebears.
22. The Concord Transcendentalist I.
Read Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance" , pp. 19-38 in the Dover text. You ought to recognize some of the lines herein. In many ways, Emerson is the master of the sentence. Find examples of sentences that strike you as particularly pithy or compelling. How does Emerson define self-reliance? Be prepared to cite three passages from the first three paragraphs which give Emerson's reasons for his belief in self-reliance. Why are conformity and consistency enemies of self-reliance? What does Emerson mean by the terms understanding and reason? To which of these is intuition related? How does intuition differ from conscience? What does Emerson think the relationship between God and man should be? What is Emerson's attitude toward the past? To what extent are Emerson's ideas on self-reliance practical? Beginning with this reading, for each of the Emerson and Thoreau assignments, collect a one-sentence remark that you can memorize and use. Make a separate section in your notebook for these "one-liners."
23. Journal Essay #2.
No class meeting today (NG at NEPSAC Executive Board meeting). Paper is due at 10pm via email.
24. The Concord Transcendentalist II.
Read Emerson, "The Over-Soul" , pp. 51-64. (This a much shorter essay than the last one.) Pay attention to the connections between spiritual and natural images Emerson crafts in this essay. How do Emerson's ideas of spirituality contrast with the Puritanism we read about? Keep in mind that in many ways Emerson is a product of Puritan New England society. You may find reading this metaphysics difficult. But, in your notes after you've read the essay, try to draw a picture of what Emerson is describing here. What is the essential "American-ness" of it? When reading, keep in mind that it is an essay. It has only a few ideas and no plot nor story nor characters. Some youngsters therefore find it "boring." Don't be so silly. An essay certainly has a structure; see if you can identify it. Look for the themes, and be able to describe them in class.
25. A Different Drummer I.
Read Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life In The Woods , chapter 1 ("Economy"), pp. 1–17. Be mindful of Thoreau's motivations: why is he undertaking this experiment? What is he setting out to prove? How do his ideas stack up against Emerson's? To what extent does Thoreau practice what he preaches? "But to make haste to my own experiment." This is an essay, so look for the few ideas. You can follow the same method we used earlier. After you have the narrative, look for the themes. Do you find Thoreau's life in the woods attractive? What does your answer that say about you? What does it say about what he's writing? Why is the opening section entitled "Economy"? How does he defend the egotism of his writing? For whom is he writing? How does Thoreau feel about civilized life? Why do men lead lives of "quiet desperation" or of "slavery" according to Thoreau? Why not change the way they live?
26. A Different Drummer II.
Read Thoreau, Walden, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," pp. 53–64. What does Thoreau mean by "live free and uncommitted"? Why is bathing in the pond a religious exercise for him? Why are mornings so important? What does he think of free will? Predestination? Note again his reasons for going to Walden Pond. Why did Thoreau undertake his experiment to live there? What are the necessaries of life? The luxuries? Why is voluntary poverty so important? What is Thoreau's definition of a philosopher? How does this "self-help manual" differ from Franklin's? What does Thoreau think about the division of labor in society? How does this viewpoint contrast with Franklin? with Emerson? What does he think about education? Modern improvements? Work? Philanthropy?
27. A Different Drummer III.
Read Thoreau, Walden, "Solitude" and "Visitors," pp. 84–100. What did Thoreau want to prove by going to Walden Pond? Was he successful? What did he learn about himself and his philosophy of living while he was there? How does he defend the selfishness of his life/actions? How is he clearly a disciple of Emerson? How is he clearly different from Emerson?
28. Critical Essay #3.
Your second critical paper, on early America and the development of a national mythology through literature, will be due at the beginning of class. Specific questions will be suggested in class beforehand.
29. A Different Drummer IV.
Read Thoreau, Walden, "Reading" and "Higher Laws," pp. 64–72 and 136-144. Why should we study the classics? Would Emerson agree? What is Thoreau's image of the ideal school? What would he think of Choate? What are the higher laws? How can they be reconciled with primitive urges like the hunting instinct? What is Thoreau's position on hunting? To what is he drawn in the hunting lifestyle? What repels him? How does he resolve/reconcile these two contradictory positions? Why must sensuality be overcome? How?
30. A Different Drummer V.
Read Thoreau, Walden, "Conclusion," pp. 206–216. Why did he leave Walden Pond? What did he learn from his experiences there? What does he have to offer mid-19th century America presuming all will not have the opportunity to live in the woods as he did?
31. Landscape Art in 19th-Century America.
Slide lecture in class.
32. A Different Drummer VI.
Read Henry David Thoreau, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" , in Walden and Civil Disobedience, pp. 385–413. What is Thoreau's notion of the citizen/state relationship? Look for the metaphor of the fountainhead toward the end of the reading; what does this tell you about Thoreau's values vis-a-vis those of his fellow citizens?
Read Herman Melville, "Bartleby, the Scrivener" . You may "prefer not to" read this, but I think you'll find herein one of the most unforgettable characters in all of American literature. What sort of man is the narrator? How authentic do you find his reactions to the events of the story? Why are the other employees of the office described in such rich detail? Pay attention to the motif of walls throughout the story. Who is Bartleby and what might he represent?
34. Paper Preparation.
No regular class meeting. Conferences as scheduled.
35. Critical Essay #4.
Critical paper due on the American Renaissance and the major themes of antebellum American literature in general. Topic suggestions to be announced. The paper should be three to five pages in length.
Unit IV: Slave Narratives
At this point we shift gears to look at the flip side of the American Dream: those voices that might otherwise be "under the radar" in the society at the time. We will take a look at the institution of slavery and two of the best known narratives describing life as a slave in the antebellum South.
36. A "Peculiar Institution" I.
Read Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an African Slave , pp. 339–383 in The Classic Slave Narratives. Do your best to appreciate the harsh reality of the world in which Douglass and millions of his countrymen lived. Compare the autobiography of Douglass to that of Franklin. What are the obvious differences? Are there common threads as well? Pay attention to the details, the denial of family to slaves, his limited contact with his mother, the whipping of his aunt, the garden scene, the change of overseers, the way slave children are forced to eat. Why were such things done? Is this book believable? This is easily the most famous of the "fugitive-slave" narratives which were popular prior to the Civil War. Be prepared to describe in detail Douglass' portrayal of life as a slave in the antebellum South. Pay close attention to the following: the denial of biographical information to slaves; his limited relationship with his mother; the problems of mulatto offspring; the whipping of his aunt as his initiation into slavery; the garden scene (ch. 3); the change of overseers; the murder of Demby; the way slave children are forced to eat; his realization about the importance of education; his view of organized religion; the transformation of Sophia Auld; food/clothing/housing of slaves; the role of music in slaves' lives. What is the effect of slavery upon both the slaves and the slave-holders?
37. A "Peculiar Institution" II.
Read the remainder of Douglass' autobiography, pp. 383–436. To what extent do you think Douglass' account captures the experience of slavery in antebellum American South? Does Douglass paint a realistic portrait of white Southerners of the period? A sympathetic one in any way? Why was Douglass outraged by the treatment of his grandmother? What effect did Christianity have on the slaveholders? Why was the battle with Covey the turning point in his life? How would a white reader of 1845 react to this story? Why did he determine to escape? What did he think at first of the North? What was the purpose of the "appendix"? Is Douglass an heroic model for all oppressed people? Why is Douglass outraged about the treatment of his grandmother? What are the effects of Christianity upon slaveholders in Douglass' view? echoes of Olaudah Equiano? What is the significance of Douglass' accepting and using the root from Sandy Jenkins? Why is the battle with Covey the turning point of his life? What is the message to the reader of 1845 about resistance to injustice? How would a white audience in 1845 respond to this message? Why does Douglass invoke the revolutionary rhetoric of Patrick Henry? Why would a white audience presumably respond to Douglass' lack of political and economic rights as a slave? What makes this narrative such an effective indictment of slavery? What made Douglass determined to escape in 1838 after his initial doubts about the wisdom of flight? What are Douglass' first impressions of the North upon gaining his freedom? What is the main purpose of the appendix; how does Douglass manage to elude the charge that his work is "anti-Christian"? How is Douglass "a heroic paradigm for all oppressed people"?
38. A "Peculiar Institution" III.
Begin Harriet Jacobs (Linda Brent), Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl , pp. 439–499 in The Classic Slave Narratives. How does Jacobs' account differ from that of Douglass? What differences can you attribute to the different sex of the author? Are there common themes?
39. A "Peculiar Institution" IV.
Read Jacobs, pp. 499–557. In class, be prepared to write on the topics of prejudice and race relations.
40. Buffer Day.
No assignment; we'll use this day to catch up as needed.
Syllabus copyright © 1992-2010 Ned Gallagher. All rights reserved.
Last revised: October 25, 2010