Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters Sector III of the College General Requirement
American culture(s) share a number of obsessions. We'll read prose fictions, a play and some poems that explore three of our national fascinations: the self, money, and war. The works are grouped, with female and male writers in each. Inevitably, questions about race, class and gender will arise from these groupings. We'll look at the construction of the American self by reading Franklin’s Autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Lorene Cary’s Black Ice. We’ll explore the American anxiety about money and possessions by reading Thoreau’s Walden, Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno, and Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Finally, we’ll trace our habitual terror of war through Whitmans’ Specimen Days, and parts of Leaves of Grass, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Ella Leffland’s Rumors of Peace. Poems by Emily Dickinson, who understood all of our obsessions, will provide commentary for each section.
Because writing helps us read, and reading helps us write, we'll do frequent short response papers. You’ll also take an in-class midterm.
A longer final paper will be based on your reading of a supplementary text that treats one of the course’s themes.
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