In this seminar we will study three major American authors in depth. All three can be said to have launched literary traditions that are still shaping American literature in vital ways. Herman Melville merged slashing irony with comic playfulness in his “quarrel with God,” and wrote what many still consider to be the Great American Novel. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the most famous protest novel of the nineteenth century. Frederick Douglass was a transformational orator, and is sometimes described as the originator of African American literature. In addition to reading works by these three writers, we will examine some of the social and political contexts––slavery and abolition, the market revolution, religious belief and unbelief, changes in gender roles and sexuality––in which they wrote.
In addition to some short responses to texts, students will write three papers: two critical papers and one research paper.