Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

America’s major authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have traditionally been viewed as seizing on tragedy or epic as apt modes for narratives (or myths) of a certain kind of American, the hero or heroine who embodies the fall from innocence into guilt. In works like Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and Morrison’s Beloved, characters and their creators achieve grandeur through the daring sweep of their ambitions, expressed in new, innovative, and rule-breaking uses of language and narrative structure. Yet each of these works was followed by others that questioned a vision that can encompass the whole of human experience. Novels like Melville’s Israel Potter, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Morrison’s Love lay siege to the tragic mode through comic inversion, satire, or the fragmentation of literary form and textuality altogether. These lesser known works by major authors signal unpredictable developments in the authors’ art and in the novel as a literary form, as well as subverting the myth of American exceptionalism.

This seminar provides intensive study of exciting texts by these influential American authors. In studying paired works, we can enrich our sense of each author’s distinctive methods, get a deeper sense of the development of their careers, and shake up our preconceptions about what makes an author or a work “great.” Students will get an opportunity to research an author in depth, as well as making broader comparisons across the syllabus.

Course Requirements

Students will be responsible for writing several essays, completing an in-class report, and maintaining a response journal throughout the term. More details can be found in the assignments section. Attendance and participation will also factor into the student’s final performance in the course.

Attendance and Participation

This is a discussion class where your attendance and participation are vital to your success and that of the entire group. If an emergency should arise that makes it impossible for you to attend class, you should notify me immediately by email.

You must explain all absences. Two will not be held against your grade. Any absence beyond those two deducts percentage points directly from your final grade (three for the third, four for the fourth, etc): two latenesses count as one absence. Repeated absences will lead to a formal warning and may end in your being dropped from the class.


Grading will be based on the following weighting:

Attendance and Participation 20%
Written Work 60%
In-class Report 10%
Response Journal 10%

Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism attacks the freedom and integrity of thought. Especially in a class that will depend to some extent on online research, you must know what constitutes plagiarism and avoid it.

The Literature Section has formulated this statement and policy for all plagiarism cases:

Plagiarism - use of another’s intellectual work without acknowledgement - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else’s work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student’s own work.


1 Introduction  
2 Moby-Dick  
3 Moby-Dick (cont.)  
4 Moby-Dick (cont.) Journal 1 due
5 Moby-Dick (cont.)  
6 Moby-Dick (cont.)  
7 Essay Discussion Essay 1 due
8 Israel Potter Journal 2 due
9 Israel Potter (cont.)  
10 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  
11 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (cont.)  
12 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (cont.)  
13 Pudd’nhead Wilson  
14 Essay Discussion Essay 2 due
15 The Sound and the Fury  
16 The Sound and the Fury (cont.)  
17 The Sound and the Fury (cont.) Journal 3 due
18 The Sound and the Fury (cont.)  
19 As I Lay Dying  
20 As I Lay Dying (cont.)  
21 Journal Discussion Journal 4 due
22 Beloved  
23 Beloved (cont.)  
24 Beloved (cont.) Journal 5 due
25 Love  
26 Love (cont.)  
27 Conclusion Essay 3 due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments