This course will give students exposure to American literature in a variety of forms, from letters and poems to the short story, the novel and the play. From its beginnings as a colonial society to its rise as a major twentieth century power, America has experienced great social change. The nation’s literature has, at turns, caused, responded to and reflected those various upheavals.
This particular section of the course can be sub-titled “The National Literature of Irrationalism.”
American Literature is at the heart of American History: many politicians attributed the end of slavery, for example, to the success of an anti-slavery novel (Uncle Tom’s Cabin). But that novel was unusual precisely because it was a simple, realistic representation of social conditions. American literature, others have argued, addresses the world in stranger ways: rejecting realism for romance, it’s philosophically abstract, formally inventive, and obsessed with the weirder parts of human experience. If America is a country whose constitution is founded on Enlightenment ideas of rationality, it's also a culture capable of electing an irrationalist like Donald Trump president. So while this course will address fundamental questions like how texts by enslaved Africans, native Americans, white aristocrats, and middle-eastern immigrants can all count as “American,” we’ll focus on that underlying strangeness. Immerse yourself in an America of ghosts, madmen, murderers, mutineers, fools, tricksters, demonic possessions, fanatics, and all kinds of revolutionaries.