American Literature, 1865-present

English 220: Major American Writers, 1865 to Present
“American Mythologies” 

Professor Carrie Johnston

Course Description

This course is a survey in American literature from 1865 to the present. Our discussions and assignments will be organized around the theme of “American Mythologies,” or those narratives that have become so ingrained in Americans’ beliefs and ways of thinking, that they seem natural or indisputable. We will consider how these myths inform the American Dream, which in turn influences representations of gender, class, and race in the American context. Starting with readings published in the aftermath of the Civil War, we will think about how American “mythologies” affected the anxieties of a nation struggling to rebuild itself both physically and psychologically. Reading American literature through this lens will also inform our understanding of American masculinity, the cult of domesticity, women’s suffrage, immigration, industrialization, and the closing of the frontier. Examining a variety of genres, such as essays, popular fiction, poems, and autobiographies, we will interrogate American “mythologies” that take the form of fictions, ideology, political traditions, social and economic hierarchies, and cultural norms.

Required Texts

  • The Bedford Anthology of American Literature, Vol 2. 2nd edition*
  • Denis Johnson, Train Dreams
  • Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Presentation: You will present one of the texts we study during the semester alongside Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams to discuss the continuity and/or evolution of American literary themes. Additional details about the response and presentation assignments will be discussed in class.

Schedule of Work

W 8/20
Read and discuss Theroux’s “The Male Myth” in class
UNIT 1: Regionalism, Realism, and Naturalism
F 8/22
Twain, Huck Finn, Ch. 1-11
M 8/25 Twain, Huck Finn Ch. 12-23
W 8/27 Twain, Huck Finn Ch. 24-35
F 8/29
Huck Finn Ch. 36-end of novel
M 9/1 No class. Labor Day.
W 9/3 Huck Finn, cont’d.
F 9/5
Ethnic Notions (film screening in class)
M 9/8 Peer review for Paper 1
W 9/10 Washington, excerpt from Up From Slavery (BA 428-37)
Du Bois, “Our Spiritual Strivings” (BA 440-446)
F 9/12 Crane, “The Open Boat” (BA 341-358)
London, “The Law of Life” (BA 393-97)
M 9/15 Cather, “A Wagner Matinée” (BA 383-391)
Garland, excerpt from “Literary Emancipation of the West” (BA 54-56)
UNIT 2: Modernist Poetry
W 9/17 BA pp. 488-509
Stein, excerpt from The Making of Americans (M)
F 9/19
Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (602), “Anecdote of the Jar” (605)
Williams, “Spring and All” (623), “The Red Wheelbarrow” (626), “This Is Just to Say” (627)
M 9/22 BA: Eliot, The Wasteland (672)
W 9/24 The Wasteland, cont’d.
UNIT 3: The Harlem Renaissance and Modernist Fiction Between the World Wars
F 9/26
Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (BA 546-49)
M 9/29 Hurston, excerpt from “Characteristics of Negro Expression” (BA 832-33), “Spunk” (878-883)
W 10/1 Fitzgerald, “Babylon Revisited” (M)
F 10/3
Midterm review
W 10/8 Faulkner, “That Evening Sun” (BA 955-967)
F 10/10
No class. Fall break.
M 10/1 Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River” (BA 986-998),
W 10/15 Dos Passos, Portraits from 1919 (BA 944-950)
F 10/17
Wright, “Almos’ a Man” (BA 1014-1029)
UNIT 4: Postmodern and Contemporary Writers
M 10/20 BA pp. 1058-1067, plus Bishop, “The Armadillo” (1117-1118), “One Art” (1120-21), Lowell, “For the Union Dead” (1283-86) 
W 10/22
Malamud, “The First Seven Years” (BA 1172-1179)
F 10/24 Peer review for Paper 2. 
M 10/27 O’Connor, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” (M)
W 10/29 Silko, “Yellow Woman” (BA 1527-33)
Cisneros, “Mericans” (BA 1547-1550)
F 10/31
Cheever, “The Swimmer” (M)
M 11/3
Johnson, Train Dreams Chapters 1-3 (pp. 1-33)
W 11/5 Johnson, Train Dreams Chapters 4-5 (pp. 35-73)
F 11/7
Johnson, Train Dreams Chapters 6-9 (pp. 75-116)
M 11/10 Train Dreams, cont’d.
W 11/12 Preparation for presentations
F 11/14
M 11/17 Presentations
W 11/19 Presentations
F 11/21
Morrison, “Recitatif” (BA 1403-1416)
M 11/24 Peer review for final paper.
W 11/26 No class. Thanksgiving break.
F 11/28
No class. Thanksgiving break.
M 12/1 Bechdel, excerpt from Fun Home (pp. 1617-1638)
W 12/3
F 12/5 Review for final exam