ENG 343: The American Novel
Lesson 1: Foundations (Aug. 19-23)
Lesson 2: The Pioneers (Aug. 26-Sept. 6)
Lesson 3: Moby-Dick (Sept. 9-20)
Lesson 4: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Sept. 23-27)
Lesson 5: The Wings of the Dove (Sept. 30-Oct. 9)
Lesson 6: Look Homeward, Angel (Oct. 14-18)
Lesson 7: The Sound and the Fury (Oct. 21-Nov. 1)
Lesson 8: Native Son (Nov. 4-15)
Lesson 9: In Cold Blood (Nov. 18-22)
Lesson 10: The Bone-Setter’s Daughter (Nov. 25-27)
Oral Examinations (Dec. 2-6)
The American novel has come a long way. Born in the late 1700s, it was in its youth often callow and imitative. By the time it reached adolescence in the 1850s, it had become passionate and startlingly complex. Over the next century and a half, it continued to mature—becoming at turns refined, troubled, and innovative. In this course, we will trace this entire fascinating history, beginning with a work that betrays the European origins of the novel: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823). We then will explore two of America’s most important novels, published only one year apart: Herman Melville’s monumental Moby-Dick (1851) and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Our last stop before midterm is The Wings of the Dove (1902), one of the late novels of “the master,” Henry James. Having spent the first half of the semester on northern writers, we will turn in the second half to a number of novels written by Southerners: Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel (1929), set here in North Carolina; Mississippi writer William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), perhaps the pinnacle of the American novel in the twentieth century; fellow Mississippian Richard Wright’s powerful Native Son (1940); and New Orleans-born Truman Capote’s “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood (1965). We will wind up our tour with a novel published in our own century, Amy Tan’s The Bone-Setter’s Daughter (2001).
As the name of this course suggests, our purpose in studying these books will be twofold. First, since they not only span the history of the American novel, but also represent a wide variety of perspectives and genres, our study will be, in some sense, a study of America as a whole. That is, we will examine the historical forces and literary movements that helped to shape some of these works—slavery in the case of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, and modernism in the case of The Sound and the Fury. Second, unlike a survey of American literature, this course will focus on a particular form: the novel. Thus, we will seek to understand the history, structure, and purpose of the novel and discuss strategies for reading, understanding, and evaluating it.
This course will challenge you. In addition to reading and interpreting some very difficult novels, you will research, write, and present a substantial article (10 sources, 2,000 words), as well as a number of shorter essays, and take an oral examination. We will work, yes, but we also will engage in some lively discussions, take part in some interesting class activities, and—if all goes as planned—travel to Asheville, North Carolina, to take a close-up look at the setting of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. In short, if you bring the right attitude and level of commitment to this course, I believe you will find it an immensely enjoyable and rewarding experience.
People come around to reading in different ways, if they come around at all. Religion whets the appetite of some, and they make their entry into the world of words and ideas through the Bible or another holy book. Others get hooked on children’s classics and eventually graduate to more sophisticated books. For me, the entry came through baseball. When I was in the sixth grade, I somehow wound up with a copy of The Bronx Zoo, a nonfiction account of the New York Yankees’ crazy 1978 season, and read it cover to cover. Over the next several years, I read books by Billy Martin, Leo Durocher, and other baseball heroes; somewhere along the way, I also moved into more literary territory, reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s novels Kidnapped and Treasure Island. At Indiana University, I majored in journalism and English; thanks to this second major, which I picked up only because the School of Journalism required extensive study in another field, I got to know—and, in some cases, hate—Henry James, Jane Austen, Christopher Marlowe, Joseph Conrad, and a few dozen other literary masters. More importantly, I got an intoxicating taste of what great books can do. I already had enjoyed reading; now I was truly engaged by it.
After I graduated from IU, I became a journalist and spent three years as a copy editor in Indiana—first for the Johnson County Daily Journal and then for the News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne—but literature still had a hold on me, and I decided to pursue a career as an English professor. It was while I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that I fell in love with early American literature. Thanks in part to the work of a fine professor, a survey course that I took my first semester at UNC opened my eyes to the fascinating words and ideas of Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Stephen Crane. In particular, Edgar Allan Poe, whose work I had never much enjoyed, came to interest me, and I soon began working on a master’s thesis on his use of the right brain, later turning it into my dissertation, Poe in His Right Mind. During this time in graduate school, I also took courses in postbellum American literature, creativity and the American author, and, yes, the American novel.
Today, as an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, I teach a variety of courses, including several in composition and the English language, but my expertise remains early American literature. I continue to do research on Poe—I am writing a profile of him for a literary encyclopedia this semester, in fact—but I also have written on a number of other subjects, including Benjamin Franklin, the Southern short story, distance education, and service-learning. I also manage an Internet encyclopedia called All American, which features entries written by students like you, and am currently engaged in research on the intersections between literature and journalism in America.
Most of you, I suspect, already are hooked on reading, whether you came to it through baseball or some other means. Nevertheless, I hope that I can help you take your appreciation of literature—in this case, the American novel—to the next level by guiding you through not only the books themselves, but the forces that shaped them and the ways they can shape us. Indeed, you may even come to see, as I have, that to explore literature is to explore life.
Speaking of life, I have one outside of literature. I live in Laurinburg with my wonderful wife, Lisa, who runs a catering business out of our home, and our children, 4-year-old Esprit and 1-year-old Will. You can read more than you would ever want to know about us by visiting our World Wide Web site.
Language: Success in college and the world beyond requires more than basic literacy. We must know not only how to decipher language, but also how to analyze it for clues about purpose, audience, and agenda. In this course, we will examine how allusion, figurative language, and other formal features shape meaning, thus equipping ourselves to interpret the complex, often veiled messages we encounter in law, business, and the media.
Furthermore, because of the allusive nature of all language, particularly literature, names constitute a crucial part of one's vocabulary. In this course, we will expand our cultural vocabularies by studying not only authors and works, but also historical figures, events, and places, thus enabling us to become more knowledgeable and active participants in our communities.
Finally, while appreciating language and literature is a means to these valuable ends, it also is a worthwhile end in itself. Like a painting or a symphony, a novel is a work of art, and much of its appeal lies in its impractical nature—its beauty, its humor, the way it makes us feel. By exploring some of America’s greatest novels, as well as the structure of the genre itself, we stand to elevate and enrich ourselves in ways impossible to quantify.
Ideas: Edifying and elevating in its own right, language is also a means for expressing ideas, and one of our chief objectives in this course will be to explore those ideas. Thus, in addition to analyzing symbolism in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and narrative strategies in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, we will confront the questions that these and other novels pose about evil, family, community, and other provocative subjects.
Research: The ability to find, evaluate, and use information empowers us, preparing us to make informed decisions and arguments in our professional, civic, and private lives. For this reason, research skills are some of the most important skills you will develop in college. In this course, we will practice conducting literary research, particularly research concerning the American novel. In particular, you will use key words and Boolean operators to locate information on computer databases, evaluate the credibility of this information, and incorporate it into your own writing through paraphrases, quotations, and summaries.
Communication: Knowledge confined to a single person's brain has limited use. It is through sharing this knowledge that humans make progress in medicine, science and technology, politics, and every other human endeavor. Through various exercises and assignments, including both essays and oral presentations, you will develop a number of important communication skills, including composition, revision, speech, and graphic design.
As I have explained in the course objectives at the left, this course will give you the opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills in the areas of language, ideas, research, and communication. As your guide, I will work hard to help you achieve these objectives. I want to see every one of you succeed. Of course, your success will depend primarily on you. To help you make the most out of your abilities, I have put together the following list of “p’s and q’s”:
Before you can succeed, you need to prepare. Indeed, preparation is the single most important key to success, not only in this class, but also in college and in life. You already have taken the first step by reading this syllabus. Take a few minutes every few weeks to review this syllabus, which describes not only the assignments, but also my criteria for grading them. An equally important form of preparation is reading the lessons that I will post on the Web throughout the semester. Each lesson contains the objectives, terms and people, and dates that you need to know for that unit, along with announcements, assignments, discussion, exercises, and resources for further study. In short, the lessons are your keys to success in this course. Like any keys, however, they need someone to operate them. Before each unit, you should visit this online syllabus, click on the link to the appropriate lesson, and read the lesson carefully, preparing yourself to meet the objectives and completing the appropriate assignments. Come to class with notes and questions on the lesson and other assignments. Finally, review the lesson at the end of the week to make sure you have met the objectives.
Once you are prepared to learn, you also need to show up for class and to participate in class exercises and discussions. Although I do not require attendance in this course, I urge you to attend class regularly and to participate actively in class activities. Indeed, research shows that active participation dramatically increases the amount a person learns. As you will see when you read the lessons, you will have plenty of opportunities to become engaged with the course material through writing, presentations, and discussion. We will begin each unit with a “Think Fast” exercise, in which you will respond in writing to a question about the material covered in the lesson. I then will set the stage for the lesson by giving a brief audio-visual presentation on the author and novel we are studying, as well as their historical context. You then will take center stage for much of the remainder of the lesson as you collaborate in groups, give presentations of your own, discuss the material with me as a class, review the material in a “Think Again” writing exercise, and meet with me in one-on-one conferences. Finally, I will close the lesson with some announcements about upcoming lessons and assignments. I encourage you to make the most of each of these course components by participating actively and thoughtfully.
Your mind is part of your body. It should come as no surprise, then, that good physical health can improve your learning and your grades. Studies have suggested that eating breakfast can improve test performance, that protein can boost alertness, and that exercise can help a person think effectively. I suggest drinking 8-10 glasses of water each day, avoiding junk food and caffeine, exercising at least a half-hour each day, and maintaining a consistent schedule of seven to nine hours of sleep every night. You may be surprised by the difference these simple practices can make not only in your health, but also in your productivity and consequent academic success.
Your grades depend entirely on your performance. Nevertheless, being polite is good practice for life after college and can help you establish a good rapport with your professors. When I write recommendations for a student to earn a scholarship, enter graduate school, or obtain a job, I always include a paragraph on the student’s character and comment specifically on qualities such as punctuality and politeness. In addition to doing your best work in this course, you will want to put your best self on display. Show up for class and conferences on time and wait until class has ended before packing up your books. Turn in assignments when they are due and avoid making excuses for absences or poor work.
Nothing impresses a teacher or an employer more than work that shines not only in content, but also in form. Invest the time and energy into submitting assignments of which you can be proud. For starters, read each assignment carefully and try to provide exactly what the professor requests. In addition to researching, writing, revising, and proofreading your work carefully, follow instructions on format, such as use of correct bibliographic citations.
When you need information or help, ask. For example, if you have problems coming to class, keeping up with assignments, or using the computer, see me immediately. In addition, please note the following statement from Disability Support Services: "Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments is requested to speak directly to Disability Support Services and the instructor, as early in the semester (preferably within the first week) as possible. All discussions will remain confidential. Please contact Mary Helen Walker, Disability Support Services, DF Lowry building, 521-6695.”
Description: In this oral presentation, you will share the research you have conducted for your article.
Length: 20 minutes
Due Date: Assigned date on lesson
Description: Your portfolio will consist of an introduction (100 words), a scholarly article (2,000 words) about some aspect of a novel we are studying in the course, two revised “Think Again” essays (500 words each), and a reflective essay (500 words).
Length: 3,600 words
Due Date: November 11, 2002
Description: Each of you will meet with me for a one-on-one examination, in which I will ask you both “short-answer” questions about basic factual information, such as terms and dates, and “essay” questions that call on you to think critically and draw conclusions about the novels and authors we have explored in the course.
Length: 30 minutes
Due Date: Assigned time during exam week
Like the characters we will encounter in the novels we are reading, we will be very busy in this course—not exactly braving a forest fire like Natty Bumppo or chasing a whale like Captain Ahab, but busy in weighty endeavors of our own as we discuss characters and themes, act out scenes, conduct research, give presentations, and write both short responses and longer essays. Among these various activities, you will complete three major assignments: a presentation, a portfolio, and an oral examination. Your grade will depend on your performance on these major assignments, which I have described in detail in the space below. Finally, in the event a white whale does go after one of my legs during a lecture, I will welcome any assistance you can provide in pursuing him to the ends of the earth.
During the first week of the semester, you will choose a novel that we are going to read in the course, and we will visit the campus library so that you can begin conducting research on it. Using your own skills in literary interpretation, as well as what you have gleaned in your research, you then will develop a claim about some aspect of this novel and begin writing a scholarly article in support of this claim for your portfolio. Furthermore, during the week or weeks when we are discussing this novel, you will give a 20-minute oral presentation in which you share your findings with your classmates and me. Students who work on earlier novels will have less time to prepare their presentations, and I will take this into consideration in my grading. In the early presentations, for example, I will look for breadth of research and creative claims, while I will expect later presentations to contain more support. Regardless of whether it comes early or late, however, every presentation should state a clear claim, present both the student’s own interpretations and relevant findings from research, and be clear, organized, thoughtful, and engaging. Although I do not require them, you may want to use handouts, a PowerPoint presentation, or some other types of aids to help convey information and engage your audience.
This assignment actually consists of several smaller assignments, which I have described below:
Introduction: In an informal essay of about 100 words, share a few details about yourself and your interest in the American novel.
Scholarly Article: As noted under “Presentation” above, you will have the opportunity to develop a claim about some aspect of a novel we are exploring in this course. In this article, which should be about 2,000 words long, you will state and support this claim, drawing on both your own interpretations and findings from relevant, credible sources. Like any good piece of literary scholarship, this article should be clear, organized, insightful, and rich in supporting evidence from both primary and secondary sources. The list of works cited should include at least 10 sources that you have summarized, paraphrased, or quoted in your article.
Two Essays: Throughout the course, you will write several “Think Again” essays in which you synthesize material covered in the readings, lessons, and class activities. You will revise two of these essays and include them in your portfolio. Since you will have had the opportunity to revise them, I will expect these essays to be insightful, clear, and polished.
Reflective Essay: In this essay, you will comment on how the work you did in this course affected you in one or more ways. For example, you might explain how what you learned about human behavior in the novels will help you as an employee or a parent, how you plan to use your research and communication skills in graduate school, or how some of the characters and themes you encountered changed your outlook on the world. Although this essay need not be formal—indeed, the more creative and personal, the better—it nevertheless should be clear, engaging, and free of distracting lapses in grammar, spelling, and the like.
You will submit your final portfolio to me on Nov. 11, 2002.
Like a traditional written final exam, this oral examination is designed to determine how much you have learned and retained over the course of the semester. I have chosen to meet with each of you one-on-one and have you answer questions orally, however, because I value the interaction that can take place in oral examinations and because I believe they are more akin to experiences you will have outside of college. Each of you will sign up for a time to take this exam during exam week. You then will show up at the arranged time in the ETL Resource Center, where you will find a sheet of paper with questions. You will have 30 minutes to review this sheet and take notes; you then will meet with me for 30 minutes to discuss the material on the sheet.
A student who earns an A has excelled in both skills and knowledge. In content, clarity, readability, and format, the student's work fully or almost fully meets my criteria. In short, the student has mastered the material and is likely to succeed in future challenges.
A student who earns a B has demonstrated many of the same qualities shown by the student who earns an A, but is deficient a few minor areas. The student has generally mastered the material and is likely to succeed in future challenges.
A student who earns a C has demonstrated some of the same qualities shown by the student who earns an A or a B. Although the work is adequate, it suffers from several minor deficiencies. Nevertheless, the work suggests that the student is competent and is ready to take on future challenges, though he or she may need to shore up some of these deficiencies to succeed.
A student who earns a D is deficient in at least one major area or many minor areas, but has demonstrated adequate knowledge and skills to merit a passing grade. The student who earns a D probably will struggle when confronting future challenges.
A student will earn an F for one of the following reasons:
I will evaluate your portfolio twice: once before midterm and once at the end of the course. Each time, I will assign you a letter grade based on the quality of your portfolio. Your final grade in the course, however, will depend only on your final portfolio and final interview. Thus, even if you earn a D on the first evaluation, you may revise your portfolio, use what you have learned to improve on future work, and earn a better grade--perhaps even an A--in the course. The purpose of this system is to give you an opportunity to continue learning and improving over the duration of the course. Each time I evaluate your work, I will use the criteria below.
Each written and oral assignment should contain all of the components described on the syllabus. Furthermore, it should thoroughly and insightfully address its subject with accurate, credible, timely, and relevant information.
Each written and oral assignment should present information in a clear, logical fashion. In general, each paragraph in the written projects generally should begin with a precise topic sentence, followed by clear, well-organized sentences that support the topic sentence. Transitional words and phrases should effectively guide the audience through the information.
All work should engage the audience with lively, concise writing or oral presentation and should generally lack lapses in tone, register, punctuation, mechanics, spelling, word choice, and grammar. Each assignment should effectively incorporate source material with proper use of attribution, paraphrases, and quotations. Longer assignments should begin with engaging introductions and include satisfying conclusions. Both written and oral projects should be functional and attractive, conforming to all appropriate professional standards. In particular, all parenthetical citations and lists of works cited in the written projects should conform to MLA style.
Each assignment must be your own work. That is, except for properly cited quotations, every sentence and phrase must be in your own words. All interpretations, except for those properly cited, also must be your own. If you turn in someone else's work, use a source's exact words without placing these words in quotation marks, or use an interpretation you found in a source without giving credit to the source, you are guilty of plagiarism and may fail this course. You must be prepared to prove that you have done all your own work by showing me your sources and discussing the details of your project with me in conference.
“This publication is available in alternative formats upon request. Please contact Mary Helen Walker, Disability Support Services, DF Lowry building, 521-6695.”
This course helps education students fulfill Teacher Education Program Standard 1: “The teacher candidate commands essential knowledge and understandings of the academic discipline(s) from which school subject matter is derived and integrates that knowledge into personally meaningful frameworks.”