An introduction to American literature and culture during the decades leading up to the Civil War. This is a period which: 1) struggled with numerous issues of race, slavery, gender, and class; 2) strove to develop a national mythology and identity against the backdrop of shifting national boundaries, increasing immigration, worldwide empire and trade, and a heterogeneous population; 3) tried to salvage reli! gious faith in the wake of modern science and the Enlightenment; 4) took democracy seriously enough to trace through its implications even to the point where, as in the case of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, such implications start to become startling and strange. The period is much too complex to be organized into a dominant, easily defined thesis or polemic, and in fact the aesthetic strategy of choice for many of the writers whom we’ll be exploring is the ambiguous interchange of perspectives and voices without closure or synthesis. The “question,” as Melville at one point writes of his own literary method, tends to remain “more final than any answer.” Nature itself, as Thoreau emphasizes, becomes a site where perspectives so alter and shift and we can never get any closer than “nearer and nearer to here.” Pre-Civil War literary language in the U.S., I should caution, is dense, complicated, and often difficult to read—although enormously rewar! ding and eloquent—and students enrolling in this course shou! ld be prepared for encountering difficult language as they explore authors such as Emerson and Melville.
Texts: Whitman selections (e-reserve); Hawthorne, The Portable Hawthorne; Melville, Moby-Dick; Emerson, The Portable Emerson; Thoreau, The Portable Thoreau; Fuller, Summer on the Lakes; Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass