ENGL 353 B: American Literature: Later Nineteenth Century

Meeting Time: 
MW 6:30pm - 8:20pm
SMI 405
Bob Abrams
Robert Abrams

Syllabus Description:

A study of representative American texts culled from the latter half of the nineteenth century and deliberately selected to span a gamut of genres: the novel, the short story, the short lyric poem, autobiography and the essay. Be prepared to encounter a wide variety of literary voices, ranging from Huck Finn’s down-home utterances to Henry James’s urbane, elaborately woven prose to the variety of voices in Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk. Themes will include race, gender, immigration, industrial revolution, class differences, growing religious skepticism, and urbanization. In quite a few of these texts— in the very process of exploring these themes—we’ll address the pressure placed on the English language and on received aesthetic conv

Department of English
University of Washington
English 353B: American Literature, Later Nineteenth-Century
Prof. Robert E. Abrams
SMITH 405: M,W, 6:30-8:20 PM
Office Hours: B 427 Padelford, M,W, 5:25-6:25 pm, by appointment
Phone: 206-281-7417, 206-543-4076
Email: rabrams@u.washington.edu

Texts: These readings will be sent to you by email as attachments: Emily Dickinson’s poems, “Bartleby,” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” excerpts from The American Scene. Make sure that you have the capacity to open .pdf files. Save the attachments, since if for whatever reason you receive an Incomplete grade in this course, these texts will no longer be available online after Autumn Quarter. Also, to be purchased at the UW Bookstore: Twain, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN; DuBois, THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK; James, THE TURN OF THE SCREW; Davis, LIFE IN THE IRON MILLS AND OTHER STORIES; Crane, THE PORTABLE STEPHEN CRANE; Chopin, THE AWAKENING


Attendance: 10 per cent of your grade will be based on participation, and participation will involve your regular attendance, your listening carefully to class lectures, your taking notes, and your contribution to class discussion. Attendance will therefore be taken, and your grade may suffer a reduction—or it may actually rise—based on your attendance record.

Note-Taking: You are expected not only to attend class, but also to take notes indicating that you are following—and listening closely—to class lectures and discussion. Save your notes. Date them. Photocopy them. And place them in a folder with your name on it. On the last day of class, Dec. 5, I will collect your photocopied notes in order to review them.

Formal essays: Two 4 ½ to 5-page papers are due on Nov 7 and Dec 5. Essay prompts will be handed out Oct 29 and Nov. 26. Make sure that you attend class on these dates to receive the prompts.

Pre-class written assignments: By way of preparation for each class session, you should write a short, informal journal entry in which you comment on the day’s reading assignment. Journal entries should be computer-generated, they should be dated and numbered. and they should be approximately 3/4 page long, single-spaced. Keep all journal entries during the quarter and hand them to me in this classroom at 6:30 PM on either Dec 5 or Dec 12 as evidence that you have done assigned readings. In cases where a text (such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) has been assigned for several class sessions, write separate journal entries before each discussion section, exploring your reaction to a different section of the text each time. In the case of Emily Dickinson’s poems, select two poems for close analysis each time. When several texts are assigned on the same date, devote half of your journal entry to each text. In hopes of encouraging you to speak your own mind in these journal entries and to develop opinions without fear of a poor grade, I will simply be grading your journals as “credit.” However, missing journal entries—especially if there are many of them--will seriously impact your grade, since these entries are meant to replace in-class exams as evidence that you have completed all required reading for the course. I will deduct .1 off your total course grade for each missing entry. Thus, for example, if your essays average out to 3.0, but if you are missing 6 journal entries, your grade will be reduced to 2.4. Let me emphasize this should pose no problem for students who are faithfully doing the reading, and are composing journal entries on a regular basis during the quarter rather than waiting until the end. Once you have finished a reading assignment, composing the actual journal entry should not be unduly taxing or stressful. These are journal entries—not formal essays—which can be written in a relaxed, informal style, without undue concern for punctuation and grammar. You may even use your journal entries to confess to portions of your reading which leave you confused. That’s perfectly okay. What I’m interested in verifying as I review your journal entries is that you’ve made a good-faith effort to do the reading for the course.

INCOMPLETES: I quote University Incomplete Policy directly: “Incomplete grades may only be awarded if you are doing satisfactory work up until the last two weeks of the quarter.” What this means is that if you request an Incomplete, you will need to have submitted your first essay along with all journal entries and notes required up until and including the journal entry required for Nov 21. No exceptions to this policy will be granted.




The following statement was prepared by the Committee on Academic Conduct in the College of Arts and Sciences. It amplifies the Student Conduct Code (WAC 478‐120).

One of the most common forms of cheating is plagiarism, using anotherʹs words or ideas without proper citation. When students plagiarize, they usually do so in one of the following six ways:
• Using another writerʹs words without proper citation. If you use another writerʹs words, you must place quotation marks around the quoted material and include a footnote or other indication of the source of the quotation.
• Using another writerʹs ideas without proper citation. When you use another authorʹs ideas, you must indicate with footnotes or other means where this information can be found. Your instructors want to know which ideas and judgments are yours and which you arrived at by consulting other sources. Even if you arrived at the same judgment on your own, you need to acknowledge that the writer you consulted also came up with the idea.
• Citing your source but reproducing the exact words of a printed source without quotation marks.
This makes it appear that you have paraphrased rather than borrowed the authorʹs exact words.
• Borrowing the structure of another authorʹs phrases or sentences without crediting the author from whom it came. This kind of plagiarism usually occurs out of laziness: it is easier to replicate another writerʹs style than to think about what you have read and then put it in your own words. The following example is from A Writerʹs Reference by Diana Hacker (New York, 1989, p. 171).
o Original: If the existence of a signing ape was unsettling for linguists, it was also
startling news for animal behaviorists.
o Unacceptable borrowing of words: An ape who knew sign language unsettled linguists
and startled animal behaviorists.
• Borrowing all or part of another studentʹs paper or using someone elseʹs outline to write your own paper.

Course Calendar

Sep 26: Introduction to the Course

A Game-Changing American Poet: Emily Dickinson (poems sent to you by email attachment)

Oct 1: Dickinson, read the following poems, all emailed to you as attachments: USE OF PERSONA: "I started early;" POEMS ON RELIGION AND GOD: "'Faith' is a fine invention," "I shall know why," "There's a certain slant," "He fumbles at your soul," "I know that He exists," "I cannot live with you," "The soul should always stand;" : POEMS ON DEATH: "Because I could not stop," "I heard a Fly buzz."

Oct 3: POEMS ON NATURE, "I'll tell you how," "A bird came down the walk;" POEMS ON DESIRE, "Success is counted sweetest," "Exultation is the going," "Undue significance a starving man" PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SELF: “I felt a Funeral,” “I’m Nobody,” “Alone, I cannot be,”

A Game-Changing American Novel

Oct 8: Twain, HUCKLEBERRY FINN (read at least the first half)
Oct 10: Twain, HUCKLEBERRY FINN (finish reading the novel)

Industrial Revolution, Urbanization, and Class Polarization

Oct 15: Melville, “Bartleby” (Emailed to you as .pdf attachment)
Oct 17: Davis, "Life in the Iron Mills"
Oct 22: Crane, MAGGIE

The Civil War:

Post-Slavery Race Relations

Oct 29: DuBois, THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK. Note: Paper prompts will be handed out this evening for your first paper; paper due Nov 7, 6:30 pm in this classroom.

Oct 31: Continuation of discussion of DuBois.

Nov 5: Crane, “The Monster”

Henry James: Point of View, Psychology, Perception, and Selfhood

Nov 7: James, "The Turn of the Screw”; Paper 1 due this evening

NOV 12: Holiday


Lack of an American Focal Center: Heterogeneity and Transience

Nov 14: Crane, “The Blue Hotel,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky ”

Nov 19: James, excerpts from The American Scene (sent to you by email attachment)

Nov 21: Open Session: No reading assignment; no pre-class writing required.

American Domesticity and Its Discontents

Nov. 26: Chopin, THE AWAKENING (at least the first half) Paper prompts handed out this evening for your second paper; paper due Weds, Dec 5, 6:30 pm in this classroom.

Nov. 28: Continued discussion of Chopin, THE AWAKENING

Dec 3: “The Yellow Wallpaper” (emailed to you as .pdf attachment)

Dec 5: Course Conclusion. Second essay due, 6:30 PM. Late essay submissions risk an Incomplete grade in this course. Feel free to hand in your journal entries on this date. Your photocopies notes are also due on this date.

Dec 12: Due date for journal entries. In this classroom. 6:30 PM.


You should look these over prior to our class sessions. If you wish, you may use these prompts to write your journal entries.

Emily Dickinson’s poetry

Oct. 1:

What do you find unusual about Emily Dickinson’s poetic language? Focus on punctuation, use of analogy (in her metaphors and similes), her rhymes, and anything else you can think of? . Why, in your opinion, does Dickinson write poetry in this manner? What is the effect, for example, of her use of dashes, and her unusual and far-fetched analogies? Why is the way she writes fundamental to what she is trying to convey and express in her poems?

Why is the stumbling, buzzing fly at the window such an expressive (if disturbing) image in “I heard a fly buzz”? Think this through carefully. Why does this image occur on the threshold of death in the poem?

Oct. 3:

In “I’ll tell you how the sun rose,” is Emily Dickinson’s language meant to be a pure, unwarped window into the reality of nature, or does it emerge as an inevitable lens or medium through which nature indirectly emerges? Explain this through a close, detailed look at the metaphors and images in the poem. What does Dickinson mean when she writes that she’ll tell you how the sun rose? What’s the difference between that statement and a simpler statement: “The sun rose”?

What is the main idea that Dickinson is try to express in “Success is Counted Sweetest,” “Exultation is the going,” and “Undue significance a starving man”?

Huckleberry Finn

Oct 8:
Read the first paragraph of Chapter 19 closely. Be on the look-out, for example, for the semicolon in the opening sentence, and what this opening sentence, which revises itself in transit, tells about Huck Finn as a writer (which is primarily how we experience him when all is said and done)? What about shifts in phraseology such as “a kind of dull line—that was the woods on ‘t’other side”? What do these shifts indicate? Although Huck Finn is not well educated in any formal sense, his writing is, in fact, quite revealing and expressive, and your objective in responding to this prompt is to highlight the special qualities of Huck’s narrative voice.

This prompt is related to the first. What do you think is at stake in Twain’s decision to write an entire novel—considered at the time to be a prestigious literary mode written in refined language—through the dialect of an uneducated country boy?


Oct. 10:
What do you make of the relationship between Huck Finn and Jim? Is Huck racist? Does he become liberated from racism during his growing friendship with Jim? Or does he remain a complex mixture of racist and non-racist tendencies? Refer to specific episodes throughout the novel in answering this question. In addition, how do you react to Huck Finn’s repeated use of the “N” word. Is Huck’s use of the “N” word a reflection of racism on the part of Twain himself? Is the “N” word included in the text because this is the way a country boy from Missouri prior to the Civil War would actually talk? Can we separate the author, Mark Twain, from the narrator, Huck Finn, or does the consistent emergence of the “N” word cast a permanent shadow over this classic American text?


Oct. 15
Focus on the attorney’s voice—his allusion to the classics, his familiarity with and sensitivity to art, and anything else about his voice that you can think of that characterizes his narrative style. How does the attorney’s style of narrative contradict his initial self-presentation of himself as a conventional, hard-headed American businessman and attorney—a man “of prudence and method”? What’s at issue in this contradiction?

Many commentators of “Bartleby” have noticed that, however strange and puzzling the scrivener remains in the eyes of the attorney, Bartleby is by profession a “copyist,” and that deep down he may be mirroring the attorney back to himself. Why do commentators often come to this conclusion?

Life in the Iron Mills

Oct. 17:

Why does the narrator at the outset of the “Life in the Iron Mills” ask: “Can you see how foggy the day is?” What does it mean in this story to be asked to see fog¬ rather than to see reality in sharp, well-focused form?

What seems to be the narrator’s attitude toward language as she sees it practiced all around her, and which ranges across a spectrum of possibilities: educated, elitist literary language; the language of newspaper reporters and newspaper articles; the language of sermons; the stumbling, heavily accentuated English of working class immigrants from Ireland and Whales? What about Hugh Wolfe’s korl figure itself as an alternative form of language, visual rather than verbal?


Oct. 22:

Pete takes Maggie to plays which draw jeers as well as cheers from a working class audience. Does Crane approve or disapprove of these plays? What can we assume about Crane’s attitude toward art—what it should be, and what it should not be—by attending to how he describes these plays? What is the difference between the experience proffered to the audience by these plays and Crane’s own story, including his attitude toward the characters within it, the way his plot resolves, and the effect that his own story is intended to have on its audience?

The Red Badge of Courage

Oct. 24:

In the Viking Portable Edition of Crane’s writing, Joseph Katz, the editor of this edition, begins “The Red Badge of Courage” with a large explanatory footnote which gives us a bird’s-eye view of the battle scenes: i.e., how they fit into larger military strategies and objectives as known to generals and high government officials, and what these scenes might look like from above. Crane, however, offered no such footnote in his original publication of the tale. What is the difference between a bird’s-eye view that is largely missing from the story and the actual experience of the troops on the ground? What is the significance of this difference? Does Henry Fleming at any point catch at least an inkling of what a bird’s-eye view of battle, from the perspective of generals and higher officers, might entail? What does he learn from this episode?

What do you make of the tale’s conclusion? In the light of the rest of the tale, is the conclusion straightforward or ironic? Explain.

The Souls of Black Folk

Oct 29:

Explain in all its complexity the idea of African-American “double-consciousness” as developed by DuBois.

Read paragraphs 6-9 of Chapter IV closely and carefully, Why is this passage important? In what specific ways is DuBois’s description of his pupils meant to undermine the excessive stereotyping of African-Americans in post-Civil War America?


Oct 31:

What is DuBois’s attitude toward Booker T. Washington and his envisagement of the proper education of African-Americans? What, in contrast, is DuBois’s own approach to the education African-Americans?

How, according to DuBois, does the sharecropping system described in Chapter VIII operate to control and oppress southern blacks long after the abolishment of slavery?

The Monster
Nov. 5:
Is this—or is this not—a racist story? Or is it a mixture of both racist and non-racist attitudes? Answer this question through a look at relevant passages and episodes.

Why does Henry Johnson become monstrous in the eyes of the community after his face is horribly burned and effectually erased? What is the underlying source of the human terror of facelessness? Behind such facelessness, is Henry Johnson really and truly insane, or does a Henry with feelings and awareness still detectably lurk within his outward signs of monstrosity?

The Turn of the Screw

Nov. 7:

What evidence in the story suggests that the ghosts are ultimately projections of the governess’s imagination? What evidence, on the other hand, suggests that the ghosts may actually exist? Why does the story equivocate in this manner?

Are there any hints of childhood sexuality lurking within innocence in this fin de siècle story, written at the close of the Victorian era, and on the threshold of Freud’s writings?

The Blue Hotel and The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

Nov. 14:

Why does Crane select a hotel rather than a home as the setting of “The Blue Hotel”? What is the difference between a hotel and a home? What does Crane’s hotel setting suggest about the nature of American society itself?

Read the opening of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” carefully. Why does Crane imagine the moving train to be stationary, and the landscape outside the train to be “pouring eastward, . . . sweeping over the horizon, a precipice”? How does the rest of the story help to explain this passage?

The American Scene:

Nov. 19

Why does Henry James refer to the freshly arrived immigrant as “the alien” rather than “the foreigner”? What is at stake in this description? Why does James ultimately insist that no American--whether an immigrant or a long-term inhabitant of this country with a long American ancestry--truly escapes being an “alien”?

The Awakening

Nov. 26:

Comment on variations in both male and female characters in The Awakening. Why does Chopin avoid gender stereotyping?

What does Edna learn about her own sexuality from her affair with Arobin? How does this contribute to her “awakening”?

Nov. 28:

How do you interpret the final scene of the novel, in which Edna takes off all her clothes and swims out to sea?

The Yellow Wallpaper

Dec. 3:

Briefly trace through the stages that mark the housewife-narrator’s shifting relationship to the wallpaper in Gilman’s story.

It has been said that in certain circumstances, so-called mad, insane behavior is actually the response of a sane person to insane conditions. How does this apply to Gilman’s story?



entions to address a changing and turbulent post-Civil War America. This will involve close and meticulous reading of literary texts themselves in addressing larger issues. The focus will be on larger issues only through intricate linguistic and aesthetic analysis.


Catalog Description: 
Explores American fiction, poetry, and prose during the latter half of the nineteenth century. May include such representative authors of the period as Twain, Dickinson, DuBois, Crane, Wharton and Chopin, along with supplementary study of the broader cultural and political milieu.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 10:50pm