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ENGL 352 A: American Literature: The Early Nation

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
DEM 126
Bob Abrams
Robert Abrams

Syllabus Description:


English  352 A

DEM 126

Prof. Robert E. Abrams

M,W: 3:30-5:20 PM


Office Hours: B 427 Padelford, M,W, 5:30-6:30 PM,  by appointment

Tel: 206-281-7417, 206-543-4076




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 religious faith in the wake of modern science and the Enlightenment; 4) and 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 rewarding and eloquent—and students enrolling in this course should be prepared to encounter difficult language as they explore authors such as Emerson and Melville. 


Texts:  Whitman selections (these will be emailed to you as an attachment); 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. All texts except Whitman’s selections are available at the University Bookstore.




  1. 1. Two  papers, 4-5 pgs, are due on  April 25 and May 30.  Please be in class on  April 16 and May 21 to pick up paper topics.


  1. 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 on either Weds., May 30, at 3:30 PM or Thurs, June 7  2:30 PM sharp (in this classroom) as evidence that you have done assigned readings.  In cases where a text (such as The Scarlet Letter)  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 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 you fail to hand in 10 journal entries only at the end of the quarter, 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.  

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—if you are so moved— 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.   


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 required up until and including the journal entry required for May 16.  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 478120).


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.





Mar 26: Course Introduction


Mar 28: Emerson: From “Nature,” first paragraph only; from “The American Scholar,”  first four paragraphs, then all of Part II. All of "The Divinity School Address.”


Apr 2:Emerson. (1) From "Circles," first nine paragraphs; (2) from "The Poet," look for the section beginning with “So far the bard taught me,” and read all the way through to the phrase, “the organ of language,” which comes at the end of a paragraph; (3) from "Experience," first four paragraphs  and then the first paragraph of the section beginning with “it is very unhappy.” 


Apr 4: Thoreau.  "Civil Disobedience."  From Walden, first read the chapters on "Economy" and "Where I Lived, What I lived For," in their entirety. Then, from "Solitude," a brief selection, beginning with the para that begins with "Any prospect," and ending with the para that ends with "friends sometimes." Then, a somewhat longer selection from "Visitors," beginning w/ the para that begins, "Who should come to my lodge," and ending w/ the para ending with: "dark and muddy”  In the assigned text: pp. 258-351, 385-386, 394-400.


Apr 9:  Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown."


Apr 11:  Hawthorne, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux."



Apr 16, 18, 23:  Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (read approximately 1/3 of the novel for each class session)


April 25: FIRST PAPER DUE.  All papers must be handed directly to me in class.                                                                                                            Read Whitman, "Song of Myself"


April 30: Continuation of Whitman, “Song of Myself"


May 2:  Whitman, “The Sleepers,”


May 7: Whitman, “A Noiseless Patient Spider," "Song of the Open Road”


May 9: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes , Chap 1; Chap 2, beginning w/ section “Chicago, Jun 20,” and ending with the paragraph that concludes: “to which they were suspect”;    Chap 3, find the set-off quotation, “the earth was full of men,”  and continue through the next four paragraphs;  Chapter 5, from the outset to  the paragraph ending with “no use to strive or resist”;  all of Chapter 6. (In the assigned text:  pp. 1-9, 19-21, 33,  71-76, Chap 6).


May 14: Frederick Douglass, Narrative.


May 16:  Moby-Dick, chaps. 1-23.



May 21: Moby-Dick:  As a minimum read at least Chaps 28-31, 34-36, 41-42, 47-49.  You are encouraged—but not required—to read Chaps 28-49 in their entirety. PAPER TOPICS HANDED OUT.  BE SURE TO BE IN CLASS.  



May 23:  Moby-Dick, read at least chapters 53, 93-95, 99, 109,128, 132-Epilogue.  You are encouraged to read Chaps 50-Epilogue in their entirety.


May 28: Holiday


May 30: Course Conclusion. SECOND PAPER DUE.  All papers must be handed directly to me in class.


All journals are due in this classroom either Weds., May 30, at 3:30 PM,  when you hand in your second essay, or Thurs, June 7, at 2:30 PM (NOTE THE EARLIER HOUR: NOT 3:30 BUT 2:30). 


Catalog Description: 
Explores American fiction, poetry, and prose from the early nineteenth century through the Civil War. May include such representative authors of the period as Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, Douglass and fuller, along with supplementary study of the broader cultural and political milieu.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 10:00pm