ENGL 250 A: American Literature

Meeting Time: 
MW 4:30pm - 6:20pm
SMI 305
Bob Abrams
Robert Abrams

Syllabus Description:

English 250A: American Literature
Prof. Robert E. Abrams
Class meets M,W: 4:30-6:20, in Smith 305
Office: B427 Padelford Hall
Office Hours: M, W, 3:25-4:25 (by appointment)
Email: rabrams@uw.edu; tel 206-543-4076, 206-765-0547

Assigned texts available at U Bookstore: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes; N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain; ; Kate Chopin, The Awakening; Frederick Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.

Assigned texts available as separate “Pages” on Canvas: Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown”; Nathaniel Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”; Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Course Description:
We'll read a wide variety of literary texts written by a diversity of American authors to cover a range of issues, including American colonial history, the struggle to write poetry in fresh, innovative ways, white/native-American relations, the rise of American feminism, and slavery followed by its long aftermath. Lots and lots of reading. In addition, you will be required to write one long, 10-pg essay with opportunity for conferences and revision, and you will also be required take a 110-minute, closed-book exam at the end of the quarter to ensure careful reading of texts and close attention to classroom lectures and discussion.

Important Notice:
Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Faculty Syllabus Guidelines and Resources. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form available at: https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/.

Assignment Due Dates:
1. All reading assignments are best completed before the class sessions in which they are assigned.

2. The first draft of your 10-page essay is due on Weds., Feb 12, in this classroom, at 4:30 PM, to be handed to me as hard copy. The text of your draft should fall within 1-inch margins, and it should be in 12-point font. Double-space your text. It is imperative that you get this first draft to me by 12 Feb so that I have time to read it prior to assigned conference sessions on Feb 19, 24, and 26. You will also be required to submit your first draft to one other member of the class, and in return to read their draft, and thereafter to meet for a mutual discussion of the reciprocally traded drafts on either of the two days during the Feb 19-26 period in which you are not assigned a conference with me. All conferences and student partners will be assigned as the quarter progresses and enrollment becomes firm. If you fail to meet with your assigned student partner for a two-hour mutual critique at the assigned date, make a mutually agreed-upon appointment as shortly thereafter as possible. Take careful notes during your conference with me, and summarize them in a paragraph on a separate page, followed by your 10-page essay, when you submit your revised essay to me in March.

PLEASE NOTE. IF YOU NEED EXTRA HELP WITH YOUR WRITING, THE UNIVERSITY OFFERS EXTENSIVE FACILITIES TO AID STUDENTS, AND YOU SHOULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE FACILITIES IN ORDER TO SUCCEED IN THIS COURSE. OPEN THE FOLLOWING LINK TO SEE WHAT HELP IS AVAILABLE: https://www.lib.washington.edu/ougl/owrc. Students who believe that they have especial trouble writing polished, error-free essays in English should make every effort to take advantage of the facilities offered by the University on the way to composing their essay.   The link  will explain how to make a Zoom appointment to review a draft-in-progress of your essay.  

3. The final, revised version of your 10-page essay is due in this classroom on Weds., March 11, 4:30 P.M. Penalty for late submission: .1 point off for each late day, unless accompanied by valid written excuse, signed by a medical or other appropriate individual. Your essay is to be handed to me as hard paper copy The text of your manuscript should fall within 1-inch margins, and should be in a 12-point font. Double-space your text. Remember to attach a supplementary page to your essay in which you summarize in a paragraph or so what we discussed during our conference session earlier in the quarter. Failure to attach such a preliminary paragraph will result in a reduction in grade.

4. You will be required to take a 110-minute examination in this classroom--available on Canvas between 4:30 and 6:20 PM--on Monday, 16 March. No make-up exam will be available until the following quarter, so make every effort to attend if you want to avoid an Incomplete Grade. The exam will cover all reading assignments as well as all classroom lectures and discussions during the quarter. To do well on this exam, attend class regularly, take good notes, and read assigned texts carefully. Study your notes and briefly review all assigned texts the day before the scheduled exam.

Grading Policy
You will end up with two grades, both contributing to your overall course grade: (1) A composite grade at the end of the quarter based on the strength of the first draft of your ten-page essay, as well as how much you have improved on your revised submission of this draft. Generally, this grade will count 50 percent of your total course grade. (2) The examination at the end of the quarter will count for the other 50 percent of your total course grade. It will be a fair if thorough exam. If you complete all course readings, attend class regularly, take good notes during class sessions, and put in a few hours of study the day or evening before the exam, you should have no problem doing well when you take the exam.
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 completed all work required up to 2 March. No exceptions will made to this policy.

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 another’s words or ideas without proper citation. When students plagiarize, they usually do so in one of the following six ways:
• Using another writer’s words without proper citation. If you use another writer’s 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 writer’s ideas without proper citation. When you use another author’s 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 author’s exact words.
• Borrowing the structure of another author’s 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 writer’s style than to think about what you have read and then put it in your own words. The following example is from A Writer’s 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 student’s paper or using someone else’s outline to write your own paper.

Course Schedule

Jan 6: Introduction to the Course

Section I: Colonial and Revolutionary America
Jan 8: Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown” (available under “Pages” as a separate “page” in Canvas)
Jan. 13: Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” (available under “Pages” as a separate “page” in Canvas).

Section II: Inventing a Fresh American Poetic Voice
Jan. 15, Whitman, “Song of Myself” (available under “Pages” as a separate “page” in Canvas).
Jan 20: Holiday
Jan. 22: Continued discussion of “Song of Myself”

Section III: White America and Native American Cultures and Worlds
Jan. 27: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes: : Read only the following: 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.”
Jan. 29. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.

Section IV: The Rise of American Feminism
Feb. 3, 5: Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Section V: American Slavery and Its Long Aftermath
Feb. 10: Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Feb. 12: W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (first of two sessions, the second after the “Interlude” as indicated below. ALSO ON FEB 12, 4:30 pm, first draft of 10-page essay due. See earlier in this syllabus for further instructions.
INTERLUDE, FEB 17, 19, 24, 26:
2. Use this entire interlude to catch up if you’re behind in your reading assignments.
3. Show up on time for your personal conferences with me regarding the first draft of your term papers. These will be in my office, B427 Padelford Hall: not in our classroom. I will schedule these once enrollment in this course is firm. These conferences will be scheduled Feb 19, 24, or 26.
4. On either of the days in which your conference with me is not scheduled, make sure that you meet with your assigned student partner. Trade essays with your assigned partner the night before what should be a 2-hour meeting, by email attachment or some other means, and agree to meet at a place of your mutual choosing—this could be the regularly scheduled classroom, coffee at the Hub, etc.--to critique one another’s work.
Continuation of Slavery and Its Long Aftermath
March 2: Second Session on The Souls of Black Folk; Opening chapter of Invisible Man.
March 4, 9: Continued discussion of Invisible Man
March 11; Final, Improved Version of your 10-page essay due 4: 30 PM, in this classroom. Submit as a hard copy: 12-point font, one-inch margins.
On Monday, March 16, in this classroom, 4:30-6:20 PM, you will take a final examination, available on Canvas. Bring your laptop or other suitable devices to take an exam on Canvas. If this is impossible, let me know ahead of time, and I’ll have paper copies of the exam available in class. In that case, you are responsible for bringing at least two bluebooks to the exam, and the bluebooks are available at the University of Washington Bookstore.

It’s of utmost importance that you remember that this is a course which focuses on American literature. This means that while we will be addressing major social and political issues in this course, we will be doing so through a literary lens. Therefore, in writing your 10-page essay, avoid losing detailed contact with the literary works you have selected to the point that you find yourself addressing social and political issues on their own. Rather, focus in detail on how the authors of literary texts addressed in your essays highlight major issues through specifically illuminating, provocative episodes, choice and development of characters, plot, the power of narrative voice, and other literary techniques which highlight the issues explored in vividly rendered ways. Often, a powerful work of literature is able to have an impact beyond political speeches, historical analysis, and social theory. A literary work often has an added value of its own.

To write your ten-page essay, select one of the prompts below as soon as possible. Please note that in order to complete the first draft of your essay by Feb. 12, you will probably have to read at least one or even two of the texts selected by you for analysis ahead of time, prior to when it is assigned for class discussion. Thus, for example, if you select prompt #1, and you select Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” followed, say, by The Souls of Black Folk for your analysis of the issue which this prompt raises, you will want to read The Souls of Black Folk well ahead of the date that it is assigned for class discussion on Feb 12. So please plan ahead. The advantage of your doing so will ensure that when you submit the first draft of your essay, you will have plenty of time thereafter to revise it in keeping with a conference session with me, resulting, hopefully, in an improved grade for your final essay submission.
Here are your four essay prompts, of which you select one:

1. The idea of a hidden or veiled America—more troubling and unsettling than the “America” that is often bragged about in grandiose political speeches, or mythologized in slogans such as “the land of the free”—emerges in many of the texts which you will read in this course. Hawthorne, for example, explores the dark underside of the American Revolution itself in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”: in The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois asks his readers to look behind the “veil” to discover a post-slavery, African-American experience largely hidden from white Americans; in The Awakening, we have a protagonist—Edna Pontellier—who is beginning to encounter dimensions of herself otherwise hushed up, repressed, and concealed behind restrictive ideals of feminine behavior defining American motherhood and gender expectations of late nineteenth-century America. In your essay, select at least two texts assigned in this course, and assess in detail how the texts you have selected highlight a less idealized—if perhaps also a more instructive—vision of America than a sloganized, mythologized America often affirmed by politicians and naive celebrants of the American way.

2. Scholars and historians pretty much agree—and Frederick Douglass himself confesses—that he wrote his slave Narrative in keeping with various pressures: the pressure to simplify his language because many Americans at the time wouldn’t believe that a ex-slave could write complex, elaborate prose; the unspoken pressure not to offend or startle a white northern audience which for all its protestations of being liberal and progressive retained conservative, mid-Victorian tastes and taboos. Later African-American texts assigned in this course by Du Bois and Ellison, in contrast, break free of such pressures. Authors such as Du Bois and Ellison produce literature that is considerably more complex, more multi-dimensional in its voices and techniques, more elaborate, more freely venturesome, and less self-policed. Develop of 10-page essay in which you explore the break-out and flowering of African-American writing. Write first on Douglass’s slave narrative—which arguably does manage to be valuable even if written under pressure—and then write on The Souls of Black Folk and/or Invisible Man.

3. Throughout much of its history, mainstream American culture has developed under the shadow of American Puritanism and squeamishness regarding the human body. American writers, in contrast, from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself through Chopin’s The Awakening and beyond, have emphasized the human body, its sexuality, its pleasures and its demands in reaction to a sanitized Puritanical American culture. Perhaps present-day America has largely overcome Puritanism. But this prompt asks you to select at least two texts read during this course which in the past have challenged traditional American Puritanism. My suggestion is that you begin with Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and then focus on one or two more texts.

4. America is sometimes termed a “settler culture.” By definition a “settler culture”--generally considered to be predominantly European-based and white--not only occupies a landscape originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, but furthermore tries to clear them out of the way, to quarantine them to reservations, even to kill them off. Select at least two out of the following three texts—Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes, Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain—and assess how these texts address white/native-American relations within a settler-culture America.










Catalog Description: 
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
October 8, 2019 - 11:10pm