English 250A, Autumn 2021
M, W 4:30-6:20, Low 101
Prof. Robert E. Abrams
Office: B427 Padelford
Office hours, Virtual, by appointment (to be announced)
Phone 206-765-0547, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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. Reading assignments will be manageable, and they are designed to cover a wide spectrum of American issues in a range of literary forms.
One text is available for purchase at the University Bookstore: Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain. For your convenience, all other readings for this course will be available in the Pages section of Canvas.
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/ (Links to an external site.).
Assignments and Due Dates
1. A take-home, open-book final examination, which you will have plenty of time to complete, will be available on Canvas beginning at 9 AM, Monday, December 13; the deadline for submission will be 11 PM, Tues, Dec 14. The exam will count for half of your total course grade. No make-up exam will be available until the following quarter, so make every effort to take this exam if you want to avoid an Incomplete ("I') grade. The exam will cover all reading assignments, and let me add that you'll probably do a better job on this exam if you attend classroom lectures. In part the exam will consist of short questions in which you briefly identify characters, episodes, and major ideas from your readings by author and by text. The second part of your exam will consist of several short essay questions based on your reading of assigned materials.
2. The preliminary draft of a 10-12 page essay, which you must develop in order to receive "W'" credit in this course, is due prior to 11 PM on Weds, November 10. You will not receive a grade on the preliminary draft. Only the final draft of your essay, revised in the light of my criticism on your preliminary draft, will be graded, and the grade will count for 50 per cent of your total course grade. Let me add that the opportunity to revise your essay in the light of my criticism should result in your receiving a higher grade than otherwise on your essay. The final, revised draft of your essay is due Friday, Dec 10, prior to 11 PM. Both your preliminary and final essays should be submitted to my email address as attachments in the Word format.
It is imperative that you submit the preliminary draft of your essay to me on time in order to give me time to submit it back to you with criticism and required revisions, resulting, hopefully, in an improved final draft. Since I'll need time to comment on your preliminary draft, the grade which you receive for your essay will be reduced .1 of a point (on the university 4-point scale) for each day in which the preliminary draft is late.
Your essay should be in 14-point font, double-spaced, and with one-inch margins all around.
Take time to organize your essay such that idea leads to idea in a coherent, flowing fashion. Your essay should end with a solid concluding paragraph, and it should begin with an opening paragraph in which you succinctly announce what you intend to say in the rest of the paper. Edit your essay scrupulously. Since this is a course in which you earn "W" credit, the quality of your writing will count heavily toward the grade that you earn on your essay. Make sure that your interpretations and ideas are based on closely reviewed textual detail; avoid vague, abstract generalizations; base your ideas on careful reading of the text or texts that you have selected for analysis.
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:
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 above should take you to directions which will explain how to make an appointment to review a draft-in-progress of your essay.
You do not need to cite page references when quoting or referring to texts assigned in this class. Use endnotes (which appear at the end of your essay) only when referring to outside sources such as a scholarly article or book (and, by the way, I actually prefer that you do your own thinking; you are by no means required to read outside sources when developing your essay). Endnote styles vary. If you use endnotes, I am not fussy about the style that you adopt. You’ll find numerous endnote styles available online: simply select one of them and be consistent. They are the same as footnote styles except for placement at the end of your essay.
Select one of the following prompts in writing your essay:
1. Focus on readings assigned in this course written by Emerson and Whitman. Begin your essay by considering the ways in which a truly democratic society involves considerably more than endowing all citizens with the right to vote. Then explore how the two American writers whom you have selected sought to broaden and enlarge the idea of democracy in their writings.
2. 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”; he does not glamorize and romanticize American history. 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 the gender expectations of late nineteenth-century America. In your essay, select 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 celebrants of the American way.
3. 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, more willing to provoke and disturb, and less self-policed. Develop an 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 either The Souls of Black Folk or Invisible Man: texts in which African-American writers write with demonstrably more freedom from self-censorship and self-restraint.
4. Throughout much of its history, mainstream American literature has developed under the shadow of squeamishness regarding the human body, and has endorsed a restricted version of sexuality. Some American writers, in contrast, from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself through Chopin’s The Awakening and beyond, have focused on the human body, its sexuality, its pleasures and its demands in reaction to a sanitized American culture. This prompt asks you to select at least two texts read during this course which in the past have challenged mainstream American attitudes toward the body and toward sexuality. My suggestion is that you begin with Whitman’s “Song of Myself” before selecting your next text, with The Awakening emerging as a likely choice as well.
5. America is sometimes termed a “settler culture.” By definition American “settler culture”--European-based and white--not only occupies a landscape originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, but furthermore, as part of its “settlement,” tries to clear these peoples out of the way, to quarantine them to reservations, or even to kill them off. For this prompt, write an essay on Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes and on Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain. Assess how these texts address white/native-American relations within a settler-culture America.
Grading Policy for the Course
You will end up with two grades, each contributing 50 per cent to your overall course grade: (1) The grade at the end of the quarter based on the strength of the final draft of your 10-12 page essay. (2) The grade which you receive on your final examination.
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.”
NOTE CAREFULLY: ALL WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS IN THIS COURSE SHOULD REPRESENT YOUR OWN THINKING AND WRITING. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY SHOULD NOT BE PLAGIARIZED. PLAGIARISM IS A VERY SERIOUS OFFENSE, AND ALL CASES OF PLAGIARISM IN THIS CLASS WILL BE REPORTED TO THE UNIVERSITY FOR APPROPRIATE DISCIPLINARY ACTION.\
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 (Note: all readings are available in Pages in Canvas, with the exception of The Way to Rainy Mountain, by Scott Momaday, which is available at the University Bookstore).
Sep 29: Introduction to the Course
New World Promise and Hope
Oct 4: Emerson: selections from “Nature,” from “The American Scholar,” and from "The Divinity School Address." (
Oct 6: Emerson: Selections from "Circles," from "The Poet," and from "Experience.”
Oct 11: Whitman, “Song of Myself”
Oct 13: Continued discussion of “Song of Myself”
Revisiting the American Colonial Past: The Dark Side of American History
Oct 18: Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown”
Oct 20: Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”
White America and Native American Cultures and Worlds
Oct 25: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes
Oct 27: Preface to “Chief Seattle’s Speech,” “Chief Seattle’s Speech,” and the selections in “Native American Speech Excerpts”
Nov 1: Read Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain. Copies available at the UW Bookstore.
The Rise of American Feminism
Nov 3, 8: Kate Chopin, The Awakening
PRELIMANARY DRAFT OF YOUR 10-12 PAGE TERM PAPER DUE BY 11 pm, WEDS, NOVEMBER 10. LATE SUBMISSIONS DOCKED .1 OF A POINT OFF THE GRADE YOU RECEIVE ON THE FINAL, REVISED VERSION OF YOUR ESSAY. SUBMIT YOUR PRELIMINARY DRAFT TO MY EMAIL ADDRESS AS AN ATTACHMENT IN WORD.
American Off-Centeredness: Immigration and Dramatic Change
Nov 10: Crane, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," "The Blue Hotel"
American Slavery and Its Long Aftermath
Nov 15 Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Nov 17: W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (first of two sessions) Please bring your laptops or other devices to class in order to review the visual materials designated as "image" in Pages on Canvas. Many of these visuals entail disturbing and shocking stereotypes of African Americans widely available in late nineteenth-century America.
Nov 22: Second Session on The Souls of Black Folk. Again, please bring laptops of other devices to class to review iisual materials designated as "image" in Pages on Canvas.
Nov 24: Open class
Nov 29: Ellison, “Harlem is Nowhere,” and opening chapter of Ellison, Invisible Man
Dec 1: Continued discussion of Invisible Man.
Dec 6: Final remarks on Invisible Man.
Dec 8: Course Conclusion.
Submission of your revised 10-12 page essay due by 11 PM, Fri, Dec 10.
Take-home, open-book final examination available on Canvas beginning at 9 AM, Monday, December 13, and ending at 11 PM, Tues, Dec 14. Canvas will not permit you to submit your exam after this deadline.