American Masterworks

Fall 2015
Wednesdays 6:20 p.m--9:00 p.m.
Dr. Barbara C. Ewell
Loyola University New Orleans

Jasper Johns: Three Flags, 1958
Revised May 5, 2015; all information here remains tentative and subject to change.

Course Description and Goals

This course includes a varying selection of American writers from the colonial period to the present, highlighting specific writers and texts that have shaped our national identity and literary canons. While the notion of “masterworks” is itself a little problematic, privileging texts and writers that support a single and often exclusive “master” narrative of American identity, it remains true that some works and authors have had significant effects on the American literary tradition, not to mention on our collective sense of what it means to be “American.” This course will focus on a selection of texts (and writers) that have “made a difference”—in shaping cultural identity and values, in (re)defining literary techniques, or in articulating unrecognized or unacknowledged dimensions of American experience. Our readings will include several of the most visible works in the American literary canon, as well as others whose impact has perhaps been less obvious, but remain no less critical.


Goals include:

·       developing an appreciation for some of the most influential texts in the American literary tradition;

·       recognizing and assessing the values embodied in these texts and traditions;

·       examining some of the diversity in the American experience and how individuals confront those differences;

·       articulating and exploring in writing, both formal and informal, the texts and critical contexts of the American literary tradition;

·       gaining experience in oral and electronic presentations;

·       exploring the relevance of these writings and issues to our own life and times.



   Proposed Texts:
The following is a proposed list of texts and writers, but changes and substitutions may still occur. Some of these and other texts may also be available electronically. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly, 1852

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, 1885

Kate Chopin, The Awakening, 1899

T S. Eliot, The Wasteland, 1922

Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children, 1936

William Faulkner, The Bear, 1942

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, 1946

Allen Ginsberg, Howl, 1955

Toni Morrison, Beloved, 1987

Adrienne Rich, Atlas of a Difficult World, 1991

Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina, 1992

Note: Some of these (and other) texts may also be available electronically.

Course Prerequisites
COMP119 or ENGL-T122 [composition] and LITC260, ENGL-T125 or ENGL-A205 or equivalent courses.

Proposed Requirements

Weekly Comments (25-30%)

Each week, you will post a comment, question, or reflection (or a response to someone else's comment) on the current reading on a Blackboard forum (about 150-200 words) by the day before class (by Tuesday midnight). Your posts will constitute a sort of online journal, reflecting your informal responses to the readings and your responses to others' comments. Entries will be counted if they are timely and substantive and graded contractually; e.g.,  14=A, 12=B, 10=C, 8=D, fewer than 8=F.


American Letters presentation with prezi (20-25%)

This assignment will require a partner and will focus on an important or influential American text or writer that “made a difference” in American literary history. There will be two parts: a brief oral presentation to the class, scheduled throughout the semester, accompanied by an illustrative prezi and a supplemental handout. The presentations should summarize the text or writer, indicate its influence and indicate specific connections to the literature we are reading.


One or two formal essays (25-30%)

One or two short formal essays (1000-1500 words) on topics to be assigned.


Final examination (15-20%)

A comprehensive examination, consisting of essay questions and possibly some short-answer questions.


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