American Literature1

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Am Lit Fall 2010

American Literature1

Fall 2010

Instructor: Dr. Kai-ling Liu e-mail address:

Office Hours: To be announced.

Office phone: 06-2757575 ex. 52242

TA: Ingrid Sung and Cynthia Wei

Class website:

Course descriptions

This course aims to introduce early American literature in the context of historical, cultural, and social developments in American society. You will be introduced to a variety of perspectives as revealed in literary works that may illustrate the contact and conflict of what makes American literature. At the end of this course, you are expected to demonstrate (1) recognition of the historical, cultural, social and intellectual contexts that contribute to your understanding of the discussed works, (2) intellectual engagement with your peers, and (3) competence in raising critical questions about the texts and seeking answers.


Baym, Nina, et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vols. 1 & 2. 7th ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2007.

Grading Criteria

Attendance 10% One absence (whatever the reason) will be excused. One point will be deducted for the second and each of the subsequent absence, regardless of reasons. Those who are present for every class will get a two-point bonus for the term grades.

Group facilitations 20% See below for further instructions.

Class Participation 10% In-class discussions and online discussions

Mid-term exam 30% 10 Identification questions. See below for sample questions of the exam.

Final exam 30% The same as the mid-term.
Class Schedule

W1 09/13 M Course introduction and project instructions.

W1 09/15 W Introduction to cultural geography
Native American Creation Stories

W2 09/20 M The Iroquois Creation Story (17-21)

Pima Stories of the Creation (21-24)

Further readings

“Native American Oral Literature” (4-5)

W2 09/22 W Mid-autumn festival. No class.
Literature of Witness and Encounter

W3 09/27 M Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, “The Malhado way of Life” (40-48)

Harriot, from Of the Nature and Manners of the People (48-55)

Further readings

“The marvels of Spain—and America” (1-4)

W3 09/29 W Group discussion
Puritan Visions

W4 10/04 M Bradstreet, “To My Dear and Loving Husband” (206)

Taylor, “Huswifery” (285-286)

Further readings

“Pilgrim and Puritan” (9-11)

W4 10/06 W Group facilitation I

W5 10/11 M Rowlandson, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration (256-258)

Sarah Kemble Knight, The Private Journal of a Journey from Boston to New York (368-378)

W5 10/13 W Group discussion

The Enlightenment Spirit

W6 10/18 M Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography (523-534)

Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (675-709)

Further readings

Period introduction (357-366)

W6 10/20 W Group facilitation II
Slavery, Identity, Personal Ethics

W7 10/25 M Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer (Letter IX) (605-609)

Wheatley, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” (752-753)

W7 10/27 W Group discussion

Native Americans and the White Imagination

W8 11/01 M Occom, from “A Short Narrative of My Life” (404-443)

Franklin, “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America” (468-472)

W8 11/05 W Group facilitation III

The New American-ness of American Literature

W9 11/08 M Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle” (953-965)

Further reading

Period introduction ( 929-947)

W9 11/10 W Group discussion

W10 11/15 M Mid-term Exam week.
The New American-ness of American Literature

W11 11/22 M Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans (1003-1009)

W11 11/24 W Film discussion

W12 11/29 M Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown” (1289-1298)

W12 12/01 W Film discussion
American Transcendentalism

W13 12/06 M Emerson, Nature (1110-1113)

W13 12/08 W Group discussion

W14 12/13 M Fuller, “Summer on the Lakes” (1659-1673)

W14 12/15 W Group facilitation IV

W15 12/20 M Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived for” in Walden (1914-1924)

W15 12/22 W Group discussion
The Self and the Voice

W16 12/27 M Whitman, from Song of Myself (2224-2225)

Dickinson, #448, #479, #591, #656

W16 12/29 W Group facilitation V

W17 01/03 M Melville, Chapter 1 of Moby-Dick (2321-2324)

W17 01/05 W Group discussion

W18 01/10 M Final exam.

Instructions for Group Facilitations

Any subject about or related to the class reading materials can be your project topic. It is strongly advised that you talk to the instructor about your project. You must clearly indicate your sources: where did you get the artifact? Who is the artist/author? What is the title of the work? etc. You must facilitate questions from the floor. You must analyze a question. In consequence, begin your project with a specific question. Not: “What is the theme of ‘Young Goodman Brown’”? But: “How did a forest relate to early settlers?” Was it a place of congregation, a place for recreation, or what?

Also, you need to link a “cultural geography artifact” (maps, photographs, paintings, drawings, or depictions of spaces through other media. Cultural geography artifacts also include zoning laws, census data, and any other records of how people occupy and use space) with a piece of literary work.

Each group will get two grades. One by your group members on your participation (50%). The other one by the instructor and the TAs according to the following criteria (50%).

Creativity (30%): if you present the topic in a creative way to attract public attention;

Contents (50%): if the materials are enough to show your substantial research

Sources (10%): if you use reliable sources

Facilitation (10%): if your project facilitates discussions.
Sample questions of the exams


Identify the passages quoted below. Your responses should include the author, the title of the work (if applicable), and a paragraph (6 to 10 sentences) explaining the passage’s significance and its relationship to the larger work from which it was taken (e.g., What is the passage about or what does it suggest? What themes from the larger work are evident in the passage? How does the passage bring up or develop those themes?) Your answer must contain specific engagement with and analysis of each passage, and should not stray from the quoted passage. In other words, if you identify a passage from Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, do not provide a general discussion of all the themes or ideas one can find in Douglass’s text. Instead, use your response to analyze how the specific passage reflects particular themes and ideas from Douglass’s Narrative.

O the wonderful power of God that I have seen, and the experience that I have had. I have been in the midst of those roaring lions, and savage bears, that feared neither God, nor man, nor the devil, by night and day, alone and in company, sleeping all sorts together, and yet not one of them ever offered me the least abuse of unchastity to me, in word or action. Though some are ready to say I speak it for my own credit; but I speak it in the presence of God, and to his Glory. God’s power is as great now, and as sufficient to save, as when He preserved Daniel in the lion’s den; or the three children in the fiery furnace. I may well say as his Psalm 107.12, “Oh give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever.”


Mary Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

A good response will identity this passage from Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson and perhaps mention that her tale shaped the conventions of the genre of the captivity narrative. It might also note:

--Rowlandson’s tendency to quote extensively from the Bible to make sense of her experience, seen here in the quotation of the Psalm

--Rowlandson’s tendency to typologize her experience, seen here in her comparison of her own redemption from captivity to Daniel in the lion’s den or the three children in the fiery furnace

--Rowlandson’s need to affirm her chastity and purity to her Puritan audience, and to clarify that she wasn’t raped when she was among the Native Americans (“not one of them ever offered me the least abuse of unchastity”)

--Rowlandson’s conflicted attitude toward her Native captors (on the one hand, they are “savage bears” and on the other, they preserve her chastity)

--Rowlandson’s anxiety about being perceived as speaking out “for her own credit,” and the tensions that arise in her narrative between her pride in working actively for her own survival and her adherence to her community’s ideal of waiting submissively for God to work his will

In order to secure my Credit and Character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in Reality Industrious and Frugal, but to avoid all Appearances to the contrary. I dressed plainly; I was seen at no Places of idle Diversion; I never went out a-fishing or shooting; a Book, indeed, sometimes debauch’d me from my Work; but that was seldom, and gave no Scandal: and to show that I was not above my Business, I sometimes brought home the Paper I purchas’d at the Stores, through the Streets on a Wheelbarrow.


Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

A good response will identify this passage from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and perhaps mention that his narrative functioned as an exemplary lesson in self-making and citizenship for many Americans. It might also note:

--Franklin’s espousal of the values of industry, frugality, and plain living—and his openness about the fact that the “appearance” of these values is just as important as their “reality”

--although he draws on Puritan traditions of hard work and plain living, Franklin emphasizes their usefulness to maintaining a public reputation (“Credit and Character”) and earning financial success rather than any inherent spiritual value

--Franklin’s characteristic self-consciousness about self-presentation (his industriousness becomes a kind of performance when he walks through the street with his wheelbarrow just to make an impression on his neighbors)

--Franklin’s characteristic identification of himself with books and paper


Undoubtedly, we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition that shines so peacefully all around us.


Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

A good response will note that this passage comes from the introduction of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature, a central text of the Transcendental movement. It might discuss:

--Emerson’s radically optimistic belief that all things are knowable, that no questions about the world are unanswerable

--the difference between Emerson’s idea that all things can be perfectly apprehended and traditional Christian beliefs that the world is governed by God’s will, which is often beyond human understanding

--Emerson’s characteristic claim for the “correspondence” between all things. That is, his sense that every particle is a microcosm of the whole, that nature reflects man and vice versa (“Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to [his own] inquiries”)

--Emerson’s confidence in the benevolence of nature (it “shines peacefully”)


… the negro searched among the razors, as for the sharpest, and having found it, gave it an additional edge by expertly strapping it on the firm, smooth, oily skin of his open palm; he then made a gesture as if to begin, but midway stood suspended for an instant, one hand elevating the razor, the other professionally dabbling among the bubbling suds on the Spaniard’s lank neck. Not unaffected by the close sight of the gleaming steel, [the Spaniard] nervously shuddered, his usual ghastliness was heightened by the lather, which lather, again, was intensified in its hue by the contrasting sootiness of the negro’s body. Altogether the scene was somewhat peculiar, at least to Captain Delano, nor, as he saw the two thus postured, could he resist the vagary, that in the black he saw a headsman, and in the white, a man at the block. But this was one of those antic conceits, appearing and vanishing in a breath, from which, perhaps, the best regulated mind is not always free.


Herman Melville, “Benito Cereno”

A good response will identify this as Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno,” and note that critics who have analyzed this short story for evidence of Melville’s attitude toward slavery have found it frustratingly enigmatic. It is unclear whether Melville is justifying the institution of slavery or pointing out its injustice in his portrayal of the revolt onboard the San Dominick. It might also note:

--Melville’s ironic use of the third person limited point of view to play up both Captain Delano’s slowness to understand the situation on board the ship and his racism. In the passage, Captain Delano dismisses his sense that Benito Cereno is being threatened by Babo as an “antic conceit,” when, of course, he has actually read the situation correctly. He is blinded by his inability to perceive black people as anything other than unintelligent and docile servants.

--the pointed use of light and dark imagery, here in the contrasts drawn between the white lather, Benito Cereno’s pallor, and the “sootiness” of Babo’s body.

--the slow pacing of the story and its constantly building suspense (evidenced in the passage by the lengthy description of Babo’s preparations to shave Benito Cereno)

--the characteristic use of sometimes ambiguous negative constructions (“not unaffected,” “nor . . . could he resist,” “not always free”)

--the use of theatrical metaphors (here the reference to the “antic conceit”) to describe the show the slaves and crew of the San Dominick are putting on for Delano’s benefit, but which Delano cannot penetrate

Further Readings



單德興。《反動與重演 :美國文學史與文化批評》。台北:書林,2001。

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Internation to Literary and Cultural Theory. 2nd ed. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 2002.

Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 11th ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Education, 2009.[R 803 H228-11]

Useful links

Norton Anthology of American Literature. accessed on August 28, 2009.

美國文學線上書房。台大圖書館數位學習網。 accessed on August 28, 2009.

如何閱讀與討論西方經典數位學習課程。台大圖書館數位學習網。 accessed on August 28, 2009.


accessed on August 28, 2009.


accessed on August 28, 2009.

1 This syllabus is subject to change.

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