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Westerberg, English 5-6 H


Novel Selections

Native American Literature

Fool’s Crow, James Welch

In the Two Medicine Territory of Montana, the Lone Eaters, a small band of Blackfeet Indians, are living their immemorial life. The men hunt and mount the occasional horse-taking raid or war party against the enemy Crow. The women tan the hides, sew the beadwork, and raise the children. But the year is 1870, and the whites are moving into their land. Fools Crow, a young warrior and medicine man, has seen the future and knows that the newcomers will punish resistance with swift retribution. First published to broad acclaim in 1986, Fools Crow is James Welch's stunningly evocative portrait of his people's bygone way of life.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie

When it was first published in 1993, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven established Sherman Alexie as a stunning new talent of American letters. The basis for the award-winning movie Smoke Signals, it remains one of his most beloved and widely praised books. In this darkly comic collection, Alexie brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. These twenty-two interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and, most poetically, modern Indians and the traditions of the past.

Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

Thirty years since its original publication, Ceremony remains one of the most profound and moving works of Native American literature, a novel that is itself a ceremony of healing. Tayo, a World War II veteran of mixed ancestry, returns to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation. He is deeply scarred by his experience as a prisoner of the Japanese and further wounded by the rejection he encounters from his people. Only by immersing himself in the Indian past can he begin to regain the peace that was taken from him. Masterfully written, filled with the somber majesty of Pueblo myth, Ceremony is a work of enduring power.

Colonial Era

Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford (1650)

Few people realize that America was founded because a devout band of non-conformist Christians lived and breathed the covenant promises of Jesus Christ. Though the Pilgrims left England because of religious persecution, they actually left Holland to protect their children from ungodly influences. These parents risked everything to protect their young. Bradford boldly proclaimed that these families were willing to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, "even though they [the Pilgrims] be but stepping stones" for future generations of Christians they would never meet. Of Plymouth Plantation is one of the five most inspirational books I have ever read. It is the true story of 50 "average" people who changed the world because they shared a multi-generational vision. For almost two decades, it has been a cherished family tradition to read this book aloud each Thanksgiving. My father, the family patriarch, gathers his many children and grandchildren around the table and reads for several hours the story of Bradford and the heroic Pilgrims. After all, how can we truly appreciate the significance of Thanksgiving if we do not know the real story? My personal library consists of thousands of volumes, but this is one of my most treasured. Your child should not be considered fully educated before reading Of Plymouth Plantation.

Neoclassical Age

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1868)

One of the most popular works of American literature, this charming self-portrait has been translated into nearly every language. It covers Franklin's life up to his prewar stay in London as representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly, including his boyhood years, work as a printer, experiments with electricity, political career, much more.

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The Last of the Mohicans, James Fennimore Cooper (1826)

It is 1757. Across north-eastern America the armies of Britain and France struggle for ascendancy. Their conflict, however, overlays older struggles between nations of native Americans for possession of the same lands and between the native peoples and white colonisers. Through these layers of conflict Cooper threads a thrilling narrative, in which Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of a British commander on the front line of the colonial war, attempt to join their father. Thwarted by Magua, the sinister 'Indian runner', they find help in the person of Hawk-eye, the white woodsman, and his companions, the Mohican Chingachgook and Uncas, his son, the last of his tribe. Cooper's novel is full of vivid incident- pursuits through wild terrain, skirmishes, treachery and brutality- but reflects also on the interaction between the colonists and the native peoples. Through the character of Hawkeye, Cooper raises lasting questions about the practices of the American frontier and the eclipse of the indigenous cultures.

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The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne (1851)

In a sleepy little New England village stands a dark, weather-beaten, many-gabled house. This brooding mansion is haunted by a centuries-old curse that casts the shadow of ancestral sin upon the last four members of the distinctive Pyncheon family. Mysterious deaths threaten the living. Musty documents nestle behind hidden panels carrying the secret of the family’s salvation—or its downfall. Hawthorne called The House of the Seven Gables “a Romance,” and freely bestowed upon it many fascinating gothic touches. A brilliant intertwining of the popular, the symbolic, and the historical, the novel is a powerful exploration of personal and national guilt, a work that Henry James declared “the closest approach we are likely to have to the Great American Novel.”

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Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass (1845)

In 1845, just seven years after his escape from slavery, the young Frederick Douglass published this powerful account of his life in bondage and his triumph over oppression. The book, which marked the beginning of Douglass’s career as an impassioned writer, journalist, and orator for the abolitionist cause, reveals the terrors he faced as a slave, the brutalities of his owners and overseers, and his harrowing escape to the North. It has become a classic of American autobiography. This edition of the book, based on the authoritative text that appears in Yale University Press’s multivolume edition of the Frederick Douglass Papers, is the only edition of Douglass’s Narrative designated as an Approved Text by the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions. It includes a chronology of Douglass’s life, a thorough introduction by the eminent Douglass scholar John Blassingame, historical notes, and reader responses to the first edition of 1845.“None so dramatically as Douglass integrated both the horror and the great quest of the African-American experience into the deep stream of American autobiography. He advanced and extended that tradition and is rightfully designated one of its greatest practitioners.”—John W. Blassingame, from the introduction

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Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)

No American masterpiece casts quite as awesome a shadow as Melville's monumental Moby Dick.  Mad Captain Ahab's quest for the White Whale is a timeless epic--a stirring tragedy of vengeance and obsession, a searing parable about humanity lost in a universe of moral ambiguity.  It is the greatest sea story ever told.  Far ahead of its own time, Moby Dick was largely misunderstood and unappreciated by Melville's contemporaries.  Today, however, it is indisputably a classic.  As D.H. Lawrence wrote, Moby Dick "commands a stillness in the soul, an awe . . . [It is] one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world."

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Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1854)

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin by Walden Pond. With the intention of immersing himself in nature and distancing himself from the distractions of social life, Thoreau sustained his retreat for just over two years. More popular than ever, “Walden” is a paean to the virtues of simplicity and self-sufficiency.


The Awakening, Kate Chopin (1899)

An unhappy woman in an unhappy marriage commits adultery-with devastating consequences. An unflinching look at the strict codes of conduct governing the lives of women during the Victorian age.

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (1898)

The Turn of the Screw is a novella (short novel) written by Henry James. Originally published in 1898, it is ostensibly a ghost story. An unnamed narrator listens to a male friend reading a manuscript written by a former governess whom the friend claims to have known and who is now dead. The manuscript tells the story of how the young governess is hired by a man who has become responsible for his young nephew and niece after the death of their parents. One of literature's most gripping ghost stories depicts the sinister transformation of two innocent children into flagrant liars and hypocrites. Elegantly told tale of unspoken horror and psychological terror creates what few stories in literature have been able to do — a complete feeling of dread and uncertainty.

Pudd’n Head Wilson, Mark Twain

(in full The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins) Novel by Mark Twain, originally published as Pudd'nhead Wilson, A Tale (1894). A story about miscegenation in the antebellum South, the book is noted for its grim humor and its reflections on racism and responsibility. Roxana, a light-skinned mixed-race slave, switches her baby with her white owner's baby. Her natural son, Tom Driscoll, grows up in a privileged household to become a criminal who finances his gambling debts by selling her to a slave trader and who later murders his putative uncle. Meanwhile, Roxy raises Valet de Chambre as a slave. David ("Pudd'nhead") Wilson, an eccentric lawyer, determines the true identities of Tom and Valet. As a result Roxy is exposed, Wilson is elected mayor, Tom is sold into slavery, and Valet, unfitted for his newly won freedom, becomes an illiterate, uncouth landholder. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature 


Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (1919)

Winesburg, Ohio was published 1919, to much critical acclaim. Using the narrative voice of George Willard, and following this character intermittently throughout the book, the author skillfully blends a series of apparently unrelated short stories into a unified theme of human aspiration and disappointment. Anderson is scornful of too materialistic a view of existence, and suspicious of 'absolute truth'. Many of the characters in 'Winesburg' fail in their lives precisely because they cling unthinkingly to one particular principle. The book may purport to concern only the inhabitants of a fictional American town but, in truth, it is the tale of Everyman, a universal story of humanity.

O Pioneers, Willa Cather (1913)

This powerful early Cather novel, a landmark of American fiction, tells the story of the young Alexandra Bergson, whose dying father leaves her in charge of the family and of the Nebraska lands they have struggled to farm. In Alexandra's lifelong fight to survive and succeed, Cather relates an important chapter in the history of the American frontier.

My Antonia, Willa Cather (1918)

My Antonia is a classic tale of pioneer life in the American Midwest. The novel details daily life in the newly settled plains of Nebraska through the eyes of Jim Burden, who recounts memories of a childhood shared with a girl named Antonia Shimerda, the daughter of a family who have emigrated from Bohemia. As adults, Jim leaves the prairie for college and a career in the east, while Antonia devotes herself to her large family and productive farm. When he returns Jim sees that although Antonia is careworn, she remains "a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races." Full of stirring descriptions of the prairie's beautiful yet terrifying landscape, and the rich ethnic mix of immigrants and native-born Americans who chose to restart their lives there, My Antonia mythologized a period of American history that was lost before its value could be understood.

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane (1895)

Henry Fleming, a private in the Union Army, runs away from the field of war. Afterwards, the shame he feels at this act of cowardice ignites his desire to receive an injury in combat—a “red badge of courage” that will redeem him. Stephen Crane’s novel about a young soldier’s experiences during the American Civil War is well known for its understated naturalism and its realistic depiction of battle.

Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton (1911)

Stranded in Ethan Frome’s house during a snow storm, the narrator of Edith Wharton’s novel pieces together the story of his host’s broken dreams. A love-triangle between Ethan, his wife Zeena, and her cousin Mattie reached a tragic crisis years before, and Ethan has been living with the consequences ever since. Set in the bleak New England town of Starkfield, Wharton’s tale of disappointment and endurance is a compelling study.

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton (1905)

Lily Bart must choose between her desire for a husband with wealth and standing, and her desire for respect and love. After rejecting several offers of marriage, she ultimately betrays her heart and destroys her reputation. With “The House of Mirth,” Wharton transforms the novel of manners into an incisive and disturbing portrait of the strictures imposed upon women in the upper class of 1890’s New York society.

Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

--All summaries from


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