|1||Fall 2017|| Breitwieser, Mitchell
||TTh 5-6:30 PM||240 Mulford|| American Literature
Douglass, Frederick: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Emerson, Ralph Waldo: Nature and Selected Essays; Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter; Melville, Herman: Moby Dick; Thoreau, Henry David: Walden and Civil Disobedience; Whitman, Walt: Leaves of Grass, The Original 1855 edition)
On July 4 fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, an astonishing coincidence that many Americans took to signify the ending of the revolutionary era, and the beginning of a new phase in American nationality. They had little in their national past to draw upon in forming a sense of identity, and the material and cultural sparseness of the present seemed to offer little more, so they began to think of themselves as forerunners to an historically unprecedented future greatness to be realized in the vast territorial expanse that the U.S. had become. This idealizing imagination of magnificent destiny sharply contrasted with social, political and economic realities—slavery, imperialist expansionism, Indian relocation, and the wrenching dislocations of emergent capitalism. Each of the works we will read in this class is an exploration of that contradiction, a measurement of the experiential consequences of those severe historical powers, and an evaluation of the credibility of American national optimism under the growing threat of civil war.
Class meetings will mix lecture and discussion. I will be referring to individual passages to be discussed by page number, so you should purchase the assigned editions of the books (being ordered through the campus bookstore) to make following along easier. Two eight-page essays and a final exam will be required, along with regular attendance.