English 150

Senior Seminar: Democracy and Rebellion in American Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
14 Spring 2007 Skinfill, Mauri
TTh 2-3:30 206 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography; Frederick Douglas: Narrative of the Life; Edgar Allen Poe: selected works: ?Hopfrog,? ?The Cask of Amontillado,? ?Masque of the Red Death?; Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Herman Melville, ?Benito Cereno?; Mark Twain: Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur?s Court; Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth; William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom; F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby; Richard Wright: Native Son; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


From the enlightenment through modernism and beyond, American literature is replete with scenarios of class antagonism and rebellion. But consider the bad ends to which the vast majority of American rebels?Lily Bart, Jay Gatsby, Thomas Sutpen, Bigger Thomas?seem to invariably come. Beginning with the foundational claims of American self-determination represented in Benjamin Franklin's enlightenment thinking, this course will explore a narrative tradition that responds to the promises of American democracy with representations of social violence and constraint. We will consider, for example, how key texts of the American Renaissance illuminate the conflict between American democratic ideals and the practices of slavery and industrial capitalism. Among modernism's abundant narratives of social decline, we will explore the conflict between democratic idealism and enduring class prohibitions. Ultimately, our readings will serve to explore a series of questions: what is at stake in these critical portraits of American social democracy? To what extent can American literature be figured as a sustained tradition of protest against the various failures of enlightenment principles? Why, in the view of this rich narrative tradition, is the American model of social democracy so impossible to achieve? This course aims to find out.

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