English R1B

Reading and Composition: Started From the Bottom: Masculinity, the American Dream, and the Myth of Starting Over from Horatio Alger to Jay-Z

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2018 Cruz, Frank Eugene
MWF 11-12 210 Dwinelle

Book List

Alger, Horatio: Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward; Burgett, Bruce: Keywords for American Cultural Studies; Faulkner, William: Absalom, Absalom!; Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby; Jay-Z: Decoded; MLA: MLA Handbook, 8th Edition; Obama, Barack: Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance; Williams, Raymond: Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

Other Readings and Media

Jay-Z, Selected lyrics & music
Lurhmann, Baz (director). The Great Gatsby (2013).
Weiner, Matthew (creator). Mad Men (2007-15).
Additional required secondary readings will be available online and/or distributed in class.


The texts for this course consider the roots and routes of the American Dream and the figure of the “self-made man” in the American cultural imagination over the past 150 years. From American literature to contemporary politics to popular culture, we will explore the American fascination with the idea of “starting over.” We will consider Horatio Alger’s Gilded Age and his impoverished hero’s rise to respectability, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mysterious icon of the Jazz Age, Jay Gatsby, and William Faulkner’s tale of the monomaniacal Thomas Sutpen, whose ghostly design speaks from the Antebellum South to the first decades of the 20th century. From Faulkner’s high modernist polytemporality, we will follow the American Dream to the end of the 20th century (and into popular culture and the 21st century) via Barack Obama’s journey from a bi-racial “broken home” in Hawai'i to the Oval Office, Dick Whitman's rebirth as Don Draper on a battlefield during the Korean War in Matthew Weiner's 2007 TV show Mad Men, and Jay-Z’s meteoric rise from a hustler in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects to the “God of Rap” who surveys his pop culture empire each year from high atop the Forbes’ List.

While I am self-consciously framing our work in relation to the question of “American masculinity,” these texts create unique spaces for investigating problems of race, gender, homosociality, war, class, and class mobility. You will have the opportunity to engage these problems, among others, through in-class discussion and your written work this semester.

Most importantly, this course will develop your proficiency in expository and argumentative writing and academic research skills. Three papers are required: a diagnostic essay; a midterm essay; and a final research paper. In addition to these papers, in-class writing, workshops, participation, presentations, and full attendance are also required to earn a passing grade.

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