ENG 203: Survey of American Lit I

Course Objectives

The authors we will read this semester lived in a season full of optimism and despair, of unbounded possibilities and intractable problems.  The American colonies and the new nation they formed promised a land of freedom and opportunity for people from all different parts of the Old World, and yet it was also a place of slavery and oppression.  America was a new Eden, nature’s nation, where people in contact with the earth would be loosed from centuries of cultural baggage and set free to worship God and pursue true happiness.  Or was it?  Each of these authors addresses questions at the core of the American experiment: What is freedom?  What are we free for?  Over the course of this semester, we’ll explore the way various authors attempted to form democratic readers, readers free to participate in religious, political, and scientific interpretations of authoritative texts.

Ideally, as we read through these texts, we will accomplish three related goals: provide you with a historical and cultural framework through which to understand the particular, colonial and antebellum American texts we read together; train you to read and interpret these texts; and teach you to make careful arguments about these texts. At the end of this course, you should have a historical paradigm, a set of analytical tools, and the rhetorical sophistication to read, analyze, and think about whatever literary works you encounter in the future.  Along the way, you just might discover why these skills are important, and why God used the forms of literature, stories and language, to tell us about himself.

In order to accomplish these objectives, you will need to carefully read the assigned reading before each class and turn in well-written reflection writings.  The practice of writing regular reflections should prepare you to come to class ready to discuss the text. 



  • The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. ISBN: 9780393264890
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass.  ISBN: 9780345478238
  • Hope Leslie: or, Early Times in the Massachusetts, by Catharine Maria Sedgwick. ISBN: 9780140436761
  • Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  ISBN: 9780140390445
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. ISBN: 9781586174163
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. ISBN: 9780140430646
  • Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. ISBN: 9780140435870
  • Other texts will be provided via a link. Please print these off to bring to class.

Course Calendar

Course meets TT 9:30-10:45 (section A) and 11:00-12:15 (section B) in HAL 216. This schedule is subject to change.

Week 1

Week 2

  • Tuesday 8/30: Sedgwick 1-83; “On Virtue
    • Carolyn L. Karcher’s introduction to Hope Leslie
  • Thursday 9/1: no class (AVC); read Sedgwick 84-177

Week 3

Week 4

  • Tuesday 9/13: Hawthorne 1-52; “Slavery,” 134
    • Ryan, Michael. “‘The Puritans of Today’: The Anti-Whig Argument of The Scarlet Letter.” Norton Critical Edition pp. 437-454
  • Thursday 9/15: Hawthorne 52-103; “Grace” 34
    • Bell, Millicent. “The Obliquity of Signs: The Scarlet Letter.” Norton Critical Edition pp 473-484

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

  • Tuesday 10/4: Midterm
  • Thursday 10/6: Thoreau 43-123; “The Spirit,” 128
    • Meyer, Michael “Introduction.” pp 7-36

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

  • Tuesday 10/25: Meet with Kim Marks in the library (Jeff at JBU); Melville 1-82
  • Thursday 10/27: read Melville 83-173; “Three Quatrains,” 432

Week 11

Week 12

  • Tuesday 11/8: Melville 403-513 (skip 84-85); “Richard Cory,” 435
  • Thursday 11/10: Melville 536-650; “Tartarus,” 124
    • Alexander, Robert. “Apocalyptic Readings of Moby-Dick: What Ishmael Returns to Tell Us.” Moby-Dick Mary R. Reichardt. 661-678.
    • Poetry Analysis due. Be sure to recite your poem to me before turning in your essay!

Week 13

Week 14

Week 15

Final Exam Tuesday, Dec. 13 1-3 (section A) and Tuesday, Dec. 13 6-8 (section B); Final essays are due at the final exam