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.  This should help you come to class prepared to discuss the text.  Your reflection writings and our class discussions should prepare you to craft a creative, insightful final essay.



  • The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. ISBN: 9780393264890
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass.  ISBN: 9780345478238
  • Sedgwick
  • 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 or on box. Please print these off to bring to class.

Course Calendar

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

Week 1

  • Tuesday 8/23: Introduction
  • Thursday 8/25: Edwards, “Personal Narrative” Emerson, Nature (Just read the following sections: Introduction (7-8), Nature (8-11), Commodity (11-12), Language (17-23), Idealism section 2 (31-33), and 42-45)

Week 2

  • Tuesday 8/30: Sedgwick
  • Thursday 9/1: no class (AVC); read Sedgwick

Week 3

  • Tuesday 9/6: Sedgwick
  • Thursday 9/8: Sedgwick

Week 4

  • Tuesday 9/13: Hawthorne
  • Thursday 9/15: Hawthorne

Week 5

  • Tuesday 9/20: Hawthorne
  • Thursday 9/22: Equiano

Week 6

  • Tuesday 9/27: Douglass
  • Thursday 9/29: Douglass

Week 7

  • Tuesday 10/4: Midterm
  • Thursday 10/6: Thoreau

Week 8

  • Tuesday 10/11: Thoreau
  • Thursday 10/13: no class; fall break

Week 9

  • Tuesday 10/18: Thoreau
  • Thursday 10/20: Thoreau

Week 10

  • Tuesday 10/25: Melville
  • Thursday 10/27: no class (JBU); read Melville

Week 11

  • Tuesday 11/1: Melville
  • Thursday 11/3: Melville

Week 12

  • Tuesday 11/8: Melville
  • Thursday 11/10: Melville

Week 13

  • Tuesday 11/15: Twain
  • Thursday 11/17: Twain; Paper Proposal Meetings due; make appointment here

Week 14

  • Tuesday 11/29: Twain
  • Thursday 12/1: Twain

Week 15

  • Tuesday 12/6: Twain

???: Final Exam ???; Final essay due