ENG 322: Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Course Objectives

The authors we will read this semester lived in a century full of optimism and despair, of unbounded possibilities and intractable problems.  The new nation of America was a land of freedom and opportunity for people from all different parts of the Old World, and yet it was 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, nineteenth-century 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 project.

Coronavirus Updates

To get the latest information about SAU’s response to the coronavirus, follow the updates here. For now, we’ll do the following in this class, Deo volente:

Before each class period thereafter, I’ll send you a Zoom invitation via email 5-10 minutes before our class begins. If possible, please join using your computer or smart phone. You’ll have to download an app to do so, but it should be a relatively quick process to get it installed. If those don’t work for you, there’s also a phone number you can call to join our meeting.

Continue doing your pre-class reflections as normal. I’ll call on you to share these, and you can use the chat functionality to indicate you have a question or comment.

We’re all figuring this out together, so please bear with me as I work to transition to a video-chat format for our discussions, and do know that I will extend grace to you all as we navigate these next days and weeks.

Some brief reflections on why and how we should study during a pandemic–I draw on this sermon preached by C.S. Lewis.

Course Documents

Please upload your pre-class reflections to the appropriate folder here. In order to upload files, you’ll need to select “Join folder to receive updates” on the right side of the screen. You can also find all of the assigned articles in this folder.



  • The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. ISBN: 9780393979534
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass.  ISBN: 9780345478238
  • Summer on the Lakes, by Margaret Fuller ISBN: 9780252061646
  • 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 MWF 11:10-12:10 in SDH 209. This schedule is subject to change.

Week 1

  • Wednesday 1/29: Introduction
  • Friday 1/31: 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

  • Monday 2/3: Twain 24-97 (chs. 1-9); “49,” 353; “622,” 372; “915,” 385; “1433,” 392
  • Wednesday 2/5: Twain 98-170 (chs. 10-18); “Our Limitations,” 119
  • Friday 2/7: Twain 171-251 (chs. 19-26); “The Slowness of Belief in a Spiritual World,” 135

Week 3

  • Monday 2/10: Twain 252-332 (chs. 27-35); Berkove, Lawrence I. “A Connecticut Yankee: A Serious Hoax.” Essays in Arts and Sciences 19 (1990): 28-44.
  • Wednesday 2/12: Twain 333-410 (chs. 36-end)
  • Friday 2/14: no class

Week 4

  • Monday 2/17: Melville ch. 1-13; “Three Quatrains,” 432
  • Wednesday 2/19: Melville ch. 14-25; “Misgivings,” 266
  • Friday 2/21: Melville chs. 26-36 (skim 32); “Immolated,” 265; Alexander, Robert. “Apocalyptic Readings of Moby-Dick: What Ishmael Returns to Tell Us.” Moby-Dick Mary R. Reichardt. 661-678.

Week 5

  • Monday 2/24: Melville chs. 37-47; “Richard Cory,” 435
  • Wednesday 2/26: Melville chs. 48-70 (skip 53, 54, 56, 57); “Terminus” 51; Heimert, Alan. “Moby-Dick and American Political Symbolism.” American Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 4, 1963, pp. 498–534.
  • Friday 2/28: Melville chs. 71-92 (skip 74-77, 84-85); “Four Trees

Week 6

Week 7

  • Monday 3/16: Melville chs. 128-Epilogue; “Tartarus,” 124; Midterm instructions
  • Wednesday 3/18: Focus 
  • Friday 3/20: Midterm If you’d like to take this at a different time, please let me know. Anytime before Wed. March 25 is fine.
Midterm instructions

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

  • Monday 4/6: Hawthorne 98-132 (ch. 12-18); “The Poet,” 26; Bell, Millicent. “The Obliquity of Signs: The Scarlet Letter.” The Scarlet Letter, ed. Leland Person. 451-463.
  • Wednesday 4/8: Hawthorne 132-166 (ch. 19-24); “Science and Poetry,” 163
  • Friday 4/10: No Class, Good Friday

Week 11

Week 12

Week 13

  • Monday 4/27: Thoreau 97-143 (through “Where I Lived”); “Hymn to the North Star” 14; Bush, Sargent. “The End and Means in Walden: Thoreau’s Use of the Catechism.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 1 (1985): 1–10.
  • Wednesday 4/29: Thoreau 144-199 (through “Visitors”); “Blight” 35; Paper Proposal Meetings due; make appointment here
  • Friday 5/1: Thoreau 200-256 (through “Baker Farm”); “Overruled,” 92; Harding, Walter Roy. “Walden’s Man of Science.” Virginia Quarterly Review: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion, vol. 57, no. 1, 1981, pp. 45–61.

Week 14

Week 15

Friday 5/15: Final Exam 8:00-10:00; Final essay due