English 261 General Syllabus

Basic Information

English 261 Section TBA

American Literary Tradition

Credit Hours: 3

Course Prerequisites: English 110-112 or English 111-112 with an earned grade of C or higher.

Instructor’s Name: TBA

Instructors Office Address, Email Address, Office Hours, and Office Phone Number: TBA

Textbook and Related Materials:

Greenblatt, Stephen and M.H. Abrams, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 20012.


[The department permits other standard anthologies such as the Longman Anthology of American Literature.]

Course Purpose, Goals, and Objectives

Course Description

American Literary Tradition (3) American literature from the Civil War to the present.

General Course Objectives (Keyed to General Education Learning Outcomes)

Students will demonstrate the ability to:

  1. Employ various critical and analytical methods (e.g., close reading, historical and linguistic analysis, ideological analysis) in the study of literary texts from a variety of genres and historical periods through written assignments [LOC 1, 4].
  2. Analyze important primary texts from American literature from the late eighteenth century to the present [LOC 2].
  3. Interpret literary texts as shapers, reflectors, and instruments of change of cultural phenomena (e.g., value systems, familial/social institutions, government and their policies, philosophical/religious institutions) [LOC 3, 4, 5]
  4. Analyze literary texts for personal aesthetic pleasure and the enjoyment of language [LOC 1]
  5. Analyze the contributions of literary texts within various societies and how these have impacted history and the human condition [LOC 6]
  6. Employ a comparative approach in the analysis of the literature of America and the expression of those ideas within a global literary context, particularly focusing on the interplay of ideas and forms [LOC 4, 5]
  7. Recognize diversity in literature, based on race, ethnicity, economic status, and gender across historical periods as important to the understanding of local and global culture [LOC 5]

Outline of Course Content

[Individual Instructor decisions may vary slightly from section to section, but the emphasis is upon the canon in which the specific ideas noted above can be observed, examined, and analyzed.]


All sections of English 261 will:

  1. Involve students in critical reading to facilitate active engagement with texts. Students will read approximately 50 pages each week.
  2. Involve students with the full range of literary periods, and genres and styles—in connection with global models—within those periods appropriate to the course.

Realism and Post-Civil War Aesthetics (1865-1914)

Individual Voices: Poetry, Oratory, and Memoir [Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Cochise, Chief Seattle, Zitkala Sa, Henry Adams, etc.]: language and poetry, language and politics, heterogynous national experience, development of autobiography, etc.


Local Color [Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Kate Chopin, Charles Chesnutt, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, etc.]: the frame story, the vernacular tradition, the southern humorous tradition, local responses to conflict, the role of domesticity, the legacy of slavery, etc.


Realism [William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stephen Crane, Jack London, etc.]: reactions against Romanticism, the critique of nationalism, Naturalism, the critique of industry, the institutionalization of class and gender, expatriate writing, European aesthetic movement, Impressionism.

Literature between the Wars (1914-1945)

Poetry [Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes. H. D., Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, etc.]: Modernism, formalism, self expression and psychology, the experience of loss, subjectivity, objective correlative, syntagmatic preoccupation with time, mythic metanarrative, expatriate writing, Harlem Renaissance, Southern Renaissance.


Prose [Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, etc.]: African American Identity and aesthetics, WWI and the “lost generation,” influences—Marxism, Freudian Psychology, Existentialism, Harlem Renaissance, Southern Renaissance, syntagmatic preoccupation with time, expatriate writing.

Literature since 1945 (1945-present)

Poetry [Robert Penn Warren, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, etc.]: Black Mountain Poets, Beats, Confessional Poets, increase in poetic schools, formalism, structuralism.


Prose [Tennessee Williams, Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, Sandra Cisneros, Amy Tan, etc.]: epistemological and ontological shifts, leveling of culture, subversion of humanism, rise of minority literatures, poststructuralism, technological innovation.

Course Requirements/Expectations

Grading Procedures

Individual sections of the course may differ, but each section will have at least two in-class exams, part of which will include essay writing. In addition, each student will engage in other relevant writing activities. Over the course of the semester, students write at least 10 pages of finished written work outside of exams, focused particularly on literary texts. Finished writing may be done in or outside of class. Some writing may include work with secondary sources.

Signature Assignment for General Education Assessment for Humanities


  1. A four-to six-page double-spaced paper that is a critical analysis of a single text with a synthesis in light of its literary, historical, and cultural contexts (LOC 2, 3, 4, and 5).
  2. The paper could examine either a poem, play, section of a novel, or short story as determined by either the instructor or instructor and student in collaboration (LOC 2).
  3. Since the paper must involve an engagement with “critical and analytical methodologies of the humanities,” the instructor builds in instruction on use of secondary sources, not limited to procedure, but how to evaluate those sources relative to their theoretical understanding of the selected primary text (LOC 1).
  4. The assignment requires students to use 2-3 secondary sources and requires 4-6 in-text citations of the secondary sources’ ideas in the form of summaries, paraphrases, and direct quotations about the effectiveness of those ideas in solving the interpretive dilemmas at those points. At the same time, students will be assessed on their direct engagement with the primary text through analysis of words, phrases, and sentences on one level and an overall impact of the literary text as a complete unit of meaning at a second level. (A rubric will be used to determine the effectiveness of the analysis of both primary text and also with handling of ideas from secondary sources reflective of the humanities methodology) (LOC 1, 2).
  5. In establishing a context for the explication of a single text, students comment on cultures, values, institutional forms (e.g., country, religion, family, gender, race, sexuality) that connect not only to the historical period of the selection, but also how those expressions cohere or disconnect across the sweep of time (LOC 3, 4, 5, and 6).
  6. While the explication of a text is sometimes thought to simplify meaning, the purpose of the assignment is to examine the complex relationship of words and ideas in the text as an example of a cultural moment in which it was written as well as how it speaks to speaks to modern audiences (LOC 4, 5, and 6).

Class Policies

Students are expected to attend class regularly. Policies regarding class attendance and make up exams will vary with the instructor, but all are within the handbook guidelines. The English Department has adopted the National Writing Project definition of plagiarism.

Disabilities Statement

Any student eligible for and requesting reasonable accommodations due to a disability is required to provide a letter of accommodation from the Student Success Center.


Revised Fall 2016

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