Spring 2012 Undergraduate English Courses: Special Topics
350:227 Introduction to American Literature
01 MW6 CAC 72121 RYAN FH-B2
Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, the Dude: the laziness that defines each of these twentieth-century characters stands in stark opposition to the Yankee work ethic depicted by early American authors such as Benjamin Franklin. This class will ask: where, amidst all the championing of “industry, temperance, and frugality” in early American literature, can we find the archetype of the American couch potato? In this spirit, our course will explore the origins of the “lazy American” in the literature of seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth-century America.
Engaging with the motif of laziness in colonial and antebellum American literature will help us look beyond a New England-centered literary tradition, thus demonstrating the important roles played by Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East in the development of a national literature. Furthermore, our broader perspective will address the historical debates over social class, race, and gender that were key in the struggle to define what constituted an American identity in the period between the Revolution and the Civil War. In addition to selections from more familiar early American authors (e.g., William Bradford, Jonathan Edwards, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville), we will read the work of lesser-known writers such as Olaudah Equiano, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, and Hannah Webster Foster. Although this class will offer both the historical and generic breadth of a survey – readings will include histories, novels, essays, short stories, and poetry from the 1600s to the mid-1800s – by casting laziness as a central motif we will bring focus to our seminar discussions and uncover the foundations of a twentieth century stereotype in the colonial and early national eras.
Course requirements will include: Participation, Reading Quizzes, and One Final Paper (6-8 pages).