American Literature, 1800-1915 (EL 266)

Welcome to ''American Literature 1800-1915''

Welcome to EL 266, "American Literature 1800-1915"

The course website is located at I will update the site periodically, so the printout I gave you is only for your convenience today. The page you will want to consult most frequently is the outline (which lists all assigned readings and the due dates for major assignments).

Feel free to post questions on the site -- I'll be happy to clarify whenever I can. (You can also contact me privately, if you don't wish to make your comment public.)

Permalink | 30 Aug 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Key Terms -- Colonial Period to Civil War

American Literature

Colonial Period
"Divine Right of Kings"
Declaration of Independence
Revolutionary War
"Manifest Destiny"
Louisiana Purchase
War of 1812
Francis Scott Key

American Renaissance
Edgar Allen Poe
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
Walt Whitman

American Civil War

Permalink | 30 Aug 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

How does a poem mean?

In high school, you may have gotten credit for being able to paraphrase poems, in order to demonstrate that you understand the literal meaning of the content. But if the purpose of a poem is simply to communicate a message, why does the poet go to all the trouble to rhyme, to make classical allusions, to choose vivid images?

Why didn't Emily Dickinson write,

Death really isn't all that scary. In fact, Death is like a classy gentleman who picks you up and takes you on the most important date of your life.
Why did she write this, instead?
Because I could not stop for Death --
He kindly stopped for me --
The Carriage held but just Ourselves --
And Immortality.
And when Edgar Allen Poe could have written,
Death always wins, so let's revel in the destruction.
why did he write:
Out—out are the lights—out all!
  And over each quivering form
The curtain, a funeral pall,
  Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
  Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
  And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

See: Because I could not stop for Death
And: Conqueror Worm

Permalink | 30 Aug 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Close Reading

A close reading is a careful, thorough, sustained examination of the words that make up a text.

A close reading is really a re-reading. You look closely at it.

  1. You will probably want to read your text once through fairly quickly, highlighting unfamiliar words or puzzling details (or marking them with sticky notes, if you're reading a library book).
  2. Go back and look more carefully at the places you marked. Did the ending explain some of the things you initially found puzzling? Do you see any recurring patterns?
  3. Once you have a sense of what you think is important, go through the text again, this time searching specifically for more of whatever caught your eye.
  4. Once you have identified the details that you find interesting, you should come up with a thesis -- a non-obvious claim, supported with direct quotations from the material you are studying. (It is not enough merely to write down a list of isolated observations, in the order they popped into your head.)

When you write a close reading, you should assume that your reader is not only familiar with the text you are examining, but has a copy of it within reach.

A close reading does not retell the plot. Neither should a close reading profile the characters, give advice to the author, speculate on which people in the author's life inspired the literary characters, or share your personal musings. A close reading does not use a literary work as a handy example to support general claims about the outside world (such as "racism is bad" or "women have come a long way").

What does a close reading do?

It might look closely at a monologue or brief scene, such as Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost, and analyze the explicit plot points and the subtle foreshadowing contained in that scene. It might examine all the kinds of containers that appear in "Heart in the Ground," or a particular theme, such as the traditional gender roles seen in the play.

What words did the author choose, what do they mean, and what function do they serve? In what ways is word order and grammatical structure significant? (One character might speak only a few words at a time, but grunt a lot; another may ramble. Talk like Yoda, another character might.)

See also:

Getting an A on an English Paper

That means reading every word: it's not enough to have a vague sense of the plot. Maybe that sounds obvious, but few people pay serious attention to the words that make up every work of literature. Remember, English papers aren't about the real world; they're about representations of the world in language. Words are all we have to work with, and you have to pay attention to them. -- Jack Lynch

How to Do a Close Reading

We need more evidence, so we go back to the text--the whole essay now, not just this one passage--and look for additional clues. And as we proceed in this way, paying close attention to the evidence, asking questions, formulating interpretations, we engage in a process that is central to essay writing and to the whole academic enterprise: in other words, we reason toward our own ideas. --Patricia Kain

Permalink | 1 Sep 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Introduction to Weblogs

(Time permitting.)

Permalink | 1 Sep 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Consultations (no class)

While attendance today is not required, I will be available to consult with you regarding Paper 3.

I am not requiring that you come for a consultation this week, but I strongly recommend it.

On Tuesday, I will be available during the 9:30-10:45 time slot, during which time I'll be happy to run a workshop for anyone who wants it. I'll also be available for individual appointments from 9-9:30, and 1-3.

The Wednesday class is cancelled due to Thanksgiving Break -- I will not be holding consultations during that time slot. Students from the Wednesday section are invited to sign up for a consultation on Tuesday.

I might be able to see you briefly on Monday, but that day is already heavily scheduled.

Permalink | 22 Nov 2005 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)