Reading American Literature

Course Description: This course traces the development of American literature from the 1830s through the First World War by examining four major literary movements: transcendentalism, romanticism, naturalism, and realism. We begin by thinking about authors’ relationship to authority and the self, looking at transcendental authors Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller before turning to Frederick Douglass’s memoir. We will then look at short fiction and poetry by Whitman, Melville, Hawthorne, Dickinson, and Alcott. Our survey will end with turn-of-the-century authors Kate Chopin, Henry James, Frank Norris, and Edith Wharton—we will discuss these authors’ texts in the context of naturalism and realism, as well as their interest in capitalism’s increasing impact on class and society.  Carries humanities divisional credit in CAS. This course fulfills a single unit in each of the following BU Hub areas: Aesthetic Exploration, Writing-intensive Course.

Throughout the course, we will return to questions about the American self. How does each author conceive of what an “American” looks like, acts like, sounds like? How does this conception differ among genres—novels, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, essays? How do authors from marginalized groups—Black Americans, women, Native Americans, etc.—represent Americanness? How can these differences enrich our understanding of American literature?