Major Authors: After the Masterpiece: Novels by Melville, Twain, Faulkner, and Morrison >> Content Detail



Course Description

America's major authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have traditionally been viewed as seizing on tragedy or epic as apt modes for narratives (or myths) of a certain kind of American, the hero or heroine who embodies the fall from innocence into guilt. In works like Melville's Moby-Dick, Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and Morrison's Beloved, characters and their creators achieve grandeur through the daring sweep of their ambitions, expressed in new, innovative, and rule-breaking uses of language and narrative structure. Yet each of these works was followed by others that questioned a vision that can encompass the whole of human experience. Novels like Melville's Israel Potter, Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and Morrison's Love lay siege to the tragic mode through comic inversion, satire, or the fragmentation of literary form and textuality altogether. These lesser known works by major authors signal unpredictable developments in the authors' art and in the novel as a literary form, as well as subverting the myth of American exceptionalism.

This seminar provides intensive study of exciting texts by these influential American authors. In studying paired works, we can enrich our sense of each author's distinctive methods, get a deeper sense of the development of their careers, and shake up our preconceptions about what makes an author or a work "great." Students will get an opportunity to research an author in depth, as well as making broader comparisons across the syllabus.

Course Requirements

Students will be responsible for writing several essays, completing an in-class report, and maintaining a response journal throughout the term. More details can be found in the assignments section. Attendance and participation will also factor into the student's final performance in the course.

Attendance and Participation

This is a discussion class where your attendance and participation are vital to your success and that of the entire group. If an emergency should arise that makes it impossible for you to attend class, you should notify me immediately by email.

You must explain all absences. Two will not be held against your grade. Any absence beyond those two deducts percentage points directly from your final grade (three for the third, four for the fourth, etc): two latenesses count as one absence. Repeated absences will lead to a formal warning and may end in your being dropped from the class.


Grading will be based on the following weighting:

Attendance and Participation20%
Written Work60%
In-class Report10%
Response Journal10%

Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism attacks the freedom and integrity of thought. Especially in a class that will depend to some extent on online research, you must know what constitutes plagiarism and avoid it.

The Literature Section has formulated this statement and policy for all plagiarism cases:

Plagiarism - use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement - is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work.


3Moby-Dick (cont.)
4Moby-Dick (cont.)Journal 1 due
5Moby-Dick (cont.)
6Moby-Dick (cont.)
7Essay DiscussionEssay 1 due
8Israel PotterJournal 2 due
9Israel Potter (cont.)
10The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
11The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (cont.)
12The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (cont.)
13Pudd'nhead Wilson
14Essay DiscussionEssay 2 due
15The Sound and the Fury
16The Sound and the Fury (cont.)
17The Sound and the Fury (cont.)Journal 3 due
18The Sound and the Fury (cont.)
19As I Lay Dying
20As I Lay Dying (cont.)
21Journal DiscussionJournal 4 due
23Beloved (cont.)
24Beloved (cont.)Journal 5 due
26Love (cont.)
27ConclusionEssay 3 due


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