American Literature II ~ LIT 210—(Revised for summer 2014)
Dr. Jonathan Alexander
Office, Academic Center, 317
609-894-9311 or 856-222-9311 (x1123)
Online syllabus:


A. TEXT: Custom Text ISBN# 0-390-150231; additional readings are linked within the online version of this syllabus.

B. COURSE OVERVIEW: American Literature II is a survey course which continues from the Civil War period where American Lit I concluded, covering the periods of Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism. The course will assign primary emphasis to the major literary trends found in early America and the major literary figures who represent those trends.

C. LEARNING OBJECTIVES ~ At the end of LIT 210, you should be able to:

  1. Trace the continuing development of the American perspective through the content, style, and genres of American writings.
  2. Define the major elements of Realism, Naturalism, Modernism and Post-Modernism, and explain how these philosophies affected American literature.
  3. Analyze the social, political, and religious ideas influencing these writings.
  4. Explain the evolution of American literature as it is revealed from the various perspectives of major literary figures.
  5. List the major political, social, and religious concerns of 19th and 20th Century America.
  6. Respond critically and personally to the topics found in American literature, especially those concerning American identity, freedom, and voice.
  7. Competently compose analytical essays which discuss the literary trends of American literature, each of which will possess a clear thesis statement, a coherent pattern of supporting paragraphs, adequate support/examples from the text to support the thesis, and a concluding paragraph. A minimum of errors in mechanics, grammar, and usage should appear in the essays.


Attendance: If the student is to profit from any course, he or she must attend class on a consistent basis.

Students must attend all classes for the full duration of each session. Should you need to miss a class for observance of religious holidays, jury duty, military duty, bereavement, or illness, you must notify the instructor by telephone or e-mail prior to or within 24 hours after the class. Without such communication, students forfeit the right to make up missed work. If such communication is made, students will be permitted to make up missed work at the beginning of the following class meeting. It is, therefore, the student’s responsibility to read the syllabus and be prepared for current as well as missed assignments.

Entering class late or leaving class early (without prior authorization) is considered disrespectful and will not be tolerated.

Academic Etiquette: Students will respect themselves, their peers and their instructors by considering the following:

Cell phones must be kept on silent. No calls are to be made or received during class. If you are expecting an important call during the class meeting time, notify me prior to class and quietly excuse yourself if the call is received. No text-messaging or game-playing will be tolerated.

Students who wish to use the restrooms may do so by quietly leaving and re-entering the room. If a student believes he or she will require an absence of more than a few minutes, it is his responsibility to notify me accordingly.

Communication: Many means of communication are available to the student including telephone, e-mail and mailbox.

If you leave a message on my office voice-mail (x1123), please remember to speak clearly and provide your name, course information, and phone number if you request a return call.

If you contact me via e-mail, it is expected that you use the BCC “Mymail” account provided to you by the College. Messages sent through any other email account may not be received or responded to.

Students who send me e-mail and do not receive a reply of any kind within 48 hours should assume it was never received. Such e-mails should be resent. If your message doesn’t present itself as urgent, I may reply quickly and briefly and ask to get back to you before long.

Students who send e-mails containing attachments must save these documents as one of the following types: DOC, DOCX, TXT, RTF, or PDF. Please do not send any MAC “Pages” files or WPS files. You may also choose to copy and paste the text of your assignment into the e-mail message itself, and always send a copy back to yourself  (or another email account) as a receipt to verify if the transmission fails to reach me.

Class Assignments:

All work written and submitted should utilize standard rules of grammar, sentence organization, paragraph organization, and diction.

All formal papers are to be typed, titled, double spaced, and carefully proofread. Documents are not to be held together by paperclips, alligator clips, or other creative measures. Papers will not be accepted unless they are stapled prior to arriving to class. Asking me to borrow a stapler will not place you in a positive light.

All assignments are due on the date specified on the syllabus. Assignments which are not submitted during the class session they are due will be penalized. If you happen to be absent for a particular class session and you wait to submit a paper until the next class meeting, it will lose 15% for each day it is late. NOTE: A “day” is a calendar day, not a class meeting. A paper which is received by email within two hours of the end of the assigned class session will be considered submitted on time (without a penalty for lateness). A paper which is received after two hours, but before 10pm, will incur a late penalty of 5%. All other papers received after 10pm on the assigned day will incur a 15% penalty per day.

If a student presents reasonable justification for an absence, this absence will not be counted against the student’s course grade; however, such an absence does not allow for more time to complete assignments. Since students are provided with all assignments and deadlines on the first day of the semester, excuses such as “crashed computers,” “misplaced data,” “misplaced flash drives,” or “empty printer ink cartridges” will not be accepted. There is no excuse for not saving all documents twice (hard drive and floppy/flash).

Plagiarism will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Be aware that plagiarism includes (but is not limited to) copying someone else’s words without crediting the source; paraphrasing someone else’s words without crediting the source; using someone else’s ideas without crediting the source (even if rephrased in your own words); using facts not universally known which are obtained from a source without crediting the source; asking someone else to write your paper, either in whole or in part; or obtaining a paper or portion thereof by any means and submitting it as an original document.The penalty for plagiarism is failure of the assignment and potentially failure of the course (at the instructor’s discretion), and it may result in suspension or expulsion from the College (at the discretion of the Student Affairs Committee). Please refer to the BCC Student Handbook for additional information regarding College regulations and the handling of plagiarism.

E. ASSIGNMENTS: Visit the grading rubric ( to see how writing is evaluated.

F. MAKE-UP EXAM POLICY: Because all assignment deadlines and scheduled exam dates are provided at the beginning of the semester, little latitude is given to those students who are not considerate of themselves or respectful of course expectations. The schedule of assignments and activities is a contract and, therefore, not open to negotiation. In the event that you must be absent the day an assignment is due (though it is strongly discouraged if preventable), utilize a form of electronic submission to turn in journal entries or other assignments the day they are due.

G. GRADING POLICY: All assignments have a specific point value. There are 200 total points worth of assignments and examinations.

Total Course
Points Earned

Final Percentages

Letter Grade


88.5 - 100



87.5 - 88



79.5 - 87



77.5 - 79



74.5 - 77



69.5 - 74



0 - 69







Literary Response Journal


40 pts


Midterm Exam

Session 6

40 pts


Biographical PowerPoint Presentation

Session 9,10

20 pts


1500-word Research Essay (Options listed above)

Session 10

40 pts


Final Exam

Session 10 (TBD)

40 pts


Participation and Attendance


20 pts




200 pts


►All readings and responses must be completed before the date scheduled. Readings without a page number are accessible online through this syllabus.

SESSION 1: _July 8_________
Discussion of syllabus and general course expectations

Discussion of Literary Time Periods


I Hear America Singing, syllabus: What do these individuals seem to have in common? What, if anything, distinguishes them one from the next? Do you think the speaker wants these men and women to be seen as a homogenous group with little distinction or a heterogeneous mixture of vastly different people? How is the balance between work and play handled? Do you think the speaker favors one over the other

Oh Captain, My Captain, syllabus: What makes the style of this poem different from the previous? How has the speaker managed to capture both the thrilling triumph ofLincoln’s abolitionist efforts and the tragic loss of his recent assassination? Which image in the poem do you see as the most poignant or resonant?

Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand, syllabus: How can the speaker expect his readers to have an appreciation of his work if he is constantly reminding them of the futility of understanding it? Do you sense sincerity in the speaker’s claims that the reader may never fully reconcile the work, or do you believe his tone is more often playful or sarcastic?



SESSION 2:_July 10_________



How to Tell a Story, 171: What does the author propose as the difference between knowledge and action? Which seems to be favored more and why? What makes humorous stories the “only one difficult kind”? How does he differentiate among that which is “humorous, comic, and witty”? How does he distinguish between the manner (or process) through which a story is told and the matter (or substance) of the story itself? What makes the comic story and its teller a “pathetic” thing to see? What value does the author place on the “pause”?



A Plea for Romantic Fiction, 175: How does Norris distinguish between Romance and Romantic? How does he effectively argue his point of literary criticism while still asking so many questions? What arguments does Norris make against Realism? How does he promote Romance as an equally effective “teacher” as any style of expression?



[All I Want Is Peace and Justice], 178: How does the speaker handle the fact that the white men seem to have an unfortunately incorrect view of the natives? How might this speech be viewed as a desperate plea of a man who thinks he has nothing more to lose?



The School Days of an Indian Girl, 180: How does this piece illustrate the condition of being caught between two drastically different worlds? How does she use the education of native children as a metaphor for the unfortunate perceptions felt by the white race? What is the most striking passage of the piece for you?


SESSION 3: _July 15_________



A White Heron, 183: By refusing to betray the heron’s secret, what is Sylvia rejecting (and in favor of what)? What is the hunter’s goal (and is it achieved)? What role does the narrative voice play in our understanding of Sylvia’s choices? Why do you believe Sylvia made the right or wrong decision? What does the heron’s pine tree represent for Sylvia? What makes this tale Romantic (according to Norris)? What makes it Realistic? What makes it Naturalistic?



A Man Said to the Universe, 190: How does this very short poem represent Crane’s view of a “universe essentially indifferent to man?” What relationship is established between the “man” and the “universe”?

The Open Boat, 191: What does the story tell us about perceptions and observations of people in a crisis? What is the effect of our being told early in the story that the men are not near a rescue station? Why does Crane deliberately place the dinghy’s crew in sight of land?   How does Crane’s view of the human community arise out of his view of the natural forces surrounding and working upon humans?



We Wear The Mask, 209: How does the poem differentiate between public and private personae? What is the speaker’s attitude toward his public? From what inspiration do you think this may have arisen? What might this poem have in common with John Lennon’s lyric about Eleanor Rigby, who is “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”?

Life’s Tragedy, 210: What does this poem say about missed opportunities and failed expectations? How does the speaker feel about seeking perfection or an ideal end? What role (if any) does regret play in our lives?

Sympathy, 211: How does the speaker express his familiarity with suffering? How are missed opportunities treated similarly or differently than they are in “Life’s Tragedy”? What makes the bird an effective or ineffective metaphor in this poem? How are freedom and salvation represented?




The Mill, 212: What role does denial of truth play in this poem? How are unconscious fears and concerns represented? How does memory become an unwelcome liability? How might the miller and his wife have escaped from similar burdens but through different gestures? How does this relate to Dunbar’s suggestions about achieved or failed expectations?

Variations of Greek Things: A Happy Man, syllabus: What is the power of memory and legacy expressed in this poem? Do you sense sincerity in the speaker’s reminiscing, or is there stylistic evidence of sarcasm? Is the speaker’s sentiment ideally Romantic or plausibly Realistic?

Mr. Flood’s Party, 213: How has Flood found a way to manage his feelings of loneliness and isolation? Is he ultimately successful? What elements of the poem make it Naturalistic in its moral? What does the road (and Flood’s spatial orientation on it) represent within his life? How are Flood’s past and future represented, and what does each seem to have to offer him now?


SESSION 4: _July 17_________


After Apple-Picking, 215: What is the speaker looking forward to? What does he seem to feel guilty about? How does he attempt (and perhaps fail) to escape these responsibilities that he knows are his? How does the illustration of fallen apples relate to the speaker himself? How does this relate to Dunbar’s and Robinson’s suggestions about achieved or failed expectations?

The Wood-Pile, 216: What role does (in)decision play for the speaker? How does the poem represent spaces both familiar and foreign? What commentary does this poem make about the sense of incompleteness of tasks which Frost represented in “After Apple-Picking”? What positive message can be brought from this poem whose final word is “decay”?

Birches, 217: How does this poem represent the relationship between the real and the ideal? How does the speaker maintain this balance? How is the boy “too far from town” represented as extremely resourceful and self-sufficient? What does this contribute to the poem’s message? How is the sense of being “alone” characterized differently in this poem than in “Mr. Flood’s Party”? What message is proposed by the act of filling a cup “even above the brim”? What does this have to do with swinging on birches (literally) and life (figuratively)? How does the speaker eventually remain true to his romantic side while maintaining a pragmatic view of life?

The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, syllabus: How does this poem express equal amounts of idyllic Romanticism while emphasizing the harshness of Modern times? What is the speaker’s attitude about feelings of regret? What role does Nature itself play in its own preservation? How is the power of individual perspective valued in this piece?



Chicago, syllabus: How is the speaker able to enumerate seemingly horrible truths about his hometown while remaining proud to call it his? Which of the speaker’s descriptive examples do you think is the most damning to the city of Chicago? If the speaker’s reference to “terrible burden of destiny” can be associated loosely with Naturalism, how does he take it beyond Crane’s view of a helpless human toward a more fulfilling message?

I am the People, the Mob, syllabus: What does this poem have in common with George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”? Is “not learning” (as Santayana claims) the same as “forgetting” (as Sandburg claims)? How can the speaker somehow remain hopeful for the future when the present appears so bleak? How is this poem (and “Chicago”) fundamentally similar to (and strikingly different from) the humanistic language of Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing”?

Government, syllabus: What role does first-hand observation play for the speaker? How are concepts of “criminality” and “corruption” illustrated through this poem? Is it a good thing or bad thing that the “government” is represented as something dynamic, alive, moving, changeable? What is the effect of ritual, patterned behavior as expressed in the final stanza?







Trifles, 219: How are the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law” interpreted differently by Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale? Does one win out over the other? How are the two “characters” of Minnie Foster and Minnie Wright characterized differently? What textual evidence illustrates why the men are logical, arrogant, and stupid? How are Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale each motivated for their own reasons to conspire against the men? What do you learn of the character of John Wright that might mitigate the charge against Minnie? Explain the significance of each of the following symbols: the bird, the cage with the broken hinge, the cold house and broken jelly jars, the unevenly sewn quilt block, the fresh bread on the counter, the half-clean table top, the rope.


SESSION 5: _July 22_________



The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, (in-class exercise) 229



The Snow Man, 233: What does it mean to have a “mind of” something, and how does that prove important to the speaker here? What elements in this poem are loosely associated with a lingering Romanticism? On the other hand, what makes this poem purely Modern in its approach?



Winter Remembered, syllabus: How does this speaker’s reference to “absence”  relate to Robinson’s “The Mill”? How does “feeling” and the desire for painlessness relate to Prufrock? What message is the speaker proposing about love and loss?



America, 234: How does the speaker express a love for something that doesn’t always seem to have his best interest in mind? What role does loyalty play for the speaker? Does he seem more certain or uncertain about the future?

If We Must Die, 235: What role does dignity and self-respect play in this poem? Do you perceive the “fighting back” at the end as more literal or figurative? How might it be both?

Outcast, 236: Is there a positive message within this poem which seems laden with negative imagery (“dim,” “forgotten,” “alien,” “ghost,” “apart”)?



Yet Do I Marvel, 237: How does this poem express the equal concerns about God’s benevolence and the speaker’s futility of existence? What role does temptation play? How do you interpret the act of “marveling” (as opposed to “knowing,” “understanding,” or even “appreciating”)?





SESSION 6: _July 24_________




O. HENRY (William Sydney Porter)

The Gift of the Magi, (click here for reading) (Video): What symbolic value does the number three have in this story? How can Della and Jim possibly appreciate the gifts from each other if they had to give up their most precious possession in order to receive it? Can a story based on coincidence, irony and surprise still be readable today? What makes this a timeless story?



A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, (click here for reading): What are some of the contrasts present in the story? What are the major differences between the young waiter and the old waiter, particularly in terms of how they view the old man and working in the café? What is the meaning of the old waiter’s “prayer”?  Given the view of human existence that is expressed, what is the role and significance of the café? What do you consider to be the overall meaning of the story?



A Rose For Emily, (click here for reading): Why is Miss Emily Grierson described as “a fallen monument”?  What does it mean that “Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…”?  How does the narrator describe Homer Barron? What does he come to represent for Emily? What is the community’s attitude towards Homer and Emily’s relationship?  After Miss Emily’s death, what is discovered in the room “which no one had seen in forty years”? What do you believe to be Miss Emily’s motive for her actions?


SESSION 7: _July 29_________


►From “Black Boy, A Five-Dollar Fight,” (click here for reading): How do you come to understand that the narrator of the story has to think “double,” that is, think about himself as himself and at the same time think about himself as the white men see him? Do you get the impression that this is a no-win situation for the narrator (or can something be gained by this experience)? Why or why not? What does this story say about the corrupting influence of racism on the two young African American men? What does the comparison to the fighting dogs or roosters say about the white men’s attitudes? Richard Wright labels himself both a realist and a naturalist writer who wrote stories to convey a message about social injustice. Identify two elements of this story (one for realism and one for naturalism) which illustrate both of these tendencies.



An Agony As Now, 238: Considering the other works discussed this semester which illustrate positive and/or negative views of self worth or identity (including Robinson, Frost, Eliot, Stevens, Hemingway, Wright, etc.), select three works and identify how Baraka’s poem “An Agony, As Now” is similar to or different from each.



Theme for English B, syllabus (in-class exercise)



True West, (Video): What symbolic role does the desert play for each of the two characters? Identify two ways that the “switch” in the brothers’ roles can be seen in the play? What distinction does the playwright make in the play between “art” and “business”? How can True West be defined as a naturalistic work of drama? Give examples as they can be associated with Crane’s “Open Boat” and other elements of Naturalism. How does Lee (and, eventually, Austin) display qualities of the loner, alienated and detached from society? What other characters have we read who can be related to these two men (directly or indirectly)? How is Lee’s final monologue at the end of Act One indicative of these two men and their relationships with each other and the world? Does the end of the play seem resolved to you? If not, what else did you expect to learn about these men? If so, what does the end (as it appears) tell us about how we’re supposed to feel about these men?

SESSION 8: _July 31_________

BETTY FRIEDAN, ►The Problem That Has No Name, (click here for reading): Why did “the problem lay buried, unspoken” for so long? What seems to be the speaker’s greatest disappointment regarding the treatment of women by men? Why is it significant that women weren’t being defined as “inferior,” rather “simply different” from men? What impact might it have had on women through the years if they knew others felt the same way as they?



Wedding Ring, 240: What does this poem express about the opportunities that lie ahead and of the potential futility of hope? What significance does each of the other “items” which lie in the basket have? How does this relate to the ring itself and what it represents now for the speaker? Does the speaker seem hopeful of being able to recover a lost past? Does she think change is possible? Is it effective for her to end with questions she doesn’t seem to answer? (Or does she?)



Taking Off My Clothes, syllabus: What is the tone of voice of this poem? How does the speaker illustrate what she thinks is pain and compromise that she has undergone for the listener? How does the conversational tone at the end display a very different tone than Levertov’s “questions”?



Living in Sin, syllabus: How does the speaker differentiate (through examples) between what she “thought” and what she “knows”? Where in the poem does she seem to hold herself in contempt for behaving the way she is? If she seems to loathe her own behavior, why does she apparently continue it? How do you think the speaker would define being “back in love again”(l. 23)? What might the “sin” in the title be a reference to (if not conventional “pre-marital intimacy”)?



Always Unsuitable, syllabus: How does the speaker seem to express both a concern for pleasing the “mothers” and a contempt for them at the same time? How is Piercy’scompromising for a cause similar to or different from Forche’s? Where does Piercy’s speaker present details to suggest she is neither perfect nor always appropriate? On the other hand, (as opposed to Rich’s sense of self-loathing) where does Piercy represent a speaker who has a greater sense of self-respect?

Barbie Doll, syllabus: How does the “girlchild” attempt to make herself something she is not? What motivates her? What is the outcome? How is her portrayal in death ironically triumphant? What is the difference between this girl’s efforts to be someone she wasn’t and those of the speaker in the previous poem? Do you think the same “happy ending” could be applied to the speaker of “Always Unsuitable”? How about to Forche’s speaker?



Suicide Note, syllabus: What roles do age, gender, intelligence, and public opinion play in this poem? How might the concerns of this female speaker be an updated representation of the sort of sentiments expressed years earlier by Friedan? What do you think is the key difference between this speaker’s inability to please (and her subsequent suicide) and the inability to please expressed in “Always Unsuitable”?




SESSION 9: _August 5_________
Exam Review



SESSION 10: _August 7_________
Presentations (continued)
1500-word Research Essay
Journals Checked




Directions for PPT Presentations
Spoken presentation

·         6-10 minutes

·         Notes permitted

·         Consistent with PPT slides

·         Coherent, unified, smooth


·         6-10 slides

·         Minimum 24pt font

·         Bulleted outline of information with key details (approx. 1/3 of speech)

·         Incorporate images as appropriate

·         Emphasize contrast between text and background

·         Minimize graphic creativity (i.e. animation)

·         Bibliography slide at end


·         Bulleted outline of PPT info (approx. 1/3 of PPT info)

·         Half-sheet acceptable

·         Copies for instructor and all members of the class


20-point grade (delivery + PPT design + PPT information + handout)



  1. Adrienne Rich
  2. Arthur Miller
  3. Carl Sandburg
  4. Claude McKay
  5. E.E. Cummings
  6. Edith Wharton
  7. Ernest Hemingway
  8. Eugene O’Neill
  9. F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. Flannery O’Connor
  11. Gertrude Stein
  12. Grace Paley
  13. Gwendolyn Brooks
  14. H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)
  15. Henry James
  16. Jack Kerouac
  17. John Irving
  18. John Steinbeck
  19. John Updike
  20. Kate Chopin
  21. Kurt Vonnegut
  22. Langston Hughes
  23. Marianne Moore
  24. N. Scott Momaday
  25. Pearl S. Buck
  26. Ralph Ellison
  27. Richard Wright
  28. Robert Frost
  29. Stephen Crane
  30. Sylvia Plath
  31. Theodore Dreiser
  32. Toni Morrison
  33. William Faulkner
  34. William Sydney Porter







The second half of the 19th c. saw America becoming increasingly self-conscious at the very time regional writers began to write about its various aspects. American wanted to know what their country looked like, and how the varied races which made up their growing population lived and talked.

The East asked what kinds of people leading what kinds of life are at the end of those bands of iron?

The Western regionalists answered: Men and women like yourselves, but dressed differently, speaking differently, with different social ways: fantastic deserts, mile deep canyons, mountains high enough to bear snow the year round, forests with trees as wide as man can stretch and wider, villages where the only woman was the town whore, camps where the only currency was gold-dust.

Writers of the South told of swamps where cypress grew out the green-scummed water and the moss grew down into it; of the cities where obsessive blood-consciousness of its inhabitants told of the mingling of races.

Mid-western authors narrated the tales of the plains where a man could be lost in the dust or ruined by hailstorm; of cities where fortunes were made or lost in a day’s trading on the beef or grain exchanges.


Principles Of Realism

1. Insistence upon and defense of “the experienced commonplace.”

2. Character more important than plot.

3. Attack upon romanticism and romantic writers.

4. Emphasis upon morality often self-realized and upon an examination of idealism.

5. Concept of realism as a realization of democracy.


Identifying Characteristics Of Realistic Writing

1. The philosophy of Realism is known as “descendental” or non-transcendental (non-romantic). The purpose is to instruct and to entertain. Realists were pragmatic, relativistic, democratic, and experimental.

2. The subject matter of Realism is drawn from “our experience”; it treated the common, the average, the non-extreme, the representative, the probable.

3. The morality of Realism is intrinsic and relativistic; relations between people and society are explored.

4. The style of Realism is the vehicle which carries realistic philosophy, subject matter, and morality. Emphasis is placed upon scenic presentation, de-emphasizing authorial comment and evaluation. There is an objection towards the omniscient point of view.

5. There is the belief among the Realists that humans control their destinies; characters act on their environment rather than simply reacting to it. Character is superior to circumstance. (Naturalism will later refocus on and refute this concept)

6. The Realists reject the kind of symbolism suggested by Emerson (a Romantic) when he said “Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.” Their use of symbolism is controlled and limited, depending  more on the use of images.


Realistic Techniques

1. Settings are thoroughly familiar to the writer.

2. Plots emphasize the norm of daily experience.

3. Ordinary characters are studied in depth.

4. Complete authorial objectivity

5. Responsible morality; a world truly reported.



 NATURALISM: Two Approaches (1880-1914)

1. Naturalism is an extension or continuation of Realism with the addition of pessimistic determinism.

2. Naturalism is different from Realism.


Subject Matter & Characterization in Naturalistic Fiction

1. The subject matter:

a. The subject matter deals with those raw and unpleasant experiences which reduce characters to “degrading” behavior in their struggle to survive (including prostitution and seduction, exposure to social conditions and social evils). These characters are mostly from the lower middle or the lower classes; they are poor, uneducated, and unsophisticated.

b. The atmosphere is the commonplace and the unheroic; life is usually the dull round of daily existence. The naturalist tries to discover those qualities in such characters usually associated with the heroic or adventurous—acts of violence and passion leading to desperate moments and violent death. The suggestion is that life on its lowest levels is not so simple as it seems to be.

c. There is discussion of fate and “hubris” (excessive pride, arrogance) that affect a character; generally the controlling force is society and the surrounding environment.

2. The concept of a naturalistic character:

a. In Naturalism, characters do not have free will. External and internal forces, environment, or heredity control their behaviors:

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, 1859, concept of natural selection (biological determinism), “survival of the fittest” threatened establish religious beliefs;

Karl Marx’s Communiest Manifesto, 1867, concept of economic determinism, civilization thrives on the struggle of the social classes;

Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 1899, concept of  “pleasure principle” (psychological determinism); human actions guided by repressed fears and desires (wish-fulfiillment).

All determinists believe in the existence of the will, but the will is often enslaved on account of different reasons. characters are conditioned and controlled by environment, heredity, chance, or instinct; but they have compensating humanistic values which affirm their individuality and life—their struggle for life becomes heroic and they maintain human dignity.

b. the Naturalists attempt to represent the intermingling in life of the controlling forces and individual worth. They do not dehumanize their characters.



The Centers of Modernism

1. Stylistic innovations—disruption of traditional syntax and form.

2. Artist’s self-consciousness about questions of form and structure.

3. Obsession with primitive material and attitudes.

4. International perspective on cultural matters.

Modern Attitudes

1. The artist is generally less appreciated but more sensitive, even more heroic, than the average person.

2. The artist challenges tradition and reinvigorates it.

3. A breaking away from patterned responses and predictable forms.

Contradictory Elements

1. Democratic and elitist.

2. Traditionalism and anti-tradition.

3. National provinciality versus the celebration of international culture.

4. Puritanical and repressive elements versus freer expression in sexual and political matters.

Literary Achievements

1. Dramatization of the plight of women.

2. Creation of a literature of the urban experience.

3. Continuation of the pastoral or rural spirit.

4. Continuation of regionalism and local color.

Modern Themes

1. Collectivism versus the authority of the individual.

2. The impact of the 1918 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

3. The Jazz Age.

4. The Harlem Renaissance

5. The passage of 19th Amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

6. Prohibition of the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, 1920-33.

7. The stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930s and their impact.


Modernism and the Self

1. In this period, the chief characteristic of the self is one of alienation. The character belongs to a “lost generation” (Gertrude Stein), suffers from a “dissociation of sensibility” (T. S. Eliot), and who has “a Dream deferred” (Langston Hughes).

2. Alienation led to an awareness about one’s inner life.



1. Harlem Renaissance (HR) is the name given to the period from the end of World War I and through the middle of the 1930s Depression, during which a group of talented African-American writers produced a sizable body of literature in the four prominent genres of poetry, fiction, drama, and essay. 
2. The notion of “twoness,” a divided awareness of one’s identity, was introduced by W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the author of the influential book The Souls of Black Folks (1903): “One ever feels his two-ness - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciledstirrings: two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” 
3. Common themes: alienation, marginality, the use of folk material, the use of the blues tradition, the problems of writing for an elite audience. 
4. HR was more than just a literary movement: it included racial consciousness, “the back to Africa” movement led by Marcus Garvey, racial integration, the explosion of music (particularly jazz), spirituals and blues, painting, dramatic revues, and others.


Significant Events

The Decades

The 1950s, referred by poet Robert Lowell as “the tranquilized fifties,” has been ridiculed as a smug, irresponsible, and materialistic decade.

The 1960s, in literary terms, is marked by the loosening of censorship and the discussion of “taboo” topics. Sexual fantasies, extremes of adventure, and “black humor” (humorous satire using shock or cruelty) are commonly used as subjects of literary works. The journalistic essay becomes a popular style of writing. A vigorous anti-establishment, and anti-traditional literary movement emerged called the Beat Movement (or Counterculture Movement). This decade is also marked by freedom movements such as Black power, women’s liberation, and gay rights.

The 1970s mark the emergence of the women’s movement and the “sexual revolution.”

The 1980s and 1990s are too recent and contemporary for evaluations of literary trends. Appearing on the literary scene are the so-called multicultural writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, James Welch, Bharati Mukherjee, and Sandra Cisneros.


Walt Whitman
I Hear America Singing


I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand

singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or

at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of

the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.


Walt Whitman
O Captain! My Captain!

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!
      O the bleeding drops of red,
        Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
      This arm beneath your head;
        It is some dream that on the deck,
          You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
      But I, with mournful tread,
        Walk the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.


Walt Whitman

Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Your Hand

 Whoever you are, holding me now in hand,
Without one thing, all will be useless,
I give you fair warning, before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.

 Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?
The way is suspicious—the result uncertain, perhaps destructive;
You would have to give up all else—I alone would expect to be your God, sole and exclusive,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life, and all conformity to the lives around you, would have to be abandon’d;
Therefore release me now, before troubling yourself any further—Let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down, and depart on your way. 

Or else, by stealth, in some wood, for trial,
Or back of a rock, in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not—nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill—

first watching lest any person, for miles around, approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea, or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss, or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband, and I am the comrade.

Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best,
And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.

 But these leaves conning, you con at peril,
For these leaves, and me, you will not understand,
They will elude you at first, and still more afterward—I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.  

 For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me, and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love, (unless at most a very few,) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only—they will do just as much evil, perhaps more;
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit—that which I hinted at;
Therefore release me, and depart on your way.


E.A. Robinson
Variations of Greek Themes: A Happy Man (1902)

When these graven lines you see, 
Traveler, do not pity me;
Though I be among the dead,
Let no mournful word be said.
Children that I leave behind,
And their children, all were kind;
Near to them and to my wife,
I was happy all my life.
My three sons I married right,
And their sons I rocked at night;
Death nor sorrow ever brought
Cause for one unhappy thought.
Now, and with no need of tears,
Here they leave me, full of years,--
Leave me to my quiet rest
In the region of the blest. 

Robert Frost
The Need of Being Versed in Country Things (1920)

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.


Carl Sandburg
Chicago (1916)

Hog Butcher for the World, 
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, 
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight 
Stormy, husky, brawling, 
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
            have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
            luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
            is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
            kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
           faces of women and children I have seen the marks
           of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who
           sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
           and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
           so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
           job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
          little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
           as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
           Building, breaking, rebuilding,

 Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
          white teeth,

Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
          man laughs,

Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
          never lost a battle,

Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse,
         and under his ribs the heart of the people,

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
         Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
         Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
         Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.



Carl Sandburg
I am the People, the Mob (1916)

I am the people -- the mob--the crowd--the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?

I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
     world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
     come from me and the Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
     for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
     I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
     I forget. Everything but death comes to me and
     makes me work and give up what I have. And I

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
     drops for history to remember. Then--I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
     People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
     forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
     a fool--then there will be no speaker in all the world
     say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
     sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob--the crowd--the mass--will arrive then.

Carl Sandburg
Government (1916)

The Government--I heard about the Government and
     I went out to find it. I said I would look closely at
     it when I saw it.

Then I saw a policeman dragging a drunken man to
     the callaboose. It was the Government in action.

I saw a ward alderman slip into an office one morning
     and talk with a judge. Later in the day the judge
     dismissed a case against a pickpocket who was a
     live ward worker for the alderman. Again I saw
     this was the Government, doing things.

I saw militiamen level their rifles at a crowd of work-
     ingmen who were trying to get other workingmen
     to stay away from a shop where there was a strike
     on. Government in action.

Everywhere I saw that Government is a thing made of
     men, that Government has blood and bones, it is
     many mouths whispering into many ears, sending
     telegrams, aiming rifles, writing orders, saying
     “yes” and “no.”

 Government dies as the men who form it die and are laid
     away in their graves and the new Government that
     comes after is human, made of heartbeats of blood,
     ambitions, lusts, and money running through it all,
     money paid and money taken, and money covered
     up and spoken of with hushed voices.

 A Government is just as secret and mysterious and sensi-
     tive as any human sinner carrying a load of germs,
     traditions and corpuscles handed down from
     fathers and mothers away back.

John Crowe Ransom
Winter Remembered 


Two evils, monstrous either one apart,
Possessed me, and were long and loath at going:

A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart,

And in the wood the furious winter blowing.


Think not, when fire was bright upon my bricks,

And past the tight boards hardly a wind could enter,

I glowed like them, the simple burning sticks,

Far from my cause, my proper heat and center.


Better to walk forth in the frozen air

And wash my wound in the snows; that would be healing;

Because my heart would throb less painful there,

Being caked with cold, and past the smart of feeling.


And where I walked, the murderous winter blast

Would have this body bowed, these eyeballs streaming,

And though I think this heart’s blood froze not fast

It ran too small to spare one drop for dreaming.


Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,

And tied our separate forces first together,

Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,

Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.


Langston Hughes
Theme for English B (1951)

            The instructor said,


            Go home and write

            a page tonight.

            And let that page come out of you--

            Then, it will be true.


            I wonder if it's that simple?

            I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.

            I went to school there, then Durham, then here

            to this college on the hill above Harlem.

            I am the only colored student in my class.

            The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem

            through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

            Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,

            the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

            up to my room, sit down, and write this page:


            It's not easy to know what is true for you or me

            at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what

            I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

            hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.

            (I hear New York too.) Me--who?

            Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

            I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

            I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

            or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.

            I guess being colored doesn't make me not like

            the same things other folks like who are other races.

            So will my page be colored that I write?


            Being me, it will not be white.

            But it will be

            a part of you, instructor.

            You are white--

            yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

            That's American.

            Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.

            Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

            But we are, that's true!

            As I learn from you,

            I guess you learn from me--

            although you're older--and white--

            and somewhat more free.


            This is my page for English B.

Carolyn Forché
Taking Off My Clothes (1976)

I take off my shirt, I show you.
I shaved the hair out under my arms.
I roll up my pants, I scraped off the hair
on my legs with a knife, getting white.

My hair is the color of chopped maples
My eyes dark as beans cooked in the south.
(Coal fields in the moon on torn-up hills)
Skin polished as a Ming bowl
showing its blood-cracks, its age, I have hundreds
of names for the snow, for this, all of them quiet.

In the night I come to you and it seems a shame
to waste my deepest shudders on a wall of a man.

You recognize strangers,
think you lived through destruction.
You can’t explain this night, my face, your memory.

You want to know what I know?
Your own hands are lying.


Adrienne Rich
Living In Sin

She had thought the studio would keep itself;

no dust upon the furniture of love.

Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,

the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,

a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat

stalking the picturesque amusing mouse

had risen at his urging.

Not that at five each separate stair would writhe

under the milkman's tramp; that morning light

so coldly would delineate the scraps

of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles;

that on the kitchen shelf among the saucers

a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own--

envoy from some village in the moldings...

Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,

sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,

declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,

rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;

while she, jeered by the minor demons,

pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found

a towel to dust the table-top,

and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.

By evening she was back in love again,

though not so wholly but throughout the night

she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming

like a relentless milkman up the stairs.


Marge Piercy
Always Unsuitable (1969)

She wore little teeth of pearls around her neck.

They were grinning politely and evenly at me.

Unsuitable they smirked. It is true


I look a stuffed turkey in a suit. Breasts

too big for the silhouette. She knew

at once that we had sex, lots of it


as if I had strolled into her dining-room

in a dirty negligee smelling gamy

smelling fishy and sporting a strawberry


on my neck. I could never charm

the mothers, although the fathers ogled

me. I was exactly what mothers had warned


their sons against. I was quicksand

I was trouble in the afternoon. I was

the alley cat you don't bring home.


I was the dirty book you don't leave out

for your mother to see. I was the center-

fold you masturbate with then discard.


Where I came from, the nights I had wandered

and survived, scared them, and where

I would go they never imagined.


Ah, what you wanted for your sons

were little ladies hatched from the eggs

of pearls like pink and silver lizards


cool, well behaved and impervious

to desire and weather alike. Mostly

that's who they married and left.


Oh, mamas, I would have been your friend.

I would have cooked for you and held you.

I might have rattled the windows


of your sorry marriages, but I would

have loved you better than you know

how to love yourselves, bitter sisters.


Marge Piercy
Barbie Doll

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs. 

She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs. 

She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up. 

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.


Suicide Note
Janice Mirikitani

How many notes written . . . 
ink smeared like birdprints in snow.
not good enough not pretty enough not smart enough 
dear mother and father. 
I apologize 
for disappointing you. 
I've worked very hard, 
not good enough 
harder, perhaps to please you. 
If only I were a son, shoulders broad 
as the sunset threading through pine, 
I would see the light in my mother's 
eyes, or the golden pride reflected 
in my father's dream 
of my wide, male hands worthy of work 
and comfort. 
I would swagger through life 
muscled and bold and assured, 
drawing praises to me 
like currents in the bed of wind, virile 
with confidence. 
not good enough not strong enough not good enough

I apologize. 
Tasks do not come easily. 
Each failure, a glacier. 
Each disapproval, a bootprint. 
Each disappointment, 
ice above my river. 
So I have worked hard. 
not good enough. 




My sacrifice I will drop 
bone by bone, perched 
on the ledge of my womanhood, 
fragile as wings. 
not strong enough 
It is snowing steadily 
surely not good weather 
for flying - this sparrow 
sillied and dizzied by the wind 
on the edge. 
not smart enough. 
I make this ledge my altar 
to offer penance. 
This air will not hold me, 
the snow burdens my crippled wings, 
my tears drop like bitter cloth 
softly into the gutter below. 
not good enough not strong enough not smart enough

Choices thin as shaved 
ice. Notes shredded 
drift like snow 
on my broken body, 
covers me like whispers 
of sorries. 
Perhaps when they find me 
they will bury 
my bird bones beneath 
a sturdy pine 

and scatter my feathers like 
unspoken song 
over this white and cold and silent 
breast of earth.