A General Survey Course on American Literature



Title:  A Survey of American Literature

Field of Study: English Language and Literature

Lecturer:  Dr David Levente Palatinus


Semester: Autumn

Type of lesson: lecture + seminar

BA full time study


08.00-09.30 F111




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Prerequisite courses:

For BAs enrolling for the course in 2011:

Academic Writing 1-2; Introduction to Literary Studies (BA core module)

For BAs enrolling in September 2012 and onwards:

Comprehensive Exam in English Language Practice

Evaluation and credit requirements:

Participation in group discussion: 20 course points (20%)

Mid-term test 30 course points (30%)

Oral Examination: 50 course points (50%)

In order to complete the course and get a ‘Pass’ mark, students have to get a minimum of 60%


0-59%: Fx

60-65%: E

66-69%: D

70-79%: C

80-89%: B

90-100%: A

Short description of the course:   

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the basic concepts, movements, genres, authors and cultural contexts of what is commonly referred to as “American Literature.” By looking at core texts from historical, geographical, ethnic, gender and thematic perspectives, we seek to explore the underlying heterogeneity and diversity that characterized the production of literatures and eventually brought about a multiplicity of American literary canons.


Week 1 Introduction, the problem of the “American Literary Canon;” Puritans and Colonial Times

Week 2 Birth of a Nation; from the War of Independence to the Civil War (Political Writing, Slave              Narratives)

Week 3 Romanticism, Transcendentalism

Week 4 Realism

Week 5 Modernism I (Transatlantic Modernism, the 20s; American Dream,  Harlem                                Renaissance)

Week 6 Modernism II (Decline of the American Dream, hard-boiled fiction, cinema, Noir,Modern              American Drama, poetic movements)

Week 7 Postmodernism (language, decentralization, the literature of exhaustion, irony)

Week 8 Postmodern futures? (SF, Cold War Fiction, Spy Fiction)

Week 9 Multiple Voices (African-American Lit, Native American Lit, Jewish American Lit)


Week 11 Bestseller / Blockbuster

Week 12 Summary and Conclusions


Reading List



• Excerpts from Captain John Smith: from The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles; from William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation;

• Anne Bradstreet: To My Dear and Loving Husband, Upon the Burning of Our House, In

  Honor of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory

• Jonathan Edwards: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

• Excerpts from Benjamin Franklin’s  Autobiography; Thomas Paine: from Common Sense (any selection from the anthology) OR from The American Crisis (Number I is recommended)

• Thomas Jefferson: The Declaration of Independence

• The Constitution of the United States

• Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow OR Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter

• Edgar Allan Poe: Lenore; The Raven; The Purloined  Letter; Murders in the Rue Morgue

• Ralph Waldo Emerson: Self-Reliance OR The American Scholar OR The Poet OR Henry David Thoreau: Walden

• Herman Melville: Bartleby the Scrivener, Moby Dick

• Emily Dickinson: I would not paint – a picture-; I’m Nobody! Who are You?; A Bird came  down the Walk; Wild Nights – Wild Nights!; I felt a funeral in my Brain; I heard a fly buzz – when I died-; Hope is the thing with feathers

• Walt Whitman: from Leaves of Grass

• Henry James: The Turn of the Screw OR A Portrait of a Lady OR Ernst Hemingway: Snows of Kilimanjaro OR Jack London: The Call of the Wild



• Francis Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

• Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God OR Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep

• Thornton Wilder: Our Town OR Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman OR Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire

• Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse 5  OR John Barth: Lost in the Funhouse OR John Updike: Rabbit, Run

• Don DeLillo: White Noise OR Nabokov: Lolita OR Pale Fire OR Bend Sinister OR Philip Roth: The Human Stain

• William Gibson: Neuromancer OR Philip K. Dick: Minority Report OR Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep OR Tom Clancy: The Sum of All Fears OR Robert Ludlum: The Bourne Identity

• Maya Angelou: I know why the Caged Bird Sings OR Toni Morrison: The Song of Solomon  OR Bernard Malamud The Magic Barrel OR Sherman Alexie: The Absloutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

• Paul Auster: one book from The New York Trilogy OR Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club

•Veronica Roth: Divergent OR James Dashner: The Maze Runner OR Suzanne Collins:  The Hunger Games OR George R.R. Martin: A Game of Thrones


• Modern and postmodern poetry

  Familiarity with the works of the following authors is required:

Ezra Pound; William Carlos Williams; Charles Olson; Robert Frost; Gertrude Stein; Amy Lowel; H.D.; E.E. Cummings; Carl Sandburg; Wallace Stevens; Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton;  Robert Duncan; Allen Ginsberg; three poets of the Harlem Renaissance; Frank O’Hara; Gary Snyder; Charles Bernstein; John Ashbery

  Choose 3-5 poems by each author !!



For Assignments, Essay questions and further secondary sources on Modernism and Post-Modernism, please follow this [DROPBOX] link.



Useful websites to access texts and further readings:

Representative Poetry Online
Donna M. Campbell's website dedicated to the study of American Literature (pre-1650- 1920s)
Early Americas Digital Archive
Documenting the American South

Links to further information, analyses and background material on the beginnings of the American Novel, Cooper, Irving, Poe and Hawthorn:


 http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/HNS/Indians/main.html  [!!!]