Identity fraud! “America” as place, myth, and dream has long been imagined as where people can be whatever they want to be and are free to be who they are. In the nineteenth century, the American Dream became a solid foundation that the turmoil of civil war, industrialization, and reconstruction could not shake. And yet the American novel tells a different story. In the novel, we find stories of fake identities, secret identities, and shifting identities. Why do we have so many characters who feel like the last thing they are free to be is themselves? What masks do they put on? Does the mask allow for a more authentic self? What lies behind the mask? In our online course, let’s explore developments in the American novel over the nineteenth century, paying particular attention to how the novel form was used to tell stories about assumed identities.
As we examine the possibilities and limitations of the novel in the nineteenth century, you will have opportunities to strengthen your critical reading and analytical writing skills. I invite you to learn the narrative elements of a novel and apply these along with knowledge of nineteenth-century historical and cultural contexts to develop your literary interpretations. To pursue this inquiry, our novel reading may include: Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall, Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, Louisa May Alcott’s Behind a Mask, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars, and James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.
Arts & Letters (A&L) courses create meaningful opportunities for students to engage actively in the modes of inquiry that define a discipline. Courses are broad in scope and demonstrably liberal in nature (that is, courses that promote open inquiry from a variety of perspectives). Though some courses may focus on specialized subjects or approaches, there will be a substantial course content locating that subject in the broader context of the major issues of the discipline. Qualifying courses will not focus on teaching basic skills but will require the application or engagement of those skills through analysis and interpretation.
Literature, 1789 to the present courses focus on literary work produced over more than two centuries -- from the period of British romanticism and the early republic of the United States up to now -- in order to foster familiarity with key works in British and American literary history. Literary history illustrates how literary works reflect, address, and resist the social and political environments in which they are produced as well as other works that have preceded them.
English Minor courses offer students centuries of cultural experience and representation in poetry, prose, drama, film, TV, new media, and folk artifacts. The English minor can focus and extend the values of a liberal arts education, while also providing extensive training in writing, speaking, and critical thinking.