Tentative Reading List for ENG 2320: Masterpieces in American Literature, Fall 2009

masterpieces in american literature reading list draft
tentative course title: “a history of violence”


  • Violence and Discovery: Conquest & Frontier
    • Rowlandson, Smith, de las Casas
    • Dan’l Boone & other Frontiersmen: Regeneration through Violence?
  • Violence and Race: Lynchings
    • Crevecoeur on evils of slavery?
    • Billy Budd, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and other lynching poems
    • Lorde, poetry & rhetoric?
  • Violence and Gender 1: “Manhood”
    • Douglass (A Narrative of the Life) Faulkner “Barn Burning” and Wright “The Man who was Almost a Man”
  • Violence and Gender 2: “Womanhood”
    • Glaspell: “A Jury of her Peers”
    • Frank Norris: “Fantaisie Printaniere”
    • Assorted versions of the Hannah Dustan story
  • Violence and Heroism: War
    • war and heroism 1 (rev war, civil war)
      • revolutionary war hero poetry, Melville (battle-pieces), Whitman(drum-taps)
      • Thomas Paine’s Crisis & Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, civil war diaries?
    • war and heroism 2 (ww1, ww2, beyond?)
      • Howells: “Editha,” Hemingway Novel, Slaughterhouse-Five
  • Violence and Ethics: The Act of Murder
    • OMAM & Beloved (see Shade article in George & Heavilin)
  • Violence and Proportion: Sublimation and Glorification
    • Longfellow’s Evangeline, other 19th century works? (forgetting the civil war, etcetera)
    • Sleepy Hollow (reflecting on contemporary culture, proportions of horror & terror)
    • Poe?
    • McCarthy: No Country for Old Men (film)
    • History of Violence (film or graphic novel)
  • Violence and the mind
  • Figuring Violence: violent act as symbol

One thought on “Tentative Reading List for ENG 2320: Masterpieces in American Literature, Fall 2009

  1. Alfred Bendixen:”A fascination with violence has been part of American fiction from its beginnings and continues to mark some of our most distinguished writing as well as our pulp fiction. Some believe that violence is an inherent part of a culture that stole land from Indians, enslaved African Americans, and over the course of a few centuries transformed a bountiful continent into an industrial empire and the world’s greatest superpower. For these critics of our culture, H. Rap Brown had it exactly right when he proclaimed that “Violence is as American as cherry pie” in a civil rights speech in the 1960s. Scholars of literature, however, have sought to understand both our culture and our fiction by examining the nature, causes, and consequences of the violence in our novels. Richard Slotkin of Wesleyan University, the author of Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier 1600-1860 (1975) and other books about our frontier mythology, argues that “What is distinctly American is not necessarily the amount or kind of violence that characterizes our history but the mythic significance we have assigned to kinds of violence that we have actually experienced.” If he is correct, then the American novel is often about the ways authors transform the violence of our historical experience into myth.”

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