Major American Novels

Course Description

In this class, we will be reading and considering a number of the most important or most critically lauded moments in the development of the American novel.


Due Dates for all assignments are listed on the schedule

Grade Breakdown

Daily Quote Identification (20%)

At least one hour before class begins, you will author and post a response to the day's reading. For each response, choose a quotation that you think is important to the larger themes of the novel we are reading or that is interesting stylistically. On the course discussion forum, type up the full text of the quote, include the page number where the quote can be found (if applicable), and explain, in two to three detailed and well-developed paragraphs, why you chose the quote. In order to provide this information, you will need to mark interesting quotes as you read.

These responses need to be substantial (around one page double spaced, 12pt font or 300 words), thoughtful, and get at not only why you liked or disliked the quote, but why you think this particular quote is the most important from the assigned reading.

Thematic Presentation (15%)

You will be required to present a 15 minute, multimedia presentation to the class on a specific topic. I will circulate a sign-up sheet with topics during the first week of class. Each presentation will be on some historical or cultural phenomenon related to the text we will be discussing in class on your assigned day. Your presentation should include images and explain the historical phenomenon and also how it relates to the text.

If you are late or absent for the day you are presenting, you will not be able to make up this presentation.

Assignment #1—Analyzing Themes (15%)

In this paper, you need to find and discuss an interesting aspect of one of the texts we have read during this course. You could focus on a repeated image within the text, a theme that runs throughout the text, or some other aspect that suggests a larger meaning of the work. Your argument about what the text means or does must be supported by at least three pieces of textual evidence that you will quote in the body of the paper and discuss in your own words.

In analyzing these three moments in the text, you will both explain briefly what happens in the scene you are looking (provide a limited amount of context) and explain, in your own words, why you find it to be an interesting or important moment in the text. These three discussions will provide evidence supporting the thesis you state at the beginning of the paper. In the conclusion paragraph, you will explain what these three quotes suggest about the larger meaning of the novel.

Assignment #2—Visualizing Text (20%)

Up to this point in class, we have been reading texts available in the public domain. These freely available texts mean that we can use and manipulate the text in any way we see fit, as these texts belong to all of us. For this assignment, we will be exploring different ways of analyzing texts, in contrast to the classic thematic analysis approach from Assignment #1. As such, you will use Voyant Tools to help you visualize one of the texts you are reading.

Voyant gives you a mountain of useful information about word frequency and word association in a given text "corpus." For this assignment, you have a number of options for analysis:

  1. Explore one novel using Voyant tools—What does this analysis of word usage tell us that we may not otherwise know?
  2. Contrast two or more chapters from a novel—What does comparing the word usage of differing chapters in a single book tell us about action or character or theme?
  3. Compare chapters or whole novels in two or more novels—What does comparing, say, action sequences or important characterization moments in two authors tell us about how meaning is made? What can we say about the differing approaches authors take to plot?

In constructing this analysis, you will produce three things.

Thing 1: The analysis—Provide the text files you used for your analysis. If you analyzed each text separately, indicate that. If you analyzed them together, indicate that. Basically, this is to verify that I can reproduce your results in Voyant.

Thing 2: The meta-analysis—Explain what new, exciting, interesting, or informative conclusions you drew from your analysis in Voyant. Did you learn something about style? character? action? Explain your conclusions in a 5 page paper, including any relevant tables or figures from Voyant.

Thing 3: The reflection—Reflect on using Voyant, especially in contrast to the thematic analysis in Assignment #1. What did you like? What didn't you like? Do you think your conclusions are more or less interesting when you use this tool? This should be at least 2 pages, but feel free to write more if needed.

Assignment #3—Mapping Novels (20%)

The texts we have been reading all deal, in one way or another, with geography and the spatial configuration of America. From Huck and Jim going down the Mississippi to the kid's journey into Mexico with the Glanton Gang, each text produces a specific and important mapping of the American landscape. For this final assignment, you will produce a map of one of the texts we have read in the course using Google Maps. In addition to this map, you will produce a 5 page paper detailing what you learned about the novel as a result of this process of mapping.

On your map, you will "pin" between 15-25 locations and indicate how they are connected temporally within the fabric of the novel. Moreover, you will annotate each pin to explain what happens at each specific point in the novel. As you map out your novel, think about focusing on a specific theme or character, in order to provide focus to this assignment. While you are generally "mapping" a novel, the purpose of this assignment is to reflect on how mapmaking can produce differing kinds of meaning in the context of literary analysis.