English 364

Literature of American Minorities

Spring 1998

course description

This semester we'll be looking at some of the classic texts written by Native- African-, and Jewish- American authors. Arguably, each of these writers has positioned him- or herself as what critic James Ruppert calls a "mediator" between two cultural entities in contest with one another; the course will focus on the dynamics of such contestation that these authors model in their fictions, as well as on the strategies for resolving conflict that they or their characters explore. Through it all, we'll be looking at issues of individual and collective identity, both "mainstream" and "minority," but especially as conflicting cultural demands play roles in shaping, or re-shaping, such identity.


required texts

The following ten books, two of them short story collections, are required reading for everyone:

 Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man   Leslie Silko, Ceremony
 Richard Wright, Native Son   Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn
 James Baldwin, Going to Meet the Man  Chaim Potok, The Chosen
 Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon  Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus
 D'Arcy McNickle, The Surrounded  E. L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel

There will also be some additional short material that you'll receive in the form of xeroxed handouts.

I realize this is a lot of reading. Then again, this is a course for English majors, and that's what we do. I'll expect you to keep on top of the reading; "keeping on top" means getting assigned material read carefully before the class in which that material is due to be discussed. Evident lack of preparation will, of course, result in a negative "class participation" evaluation (see "Evaluation," p. 3 of this syllabus).


 day  text to have read  topics
 M 12  intros  
 W 14  terms  

i: native american lit
 F 16 Intro to Native American literary tradition
 M 19  The Surrounded  chs 1-11  Native stereotype(s)
 W 21    chs 12-27  internal/external colonialism
 F 23     all  event "re-happening"
 M 26  Ceremony  pp 1-106 disease and identity: the Ck'o'yo medicine
 W 28    pp 106-215  Story and Land as bases for identity
 F 30    all  cultural re-entry
 M 2 House Made of Dawn  Book 1 rez: Jemez traditionalism
 W 4    Book 2  urban: Kiowa & pan-Indianism
 F 6    Book 3  urban: Navajo & traditionalism
 M 9    Book 4  neotraditionalism?
 W 11  [wrapups, loose ends]    

ii: african american lit
 F 13  intro to African American literary tradition
 M 16  readings from Harlem Renaissance
 W 18  readings from Harlem Renaissance
 F 20  Invisible Man  chs. 1-6 The Southern Experience
 M 23    chs. 7-15  transition; dualism
 W 25    chs 16-25  The "New Negro" identity
 F 27      [prolog/epilog, blues motif]
 M 2  Native Son  I  "Bigger" as "Nigger"
 W 4    II  cultural and psychological dualism
 F 6    III  CP and Black identity

[ -spring break- ]

 M 16  Going to Meet the Man  "Rockpile"; "Outing"; "Manchild"
W 18     "Previous Condition"; "Sonny's Blues"
 F 20    "Come Out the Wilderness"; "Going to Meet the Man"
 M 23  Song of Solomon  chs 1-11  the Northern ethos
 W 25    all  the Southern ethos
 F27      blues, flight, and birds in the family tree

iii: jewish american lit
 M 30  intro to Jewish American lit
 W 1  The Chosen  Book One  
 F 3    Book Two  
 M 6    Book Three  
 W 8  Goodbye Columbus  "Defender of the Faith"
 F 10    "Eli the Fanatic," "Conversion of the Jews"
 M 13    "Goodbye, Columbus"
 W 15  The Book of Daniel I: Memorial Day  I pre-WWII stetl experience; CP
 F 17   II: Halloween  '50s antisemitism
 M 20   III: Starfish  '60s New Left
 W 22   IV: Christmas  yiddische hertz
 F 24  - wrap-ups -


A satisfactory course grade will depend on satisfactory performance in 4 areas: quiz papers, term paper, final exam, and in-class participation.

quiz papers: Prior to (typically, 48 hours or less in advance of) a dozen or more of the scheduled class meetings, I will distribute a quickie quiz (q-q) question or topic designed to direct your thinking/reading for that coming class meeting. I'll issue at least one such q-q per main text; you'll owe me at least six q-q written responses (1-2 pp. each), including at least two during each of the three sections of the course. It will be your responsibility to pace yourself to make sure you submit the minimum number of papers in each section of the courseand that you submit them by the beginning of the class meeting at which they're due, because under no circumstances will I accept late q-qs for credit. Together these will count 30-40% of your course grade.

term paper: You'll also owe me one 8-10 pp. term paper. The topic will be up to you, with the proviso that you clear the topic with me well in advance of writing and submission. As part of this requirement, you'll need to schedule an office meeting with me between 2 March and 20 March (either the week before or the week after Spring Break), at which time you must be prepared to discuss your topic. This paper will be due W 15 April; late papers will be penalized at the rate of .3 GPA per 24-hr period or part thereof. It will count about 25% of your overall grade.

final exam: There will be one, and it will be comprehensive. It will be administered only once, at the time determined by the Registrar for this course; plan now to be here to take it then. It will count 25-33% of your overall course grade.

The quality of your in-class participation will determine 10-20% of your final grade.

You'll note that there's a fair amount of slush in these percentages. That's intentional: it allows me to weight things in your favor.


The University requires me to state in writing my attendance policy for this course. Here it is: Consistent with the University's policy, I'll expect "each student . . . to attend all meetings of all classes" (1996-98 Undergraduate Catalog, p. 35). For each missed class meeting after the third missed class meeting, your final grade for the course will automatically be reduced by .3 GP. Note: "Excused absences" are nevertheless absences, by definition, and I must account them as such. You are advised to plan accordingly for any extracurricular activities you might be involved in. Should you miss more than eight scheduled class meetings (20% of the course) you will automatically be awarded a grade of "V" ("failure because of excessive absences") for the course.