English 314: American Indian Literature  (Fall 2003)


Instructor: Prof. David Carlson                                                  Section # 01

E-mail: dajcarls@csusb.edu                                                                  Days: MWF 10:40-11:50

Office: UH 301.40                                                                                Room: UH 257

Office Hours: MWF 2:30-4:00  and by appt.                                        Office Phone: 880-7388


Course Texts:      Keith Basso     Wisdom Sits in Places

    Louise Erdrich            Tracks

    Joy Harjo                    She Had Some Horses

    N. Scott Momaday      House Made of Dawn

    Simon Ortiz     From Sand Creek

                           Paul Radin                   The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology

    Leslie Marmon Silko  Ceremony

    A brief course packet available on reserve in the Pfau Library


Conceptions Behind Course:  As Jarold Ramsey points out in his essay ATradition and Individual Talents in Modern Indian Writing,@ students of American Indian literature face a set of unique challenges.  On the one hand, American Indian written literature historically has been a product of colonial contact and, as such, has been shaped by Aexternal@ cultural and political forces.  On the other hand, Indian writers frequently have continued to incorporate elements from their traditional cultures into their work as a way of resisting assimilation and/or cultural extermination.  Learning to read American Indian writing, then, requires us to develop an appreciation of the complex interplay between social and political forces, the traditions and customs of particular nations, and the imaginations of individual writers.  In this course, students will work to develop such sophisticated interpretive skills by tracing the incorporation and re-articulation in written texts of elements from traditional Indian culture.  We open with a general consideration of the nature of oral literature and the challenges facing non-Indian readers in studying such materials.  Building on this foundation, we will then try to develop a basic understanding of (1) a mythic archetype [the trickster], (2) an issue of religious belief [the role of ceremonial practice in healing and identity formation], and (3) the adaptability of the oral tradition [reflected in contemporary American Indian poetry].  Using anthropological and oral materials as background, we will consider how several major Native American writers have combined old and new to develop innovative forms of expression. 

To avoid making essentializing claims about American Indian peoples, the first two-thirds of course have been structured around two roughly drawn geographic Aculture-zones.@  In dealing with the trickster-figure, our focus will be on the Woodland cultures of the Great Lakes region.  Students will study Winnebago trickster tales and then consider how two important contemporary Anishinabe authors, Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor, have made use of the trickster archetype in their fiction.  In the second unit we will turn our attention to the Southwest, where students will have the opportunity to study a complete ceremony (The Navajo Night Chant).  Our examination of ceremonialism will help set up subsequent discussions of two major novels by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa/Cherokee) and Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo).  The final unit, dealing with the poetry of Joy Harjo (Muskogee Creek) and Simon Ortiz (Acomo Pueblo), reflects these authors= broad engagement with American Indian history and culture.


Course Policies:


Attendance: Attendance in class and participation in discussion are crucial parts of this course.  As such, each student will be allowed no more than three absences during the semester without suffering a penalty on his or her final grade.  For each absence beyond three, one-third of a letter grade will be deducted off the student=s final average for the class.


Tardiness: Students who arrive late to class will be marked tardy.  Three tardies will add up to an absence.


Late work: Unless prior arrangements have been made with the instructor (owing to extra-ordinary circumstances), late work will not be accepted.  Quizzes and short assignments also cannot be made up.


Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of another person=s words or ideas.  It constitutes a serious breach of the California State University Code of Student Ethics.  Everything that a student turns in with his or her name on it must be his or her own work.  Depending upon the severity of the case, plagiarism can result in failure for the assignment in question or for the entire course. 


Course Requirements: Successful completion of this course requires the completion of all assignments.  The grade breakdown is as follows:


Mid-Term Examination                                                                         20%

One Essay (8-10 pages)                                                                      35%

A final examination                                                                                25%

Five Sets of Reading Questions*                                                          10%

Participation (includes quiz average)                                                      10%


* Reading Questions: Once every two weeks, each student will be required to turn in typewritten responses to a series of questions on the readings for one class session.  At the beginning of each two week period, I will provide a list of questions for the next series of classes.  Students may choose the day on which they would like to turn in their responses.  Students should also be prepared to share their responses in class as a way of stimulating discussion.  (These questions may also provide useful study materials in preparing for the exams.)


Schedule of Readings and Assignments


Introduction: Theoretical Overview/The Study of American Indian Traditional Literature


Week One:      Fri 9/26          Introduction to Course/Overview of Requirements


Week Two:      Mon 9/29        Reading Traditional/Oral Materials I

Dennis Tedlock                        AThe Spoken Word and the Work of 

 Interpretation in American Indian

 Religion@ (CP)


Wed 10/1        Reading Traditional/Oral Materials II

Keith Basso                              Wisdom Sits in Places 1-35

(skim Chapter 2)


Fri 10/3            Reading Traditional/Oral Materials III 

Keith Basso                              Wisdom Sits in Places 105-149

(skim Chapter 3)                     



Unit One: Mythic Archetypes in American Indian LiteratureBThe Woodlands Trickster


Week Three:  Mon 10/6          The TricksterBAnthropological and Psychological Views

Paul Radin                                The Trickster 132-154; 111-119


Wed 10/8        The Winnebago Trickster Cycle

Paul Radin                                The Trickster Tales 1-25



Fri 10/10          The Winnebago Trickster Cycle

Paul Radin                                The Trickster Tales 26-49

Kathleen A. Danker                  ABecause of This I Am Called the

Foolish One@ (CP)


Week Four:      Mon 10/13      The Trickster in Fiction I

Louise Erdrich              Tracks 1-61


Wed 10/15      The Trickster in Fiction II

Louise Erdrich              Tracks 62-130


Fri 10/17          The Trickster in Fiction III

Louise Erdrich              Tracks 131-191


Week Five:      Mon 10/20      The Trickster in Fiction IV

Louise Erdrich              Tracks 192-226         


Wed 10/22      Gerald Vizenor             AAlmost Browne,@ AFeral Lasers@



Fri 10/24          Mid-Term Examination


Unit Two: Ceremonialism in American Indian LiteratureB Momaday and Silko


Week Six:        Mon 10/27      A Navajo Ceremony

John Bierhorst, trans.                The Navajo Night Chant (CP)


Wed 10/29      Ceremonialism in Fiction I

N. Scott Momaday                  House Made of Dawn 5-54


Fri 10/31          Ceremonialism in Fiction II

N. Scott Momaday                  House Made of Dawn 55-102


Week Seven:    Mon 11/3        Ceremonialism in Fiction III

N. Scott Momaday                  House Made of Dawn 102-152

Wed 11/5        Ceremonialism in Fiction IV

N. Scott Momaday                  House Made of Dawn 152-198


Fri 11/7            Ceremonialism in Fiction V

Leslie Marmon Silko                Ceremony 1-63


Week Eight:      Mon 11/10      Ceremonialism in Fiction VI

Leslie Marmon Silko                Ceremony 63-138


Wed 11/12      Ceremonialism in Fiction VII

Leslie Marmon Silko                Ceremony 138-201


                      Fri 11/14          Ceremonialism in Fiction VIII

Leslie Marmon Silko                Ceremony 201-262


Unit Three: Orality, Ceremony, and Memory in Contemporary PoetryB Harjo and Ortiz


Week Nine:    Mon 11/17        Joy Harjo                                She Had Some Horses 1-23


Wed 11/19      Harjo                                      She Had Some Horses 24-46


Fri 11/21          Harjo                                      She Had Some Horses 49-74


Week Ten:      Mon 11/24      Linda Hogan                            (Video of Reading)



Wed 11/26      Simon Ortiz                              From Sand Creek 6-31


Fri 11/28          ThanksgivingB No Class


Week Eleven: Mon 12/1          Ortiz                                        From Sand Creek 32-65


Wed 12/3        Ortiz                                        From Sand Creek 66-95


Fri    12/5        Review for Exam

Long Essay Due in class


The Final Examination will be on December 12.