American Literature

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Discipline CoreSUS1EN2474

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Bhoomika Meiling and Dr. Gunjeet Aurora

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: No prerequisites

Aim: This course seeks to study the foundations of what is now known as the American Renaissance. Through a study of this period which has the powerful lectures and essays of Emerson defining the quintessential American on one end of the spectrum and Mark Twain’s ‘regional’ novels on the other, the students are expected to forge an understanding of the cultural and historical processes which have shaped the American democratic ethos. The course also includes some post Civil War narratives which offer a critique of the picture of American democracy presented in the Renaissance writings. As a course which interrogates American democracy and its uncomfortable relationship with racism, it fits well with AUD’s vision of developing critical thinking in students around some fundamental political and social issues.

Course Outcomes: On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Understand the intellectual and political foundations of Nineteenth Century American Literature
  2. Identify key thinkers and writers of the American Renaissance and contextualise their works in relation to significant historical processes like the Civil War and the Abolitionist movement
  3. Understand literary concepts and develop skills for critically analysing different literary genres
  4. Acquire awareness of and sensitivity towards issues of gender, race, class, and ethnicity
  5. Use presentation and writing skills to formulate and communicate academic arguments
  6. Develop research skills by working with different assessment formats like term papers, book reports, oral presentations, and academic essays.


Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module I

Introduction to early nineteenth century American history and literature. A thorough discussion on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘The American Scholar’

Module II

Tracing the roots of American Short Story. Reading short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne

Module III

Understanding Political Dissent: Reading Henry David Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” and selections from Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.

Module IV

Individualism and American Poetry: Reading poems by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

Module V

The Novel in America and its Relationship with Race, Class and Gender: Reading Mark Twain’sThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Class Presentation (30%),
  • Mid-Term Examination (20%)
  • Class Tests (20%)
  • End-Term Examination (30%)

The pattern of assessment is subject to revision depending on the composition and size of the class.

Reading List:

The texts mentioned above would be extracted for class discussions from some of the books mentioned in the following reading list:

  1. Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Back Bay Books, 1976.
  2. Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. 1845. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.
  3. Emerson, Ralph, Waldo. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Classic Books International, 2010.
  4. Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century.1845. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971.
  5. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables.1851. Web. 2 Jan. 2009. <>.
  6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Doubleday, 1959.
  7. Jacob, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. 1861. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.
  8. Matthiessen, F. O. American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing LLC, 2010.
  9. Melville, Herman. Complete Shorter Fiction. London: Everyman’s Library, 1997.
  10. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Calla Editions, 2015.
  11. Poe, Edgar Allen. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. 1838. Web. 2 Jan. 2009. <>.
  12. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
  13. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1852. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.
  14. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. 1854. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.
  15. Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Garden City, New York: Junior Deluxe Editions, 1955.
  16. Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. 1855. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.



Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Cambridge History of American Literature: Volume 2, Prose Writing 1820-1865. Cambridge University Press, 1994