American Literature Since 1880 course description

Power, Privilege, and Prejudice in Modern and Contemporary American Literature

American Literature Since 1880, Engl 2203W-03

Fall 2018, TuTh 3:30-4:45, Oak 239

Professor Courtmanche

Office hours TuTh 11:30-2, or by appointment, Austin 161

486 5772

Course Description

The abuse of privilege, the arbitrary exercise of power, the stoking of prejudice for personal advantage.  Of course I’m describing some of the major themes of The Great Gatsby—or any of the other works we will be reading, discussing, and writing about in this section of American Literature Since 1880.


Building on transactional theories of reading and writing, students will be asked to make connections between literature and the world, and to compose essays that interpret some aspect of our contemporary world through the lens(es) of the course texts.

Because this is a W, there will be regular writing work, including the use of peer writing groups and writing conferences with me, and the drafting and revising of at least 15 pages of writing (around 4500 words). (With several short writing assignments included, you will easily exceed this).  I also expect regular attendance and participation. You will also each take two turns leading class discussion, typically with a classmate.  Ideally, you will do this once before mid-semester and once after the midpoint. There will be some brief lectures, typically in the first couple classes and then each time we start a new work, but expect mostly discussion and small group work.

Required Texts

Twain’s Huck Finn, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Faulkner’s Sanctuary, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

General Course Requirements

For your papers, I am not requiring traditional literary analysis. Rather, I want students to use the texts we read for the course as lenses through which to view and interpret contemporary events and culture. To use a phrase common to the First-Year Writing courses, I want you to read through the literature. I will provide more detail in class and on the page for the Writing Assignment, but for now plan to compose six 750 word essays (about 2.5 pages) that place a contemporary event into conversation with a text from the course.

At the end of the semester, you will choose one of your six essays to submit for publication.  I will help find places for submission.

We will be regularly using mini-lessons, response groups, and conferences for the writing of your papers. In general, plan to share your drafts with one another and with me. Plan to make or distribute copies for everyone in your group on the days when writing groups are scheduled.  Students mostly do this electronically but if you so choose you can share hard copies, too.

Other than that, I expect students to complete the readings, attend class, and participate. Attendance and participation will not be quantified, but poor attendance and participation will negatively affect your final grade for the course. There will be some brief lectures, but expect mostly discussion and small group work. Students will also be expected to lead discussion twice a semester. These will not be graded but they are required, and not doing them or being unprepared for them will negatively impact your grade. I simply want you to present interesting ideas or questions to the class for the purpose of getting the class involved in a healthy discussion. A one-page list of questions and/or observations, with specific page numbers from the text so we have context, would be adequate preparation. By all means, contact me for help if you feel overwhelmed by the task. These can be treated as early drafts for the longer papers.

Likewise, for the sake of reading comprehension and discussion ideas, as well as the drafting of ideas for your papers, you will take turns responding blog-style to prompts that I will post six times over the course of the semester (not in the first couple weeks and not in the weeks when we have writing groups).  For these, half the class will respond to the prompt in 300 words and then the other half will choose two of these responses and reply in about 150 words each.  The next time, you switch roles.

As for the readings, I want to offer some advice, especially for the non-English majors.  There are six novels assigned for this class, which manageable.  Several of the works are fairly short (Of Mice and Men is only about 100 pages) while only one (Blood Meridian) exceeds 300 pages.  The total number of pages of assigned reading for the course comes to approximately 1,500 pages (with some variation depending on editions used).  This sounds like a lot, but there are 14 weeks in our semester, which comes to 98 days (including weekends).  If you pace yourself and read every day, that’s about 15 pages a night—despite expected variations in rates of reading, for most of you that can be done in 30 minutes.  Plan accordingly and you will be fine!

Other Requirements and Information

All written work should be typed, double-spaced, with standard margins, fonts, and font sizes. (If you aren’t sure what’s standard, please ask me). All papers should have quotations from the texts that are being written about, but I am not concerned with MLA citation because these would not be included in an op-ed. Each student will create an e-portfolio where you will be required to post your drafts, response papers to the weekly readings, and discussion questions.

As for extensions, late papers, etc., contact me, and I will handle these on a case-by-case basis. In general, however, unless you have a medical or family emergency, all assignments should be on-time. This is consistent with university policy.  That said, I know you have other classes, and a day or two here or there as needed is not usually a problem.  Just run it by me rather than make an assumption!

As for plagiarism, simply put, any form of plagiarism will be dealt with appropriately. If you find yourself in a bind for any reason, whether procrastination or lack of comprehension, come speak to me before you do something foolish. I’m very accessible and very reasonable.

I may make revisions to the syllabus as we go along. If you miss class for some reason, be sure to check with me to see about anything you may have missed.

I welcome laptops and other electronic devices in the classroom; they can be a real asset now that we have wireless access everywhere, but please only use your electronic devices for class-related purposes.

Here is a link to university policies that are relevant to courses:


I will not be administering traditional sit-down exams. We will still meet as a class on the day of the final to compose a final reflection on your own learning.


The drafts of your papers will receive feedback but not grades. You will receive one final, holistic grade for the course. If I think your work is falling below expectations, I will reach out to you.  Honestly, the way the course is set up with so many opportunities and requirements for participation and drafting, the only way to truly do poorly is to not attend, not read, or not write.