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American Literature: Assignment Supplements & Resources
A guide for research and supplemental reading to support ENG 201
This powerful compilation of African-American literature through the centuries focuses on classic works by notable authors from Frederick Douglass to W. E. B. DuBois. The poetry of 18th-century writers Phillis Wheatly and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave join a chorus of eloquent voices chronicling the black experience in America. My Soul Has Grown Deep includes such landmark works as A Red Record by Ida B. Wells, a Harlem Renaissance writer; Lyrics of Lowly Life by the prolific playwright, poet, and novelist Paul Lawrence Dunbar; Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington; and The Autobiography of Jack Johnson: In the Ring and Out, by the heavyweight boxing champion. Each writer is introduced in an informative biographical essay by editor John Edgar Wideman.
The Coquette tells the much-publicized story of the seduction and death of Elizabeth Whitman, a poet from Hartford, Connecticut.Written as a series of letters--between the heroine and her friends and lovers--it describes her long, tortuous courtship by two men, neither of whom perfectly suits her. Eliza Wharton (as Whitman is called in the novel) wavers between Major Sanford, a charming but insincere man, and the Reverend Boyer, a bore who wants to marry her. When, in her mid-30s, Wharton finds herself suddenly abandoned when both men marry other women, she willfully enters into an adulterous relationship with Sanford and becomes pregnant. Alone and dejected, she dies in childbirth at a roadside inn. Eliza Wharton, whose real-life counterpart was distantly related to Hannah Foster's husband, was one of the first women in American fiction to emerge as a real person facing a dilemma in her life. In her Introduction, Davidson discusses the parallels between Elizabeth Whitman and the fictional Eliza Wharton. She shows the limitations placed on women in the 18th century and the attempts of one woman to rebel against those limitations.
"The Contrast", which premiered at New York City's John Street Theater in 1787, was the first American play performed in public by a professional theater company. The play, written by New England-born, Harvard-educated, Royall Tyler was timely, funny, and extremely popular. When the play appeared in print in 1790, George Washington himself appeared at the head of its list of hundreds of subscribers. Reprinted here with annotated footnotes by historian Cynthia A. Kierner, Tyler's play explores the debate over manners, morals, and cultural authority in the decades following American Revolution. Did the American colonists' rejection of monarchy in 1776 mean they should abolish all European social traditions and hierarchies? What sorts of etiquette, amusements, and fashions were appropriate and beneficial? Most important, to be a nation, did Americans need to distinguish themselves from Europeans--and, if so, how? Tyler was not the only American pondering these questions, and Kierner situates the play in its broader historical and cultural contexts. An extensive introduction provides readers with a background on life and politics in the United States in 1787, when Americans were in the midst of nation-building. The book also features a section with selections from contemporary letters, essays, novels, conduct books, and public documents, which debate issues of the era.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the immensely powerful autobiography of Harriet Jacobs, who wrote under a pen name. A feminist work, she uses her experiences to state and restate her belief that though all unhappiness sprung from being a slave, she had to endure worse, being also a woman. Her experiences show that the only refuge and relief to be found were in other women, and also that women were less able to attempt freedom when that would mean leaving their children.
An elderly mystic dies of spontaneous combustion in a secret temple. A young man is haunted by voices instructing him to slaughter his wife and children. A sleepwalker undergoes a series of violent adventures in the wilderness. These haunted, dreamlike scenes define the fictional world of Charles Brockden Brown, America's first professional novelist. Published in the final years of the eighteenth century, Brown's startlingly prophetic novels are a virtual résumé of themes that would constantly recur in American literature: madness and murder, suicide and religious obsession, the seduction of innocence and the dangers of wilderness and settlement alike. In ‘Three Gothic Novels’, The Library of America collects the most significant of Brown's works; ‘Weiland’ or The Transformation(1798); his novel of a religious fanatic preyed upon by a sinister ventriloquist, is often considered his masterpiece. A relentlessly dark exploration of guilt, deception, and compulsion, it creates a sustained mood of irrational terror in the midst of the Pennsylvania countryside. In ‘Arthur Mervyn’; or Memoirs of the Year 1793(1799), Brown draws on his own experience to create indelible scenes of Philadelphia devastated by a yellow fever epidemic, while telling the story of a young man caught in the snares of a professional swindler. ‘Edgar Huntly’; or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker(1799) fuses traditional Gothic themes with motifs drawn from the American wilderness in a series of eerily unreal adventures that test the limits of the protagonist's self-knowledge. All three novels reveal Brown as the pioneer of a major vein of American writing, a novelist whose literary heirs include Poe, Hawthorne, Faulkner, and the whole tradition of horror and noir; from Cornell Woolrich to Stephen King.
A modern Mephistopheles is a story full of psychological tension and drama. It explores a poor failing writer's price for giving his devotion to another. The novel touches on the subjects of sexuality and drug abuse. Alcott gives her reader a study in human evil and the horrible consequences.