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Create Account. Classics of American Literature. Course No.
Fill your Library with Classics~Yesterday’s Classics Review~Homeschool Snips & Tips
Professor Arnold Weinstein, Ph. Share This Course. Choose a Format. Audio Streaming Included Free. What Will You Learn? Study the first American story - and the first American storyteller - in the context of the nation's history.
Take an in-depth look at the Transcendentalist movement and its impact on philosophy, religion, and literature. Examine the ways American literature was used to perpetuate Puritan morals and values. Explore American books and authors who promoted groundbreaking ideals - and ensconced them into modern society. What Explains Greatness? Experience Two Centuries of America's Greatest Works Professor Weinstein explains that America's classic works should be savored as part of our inner landscape: part of how we see both America and ourselves.
Perhaps you recall: Melville's prowling Ahab, on the search for Moby Dick, and the power of the "grand, ungodly, Godlike man" The quiet diner in The Grapes of Wrath and the pain of one of John Steinbeck's "Okies" trying to purchase a dime's worth of bread The parlor in Long Day's Journey Into Night and the lifetime of tension in a simple request to a father that he turn on the lights.
William Faulkner's books were out of print until the mids. Scott Fitzgerald died believing he had been forgotten. Savor the Joy of Great Reading Dr. Hide Full Description. Average 31 minutes each. What do we mean by a "classic"?
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And what makes these original and uncompromising works "American"? Franklin is one of the towering figures of America. His life is an example of self-making so potent it created what we now call the American Dream. This no-longer-fashionable writer has much more than nostalgic value, revealing many of the growing pains and anxieties that accompanied the momentous shift from English colony to independent nation. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the guiding spirit of American Romanticism, and his early works created a resounding "declaration of independence" from the Old World in culture, literature, and ethics.
Emerson's most famous work, "Self-Reliance," offered a bold and confident vision of the Self to which American values are still in debt—provided we remain alert to its radical implications. Though Emerson is easily misconstrued as a facile optimist, his thinking went much deeper, vigorously confronting issues like alienation even as he envisioned a heartening ethic of freedom. Long regarded as a shadow to Emerson, Thoreau has made his own reputation as dissenter and environmentalist, achieving in Walden a homespun pragmatism of great appeal in a society that has lost contact with the land.
Thoreau deserves far more serious accounting as a writer—a voice rich in pungent humor, biting satire, and splendid evocations of the natural world. Thoreau transcends ideology as he fashions a breathtaking new language for portraying nature. In his paean to the surging life forces at Walden Pond, he offers us a new discourse of hope. Poe's poetry is often dismissed, but his finest work is haunting in its suggestiveness. Even more certain is the impact of his famous theory of literature, which forever altered the course of European poetry. Well before Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Valdemar," and "The Fall of the House of Usher," raising familiar phantoms that haunt all of us.
Hawthorne was America's first great artist of the novel and short story, and in this lecture we see how his search for subject matter drew him into a past he saw as richer and more compelling than the young nation of his own time. In telling this complex tale of Puritan crime and punishment, Hawthorne creates a fresh, riddling vision of fiction that defies our own efforts to arrive at a final interpretation. Hawthorne's "A" is the most famous and potent hieroglyph in American literature, with meanings that transcend the boundaries of the obvious "Adultery" to include "Able," "Angel," and, indeed, "Art.
The traditional reading of The Scarlet Letter is a psychological one. But this remarkable novel also reflected many of the political conflicts of the midth-century America in which it was written, including the women's movement, the threat of anarchy and revolution, and the nature of dissent. Hawthorne is the first American writer to brood on the idea of the past—both personal and societal—and to explore morality without flinching.
He heralds the great dark novels of Faulkner and other Southern writers, as well as the New England literature of Cheever, Lowell, and Gaddis.
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Melville had already built a successful reputation as a true-life adventure writer by the time he began work on Moby-Dick. Although whaling is covered in extraordinary detail, Melville's ultimate topic is greatness itself. His depictions of whales at sea are springboards for profound meditations on the nature and whereabouts of truth.
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In Ahab, Melville creates and indigenous American tragic hero—a mad imperial figure whose quest becomes a map of the human enterprise, the heights and depths of which Melville charts in unforgettable ways. A limited point of view is the fate of all people, and one of Melville's greatest achievements is to render Ahab's monomaniacal quest from the perspectives of several participants, giving readers a dramatic perspective.
One of Melville's most brilliant works is the largely unread short story, "Benito Cereno. The true meaning of the strange events of Benito Cereno" is withheld from the narrator—and thus the reader—until the very end. This technique enables Melville's meditation on power to make its most telling point about the nature of "vision" as a cultural product. Emerson, spokesperson for midth-century literary America, had asked when America would have the poet it deserved.
Leaves of Grass , published in , is the dramatic answer, in which Whitman celebrates the political, moral, and verbal grandeur of democratic America. Whitman's powerful portrayal of the human body struck a deep—and often offensive—note in his 19th-century audience. Whitman ranks as one of the first poets to plumb the changes wrought by the modern city. In one of his greatest poems, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," he bears witness to the city as an unparalleled locus of energy, encounter, and attachment. Although Whitman is properly seen as a vital, even titanic, force whose poems celebrate life in all its varieties, a deep intimacy with death runs throughout his work.
As life's truth and art's source, death emerges as the bedrock of his poetry. This lecture examines the signature features of Whitman's art: the humor, elusiveness, open-endedness, and the genial persona as intimate and guide that endows his work with such an intense, personal flavor. Harriet Beecher Stowe published several novels, but she is known only for this one, which captured the attention of the entire world in but has since virtually vanished from the landscape.
Her book changed the course of American history, but many readers have trouble with it, and we examine why. Stowe approaches the outrage of slavery and its assault on the family from the viewpoint of a mother who has herself lost children, and we see how the book's authority is inseparable from its family theme.
The power of Stowe's classic depiction of slavery derives from the alternative vision she proposes at every step: an absolute freedom whose spirit shimmers throughout the book, which emerges as a far greater tribute to art than we have thought. Dickinson's poems are either breathtaking in their immediacy, with the natural world delivered fresh and vital for our inspection—or inferential to the point of madness.
This lecture explores how Dickinson's poems often put our own deciphering powers to the test. We see how Dickinson's poetry helps us realize that the project of great literature is frequently one of unnaming—cleansing the world from its customary labels in order to invite fresh perceptions.
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Dickinson is perhaps best known for her startling poems about death, including her own death, and we see the extraordinary range that this unsettling subject provides her. Dickinson was far from the simple figure she cunningly constructed for posterity—the virginal, demure, wrenlike observer of the world around her—and we enjoy the tonic provided by her harsh language and recurring bouts of murder and mayhem that punctuate so many of her poems.
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We examine a legacy that is clear in many regards, including her role as a "poetic founding mother" among feminists in particular and women in general, and her status as the great metaphysical poet of the 19th century—with a sense of wit and brilliance that have no counterpart in American literature. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was Mark Twain's first foray into children's literature, but its enduring hold on the American imagination is testimony to his already keen, even shrewd, sense of American boyhood and innocence.
Ever since its appearance, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has offended, with its views on race and language hotly disputed. But its significance as a central text about the journey to freedom is indisputable. We see the truth in Hemingway's claim that all modern American literature comes from this single volume.
We come to understand Twain's achievement in examining slavery through the eyes of a child who discovers that his conscience, shaped by the society in which he lives, is at war with his heart.
We learn that the central truth of this great novel is Huck's orphanhood, and now Jim's symbolic role as Huck's father is only achievable when all of the obstacles of race and class have been surmounted.