University American Literature


English 103 introduces students not only to canonical works of American literature from the colonial period until Reconstruction, but also to the fundamentals of writing college-level essays. This class features discussions about literary themes and techniques, as well as historical information about authors and their times. Students who pass English 100 will evince some understanding of the themes and historical events of the first three centuries of American writing. Students who excel will be able to contextualize such materials—esthetically and historically—and offer original insight into their particulars.

It is my hope that English 103 will help you become a better student of American literature and a better writer. The only way to achieve this is to require as many reading and writing assignments as time will allow. I hope that you find this work to be interesting, if not downright exciting. However, should you find what we do to be utterly dull, pretend it is the most thrilling thing since Megan Rapinoe gave American soccer fans their fourth star. Ask questions during class. Stay awake. Talk to me about what you’re studying and writing.


Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  1. Discuss the themes of texts listed on the course schedule.
  2. Discuss the cultural and critical common denominators of what we read.
  3. Write theme essays that provide close readings of a text—that is, readings that offer an awareness of the text’s

themes, and how those themes relate to the cultural and critical contexts discussed in class.

  1. Demonstrate a competent understanding of the materials on the course schedule through work done during timed



There will be a midterm and a final, quizzes and class participation assessments, and two essays. Exams will assess your ability to offer critical and objective information about the materials we read. Quizzes, when given, will come at the beginning of a class, and will provide an objective indication of your daily preparedness. We will discuss your writing assignments at greater length over the course of the semester. The numbers break down like this:

Exams:                                  45% of quarterly grade

Essays:                                  40% of quarterly grade

Quizzes/Blog entries:          15% of quarterly grade

Each quarter’s grade will be worth 40% of your final grade; a final exam will constitute the final 20%. Your score for each quarter will be measured by dividing the number of points you’ve earned by the number possible to that point in the semester.

I will assess students’ progress as writers based on the following rubric:

A writing is characterized by absolute clarity and original thought. A essays expertly incorporate objective details and

subjective perspectives on those details. They also reflect voices that are as wise as they are vivid, as intuitive as

they are organized. An A essay is rare. Effort alone will not merit an A.

B writing is characterized by above-average achievement. Few errors appear. If an essay reveals occasional excellence and

general competence, it is likely a B essay.

C writing reflects average engagement with the task at hand. C essays are not bad, though they often evince errors in

grammar and mechanics; rather, they are not especially good.

D writing is characterized by an intrusive lack of coherence or a lack of awareness of the assignment.


Each student will be issued a copy of The Norton Anthology of American Literature. This text must be brought to class daily, along with notebook and paper. I will also occasionally assign reading material from the internet and from handouts.

Essays should be submitted on time. Late essays will be docked a letter grade for each day they are late.

Barring exceptional circumstances, students who have excused absences must make up missed assignments within a week of the original due date. All MSMS attendance policies will be followed.

Students must complete all major assignments to pass the course.

Also, MSMS’ academic honesty regulations apply to every activity in this course. Do not cheat.



7              Course Intro/Brief review of the Reformation

9              Smith, 54-7; email assignment given

12           Bradford, 58-63; 65-66; 74-75; email assignment due; thank-you note assignment given

14           Bradstreet, “The Prologue” and “To My Dear and Loving Husband”

16           Bradstreet, “The Author to Her Book” and “Before the Birth of One of her Children”

19           How to Write a B+ Paper Overnight; Thank-you note due

21           Writing Workshop

23           Rowlandson (first half); Essay 1 due

26           Rowlandson (second half)

28           Mather

30           Review; Extended


3              Test 1

5              Intro to the Enlightenment Period; Edwards “A Divine and Supernatural Light”

9              Edwards; Franklin Intro

11           Franklin, selections from The Autobiography

13           Madison, “Federalist Paper #10”

16           College View

18           Panther narrative (on J drive)

20           Panther narrative

23           Boon narrative (

25           Boon narrative

27           Review

30           In-class project


2              Introduction to the Romantic period; Irving bio; “Rip Van Winkle”

4              “Rip Van Winkle”; begin “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

7              “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

9              Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

11           Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter; End of Q1; Extended Schedule

16           PSAT

18           Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

21           Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

23           Melville, “Bartleby, The Scrivenor”

25           Review

28           Test 2

30           Introduction to Transcendentalism; selections from Emerson’s Nature


1              Emerson, selections from “The Divinity School Address” and “Self-Reliance”

4              Thoreau bio and selections from Walden

6              Selections from Walden

8              Thoreau, “On Resistance to Civil Government”

11           Thoreau, “On Resistance to Civil Government”

13           Douglass, selections from Narrative

15           Douglass

18           Review; Essay 2 due

20           Test 3

22           Early release


2              Whitman

4              Whitman

8              Whitman

9              Dickinson

11           Dickinson

13           Dickinson

Exam TBA

Required policy statements:

Title IX: Mississippi University for Women recognizes the inherent dignity of all individuals and promotes respect for all people.  The University is committed to creating an educational and learning environment that is free from discrimination based on sex, including sexual violence (assault, domestic violence, dating violence and gender-based stalking).  To learn more about the University’s policy on sexual misconduct, how to make a report, or confidential resources, go to  The Title IX Coordinator is located in Cochran Hall, Room 405, and may be contacted by phone at 662-241-6083 or email at

Americans with Disabilities Act: The University is committed to providing equitable access to learning for all students.  The Student Success Center is the campus office that collaborates with students who have disabilities (e.g. physical, sensory, chronic health, learning, attentional, mental health) and arranges for reasonable accommodations to be implemented.  It is the responsibility of students requesting accommodations to make an appointment with the Student Support Specialist to review specific needs, participate in the development of an Accommodation Plan by providing appropriate documentation, and discuss with the instructor how the Accommodation Plan will be applied in the course.  Accommodations are not retroactive and a new Accommodation Plan must be reviewed, signed and presented to instructors each semester. The Student Support Specialist is located in Reneau Hall, Room 101(B), and may be contacted by phone at 662.329.7138 or email at

Academic Integrity

All Mississippi University for Women students are expected to engage honestly and responsibly in their academic work and to refrain from any dishonest academic behavior. Violations of Academic Integrity include cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, or other actions that violate commonly accepted intellectual and ethical standards within academic and scientific communities. Violations of Academic Integrity can lead to severe penalties, from a zero grade for a test or assignment to expulsion from the University. Academic Integrity applies to work in progress as well as completed work. If you are uncertain about the proper procedure to follow when citing a source, working in a team with other students, or any other coursework situation please ask your instructor, a librarian, or a resource like the Writing Center for help. To learn more about the university’s standards of Academic Integrity, including what happens if your instructor believes that you have engaged in dishonest academic behavior and your rights to appeal such a charge, please consult section 7.2 of the Undergraduate Bulletin.

The Ongoing Debate

In her poem, “The Flesh and the Spirit,” Anne Bradstreet visits the scene of a debate between two sisters, Flesh and Spirit.  This dispute represents the contradictions between the secular and spiritual realm of thought.  Flesh speaks of things known on the earth, and Spirit of the eternal things beyond that cannot be seen.  The poem explores the arguments of both sisters, but makes a winner apparent in the end, just as the puritans believed there would be.  In this way, Bradstreet uses an allegory to express her doubts while reassuring herself that her beliefs are true, and will bring greater rewards than earthly pleasures.

The first stanza opens with a description of the setting of the argument.  “In secret place where once I stood/ Close by the Banks of Lacrim flood/ I heard two sisters reason on/Things that are past and things to come” (Bradstreet, line 1-4).  First, she refers to it as a “secret place,” almost suggesting she should not be there.  Confessing the ideas expressed in the poem as her own is, in a way, confessing doubt in God.  In the next line, “Lacrim flood” implies she has gone there when she has questioned her way of life so much that it brought her to tears.  The two sides of this inner debate are introduced as sisters to separate the narrator, Bradstreet, from the argument.  This withdrawal of herself illustrates a feeling of distance from a person’s own thoughts when one’s beliefs are questioned.

The first sister, Flesh, begins her argument by identifying the preposterousness of Spirit’s ways.  She points out that spirituality and religion cannot feed a human body, and mocks the unrealistic beliefs in heaven and eternal rewards.  She then turns and speaks of worldly treasures and makes it a point to communicate the immenseness of it all, and expresses it as foolishness to chase after that which possibly does not exist in favor of what is factually on earth.  The most amazing jewels and treasures, she suggests, can be found on earth.  These riches can be proven by the senses, unlike the vague riches of heaven.  She even brings up that eternal life can be achieved on earth through fame.  For the most part, her words are of temptation, polite and kind as the Devil’s were in Eden.  She ends her relatively short argument by advising Spirit not to give up what is actually there for what may be.

Spirit, the second sister, begins by telling Flesh to stop talking.  She identifies Flesh as an enemy until seen “laid in th’ dust,” and also as a sister she must coexist with even though the two are sworn enemies.   Spirit speaks negatively of Flesh and her ways, admitting to falling for them before, but refusing to again.   This indicates Spirit has a difficulty staying on the straight and narrow path herself, and is perhaps more easily swayed to Flesh’s ways than Flesh is to Spirit’s.  She then goes on to say how, in the end, she will be the victorious one.   It implies there will be relief when she can finally separate herself from the world and her sister to a greater place beyond where their shackles hold her.   She declares this time will be wonderful, and concludes with the decision that she would gladly trade the world and all of its treasures for the ones that await her in heaven.

Bradstreet cleverly takes an internal debate and manages to use metaphors and personas to explain it almost perfectly.   Although she presents good arguments of Flesh, and leaves the mind unsettled as a puritan, Bradstreet has made as obvious as possible that Spirit is the winner.  Even addressing future debates, she implies the eternal awareness of Spirit is triumphant over Flesh.  This brings a reassurance to herself and other puritan readers by reminding them of the final result.  It is a poem likely written to express the struggle she had as a puritan woman attempting to prove her beliefs were worth it, and the secular world was not quite as wise as it may have seemed.

How to Write a B+ Paper Overnight

  1. Understand what’s being asked of you by the assignment. Your first assignment is but two pages. Your scope is extremely limited; select a topic that lends itself to detailed analysis. I have two main goals: that you demonstrate an ability to analyze a theme from a work, and that you demonstrate an ability to analyze the ways parts of the work lend insight into the whole.
  2. Make certain that you have mastered the content of the material. If you make ungrounded claims or interpretations, your grade will suffer.
  3. Place your name, my name, the name of the course and period time, and the date in the upper left-hand corner. Place a header with your name and the page number in the upper right-hand corner. Do not use a title page.
  4. Write an introduction that takes us immediately to the heart of your concerns. At the end of the introduction, include a thesis that makes an informed assessment of your concerns. Be sure that your thesis moves past a summary of the text, or merely an observation about it.
  5. Make certain that each topic sentence relates to the thesis, and that the sentences in each paragraph are adequately governed by the topic sentence.
  6. Write in present tense.
  7. You need to be able to use the text you’re working with to substantiate the interpretation you’re making. Don’t quote too much—after all, this is your essay. When you quote, use good signal phrases and obey MLA guidelines.
  8. Make certain that your works cited page includes bibliographical information for all the materials used over the course of the essay.
  9. Things to avoid because they are pet peeves: contractions; second person; referring to authors by first name; using “they” or “their” as universal third person singular; writing bloated, passive voice prose; split infinitives; wordy or redundant phrases; rhetorical questions; opening paragraphs with quotations; and poor diction.


Your first essay assignment

Write a typed, double-spaced, two-page essay that meets the following requirements:

  • You interpret a theme by analyzing the author’s use of a poetic device (e.g. irony, image, metaphor, simile, connotation); if you write about Smith or Bradford rather than a poet, then you should interpret a theme by analyzing the author’s use of plot details and/or his motives for writing;
  • Your thesis justifies your interpretation;
  • Your topic sentences relate not only to your thesis, but also to the support in the paragraph to follow.

Due 23 August. I encourage you to bring me a draft of your work at least two days before the essay is due.

Email assignment: Write an email to me to request an office appointment. You must include: Subject Line, Appropriate Greeting, Explanation for why you’d like to meet, and when you’d like to meet; Appropriate closing. Due 12 August.

Thank-you note assignment: write a thank-you note to a local legislator, or a mentor/teacher who encouraged you, or a person who gave you a gift on the occasion of your enrollment here. The note must be on stationary; it must have an appropriate and addressed envelope; it must be written in legible script. Due 19 August.

General Information about the Puritans

  • Their arrival in 1620 addressed a religious need but resulted from a commercial charter. Religion and industry were never far apart for them. Only 27 of the 100 passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims. Twenty thousand people migrated to New England by 1640 because of the Puritans’ successes against the Indians and their successful commerce.
  • A religious binary of Puritanism: the omnipotence of God vs. the impotence of man.
  • They saw their relationship to the land as ordained by God. Just as God provided Israel for his chosen people, so too would he provide New England for his chosen people. To their minds, this belief justified their belligerence towards any culture different from their own, including that of Indians, Quakers, French Catholics, etc.
  • Covenant theology: The Puritans, like the Israelites, enter into a contract with God in the Mayflower Compact. God can show his pleasure with the contract by letting Puritans prosper, or show his wrath by whatever means He chooses.
  • They believed in two kinds of providence: general providence, which was God’s overall plan, and remarkable providence, through which God reaches down and for unknowable reasons extends salvation. We should also note that the Puritans believed that God chastens those he loves, which helped them explain attacks by Indians and other calamities. The Puritans relied on these notions to make sense of their worlds-and they deeply needed for their world to make sense.  But their reliance raises tough questions:  if Puritans admit they cannot understand God, then how are they to know with certainty that they are His chosen people?

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