English 4570

Studies in the American Novel

Approaches to History in the Novel

Utah Valley State College
Spring 2006
Section 01
MWF 12:00-12:50, LA 102

Instructor: Ryan Simmons

office hours: MW, 2:00-4:00, or by appt.
Office: LA 114H
Phone: 863-6290 (x6290)
E-mail: simmonry@uvsc.edu

Guernica (detail) by Pablo Picasso

Course Description

The term "historical novel" may bring to mind thick books densely packed with historical minutiae and closely adhering to a traditional realist aesthetic. In this course, we will explore the variety of possible approaches to history by reading twentieth-century American novels that experiment, technically and thematically, with two common questions: How do historical pressures manifest themselves in the lives of individuals, and how can words be used to make historical circumstances vivid and real? In these novels, we find individuals in odd, frequently untenable situations as a result of historical circumstances, and we find novelists struggling to determine how best to tell such a story. The course readings will be divided roughly into three categories, as indicated below.




Course Requirements

Participation (25%): As much as possible, this course is meant to be centered on the communal acts of reading works of literature and discussing their literary and historical significance. Thus, class participation is a substantial factor in each participant’s course grade. To receive a satisfactory participation grade, you should plan on attending each class period—missing class only when unavoidable (such as illness)—and becoming involved in the discussions that will be central to each day’s activities. You are not necessarily rewarded for being the most talkative person in the class (or penalized for not being that person); quality counts more than quantity. Evidence that you are reading the novels according to the attached schedule, thinking through their meaning and implications, formulating ideas, and listening and responding attentively and respectfully to others’ comments, all work in your favor. A “discussions” forum is also available on this class’s WebCT page; although optional, posting ideas on this forum is encouraged, especially for those who find that they are not able to express all their ideas during class. This course is designed so that it will succeed or fail on the basis of students’ willingness to be involved. At the end of the semester, if you are someone whose presence has helped the course succeed more certainly than it would have otherwise, then participation will have a positive effect on your course grade.

Short Essays (48%): A short (2-3 pages, double-spaced) analytical essay is due after we have completed discussion of each novel (see schedule below). You are required to submit six of the nine possible essays. Each essay should pose a critical question concerning one novel we’ve read and attempt to answer that question in a reflective, persuasive manner, using textual evidence as support. Of course, in such a short space, efficiency is key: You should focus on a particular angle, motif, or controversy you noticed in your reading of the novel. It is always preferable to discuss a small topic well than to cover a large one superficially. Although the short essays should demonstrate your fluency with the expectations of college writing (the ability to present a thesis, to organize ideas coherently, to use evidence to support ideas logically, etc.), they may be more exploratory in nature than a longer, scholarly essay. Advancing questions, intriguing ideas, and possible ways of reading a particular novel (especially those that present possibilities that are not obvious or simplistic) can be sufficient if the exploration is engaging, reasonable, and grounded in the text. Each essay is worth 8% of your final grade.

Final Project (27%): You will produce a Final Project that analyzes a novel or novels through a creative, pedagogical, or scholarly lens, as suitable to your own educational goals. Regardless of which option is chosen, your Final Project is expected to demonstrate the following minimal traits:

Regardless of which option you select, you must submit a brief (2-3 pages) proposal describing your goals and how you plan to achieve them (worth 5% of your final grade), and your project is subject to my approval on the basis of this proposal, which is due March 20. The Final Project itself (beyond the proposal) is worth 22%.

Creative Project Option

An artistic, technological, or other sort of creative product that reflects on the meaning or themes of a novel or group of novels, or on the general topic of “approaches to history in the novel.” The end result might be—depending on your abilities and desires—a sculpture, short story, comic book, website, or anything else (subject to my approval as part of the “proposal” process described above). The project must be accompanied by a brief (3-4 pages, double-spaced) essay describing its purpose, rationale, and the process by which it came into being.

Pedagogical Project Option

A portfolio of materials that can be used in the classroom to teach a novel or group of novels, relevant to the course topic of “approaches to history in the novel.” The portfolio should be targeted to a specific learning level (e.g., high school, college) and must include an assortment of materials, including lesson plans, handouts, visual aids, lecture notes, and/or other materials that might be useful in teaching the subject matter to the targeted group. The portfolio should visibly reflect your original ideas about the subject matter--i.e. it should do more than present information or ideas from outside sources. When outside sources are used, they must be credited appropriately. The project must be accompanied by a brief (3-4 pages, double-spaced) essay describing the rationale for the materials you included, the expected outcomes of the lesson(s) that these materials would support, and how these outcomes would be assessed.

Scholarly Essay Option

An essay (in the neighborhood of 8-10 pages) advancing a thesis that is capable of shaping scholars’ understanding of your topic. The essay should identify a critical question or controversy surrounding at least one novel; explore possible ways in which this question or controversy could be addressed; acknowledge other critics’ assessment of similar questions; use logic and explication of key passages to evaluate one or more interpretive approach; and make a compelling case for your own reading of the available evidence. The essay should be written in an appropriate academic style—scholarly yet engaging. An excellent essay will also make a case for its own significance by addressing the “So what?” question: Assuming that you have made a persuasive case for your thesis, what difference might it make, and to whom?

Essay Policies

  1. Essays must be typed and double-spaced and include a title (but note a title page) and page numbers. Essays are not graded on length, but rather on their ability to capture and persuade a reader. This ability arises from correctness of prose, and also from factors including clear expression, thoughtful organization, originality, completeness, and adequate support (including, in the longer essay, the incorporation of research materials).

  2. In order to receive a passing grade, an essay must articulate and support an original analysis, moving well beyond summary of other writers’ ideas and words.

  3. Material from outside sources must be cited completely and correctly using MLA style.

  4. I am always willing to read and critique work in progress, and to answer questions about your writing. When turning in an essay to be graded, you are expect

  5. Late papers: You have three free “late days” upon entering the class. Each essay is due at the start of class on its respective due date (see schedule below). Beginning immediately thereafter, each class day an essay is turned in late counts as one late day used up. These days may be used up with one essay (turning it in three days late) or divided among both essays. No penalty is given for late essays turned in within these parameters, but once your late days are used up, no additional work will be accepted after its due date—late papers after that will receive no credit.

    The three late days are provided to allow for normal problems such as printer failure, forgotten notebooks, competing deadlines in other courses, etc. Once they are used up, no additional late days will be granted, regardless of the reason for being late, and any subsequent late papers will receive no credit.

Academic Honesty

Any course work that is found to violate UVSC’s standards of academic honesty will be dealt with as laid out in the college’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities, which appears in the UVSC catalogue. Please read these standards, and the consequences for violating them, carefully, noting that the repercussions are always severe. In particular, be aware that plagiarism is a severe violation of both college policy and the policy of this course.

Plagiarism, or the use of others’ words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of UVSC. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of UVSC, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which it is the student’s responsibility to correct under the instructor’s supervision so that it may be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with UVSC’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Please refer to http://www.uvsc.edu/engl/plag/plagiarism_policy.html to read the department’s full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism.

Disability Accommodation

If you have a disability that may influence your ability to meet the requirements of this course, please contact the UVSC Accessibility Services Department (Room BU 145) as soon as possible. Any necessary accommodations, as arranged by the Accessibility Service Department, will be made.


W 1/4 Introduction to course
F 1/6 Carnes, Introduction to Novel History (handout)
M 1/9 Dos Passos, 1919, pp. 1-99
W 1/11 1919, pp. 99-180
F 1/13 1919, pp. 181-271
M 1/16 NO CLASS - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
W 1/18 1919, pp. 272-380
F 1/20 O'Brien, The Things They Carried, pp. 1-85; Short Essay 1 due
M 1/23 The ThingsThey Carried, pp. 86-136; William Cobb guest-lectures
W 1/25 The Things They Carried, pp. 137-224
F 1/27 The Things They Carried, pp. 225-46; Goluboff, "Tim O'Brien's Quant Ngai" (available via WebCT)
M 1/30 Frazier, Cold Mountain, pp. 3-110; Short Essay 2 due
W 2/1 Cold Mountain pp. 111-202
F 2/3 Cold Mountain, pp. 203-297
M 2/6 Cold Mountain, pp. 298-390
W 2/8 Cold Mountain, pp. 391-449; Frazier, "Some Remarks on History and Fiction" (available via WebCT)
F 2/10 Butler, Kindred, pp. 9-107; Short Essay 3 due
M 2/13 Kindred, pp. 108-188
W 2/15 Kindred, pp. 189-239
F 2/17 Kindred, pp. 240-264
M 2/20 NO CLASS - Presidents Day
W 2/22 Morrison, Beloved, Foreword and pp. 3-67; Short Essay 4 due
F 2/24 Beloved, pp. 68-133
M 2/27 Beloved, pp. 134-195
W 3/1 Beloved, pp. 199-277
F 3/3 Beloved, pp. 281-324; McWilliams, "The Human Face of the Age" (available via WebCT)
M 3/6 Spiegelman, Maus, Vol. 1: "My Father Bleeds History"; Short Essay 5 due
W 3/8 Maus, Vol. 2: "And Here My Troubles Began"
F 3/10 McGlothlin, "No Time Like the Present: Narrative and Time in Art Spiegelman's Maus" (available via webCt)
M 3/13 Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, pp. 3-99; Short Essay 6 due
W 3/15 The Handmaid's Tale, pp. 103-188
F 3/17 The Handmaid's Tale, pp. 191-255
M 3/20 The Handmaid's Tale, pp. 259-295; Final Project Proposal due
W 3/22 NO CLASS - Spring Break
F 3/24 NO CLASS - Spring Break
M 3/27 The Handmaid's Tale, pp. 299-311; Whalen-Bridge, excerpt from Political Fiction and the American Self (available via WebCT)
W 3/29 Roth, The Plot Against America, pp. 1-82; Short Essay 7 due
F 3/31 The Plot Against America, pp. 83-152
M 4/3 The Plot Against America, pp. 153-236
W 4/5 The Plot Against America, pp. 237-327
F 4/7 The Plot Against America, pp. 328-62; Roth, "The Story Behind The Plot Against America" (available via WebCT)
M 4/10 Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pp. 1-74; Short Essay 8 due
W 4/12 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pp. 75-141
F 4/14 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pp. 142-223; FINAL PROJECT DUE
M 4/17 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pp. 224-284
W 4/19 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pp. 285-326; O'Rourke and Franklin, "The Book Club: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (available via WebCT)
M 4/24 Short Essay 9 due

here for Ryan Simmons's main homepage.