Classics we'd like to say good-bye toI don't teach 11th grade English, but I tried my best to justify to one of my 11th graders why 18th and 19th century American lit. is important for us to study....

Classics we'd like to say good-bye to

I don't teach 11th grade English, but I tried my best to justify to one of my 11th graders why 18th and 19th century American lit. is important for us to study. I just couldn't do it! I myself yawned through most of it in high school, and I took it in college only because I had to for my degree.

Am I the only heretic here? I say let's leave colonial Am. lit. to the colonials!!!

Who's with me? What do you want to abolish?

Expert Answers
cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Jamie. Yes, students need to read British literature, but to disparage American literature before the 20th century is a disturbing idea. They study the history of their country, and they need to recognize the development of distinctly American literature as well. I hope you don't have to teach Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter if you personally find them less than inspiring, but maybe you can teach portions of some of the classics. Colonial literature seems best approached by looking at poetry (especially by women), essays and speeches, excerpts from Ben Franklin's Autobiography.

Currently, I'm teaching The Scarlet Letter to AP Lit seniors (all boys) who traditionally have found the book a snoozer, but we struggle through. This year I've borrowed an idea from an AP colleague from another school by using a discussion technique that guarantees not only student involvement  in class discussion but also engagement in the text itself. They're loving it! And I'm merely guiding their discussions, mostly encouraging them to maintain order because they're so eager to contribute.

Our students study American literature during their sophomore year to coincide with their American history class; British lit comes in the junior year. As seniors the boys' reading is loosely world lit but still mostly American and British. We include more world titles every year because students need to know, as Jamie says, all good literature is not to be found in Europe. So many books, so little time! It's easy to stick to the usual titles and stay in a rut, I know, but I hope I can try at least one new title every year. Nevertheless, I can't think of any book that I'd like to banish from our curriculum.

Cybil, re:  The Scarlet Letter.  One of the first courses I ever taught was on the various incarnations of Faust (Marlowe, Goethe, Mann, etc).  Fast forward a year or two, and I was studying for my comps.  One of my fields is American Lit, 1730-1930, and naturally Hawthorne was on my list.  I was stunned to find quite obvious repetition of the Faustian archetypes.  To my knowledge, no one has written about SL from this angle (it's on my list!) 

My point in telling everyone this is that without Brit Lit, without a background in American Lit of the 1700s, the connection would have been lost to me.   For a long time, American writers were the little brothers of the English.  First we have literature that is purely derivitive, then more incorporating the American Experience to the English expectation, then finally, a graduation into letters uniquely our own. 

If anyone is interested in exploring the Faustian in re: the SL to help enliven this text, let me know and I'll start a new thread.

 

About the connection to Faust: This year one of my students who is taking a Theater course and had read Faust asked early in our reading of the novel if he could make the argument that there is a connection between Faust and The Scarlet Letter! Woo-hoo! We absolutely had to take some time to consider any/all of the variations of the legends students had read or been exposed; sadly, for most students the total was small. However, the more they read, the more they see the connection. 

I've taught this novel many times, but I had never pointed out the connection. I often think I have too much to cover and not enough time to do it all. Here is a wonderful opportunity for me to sit back and let the boys talk. Heck, if they don't see all the examples of "psychological realism" or geometric shape symbolism or color imagery, I think they'll live (she said sardonically...).

And no, I'm not defending American lit solely on a historical basis. I'm looking at it as a national literature, ours. Some of us descended from the British (I did) but not all.  

jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an American Literature scholar, I am quite disturbed and perplexed by the dismissive responses to our own heritage here.  Yes, some of the texts mentioned may not be your cup of tea (or Starbucks, as it were) but it disturbs me to see American literature treated as if it were an annoyance.

What of American Romanticism?  Of Transcendentalism?  Of First Wave Feminism?  Of the Industrial Revolution which forever changed society, from rural to urban, from family to anonymity?  

Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Alcott, just to name a few off the top of my head?

Americans were trying to break away from the cultural stranglehold of England. The political, social, and cultural changes were fascinating and complex. 

I urge you to try to tie history to your texts and to try to make students understand how American literature is important, and why they should value and love their own legacy.  Of course, some of it is horrible, that legacy, but it should be known.  Please don't perpetuate the idea that all good literature is to be found in Europe!  It is simply not true. 

We are not barons and kings, but farmers and entrepreneurs.  Our battles take place on the prairies, not in the ballroom. 

I have what I think might be an interesting perspective on this - I am teaching English at High School level (in England) and have recently re-discovered Robert Frost! I found myself required to teach on his poetry.

Well, what a revelation! Although I had always loved "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" I had never had time to pursue it.

American or not, his poetry is clear, lucid, colorful and (as with all my most-loved authors) - his love of the natural world shines through it.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of re-discovering this paragon of American literature, and of pursuing his poetry in greater depth.

Highly recommended (PS It needs to be heard read aloud I feel.)

And Robert Frost is 20th cent., right? My point is that we spend too much time on colonial Am. lit. and not enough on modern Am. lit., except maybe in an electives course.

Oh I totally agree with you. Colonial Literature is barely literature at all. The Captivity Narratives and such are more like cultural and historical artifacts. I don't think we Americans were much more than imitators until the CW tragedy brought out our own voice. Whitman, Twain etc.

I go as fast as I can through Sinners in the Hands, Devil and Tom Walker, Emerson, HDT and then settle in the Realists, Naturalists and Modernists.

... Jamie, I wasn't slamming HBS too hard, I just find no subtlety in that mechanism. Show... don't tell, right? You are way more versed than me in that area. I think Kate Chopin is a literary genius in comparison, for example. Edith Wharton, as well, provoked thought. They had touch and respected the reader. Stowe... is like a bad sermon.

and I will enjoy that virtual brew. :)

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Jamie. Yes, students need to read British literature, but to disparage American literature before the 20th century is a disturbing idea. They study the history of their country, and they need to recognize the development of distinctly American literature as well. I hope you don't have to teach Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter if you personally find them less than inspiring, but maybe you can teach portions of some of the classics. Colonial literature seems best approached by looking at poetry (especially by women), essays and speeches, excerpts from Ben Franklin's Autobiography.

Currently, I'm teaching The Scarlet Letter to AP Lit seniors (all boys) who traditionally have found the book a snoozer, but we struggle through. This year I've borrowed an idea from an AP colleague from another school by using a discussion technique that guarantees not only student involvement  in class discussion but also engagement in the text itself. They're loving it! And I'm merely guiding their discussions, mostly encouraging them to maintain order because they're so eager to contribute.

Our students study American literature during their sophomore year to coincide with their American history class; British lit comes in the junior year. As seniors the boys' reading is loosely world lit but still mostly American and British. We include more world titles every year because students need to know, as Jamie says, all good literature is not to be found in Europe. So many books, so little time! It's easy to stick to the usual titles and stay in a rut, I know, but I hope I can try at least one new title every year. Nevertheless, I can't think of any book that I'd like to banish from our curriculum.

Cybil, re:  The Scarlet Letter.  One of the first courses I ever taught was on the various incarnations of Faust (Marlowe, Goethe, Mann, etc).  Fast forward a year or two, and I was studying for my comps.  One of my fields is American Lit, 1730-1930, and naturally Hawthorne was on my list.  I was stunned to find quite obvious repetition of the Faustian archetypes.  To my knowledge, no one has written about SL from this angle (it's on my list!) 

My point in telling everyone this is that without Brit Lit, without a background in American Lit of the 1700s, the connection would have been lost to me.   For a long time, American writers were the little brothers of the English.  First we have literature that is purely derivitive, then more incorporating the American Experience to the English expectation, then finally, a graduation into letters uniquely our own. 

If anyone is interested in exploring the Faustian in re: the SL to help enliven this text, let me know and I'll start a new thread.

 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an American Literature scholar, I am quite disturbed and perplexed by the dismissive responses to our own heritage here.  Yes, some of the texts mentioned may not be your cup of tea (or Starbucks, as it were) but it disturbs me to see American literature treated as if it were an annoyance.

What of American Romanticism?  Of Transcendentalism?  Of First Wave Feminism?  Of the Industrial Revolution which forever changed society, from rural to urban, from family to anonymity?  

Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Alcott, just to name a few off the top of my head?

Americans were trying to break away from the cultural stranglehold of England. The political, social, and cultural changes were fascinating and complex. 

I urge you to try to tie history to your texts and to try to make students understand how American literature is important, and why they should value and love their own legacy.  Of course, some of it is horrible, that legacy, but it should be known.  Please don't perpetuate the idea that all good literature is to be found in Europe!  It is simply not true. 

We are not barons and kings, but farmers and entrepreneurs.  Our battles take place on the prairies, not in the ballroom. 

I have what I think might be an interesting perspective on this - I am teaching English at High School level (in England) and have recently re-discovered Robert Frost! I found myself required to teach on his poetry.

Well, what a revelation! Although I had always loved "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" I had never had time to pursue it.

American or not, his poetry is clear, lucid, colorful and (as with all my most-loved authors) - his love of the natural world shines through it.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of re-discovering this paragon of American literature, and of pursuing his poetry in greater depth.

Highly recommended (PS It needs to be heard read aloud I feel.)

And Robert Frost is 20th cent., right? My point is that we spend too much time on colonial Am. lit. and not enough on modern Am. lit., except maybe in an electives course.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly Stowe made a political and historical impact. I just have to choke down when I read it aloud. To interrupt her own narrative with "...and this, dear reader, is...." shows no craft.

I am sure Clemens had a tough time losing and then regaining his fortune while she sat on her bags of money.

I do draw a line of demarcation at the Civil War. Washington Irving was creative, but the cupboard is pretty bare there. The Realists onward were powerful. The Modernists were imaginative. The Post (Meta)- Modernists (or whatever they are now) were/are irreverent and creative.

The thing is, Biology teachers don't have to excite the whole class about Adenosine Triphosphate Energy Release cycles. Physics teachers don't have to have young minds day dreaming about  Avogadro's number. But for some reason English teachers put it on themselves to have every student aflame for their own personal literary tastes or it is a failed year.

Our burden is different, but we get to work with something no one else does. We get to deal in the human situation every minute of the year.

The problem of capturing the attention of youth works best in the other direction.

We don't excite kids into understanding literature.

We assure them that the author of this literature understood them. Then they feel connected and motivated. Great American lit works wonderfully with young people. 

Jeff-  You and I need to have a virtual beer and hammer this out! :)

The "dear reader" thing...a very, very common convention in 19th Century lit, esp among women's fiction.  They were unlikely to have found it as annoying as do we (and I do, but I guess I've read so much in women's lit/history) that it doesn't phase me much.

Love your point about science teachers and not having to worry about setting them aflame (Ha!).  But this is why I love what I do...I can't imagine droning on about formulas and such.  They can't imagine being troubled with the human condition...

Now, if we can only make the rest of the world see how much more valuable our teaching is and reverse the salaries!!

 

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faulkner could be chucked and not missed? Toni Morrison is boring? Arthur Miller is irrelevant? Tennessee Williams is "stinking"?

If we gauged literary merit on what 14-16 yr olds found exciting, we would be knee deep in Hannah Montana Chronicles and stolen MySpace Poetry.

Mind you I could do without flimsy works like "A Separate Peace", but American Literature, at least post Civil War, is anything but boring.
Invisible Man
would sell itself if presented correctly. Buy Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman and tell a kid it is boring. Or Maus. Kids would tear the covers off to read that book.

I teach both honors and remedial English. When I show Death of a Salesman after reading it, I make sure the room is as dark as possible so the "tough" guys in my class can feel the emotion with some privacy.

American Literature has a singular purpose; to investigate the power, capacity, value and depth of the common individual.

Every high school student (high or low acheiving) feels "out of place", unaccepted, or lacking in some way or another.

Every great American work hits that point and hard. How that theme can't be sold to that audience is a mystery to me.

... unless we just read for plot. Then Dickens wins hands down.

(Uncle Tom's Cabin has zero literary merit and is only important historically. The fact that Twain had to live next door to that fraud in Hartford is one of life's cruel mysteries.) 

I regrettably must agree about UTC as a pretty poor piece of Literature ("Die, Little Eva, Die!")  Regrettably, b/c Stowe had the best of intentions.  Have you read Frederick Douglass' eloquent response to the reception of the novel? If you're interested, I'll try to find the link to the article. 

As a piece of political rhetoric, if not literature, UTC  had amazing power.  Abraham Lincoln (as you prob know) said to Stowe upon meeting her for the first time, "So this is the little lady who started the Great War!"

 

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an American Literature scholar, I am quite disturbed and perplexed by the dismissive responses to our own heritage here.  Yes, some of the texts mentioned may not be your cup of tea (or Starbucks, as it were) but it disturbs me to see American literature treated as if it were an annoyance.

What of American Romanticism?  Of Transcendentalism?  Of First Wave Feminism?  Of the Industrial Revolution which forever changed society, from rural to urban, from family to anonymity?  

Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Alcott, just to name a few off the top of my head?

Americans were trying to break away from the cultural stranglehold of England. The political, social, and cultural changes were fascinating and complex. 

I urge you to try to tie history to your texts and to try to make students understand how American literature is important, and why they should value and love their own legacy.  Of course, some of it is horrible, that legacy, but it should be known.  Please don't perpetuate the idea that all good literature is to be found in Europe!  It is simply not true. 

We are not barons and kings, but farmers and entrepreneurs.  Our battles take place on the prairies, not in the ballroom. 

I have what I think might be an interesting perspective on this - I am teaching English at High School level (in England) and have recently re-discovered Robert Frost! I found myself required to teach on his poetry.

Well, what a revelation! Although I had always loved "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" I had never had time to pursue it.

American or not, his poetry is clear, lucid, colorful and (as with all my most-loved authors) - his love of the natural world shines through it.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of re-discovering this paragon of American literature, and of pursuing his poetry in greater depth.

Highly recommended (PS It needs to be heard read aloud I feel.)

cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Jamie. Yes, students need to read British literature, but to disparage American literature before the 20th century is a disturbing idea. They study the history of their country, and they need to recognize the development of distinctly American literature as well. I hope you don't have to teach Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter if you personally find them less than inspiring, but maybe you can teach portions of some of the classics. Colonial literature seems best approached by looking at poetry (especially by women), essays and speeches, excerpts from Ben Franklin's Autobiography.

Currently, I'm teaching The Scarlet Letter to AP Lit seniors (all boys) who traditionally have found the book a snoozer, but we struggle through. This year I've borrowed an idea from an AP colleague from another school by using a discussion technique that guarantees not only student involvement  in class discussion but also engagement in the text itself. They're loving it! And I'm merely guiding their discussions, mostly encouraging them to maintain order because they're so eager to contribute.

Our students study American literature during their sophomore year to coincide with their American history class; British lit comes in the junior year. As seniors the boys' reading is loosely world lit but still mostly American and British. We include more world titles every year because students need to know, as Jamie says, all good literature is not to be found in Europe. So many books, so little time! It's easy to stick to the usual titles and stay in a rut, I know, but I hope I can try at least one new title every year. Nevertheless, I can't think of any book that I'd like to banish from our curriculum.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That seems too utopian.  I'll be the first to defend the importance of American history, but as a teacher of literature who needs to find stuff to excite and interest high school students, I'm riding the British wave entirely.  Most American literature is just too darn boring.  I'm patriotic and love my country and my heritage and all that, but when it comes to the majority of the historical writing, no thank you.  I'll take Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Poe, and Twain and call it good.

I know it sounds harsh, but I won't apologize or feel bad for ignoring a large chunk of American literature.  I teach a bunch of really good novels that engages my classes and gets 14-18 year olds talking about things greater than who they texted last night; just because most of those works come from British authors shouldn't devalue their worth in the classroom!

I agree about trying to inspire students! I seem to have accomplished this by accident with my own son as regards to American Lit! He recently won an English Prize and got to choose a new book.

What do you think he chose?

Of Mice and Men! (he is 12)

Something must have piqued his interest about American Lit/authors!

Coach-  How it thrills my heart, as a Steinbeck scholar (I'm writing my disseration on his female characters)  to hear this! 

I wonder if your son knows that the the original title was "Something That Happened."  If you'd like, I can explain how this novel is an exercise in Steinbeck's intense belief in non-teleological thinking.  If you re-read it along with your son, you may find some interesting ways to direct him in questions he may have.

 

jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faulkner could be chucked and not missed? Toni Morrison is boring? Arthur Miller is irrelevant? Tennessee Williams is "stinking"?

If we gauged literary merit on what 14-16 yr olds found exciting, we would be knee deep in Hannah Montana Chronicles and stolen MySpace Poetry.

Mind you I could do without flimsy works like "A Separate Peace", but American Literature, at least post Civil War, is anything but boring.
Invisible Man
would sell itself if presented correctly. Buy Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman and tell a kid it is boring. Or Maus. Kids would tear the covers off to read that book.

I teach both honors and remedial English. When I show Death of a Salesman after reading it, I make sure the room is as dark as possible so the "tough" guys in my class can feel the emotion with some privacy.

American Literature has a singular purpose; to investigate the power, capacity, value and depth of the common individual.

Every high school student (high or low acheiving) feels "out of place", unaccepted, or lacking in some way or another.

Every great American work hits that point and hard. How that theme can't be sold to that audience is a mystery to me.

... unless we just read for plot. Then Dickens wins hands down.

(Uncle Tom's Cabin has zero literary merit and is only important historically. The fact that Twain had to live next door to that fraud in Hartford is one of life's cruel mysteries.) 

jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly Stowe made a political and historical impact. I just have to choke down when I read it aloud. To interrupt her own narrative with "...and this, dear reader, is...." shows no craft.

I am sure Clemens had a tough time losing and then regaining his fortune while she sat on her bags of money.

I do draw a line of demarcation at the Civil War. Washington Irving was creative, but the cupboard is pretty bare there. The Realists onward were powerful. The Modernists were imaginative. The Post (Meta)- Modernists (or whatever they are now) were/are irreverent and creative.

The thing is, Biology teachers don't have to excite the whole class about Adenosine Triphosphate Energy Release cycles. Physics teachers don't have to have young minds day dreaming about  Avogadro's number. But for some reason English teachers put it on themselves to have every student aflame for their own personal literary tastes or it is a failed year.

Our burden is different, but we get to work with something no one else does. We get to deal in the human situation every minute of the year.

The problem of capturing the attention of youth works best in the other direction.

We don't excite kids into understanding literature.

We assure them that the author of this literature understood them. Then they feel connected and motivated. Great American lit works wonderfully with young people. 

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All of the posts on this topic have been interesting, and sometimes even prickly (I stink at confrontation, by the way - I think I have "confrontationphobia"). What occurred to me in reading them, though, is that as teachers we need to figure out a way to inspire kids to read. Very few teachers get to hand-pick the titles they're going to teach. So what do we do when we're told we have to teach something that we think is horrendous? Do we go to our classes and say, "Well, if I had my way, we'd burn all the copies of this book, but since the powers that be won't listen to me, let's just get through it as fast as we can." I would certainly hope not!

I actually had a teacher in my English department last year who told his students, "The textbook sucks, and so do a lot of the books on this reading list, so I'll just try to supplement as much as I can to get us through this class." I was horrified! He was put on a very tight leash after that, having to report to me everything supplemental he uses, as well as making sure he gets through the curriculum.

Just because I don't like "Moby Dick" doesn't mean no one else in the world is going to enjoy it. For all I know, that could be the book that really draws a kid into reading American Lit. What a shame it would be if I passed on my prejudice of the book and shot a chance at reaching a student.

Thanks, everyone, for your insight!

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As an American Literature scholar, I am quite disturbed and perplexed by the dismissive responses to our own heritage here.  Yes, some of the texts mentioned may not be your cup of tea (or Starbucks, as it were) but it disturbs me to see American literature treated as if it were an annoyance.

What of American Romanticism?  Of Transcendentalism?  Of First Wave Feminism?  Of the Industrial Revolution which forever changed society, from rural to urban, from family to anonymity?  

Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Alcott, just to name a few off the top of my head?

Americans were trying to break away from the cultural stranglehold of England. The political, social, and cultural changes were fascinating and complex. 

I urge you to try to tie history to your texts and to try to make students understand how American literature is important, and why they should value and love their own legacy.  Of course, some of it is horrible, that legacy, but it should be known.  Please don't perpetuate the idea that all good literature is to be found in Europe!  It is simply not true. 

We are not barons and kings, but farmers and entrepreneurs.  Our battles take place on the prairies, not in the ballroom. 

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That seems too utopian.  I'll be the first to defend the importance of American history, but as a teacher of literature who needs to find stuff to excite and interest high school students, I'm riding the British wave entirely.  Most American literature is just too darn boring.  I'm patriotic and love my country and my heritage and all that, but when it comes to the majority of the historical writing, no thank you.  I'll take Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Poe, and Twain and call it good.

I know it sounds harsh, but I won't apologize or feel bad for ignoring a large chunk of American literature.  I teach a bunch of really good novels that engages my classes and gets 14-18 year olds talking about things greater than who they texted last night; just because most of those works come from British authors shouldn't devalue their worth in the classroom!

I agree about trying to inspire students! I seem to have accomplished this by accident with my own son as regards to American Lit! He recently won an English Prize and got to choose a new book.

What do you think he chose?

Of Mice and Men! (he is 12)

Something must have piqued his interest about American Lit/authors!

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I hated The Scarlet Letter in high school, but after having to teach it, I have such respect for the book.  It is American gem, and so important to the recognition of how attitudes and communities developed during American colonization and beyond.  In addition, I have had great luck teaching this to students.  In understanding the inner workings of a novel and the authorial choices that help develop theme, it is the breakthrough book.  My suggestion - read Chapter One aloud, no matter what level the class is.  Encourage students to illustrate the prison door and then explore the idea of criminality being a necessity to all socieities.

I do love American Lit - but I have to agree with the snooze factor on Moby Dick and Uncle Tom's Cabin.  I mean, really....

Finally, a comment on colonial literature - why must we abandon it completely?  While it might be lacking in stimulating details, some exposure to the attitudes and perspectives of the early settlers seems vital to understanding the development of the country.  Why are Americans considered cocky?  Well, lets look at John Smith!

dcuevas eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a high school teacher of literature, I am disturbed and saddened by many of these posts. It would be simple to say, "If you don't like it...leave." That, however, does not speak to the real issue. If you hate a piece of literature, it is very probable you yourself have not understood or looked deeply enough. Why not try a section rather than the whole - could you not take the 3 day chase from Moby Dick or the opening scene from the Scarlet letter.

Creativity coupled with reality is a necessary skill for working with complex texts. Think what you can help them achieve if you don't quit.

Now for the anti-American comments. American literature is rich, varied, and so integral to our national identity. The Great Melting Pot, our Puritan roots, and the massiveness of our country blossoms in the ever evolving literature of the people of this great country.

I feel sorry for you and your students. You and they will never know or enjoy the beauty of words unless you step back, change your attitude, and spend some time working at being a literature teacher.  

mrerick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That seems too utopian.  I'll be the first to defend the importance of American history, but as a teacher of literature who needs to find stuff to excite and interest high school students, I'm riding the British wave entirely.  Most American literature is just too darn boring.  I'm patriotic and love my country and my heritage and all that, but when it comes to the majority of the historical writing, no thank you.  I'll take Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Poe, and Twain and call it good.

I know it sounds harsh, but I won't apologize or feel bad for ignoring a large chunk of American literature.  I teach a bunch of really good novels that engages my classes and gets 14-18 year olds talking about things greater than who they texted last night; just because most of those works come from British authors shouldn't devalue their worth in the classroom!

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not believe it is too utopian at all.   I can think of just as many English authors who are not "exciting."  The point is to find the value in the literature, whether not it is a rah-rah good time. 

And another thing about the "utopian" comment in just a few words:  "city on a hill."  The exploration of the ideal, the crash, and the recovery as expressed in American literature reflects a social experiment like no other.   

There are many twentieth century authors lauded here, and I totally agree.  But  Steinbeck, Frost, Hemingway, etc., were not created in a vaccuum.  They all had predecessors, American predecessors, in letters. 

I do not disparage European authors, btw.  I adore them too.  For heaven's sake, my daughter's name is Austen!  I love the Bard, the Brontes, etc. 

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well . . . since we're being honest here the one that absolutely put me to sleep in high school was Uncle Tom's Cabin (19th century). I don't care about it, I hated it, and I would never teach it unless my hand was forced and even then I think I would die of boredom which means I think the rest of the class would go down with me! :) I don't really have any problems with the most of the rest of the 19th century and the 18th century that I can think of, but I'm sure someone will post one that I thought was a real snooze!

 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In reply to #7 and #8: I think "disturbing" is too strong a word to use for our dislike of colonial American literature. I understand that the colonists were too busy colonizing, building homes and cities, to spend time on the esoteric business of poetry or novel writing. Yes, that colonial literature has its place: in the history class. My argument is that we spend so much time on the first two centuries of Am. lit. that we don't get to the real treasure of later texts. Maybe that's why I despise it so much!

Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I wouldn't mind saying Pip, Pip, Cheerio to Great Expectations.  The story line is fine, but sheesh!  Plowing through Dickens' is like treading "water" in a tar pit!  The man took severe advantage of being paid by the word!  Besides, snotty, snobby Pip should be slapped upside the head for the way he treated Joe.  But who am I to judge literature?  I've been told that Jules Verne (my choice over Dickens) is merely the John Grisham of the 19th century.

mrerick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the exception of about half a dozen, anyone American wouldn't be missed.  Getting assigned an 11th grade lit class would probably be enough for me to go job searching.  I'm fairly certain that if I did have to teach juniors, we'd spend A TON of time on composition.  In any other class, there may be an author or two that you dread to cover, but there's always someone behind them that is worth the wait...I just don't see that reward with those stinkin' Americans.

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, were would we be without passion?

Perhaps it's my own proclivity to the integrated studies, but my feeling is that literature cannot be divorced from history. To understand either makes the other richer. 

Precisely why I want to get my American Lit students studying US History during the same year, rather than World History.  It just makes sense to me! :)

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can't stand Mary Rowlandson's Indian captivity narration or The Scarlet Letter.  God help me, the latter is required and I have to begin teaching it next week.  I can always show that horrid Demi Moore version once we've trodded through it, though. That will make everything better!  Ha!

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shame on you amethystrose! Dickens is GREAT! I do agree that Moby Dick would be one I would love to forget about. On a different note, has anyone had to teach a book they have really been bored with? Can it be done? I can't imagine doing it myself....

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, were would we be without passion?

Perhaps it's my own proclivity to the integrated studies, but my feeling is that literature cannot be divorced from history. To understand either makes the other richer. 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow! I never intended to cause so much conflict. I guess we are teachers because we are passionate about the texts we teach. In that case, I think this conversation was a good idea.

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Moby Dick...SNOOZERZZZZZZZZZZ...oh, excuse me, I think I fell asleep just thinking about it! :)

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To all:  Please forgive my brief foray into politics here, but I just heard a line from Barack Obama that gave me chills (the good kind). 

"...the unlikely story of America." 

Doesn't that say it all?  Why Am. Lit is so important?

If you haven't seen the video, it's beautifully done.  Check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjXyqcx-mYY