Revising the Literary Canon Criticism: Canon Change In American Literature - Essay

Jay B. Hubbell (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Major American Writers,” in Who Are the Major American Writers?, Duke University Press, 1972, pp. 271-88.

[In the following excerpt, Hubbell questions the reasoning behind some academic reassessments of the literary canon, as well as the results of a New York Times poll on the subject, noting the absence of American authors among those deemed the most important.]

If it is difficult to get a consensus among critics as to who the great nineteenth-century writers are, it is almost impossible to get them to agree on which of the writers of the present century should be admitted to the canon of the great American writers. The various polls and...

(The entire section is 4158 words.)

Paul Lauter (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Literature of America: A Comparative Discipline,” in Redefining American Literary History, edited by A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward, Jr., The Modern Language Association of America, 1990, pp. 9-34.

[In the following essay, Lauter suggests that the very idea of a mainstream literary canon is not appropriate to the heterogeneous society of the United States, and that a comparative approach is more useful in studying American literature.]

An image has long haunted the study of American culture. It limits our thought, shapes our values. We speak of the “mainstream,” implying the existence of other work, minor rills and branches. In prose, the...

(The entire section is 15055 words.)

Robert Hemenway (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “In the American Canon,” in Redefining American Literary History, edited by A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward, Jr., The Modern Language Association of America, 1990, pp. 62-72.

[In the following essay, Hemenway calls for broader criteria for the inclusion of African American literature into the canon of American literature.]

Once upon a time I was asked to speak at a summer meeting of English department chairpersons. I accepted the invitation with solemn allopathic purpose, sure that I could offer restorative therapy to this honorable group of ex-idealists, these staff officers regularly battered by occupational hazards. I planned to energize those...

(The entire section is 5822 words.)

Hershel Parker (essay date October 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Price of Diversity: An Ambivalent Minority Report on the American Literary Canon,” in College Literature, Vol. 18, No. 3, October, 1991, pp. 15-29.

[In the following essay, Parker recounts his own attempts to enlarge and expand the American literature canon to include more nontraditional works, but cautions that mainstream authors should continue to play an important role in the education of students.]

This is a version of the talk I gave at the 1990 Chicago MLA for the American Literature Section session organized by James Justus on anthologizing American literature. I spoke as the editor of the 1820-65 section of the Norton Anthology of American...

(The entire section is 7576 words.)

Carla Mulford (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “What Is the Early American Canon, and Who Said It Needed Expanding?”, in Resources for American Literary Study, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1993, pp. 165-73.

[In the following essay, Mulford surveys some recent studies regarding the early American literature canon and concludes that not only its works, but even the type of textual analysis used on those works, is still a matter of heated debate among American literature scholars.]

The title question of my essay underscores the differences, even among Americanists, that still seem to remain among scholars in the literary profession regarding the study of early American materials. That is, although the topic of...

(The entire section is 3569 words.)

Sarah M. Corse and Monica D. Griffin (essay date June 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cultural Valorization and African American Literary History: Reconstructing the Canon,” in Sociological Forum, Vol. 12, No. 2, June, 1997, pp. 173-203.

[In the following essay, Corse and Griffin explore the process of forming the African-American literary canon by analyzing the critical history of a key text—Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).]


Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937. It was Hurston's third book and made significant use of her work as an anthropologist and folklorist in its setting, dialect, and tone. Due to Hurston's stature...

(The entire section is 12499 words.)