EN 266: AMERICAN LITERATURE OF THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
PROFESSOR: Ian MacRae CLASS MEETS: W, F 10:00-11:20 am, CB206
OFFICE: RCW 315 OFFICE HOURS: W 11:30 am -12:30 pm
E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org TEL.: 519.756.8228, ext. 5868
“Ah wanted yuh to school out and pick from a higher bush and a sweeter berry.”
— Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes were Watching God
“I shall always look back on that time of mental awakening as one of the happiest
of my life.”
—Willa Cather, My Àntonia
Specifics: Essay Proposal and Annotated Bibliography (Wednesday Nov 11) (10%)
One 7-8 page paper (Wednesday Dec 2) (25% of course mark)
Late penalty: 2% of assignment grade per day, including weekends.
Essay Proposal & Annotated Bibliography
For the course paper you will be required to write an essay proposal and annotated bibliography.
This assignment should display significant progress towards your final essay, and is to be handed
in with the final essay. Your 3-page proposal should set out:
o the general topic to be addressed in your paper;
o a thesis statement;
o a brief introductory paragraph (not longer than half page) that condenses and puts
forward key ideas of your paper (double-spaced);
o elaboration, possibly in bullet points, of 3-5 key ideas that will be discussed in
your paper; (example: give a key idea, then a number of bullet points below it,
explaining the idea and how it relates to your essay: how it will help you build
o an annotated bibliography.
o key ideas and bibliography can be single-spaced (with spaces between sections)
o key words and terms (concepts, genres) should be defined in your paper
The annotated bibliography will include a minimum of five academic sources, including articles,
books and book chapters. Non-academic sources (blogs, films, magazine features, etc.) can also
be used (these are in addition to the five). Annotated means that you cite the source, in full, then
indicate what information or insight it contains, and explain how you will contribute to your
paper (how it will contribute to your argument).
To do this, of course, your must have already done the research, and have read the source –
though your topic can evolve or change over time. This assignment must display significant
progress towards your final essay, and must be handed in with your essay. It can be single or
double-spaced, and can include bullet points and/or numbered sections, etc. See
http://www.uc.utoronto.ca/organizing for a note about Essay Outlines.
Term essays should be 7-8 pages in length (see note on Format on syllabus). These essays will
require independent research and thoughtful preparation. Your Proposal must be handed
in with your essay. The central task of this essay is the interpretation of cultural texts, and of
American contexts more particularly. The contexts for your interpretation should be the broader
matrix of social, natural, and historical events. You might want to pursue topics that have
interested you in the course, or in American history and culture more generally, and thus come
up with original thesis statements and research topics. You can also write on issues relevant to
your class presentation. You will be evaluated on your use of secondary sources, your essay’s
argumentation and organization, the originality and creativity of your critical analysis, and the
clarity of your writing.
Please emphasize a tightly-focused thesis, well-supported through close reading of principal
course texts. Use citations as needed; these are required. Support your arguments with specific
examples from your readings. List your Works Cited at the end of the text, in any of the three
generally accepted styles (MLA, APA, Chicago). Endnotes are acceptable, though not necessary.
The Laurier Brantford Centre for Student Success has resources that are free, easily accessible,
and helpful. You may make appointments to see someone at the Centre; you may bring a draft or
a thesis statement, for example. Their website contains information on documentation styles
(MLA). You are well advised to make use of this resource. To book an appointment, please
contact the Centre at Phone: (519) 756-8228 ext. 5736, or by e-mail at email@example.com
1. Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/
2. The UVic Writer’s Guide: http://web.uvic.ca/wguide/Pages/MasterToc.html
3. For information on thesis statements:
4. For a note on how your papers will be graded, see the Bok Centre:
5. Please see http://www.wlu.ca/page.php?grp_id=10042&p=13281 for information on
citation in MLA (Modern Language Association) style, as well as details on Turnitin software.
Note: Turnitin software will be used in this course. You must submit a paper copy of your essay
in class, and an electronic copy into the appropriate dropbox on the course MyLearningSpace
Suggested Essay Topics
These Suggested Topics are in many cases quite broad. You will want to focus these topics by
using specific texts and research to clarify a broader thesis or theme. Comparative analyses and
creative approaches that treat one or more texts or films that we have studied can be effective.
1. Emerson’s work is often said to be one of the beating hearts of American literature and
culture. How woud you define Emerson’s project? What was he writing against? What are the
principal values he articulates? What is the tone of his work? Analyze, interpret, and discuss
Emerson’s work – and his role in American literature.
2. How does Janie, or Antonia, embody any number of Emerson’s core values? Discuss.
3. My Antonia has been described as a pastoral text, and as a prairie epic. What are the relations to
place, and to the land, among some of the major characters and families? What relation(s) to
landscape does the novel seem to encourage and promote?
4. What sort of “peace,” what sort of contentment and independence, does Janie achieve at the
end of Their Eyes Were Watching God? How has she earned this contentment? And how does it mix
or combine with the house that “commenced to sing a sobbing sigh” at the end of the text?
5. Zora Neale Hurston is an anthropologist and folklorist. How does her novel reflect, articulate,
embody, even celebrate – or criticize – black ‘folk’ (black ‘popular’ culture) in the novel? How –
and who, finally – does Janie find happiness with, and what does this say to Zora’s notion of
African-American culture, values, economic prospects, and relations between genders?
6. Janie’s Nanny wants her to marry for “protection” in Zora Neale Hurston’s fine novel.
Thinking of the historical context of this novel, what does young Janie need protection from?
How are race relations treated in this novel (between blacks and whites in the American South)?
7. Fitzgerald pays close attention to the music of Daisy’s voice, of which later, Gatsby says, “Her
voice is full of money” (133). How does this song define the novel – for better and for worse? In
other words, what is the role of class, of capitalism and “money” in The Great Gatsby?
8. At the end of The Great Gatsby, we find references to the New World aesthetic, and to “the
orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.” What exactly is diminishing or withdrawing
at the end of this novel? What is the sense of things that are being lost? Develop this theme
within a larger reading of the novel.
9. Can The Great Gatsby be read as a tragedy? If so, what is the knowledge that comes from
suffering (Gatsby’s) in this text?
10. Terrence Malick, as a filmmaker, is also an American storyteller. Discuss some of his
storytelling techniques Malick deploys in Days of Heaven and / or Badlands, including his use of
non-verbal (visual) storytelling, music, and lyric segments that treat the land, nature, and the
pastoral spirits of wide open America. What role does violence, love, and the land play in his
10. Both Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes are concerned with African American
speech types and cultural forms. What are the similarities and differences in their projects (in the
materials we have read in this class)?
11. The Harlem Renaissance accounts for a major efflorescence of African American culture
(music, dance, theatre, poetry, literature, criticism). Describe and discuss this period, with a focus
on Langston Hughes’ (or Zora Neale’s) relation to and role within this Renaissance.
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