Special Studies Programs
Asian American Studies,
Literature Since 1830:
MULTICULTURALISM IN AMERICAN LITERATURE
Context: When I began teaching at Michigan
in 1990, a course periodized as covering
literature since 1830 was considered
a "great works" one, in either
or both British and American literature.
It followed in historical sequence from
two other courses in earlier periods.
My syllabus in 1990 resembled the one
below. Students told me that from the
published course descriptions they chose
this section because of the excitement
(including surprise, satisfaction, and
indeed a degree of doubt and criticism)
of seeing "ethnic" literatures
considered among "great works"
of literature in English. Standards
and expectations, then, became the first
main topics of discussion in the course.
By 1993, when I taught the version below,
our English undergraduate curriculum
had changed, and the sections of English
372 now offered a wide variety of choices.
The excitement over questioning standards
for "greatness" had somewhat
faded. But attention in the course shifted
toward other important questions--questions
about dialogical versus monological
ways of reading literary works and cultures,
about literature and the historical
construction of culture, about who and
what are "American," and how
we go about defining or conceiving "American
culture" in view of the "diverse"
works studied and their interactions.
Among the understandings we reach is
the realization that these questions
are old, foundational, and ever-central
ones in and for this nation.
MULTICULTURALISM IN AMERICAN
Winter Term 1993
Department of English Language and
Literature The University of Michigan
section of English 372 is a study of
concepts of multiculturalism and history
as narrated or symbolized and interpreted
in American literary works since 1846.
The course begins with works which reflect
concerns in nineteenth-century America
to create, recognize, or question an
American culture in the face not only
of a continuing "English"
legacy but also of multiracial, multicultural,
women's and men's experiences distinctive
to Americans and their national and
international aspirations and "destiny."
The course goes on to focus on twentieth-century
works within traditions of Euro-American,
Afro-American, Asian American, Latina,
and Native American literatures where
authors' views of multiculturalism play
central parts. Relations between culture
and how an author conceives of history
are examined, particularly in cases
where an emphasis on history, historical
contexts, and historical construction
of cultures, in the works studied, is
counterpointed by themes and motifs
of broken, forgotten, and repressed
histories. Book-length works by Herman
Melville, Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, William
Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, John Okada,
Leslie Silko, Toni Morrison, and Sandra
Cisneros will be read in the course.
Their books will be supplemented with
readings by the authors' contemporaries.
Three papers and frequent quizzes are
required. 4 credits.
H. Sumida, Associate Professor of English
and of American Culture; Erin Desmond,
Graduate Student in English.
OFFICE HOURS: Sumida,
MWF 9:30-10:30 a.m. and by appointment,
2629 Haven Hall, 764-6356; Desmond,
hours to be announced, 33 Angell Hall,
REQUIRED TEXTS: These
texts are ordered for our course at
Shaman Drum Bookshop, 313 South State
Street, Ann Arbor.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening and Selected
Stories Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering
Creek Samuel L. Clemens [Mark Twain],
Huckleberry Finn William Faulkner, Light
in August Zora Neale Hurston, Their
Eyes Were Watching God Herman Melville,
Typee Toni Morrison, Beloved John Okada,
No-No Boy Leslie Silko, Ceremony Richard
Wright, Native Son.
In addition, a Coursepack is required.
Beginning in the second week of the
term, it will be available at Michigan
Document Service, 603 Church Street,
SCHEDULE: The readings
listed below are required. The schedule
tends to fall into a routine--generally,
a novel a week (four hours of class)--and
this enables us to study at least this
minimum number of works in an immense
literature, "American literature"
seen "multiculturally." Please
study the schedule when we begin the
course and, of course, as we proceed
through the term. To meet this schedule
we will have to pace ourselves and individually
anticipate upcoming work by starting
on it early when possible.
6 January 1992 (Wednesday only): Introductions
and assignments. Definitions of key
terms and concepts: paradigms for "multiculturalism"
and the American Republic. By Monday,
11 January, read Melville's Typee. What,
as it turns out, is the narrator's understanding
of the Typee people? What is Melville's
understanding in showing this outcome?
11-13 Jan.: Melville, Typee, and encounters
with the Noble Savage in American literature.
Coursepack: selections from Mary Rowlandson,
Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration;
Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie;
James Fenimore Cooper, "The Pigeon
Shoot," from The Pioneers, and
"Magua's Speech to the Delawares,"
from The Last of the Mohegans; Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow; and Chief Seattle.
Read these selections by Wednesday,
18 Jan.: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
No class meeting. Please attend the
programs of your choice.
20 Jan.: Read by this day: Twain, Huckleberry
Finn. Discussion of moral dilemmas.
Coursepack: also read for this day the
excerpt from Toni Morrison, "Unspeakable
25-27 Jan.: Manifest Destiny, Its Proponents
and its Critics: Melville, Twain, Whitman,
and Dickinson. Coursepack: selections
from Whitman and Dickinson; Stephen
H. Sumida, from And the View from the
1-3 February: Read by Monday: Chopin,
The Awakening and Selected Stories:
Constructs of and Responses to European
American Multiculturalism, Descent,
8-10 Feb.: Culture and Multiculturalism
in Modernism. Coursepack: selections
from Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Robert
Frost, and Gertrude Stein.
15-17 Feb.: Read by Monday: Faulkner,
Light in August. Race, History, Memory,
and Failures of Historical Vision. PAPER
1 DUE: FRIDAY, 19 FEBRUARY 1993.
20-28 Feb.: Spring Break.
1-3 March: Variously Theorizing Literary
Multiculturalism in the United States:
Proponents and Opponents. Read by Wednesday,
3 March: Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching
God. Coursepack: selection to be announced.
8-10 Mar.: Monday: Hurston, Their Eyes
Were Watching God (continuing discussion).
Wednesday: Wright, Native Son.
15-17 Mar. Wright, Native Son (continuing
discussion). Coursepack: Abdul R. JanMohamed,
"Negating the Negation as a Form
of Affirmation in Minority Discourse:
The Construction of Richard Wright as
Subject"; and selection from bell
PAPER 2 DUE: MONDAY,
22 MARCH 1993. 22-24 Mar.: Read by Monday:
Okada, No-No Boy. Coursepack: Issei
Poetry; Background Fact Sheet for No-No
Boy; Stephen H. Sumida, "Japanese
American Moral Dilemmas."
29-31 Mar.: Read by Monday: Silko,
Ceremony. Coursepack: Barry Lopez, "Buffalo."
FINAL PAPER PROSPECTUS DUE:
MONDAY, 5 APRIL 1993. 5-7 Apr.:
Read by Monday: Morrison, Beloved. Coursepack:
selection to be announced.
12-14 Apr.: Read by Monday: Cisneros,
Woman Hollering Creek.
19 Apr.: Review and discussion of Final
FINAL PAPER DUE: 26
PAPERS, QUIZZES, ATTENDANCE,
Papers 1 and 2 are to be three to five
typed, double-spaced pages each, on
a choice of topics you will be given.
The Final Paper, of seven to ten pages,
will be on a topic you choose, research,
and develop for yourself within the
thematic (and conceptual, theoretical)
parameters of the course, "multiculturalism
in American literature." If you
find you need advice about revising
a draft of any of these papers, then
please see your instructor with a draft
prior to the due dates indicated above,
when the final draft is due.
There will be no exams in our section
of English 372. But there will be quizzes
throughout the semester. Some will be
announced, others not. Quizzes will
test your knowledge of facts and concepts
discussed in assigned readings, lectures,
and in class. Besides aiming to prompt
you to be prepared for class and to
credit you for keeping up with our coursework,
the quizzes materially provide one means
for recording attendance and therefore
crediting you as you deserve. The quizzes
are the basis for that part of your
grade which you are most in control
Attendance in class is required. Missing
even one, crucial class meeting can
result in writing a howler of a paper
on the topic discussed that day. Missing
quizzes because of absences means certain
disaster. On the other hand, not only
can the quizzes reward attendance and
preparedness, but they also can guide
the writing of papers, but you have
to attend class for this guidance to
Your final grade for the course will
consist of the following: Paper 1, Paper
2, and your cumulative quiz score will
each count for 20% of your final grade.
The Final Paper will count for 40%--obviously
a heavy load. Your course grade is not
assured, then, until the entire course
is over, since so much of your grade
is earned near the end. In general,
your essays will be graded on how well
you understand, define or problematize,
and respond to questions under discussion
and which you choose to pursue in your
papers. Each paper, therefore, is expected
to be more than a presentation of information,
a plot summary, a paraphrase, or a character
sketch: it is the working out of some