Declarations of Independence: American Literary Masterworks

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On July 4, 1845, Henry Thoreau began spending his days and nights at Walden Pond. His declaration of independence from the America in which he was living epitomizes a tradition that goes to the heart of American literature. Time and again, America’s best writers have adapted the values of the American Revolution to their own times. In rebelling against religious orthodoxy, slavery, a market economy, the relegation of women to second-class citizens—to name just a few of their targets—America’s prose writers have produced a tradition at odds with the country but consistent with the spirit of the Founding Fathers. Declarations of Independence will focus on this tradition in terms of a series of American literary masterworks that feature the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger and Sylvia Plath. The course will look at the parallels between America’s writing and the contours of American history. Students will begin their conference work putting the classic 19th-century American novel into perspective by looking at the classic 19th-century British novel.