Declarations of Independence: American Literary Masterworks and Their British Counterparts

Sophomore and above—Year

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 of rebellion 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, and 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, John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, J. D. Salinger, and Sylvia Plath. Students will begin their conference work by putting the classic, 19th-century American novel in perspective by looking at a series of classic, 19th-century British novels.