Professor Nathalia King
Office hourse: Mon & Wed 10:20-12:20 and by apt.

All primary texts and Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark are available for sale in the bookstore. Please purchase these editions so that we can refer to the same page numbers.

American authors have conceived of the writer’s work in ambivalent terms: sometimes as drudgery for pay, sometimes as artisanal craft, and sometimes as a sign of the intellect’s accession to a realm of freedom and truth. In 19th and 20th century American literature, this ambivalence about the writer’s place in society is manifest in the literary text as a range of attitudes that moves from empathy with the working classes to alienation from their condition. In the exploration of five stylistically dense and idiosyncratic texts, the project of this course is to compare the material and social labor performed by the characters to the imaginative, rhetorical work done by its narrator(s).  Our close readings will be grounded in the following questions.  Are characters and narrators ontological equals or do they occupy different positions in an allegorical hierarchy?  Are the text’s representations of material labor and the work of the literary imagination congruent or in conflict with one another?  How prominently and to what purpose does a character’s work figure in the narrator’s consciousness of his or her own project?  When and why is a character’s work echoed in the narrative’s style (i.e. the redundant nature of character’s work is represented by verbal repetition in the text)? Finally, how does the represented status of material, ethical, and artistic work contribute to the text’s argument about which values are either ideally or distinctly American? Primary texts include Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (Broadview 2004), Melville’s Billy Budd and The Piazza Tales (Barnes and Noble 2006), Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Willa Cather's, My Antonia, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (Modern Library Classics 2001), Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics, 1990). Secondary texts from a variety of critical sources will be available as pdfs on the syllabus web page.

George Ripley to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nov. 9, 1844—an invitation to join Brook Farm:

“Our objects, as you know, are to insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor than now exists; to combine the thinker and the worker, as far as possible, in the same individual; to guarantee the highest mental freedom, by providing all with labor, adapted to their tastes and talents, and securing to them the fruits of their industry; to do away with the necessity of menial services, by opening the benefits of education and the profits of labor to all; and thus to prepare a society of liberal, intelligent, and cultivated persons, whose relations with each other would permit a more simple and wholesome life, than can be led in the midst the pressure of our competitive institutions.”