American Literature

Online Class For Entire 2020-2021 Year

Instructor:  Holly Van Houten

Mondays 1:30- 3:30

31 weeks in the full course

 

NOTE:  PARENTS WILL BE GIVEN A BOOK LIST AND MUST PURCHASE THESE BOOKS FOR THEIR STUDENTS

 

Additional Work outside of the classroom is required:  Approximately 3-4 hours of reading and 2-3 hours or writing.

This class will cover a variety of American literature, including novels, plays, poems, short stories, essays, and speeches, as we explore the ideas and ideals that have defined our country.  Students will have a chance to explore wonderful works of literature with their peers. They will have an opportunity to exchange ideas and exercise their critical thinking skills, while enjoying imaginative literature that will stay with them forever!  

 

During the Fall, we will focus on the theme of “The American Identity:  This Land is Your Land / This Land is My Land!” With each of the short stories, poems, novels, plays and speeches we analyze, students will be challenged to think critically about the following questions:  What is an “American?” How is an “American” identity created? Why have people come to America, and why do they continue to come to America?  The literature we will be reading offers diverse perspectives on these questions.  We will begin with a close look at the “Declaration of Independence,” to provide a foundation for our inquiries, and then move on to classic stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Our novel for this quarter will be Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, which illustrates the sometimes-desperate plight of immigrants who seek safety and opportunity in America.  Our poetry study will center around Walt Whitman’s iconic “I Hear America Singing,” but will include other pieces by Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Langston Hughes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, all focused on what it means to be an “American.” As we read Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, we will explore the extraordinary communities Americans have created and the bonds that tie us together as a society.  We will conclude this quarter with a look at Theodore Roosevelt’s 1906 speech, “The Man with the Muck Rake,” as a way of exploring how Americans have been and are currently represented and defined in writing by our “Fourth Estate.”  

 

During the Winter, we will focus on the theme of “Rebels with a Cause: Civil Disobedience and the Fight for Equal Rights in America!” With each of the short stories, poems, novels, plays and speeches we analyze, students will be challenged to think critically about the following questions:  How has the concept of civil disobedience influenced America and its Literature? Under what circumstances should conscience outweigh the law?  How do we reconcile the pressure to conform with desire for individual freedom?  The literature we will be reading offers diverse perspectives on these questions.  We will begin with a close look at the Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience,” to provide a foundation for our inquiries, and then move on to classic stories by Kurt Vonnegut and Herman Melville.  Our novel for this quarter will be Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck wrestles with his conscience about helping his friend, Jim, escape from slavery.  Our poetry study will center around Robert Frost’s “The Mending-Wall,” but will include poems by Emily Dickinson, Frances E.W. Harper, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.  As we read A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, we will explore the plight of those fighting for equality.  We will conclude this quarter with a study of one of the great American Essays: “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr., which provides a fantastic model for argumentative writing.  

 

During the Spring, we will focus on the theme of “American Dreams / American Nightmares!” With each of the short stories, poems, novels, plays and speeches we analyze, students will be challenged to think critically about the following questions:  How is the American Dream defined by different people and at different times?  What values does it reflect? To what extent is it achievable by all? Who or what defines the American voice? The literature we will be reading offers diverse perspectives on these questions.  We will begin with a close look at Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream,” to provide a foundation for our inquiries, and then move on to classic stories by Sherwood Anderson and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Our novel for this quarter will be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which highlights some of the unseen costs of attaining material wealth.  Our poetry study will center around T.S. Eliot, as we take one of his most famous poems, “The Waste Land,” which is a fitting companion piece for Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the “Valley of Ashes” in The Great Gatsby.  As we read All My Sons, by Arthur Miller, we will explore the societal and personal costs of success by any means. We will conclude this quarter with a look at speeches by Michelle Obama and Julian Castro, each defining their vision of “The American Dream.”

 

The Writing Process will also be a central focus in this course, as students apply their creative and analytical thinking to these marvelous works of literature.  Students will not only have an opportunity to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their understanding in our class discussions, but they will also organize, develop and argue those ideas in their writing.  In addition to longer, academic essays, students will have an opportunity to write reader-response pages, an in-class essay and a speech.  They will also prepare oral presentations for the class.  Students will learn research techniques and MLA documentation as they develop their persuasive, analytical, expository and descriptive writing skills.  As students practice their writing skills, they will also build their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation and the conventions of formal writing.  

 

In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. This class will meet online each week for two hours through Zoom - an online video meeting platform (free for students).  The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in wonderful literature and the process of writing literary analysis essays.  The class will also utilize Google Classroom for assignments, discussion forums, and work-sharing both during class sessions and outside of class. 

 

A-G Course Requirements are available for those who wish to receive that credit.

 

About Holly

Students will receive instruction from Holly Van Houten, who has decades of experience preparing young writers with the skills they need to succeed. In addition to teaching Literature and Writing at The Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning, in Valencia, California since 2009, Holly taught in the USC Freshman Writing Department for 10 years, while completing her Ph.D. coursework in English and American Literature.  Holly has also taught in the English departments at Pepperdine University, California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Long Beach. She has helped young scholars become confident writers for over 30 years and has successfully prepared students of all abilities for college-level writing.