FROM GOSSIP TO MYTH
EIGHT MODERN AMERICAN STORYTELLERS
Spring 1997

 

English 4336-001 Office Hours: T/TH; 12:30-2 p.m. M, W, F: by apt.
Instructor: Dr. Roemer Office: 402 Bank (or Preston as announced)
202 Preston Hall Phone: 272-2692

Rational / Goals / Assessment

Idle gossip and heroic myth seem to represent opposite poles of expression. The claim of this course is that some of the best twentieth-century American fiction makes myth of gossip in delightful, wonderful, and tragic ways. The fiction transforms into mythic stature types of small town, family, or private events that are often associated with topics of gossip and often presented in oral, as opposed to written forms. The focus of the course will be selected works by eight American authors who, in very different ways, achieved this transformation. (Note: one of the works examined, Momaday's, combines myth and nonfiction.)

Chronological and geographical arrangements structure the course. Chronological -- because the authors examined often influenced each other. By placing the works in chronological order we can gain insights into the processes of influence, which in these cases range from imitation to rejection. Geographical -- because the roots of gossip and myth are grounded in strong senses of place. I deliberately selected works that concentrate on different parts of the United States (and were written from differing cultural, racial, class, age, and gender perspectives) to suggest the diversity of origins and natures of the transformations of gossip to myth in modern American fiction.

By the end of the semester students who have successfully completed the in- and out-of-class assignments should be able to:
(1) discuss intelligently (orally and in writing) the following questions in relation to the authors assigned: How are mythic expressions linked to the most local/common/private expressions and experiences? How do geographical, cultural, racial, class, age, and gender perspectives and writing and reading conventions affect the relationships between myth and gossip? ;
(2) compose autobiographical writing that utilizes the form and inventive processes of The Way to Rainy Mountain to place their own private, family, or community experiences within historical and storytelling contexts;
(3) write an analytical paper that incorporates relevant criticism into their discussion of one of the assigned texts.

Students progress toward these goals will be assessed by their performances in class discussions (goal 1), the three examinations (goal 1 and possibly goal 3), the first paper (goal 2), and the second paper (goal 3). (See comments about criteria for class participation, exams and papers below.)

Required Texts (in the order of their discussion)

Silko, Ceremony ,"Yellow Woman," "Language and Literature"
Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain; "The Man Made of Words"
Roemer, "Inventive Modeling"
Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio and "Death in the Woods"
Hemingway, In Our Time
Erdrich, Love Medicine
Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Faulkner, Go Down, Moses
Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

 

Topics, Assignments, and Tentative Dates to Complete the Reading Assignments

Introduction to the course 1/21

Southwest / Native American

Readings: Silko: "Yellow Woman," "Language & Literature"
Film: Running on the Edge of the Rainbow 1/23
Ceremony 1/28,30; 2/4
Film: Arrowboy and the Witches 2/6
Momaday: Way to Rainy Mountain; "Man Made of Words"
Roemer, "Inventive Modeling," possible guest
speaker 2/11,13,18,20

First Examination 2/25
First Paper 3/6

Midwestern Fragmented Narratives / Middle Classes & Lower Classes

Readings: Anderson: Winesburg, Ohio, "Death in the Woods" 2/27; 3/4,6
Hemingway: In Our Time 3/11, 13
Erdrich: Love Medicine 3/25,27; 4/1

Second Examination 4/3

South / Black and White / Women and Men /Young and Old

Readings: Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God 4/8,10

Paper Prospectus Due 4/10

Individual Conferences to Discuss Prospectus 4/15,17

Reading: Faulkner: Go Down, Moses 4/22.24,29

Northeast / Poor, Middle, and Upper Classes

Reading: Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby 5/1.6,[8]

Second Paper Due 5/1

Review for Final Examination 5/8

Final Examination 5/13

 

Examinations

The three examinations will consist of two types of questions: (1) brief questions or identifications based on the readings and class lectures and discussions (usually 20%-30% of the test); essay questions based on analyses of passages or on responses to position statements or important issues. During the class previous to each exam, I will distribute detailed study sheets for the examinations.

Grading criteria for the essay questions: coherence/unity (i.e., how well you stick to the question and demonstrate understandable and persuasive ways of arranging your ideas), strength of argument( i.e., how logically and imaginatively you support your claims with relevant references to the readings and with convincing ideas), mechanical/editorial correctness (this will be less important for the essay exams than for the papers).

First Paper

This paper and the criteria for evaluation are described in detail in "Inventive Modeling." You will be required to write three, three-voice sections.

Second Paper

This short analytical paper (1,250 to 1,750 words) should demonstrate your ability to establish a significant position or argument about one of the assigned texts and to support and develop that argument with relevant critical studies and with relevant examples from the text. The criteria for evaluating this paper include these demonstrated skills and the skills indicated above in the "Examination" section. On or before April 10, you must turn in a paper prospectus that (1) defines the scope and significance of your paper, (2) indicates how your will organize the paper, and (3) identifies at least five articles or chapters and the relevant sections of the text that you will use to support and develop your argument or position. Use the MLA Handbook as a guide to bibliographic format. Good starting points for your research are: the annuals American Literary Scholarship and the PMLA Bibliographies and internet sources such as the web cite: http://www.web-cite.com/ and "First Search" (reference librarians on the second floor can help with this).

Grading "Weights" and Considerations

Three Examinations 50% (each counts equally)
Papers 50% (1st - 20%; 2nd - 30%)
Class Participation See below.

Warnings: (1) If you plan to drop the course, you must follow university policies; otherwise you risk an F in the course. (2) Class participation is an important part of the course; if you are not there, you can not contribute. For each five unexcused absences, I will lower your semester grade by a half grade. (3) Plagiarism is a serious ethical problem. At UTA a student can be suspended or expelled for plagiarism. If you do not understand the material I distribute about plagiarism and academic dishonesty, be sure to speak to me early in the semester.
Encouragement: (1) I am respect improvement. If you receive a low grade on an early assignment and higher grades on later assignments, I will weigh the latter grades more heavily. (2) Consistent contributions to class discussions can raise your semester grade, especially if you have a D+, C+, or B+ grade by the end of the semester. (3) In cooperation with the Office of Students with Disabilities and the Office of Counseling and Career Development , I am very willing to work with students with disabilities.

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