FYS-168 Great Escapes: Ways of Getting Lost in Classic American Literature

Instructor: Associate Professor Leonard S. Goldberg
Department: English

Course Description:
A detailed examination of some of the most provocative and challenging works of American romanticism, each of which addresses the problem of loss, the wish to escape something, or both. The works we'll read, including Thoreau's Walden, Frederick Douglass's Narrative, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and Melville's Moby-Dick, share little beyond being stunningly written within a few years and a few miles of one another, though one can at least posit a thematic link between them. Hawthorne wants to lose himself, and us, in the remote New England past, while less metaphorically, his characters have a way of losing their souls in the woods. Thoreau proposes the value of losing oneself, also in the woods, a few days before poll taxes are due, while Melville gives us an array of characters who, however good their captain is with maps, seem constantly lost at sea, disoriented. Douglass's story is of being unable to tell his story, of enforced silences, of having lost the words that are perhaps most instrumental to his salvation. Poe's fantastic and Emily Dickinson's metaphorical escapes will figure in our inquiry, as will Emerson's double-edged question, one that is always lurking within this genre: where do we find ourselves? Frequent brief writing assignments will serve as the basis of class discussion and of longer formal essays. The course will count toward the College writing requirement.