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First Critical Essay The American Literary Canon Assignment | Get Homework Help

This first formal writing assignment asks you to seriously contemplate a new phrase: the American Literary Canon

The term canon originally referred to a set of selected books of the Christian bible. However, for our scholarly purposes, canon refers to notable and accepted works of literature that best represent a particular era.
In the last century, the American literary canon has been challenged for many reasons, namely, the lack of diversity amongst these “approved writers.” For instance, an American Literature anthology in 1950 may have contained Walt Whitman but not Paul Lawrence Dunbar or Gertrude Stein. While some critics praise the change to be more inclusive, others argue the classics will always be the classics—as in, what has always been viewed as the iconic writing of a time period should remain so.

This concept becomes an important one for us to contemplate. Why have these texts been continually anthologized? What is it about them that sustains over time and still speaks to readers? Is it because the text itself is entertaining? Is there some facet of the work that is inherently “American”? Or does it teach us something about a past era, an aspect of humanity, societal expectations of the genders, the true meaning of and appreciation for freedom? Some other as yet unnamed reason?

If you’re suddenly concerned that you can’t answer for a whole generation why one text is more significant than another, trust your intuition. You are the life-long reader.

Your reading of a text is as unique as the text itself. You may see something in a Dickinson poem that your peer in the same course does not; you may find bitter truth in Howells’ “Editha” because you too have questioned the true human costs of a nation engaged in war; you may be shocked by the representation of infidelity in Chopin’s short story “The Storm”; you may find beauty in the order and insight of Whitman’s poems.

While you may not “care” for many of the stories, essays, poems, and plays that we read in class, there should be a few that do provoke you intellectually, ones that “speak to you” in some significant way. At the very least, you should be able to make thoughtful connections between the people who were writing the words then, the times during which they lived, and the context during which we read them today.

B. Assignment Specifics:

Directions & PROMPT:

Select one to two readings from an author from our course study
(“Song of Myself” walt whitman, “The Wound Dresser” by walt whitman)
NOTE: you may also choose American authors, poets, or essayists that we have yet to cover but who are published in our course anthology. Please contact me if this is your plan.

Your general essay topic:
Your essay should focus upon your experience reading the text(s) you select and a defense of why it should remain a part of the American Literary Canon.

Documentation Style: Proper MLA heading and citation; Works Cited page
MVCC Speaking & Writing CenterLinks to an external site.

MLA Style Web Site (Links to an external site.)

Length: 3-5 pages, double-spaced, size 12 font

Secondary Sources: you should use only primary sources for this first assignment.

I want to hear your thoughts, not research from some fancy-pants critic, stodgy historian, or, heaven help us all, a “homework help” website.

You will have the opportunity to research secondary sources for the term project. For this first personal reflection, you should rely solely on your ideas and information from our American Literature Anthology. If you have questions about this requirement, please feel free to contact me.


Submission Guidelines: Students will submit final drafts of the essays through the Assignment Link in Canvas. The VeriCite tool will be enabled. Essays submitted in other formats (hard-copy, via e-mail, etc.) will not be included in final grade calculations.

Syllabus Policy Reminders:

Essays submitted late are subject to the late work policy penalties.

Essays submitted one week after the due date will be accepted but not graded.

A reflective response illustrates the student has engaged in the following:

Careful reading
Engagement with the text
Inquiry/wonder about the text
Personal expression regarding the content of the text

D. Getting Started: Need help generating content? Consider answering some of the following questions as you brainstorm:

General—information to consider including in an introduction:

  • What is this essay/poem/story about?
  • Who is the author of the piece?
  • How does the author’s personality and/or background influence the writing?
  • What time period was it first published?
  • Does the writing include references to major historical moments? If so, do you think these references to actual events/conditions are fair? Do they fit what you imagined them to be?
  • What are some of the characteristics of the writing?
  1. Specific Ideas for the core of your thesis, substance of body paragraphs:
  • What are some thoughts you had while reading?
  • Were there elements of the text you connected to? How/why? Did something trigger a memory and/or association?
  • Do you feel this selection represents your idea of “America”? Do you feel this selection

represents the general viewpoint of “America” to the mass U.S. population?

  • What are some “timeless” aspects of the piece?
  • What do you like about the reading?
  • What do you dislike about the reading?
  • Do you feel like anything is falsely or unfairly represented in the reading?
  • Create your own questions to explore!

Final Note: As with all reading and writing assignments for this course, you may feel free to consult with me at any and every stage of the writing process. I am more than happy to help you brainstorm, find a focus, create a thesis, and revise your essays before you submit them for a final grade.


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