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What is American Literature?

The title of this course is, as we know, American Literature Survey. Over the past two months, we’ve read poetry, plays, essays, and short fiction that span more than a century of the best writing produced in this country. For your final paper, I’d like you to consider what makes a literature distinctly American. Choose one piece to focus on – you my choose two, but no more, otherwise the paper will be too unwieldy. How does this text illustrate what you consider to be “American literature”? Is it patriotic in some way, or does it examine an issue that is uniquely American? If you traveled to a different country and had to share one piece we’ve read as being representative of your country, what would you choose, and why? How does this piece reflect something vital about your country? This is a fairly large and open topic, and you can approach it in any number of ways: politically, social issue, personal essay. This is a topic you’ll want to consider and think through before you start writing.

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Your paper should:

Make use of quotations and be thoroughly engaged with the text.

Show that you have thought through what you consider to be “American literature.” How do you define it? Why do you consider this text American, beyond the fact that it was written by an American? If you don’t think it is, why? Most of all, show that you have formulated your own conception of what it means to create an essentially American literature.

How can you see this issue impacting the characters or the story in general? If you’re working with a historical text, what can this text tell you about the U.S. or patriotism at the time? Really use the text to illustrate your point, but don’t forget that your argument is the most important thing. Don’t let your argument get lost in a lot of plot summary – be sure that the text supports your argument.

Be well structured and organized with a strong introduction and conclusion, good topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs, and a clear flow.

3-5 pages, single spaced (roughly 500-1,000 words, though more is okay)