A survey course such as this one implies a certain “coverage” of texts. But let me be honest, there is no way I or any other professor could do justice to the intricacies of “all of American literature through the end of the Civil War.” Instead, our aim in this course will be to follow a couple of through-lines which will help us to understand the development of a uniquely “American” literature which is influenced by the European colonists’ traditions, the Native American traditions, African slave traditions, and the writings emerging throughout the rest of the Americas.
Our through lines, then, are the captivity narrative and Jeremiad. The captivity narrative presents a victim taken away from her/his/their home by force. They must endure many trials, but eventually enjoy a “homecoming” either back to the original home or to a better home, a promised land. The Jeremiad acts as a warning to the audience to turn back to a “right way” be it religious, political, or social.
These two themes will help us to create a story to follow over the next few months, but remember that these are only a couple of the many, many stories that shape American literary tradition.