Dr. Hollis, English 2103: American Literature Pre-1895

Topic: Apply a definition of literature you develop on your own and sharpen in class discussion to a selection from Heath, up to page 1880. Discuss whether or not this selection is "literature" as you have defined it; if so, why; if not, why not?

Be sure your definition of literature includes formal, thematic and contextual criteria and that these are each applied to the work you have selected. Your paper should contain quotations from the work to back up your points. Also, feel free to quote from Heath regarding any contextual, historical, political, or biographical information that seems relevant to your discussion. You may also find some useful discussion of the Heath selection process in the prefatory pages of the anthology.  You may also get ideas about the nature of literature from outside sources--just be sure to document Heath and outside sources using MLA format. 

Which of the following criteria must be present for a text to be considered "literature" and worthy of careful study:

Formal Criteria:   sentence style, word choice, images used, literary techniques such as building suspense, addressing audience with questions, using literary and Biblical allusions, use of dialect, dialogue, genre (poetry, letters, journal/diary entries, short stories, autobiographies, etc.)

Thematic Criteria:   Importance and relevance of topics (content) addressed, universal themes, themes important to the time period,

Contextual Criteria:  Relevance to original audience, effect on audiences, relevance today, work's effect on political, social, economic events of the age

Many have debated this issue.  It has been argued that literature should delight, entertain or instruct.  What do you think? Are newspaper articles, song lyrics, encyclopedia entries, textbook information, advertisements, TV and movie scripts, and books on the bestseller lists to be considered "literature."  How about instruction manuals, the diary of a third grader with bad spelling, bumper stickers, restaurant menus? If not, why not?

Be Careful:

Hollis' Helpful Hints:

1.  Use standard expository form. Your paper should have a title, an enticing lead, a thesis towards the end of the 1st paragraph which predicts what is to come in your paper, support for the thesis in the form of quotations in the body of the paper and a conclusion--which is NOT a summary.   For help with introductions and conclusions go to this URL:


2.  Avoid plot summary.

3. Use the "literary present tense"

4. Remember that the work was created by an author whose ability you are evaluating. Thus, the author should be referred to frequently in your paper and also in literary present tense.

e.g., Eastman compares the spirituality of Native Americans to that of early Christians.

Length: 3-4 pages

Due Dates:

Wednesday, October 30 -- 1st Version For Peer Editing in Class
        Peer Editing is graded.

Monday, November 4 --Final Version Due along with Peer Editing Sheet and Rough Draft