Course description

What lies behind the relentless American drive toward the new and improved self? And how has the meaning of success changed over time— from person to person, from group to group? We’ll approach these questions historically through a range of literary works, working from early voices like Ben Franklin and Frederick Douglass to modern ones like Edith Wharton and David Mamet. Along the way, we’ll see that the vaulted American dream is hardly a one-size-fits all category: one’s race, class, and gender can significantly shape one’s experience and definition of personal happiness.

The aims of the course are several: for you to 1) gain a rich understanding of the course’s key concepts; 2) track these ideas across a range of works; 3) extend our classroom analysis to the world of text and media outside the syllabus; 4) expand your powers of close reading; 5) persuasively support an interpretive claim in writing and oral presentation; 6) become a more resourceful researcher.


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