Syllabus | Assignments

We will examine a century of poetry, fiction, drama and autobiographical works set in or written by authors from the upper Midwest, and consider some ways in which their subjects and preoccupations mirrored the region’s history, culture and geography.
Writers whose works we will sample include Hamlin Garland, Mark Twain, Theodore Dresier, Susan Glaspell, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Fenton Johnston, Winona La Duke, Gwendolyn Brooks, Aldo Leopold, Marilyn Robinson, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove and others.

As assignments, I will ask students to bring in questions for class discussion, post brief web-responses to the texts, prepare class-presentations on one or more of the course’s authors, and write two six-page critical essays, one due midway through the course and the other at the end.



January 18th Wednesday 

January 23rd Monday
Hamlin Garland, Main Travelled Roads, “Up the Coolly,” “A 'Good Fellow''s Wife," “Mrs. Ripley’s Trip,”

January 25th  Wednesday

Garland, "Under the Lion's Paw," early Native American poems


January 30th Monday
Early Native American poems

February 1st Wednesday

Discussion of 2 essays from The American Midwest: A Regional History, ed. Cayton and Gray;

Mark Twain, "The War Prayer," "Man's Place in the Animal World"

Icon post due Friday the 3rd

At least one of your 7 ICON posts should comment on one of the handouts from The American Midwest


February 6th Monday
Mark Twain if needed; begin Ole Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth

February 8th Wednesday
Ole Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth


February 13th Monday
Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth

February 15th Wednesday
Susan Glaspell, “Trifles” and “A Jury of Her Peers”

2nd ICON post due Friday the 17th


February 20th Monday
Glaspell, “The Verge,” “The Inheritors”

February 22nd Wednesday

February 27th Monday
Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

February 29th Wednesday
Dreiser, Sister Carrie

3rd ICON posting due Friday the 2nd


March 5th Monday
Dreiser, Sister Carrie
Topic of first paper with bibliography due

March 7th Wednesday
Poets: Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg


Friday 9th outline of first paper due

Spring break

March 19th Monday
Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac
First paper due

March 21st Wednesday
Leopold, Sand County Almanac

4th ICON post due Friday the 30th


March 26th Monday
Sinclair Lewis, Main Street

March 28th Wednesday
Lewis, Main Street


April 2nd Monday
Poets: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Fenton Johnson, possibly begin Brooks

April 4th Wednesday
Gwendolyn Brooks, selections from Collected Poems

5th ICON post due Friday the 6th


April 9th Monday
Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

April 11th Wednesday
Smiley, A Thousand Acres


April 16th Monday
Winona La Duke, Last Standing Woman

April 18th Wednesday
La Duke, Last Standing Woman

6th ICON post due Friday the 20th


April 23rd Monday
Toni Morrison, Beloved 

April 25th Wednesday
Morrison, Beloved

 April 30th Monday
Marilyn Robinson, Gilead

 May 2nd Wednesday Robinson, Gilead

7th ICON post due Friday the 4th

Exam: class meeting for presentations and take-home exam/essay May 7th 3:30 p. m.


8:154 Literature of the American Midwest

3:30-4:45 p. m. MW 205 EPB
Instructor: Florence Boos
Office: 319 EPB, office phone 335-0434 (answering machine)
Office hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 5-6 p. m. and 2:30-3:20 p. m. by appointment

Textbooks at IMU:
Garland, Hamlin, Main Travelled Roads
Dreiser, Theodore, Sister Carrie
Glaspell, Susan, Four Plays
Rolvaag, Ole Edwart, Giants in the Earth
Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn
Robinson, Marilyn Gilead
Leopold, Aldo, Sand County Almanac
Lewis, Sinclair, Main Street
Brooks, Gwendolyn, Collected Poems
Smiley, Jane, A Thousand Acres
Morrison, Tony, Beloved

Other material:
La Duke, Winona, Last Standing Woman (you must order this Barnes and Noble or elsewhere)
Native American poems, Carl Sandburg, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Fenton Johnson, handouts
Glaspell, Susan, “A Jury of Her Peers,” handout (short story)
readings from The American Midwest: A Regional History, ed. Andrew Cayton and Susan Gray

Exam: (take home essay) May 10th, 2012 at 5:00 p. m.


come prepared to class each session and contribute to class discussion; sometimes I will ask you to bring in questions for discussion;
past 7 short essays/reading responses to ICON on the texts we have read; these should be the equivalent of about two typed pages (and please number postings);
present to the class biographical/publication-reception information on one or more authors we read; or alternately, summarize and comment on a critical essay on an author;
submit 2 6+ page essays on topics of your choice, the first due March 19th and the second due at the end of exam period. If you give me drafts the week before these are due, I will return them with suggestions. For this you are expected to use several critical/historical sources (including several not available exclusively on the internet).
present your final paper to the class during exam week.



8:154 Literature of the American Midwest , Final Paper/Exam:
To be summarized at our final session, held  Thursday May 10th, 2012 at 5:00 p. m. 

Please write a six page essay contrasting some aspect of the works of two authors  we have studied, to show how they represent an important feature of Midwestern culture, values or sensibility, or alternately, different responses to literary fashions and concerns of their periods. If the authors you discuss are from different periods, you should consider whether their contrasting  choices reflect shifts in literary taste or social concerns as the century progressed.

Your essay, in other words, should comment not only on the works themselves but how they express contrasting the thematic concerns or stylistic tastes of their respective periods.

Your essay should include comments on formal features of the writings you discuss: for poetry, style, stanzaic form, rhythm, meter and diction; for prose, narrative structure and organization, use of metaphor and language, narrative voice(s) and speech.

Writers we have studied have included several Native American poets, Hamlin Garland, Ole E. Rolvaag, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Aldo Leopold, Susan Glaspell, Winona LaDuke, Mark Twain, Jane Smiley, Toni Morrison, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Marilynne Robinson and Sinclair Lewis.

Topics you might consider for contrast include:

the pioneer experience/shifting American ideals
themes of democracy and repression
use of landscape; themes of nature and the environment
the sense of place and region; values ascribed to the midwest
use of compound protatonists/poetic or narrative sequences
rural vs. urban life
immigration, multiple ethnicities/old world cultures vs. assimilation
issues of gender/ sexuality
racial relations/relations with native peoples
crime and violence
issues of belief and religion
isolation/atomization vs. community
family relationships/marriage/parent child relations
issues of fate/social determination
war and conflict
the uses of history; the sense of a future
evocation of regional differences
social hierarchy/issues of class and marginalization
fellowship/alternative societies or ideals

Quiz March 7th, 2012 8:154 Literature of the American Midwest
For each of the following quotations, please indicate 1. author of work; 2. title; 3. speaker; 4. relative location in text; 5. meaning/significance (e. g., why is this important); and 6. notable literary or stylistic features (6 pts. each)

“Money can’t give me a chance now.” . . .

“I mean life ain’t worth very much to me. I’m too old to take a new start. I’m a dead failure. I’ve come to the conclusion that life’s a failure for ninety-nine per cent of us. You can’t help me now. It’s too late.
The two men stood there, face to face, hands clasped, the one fair-skinned, full-lipped, handsome in his neat suit; the other tragic, somber in his softened mood, his large, long, rugged Scotch face bronzed with sun and scarred with wrinkles that had histories, like sabre-cuts on a veteran, the record of his battles.

2. Who says the Indian race is vanishing? . . .

The feathers, paint and moccasin will vanish, but the Indians,--never! . . . .
He is an industrial and commercial man, competing with the world; he has not vanished . . .
The man part of the Indian is here, there and everywhere.

3. Then it is—out. (from where  __  stands­­­­ __  turns slowly to the plant) You weren’t. You are. . . .

Breath of the uncaptured?
You have been brought in.
A thousand years from now, when you are but form too long repeated,
Perhaps the madness that gave you birth will burst again,
And from the prison that is you will leap pent queernesses
To make a form that hasn’t been-
To make a person new.
And this we call creation, (very low, --- head not coming up),
Go away!

4. “O Lord our God , . . . help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, . . . stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! . . . .”  After a pause: “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

5. “Silence!” exclaimed the captain. “Now, then, gentlemen, these men are without beds. They have to have some place to sleep tonight. They can’t lie out in the streets. I need twelve cents to put one of them to bed. Who will give it to me?” . . . .

“Twelve cents, gentlemen—twelve cents puts this man to bed. He wouldn’t stand here in the cold if he had any place to go.” . . . .
At last a lady in opera cape and rustling skirts came down Fifth Avenue, accompanied by her escort. . . . she turned and, looking at the remarkable company, sen her escort over. .  . .
“Thanks,” said the captain, turning to the two remaining applicants. “Now we have some for to-morrow night,”. . . .
“One hundred and thirty-seven,” he announced. “Now, boys, line up. Right dress there. We won’t be much longer about this. Steady, now.”

6. “To-night I am leaving you. . . . Yes, I must leave you. . . I know this is the end! The Lord has found me out because of my sins. . . . It is written, ‘To fall into the hands of the living God!. . . Oh!—it is terrible! . . . I can’t see how you will get along when you are left alone . . . though I have only been a burden to you lately . . . You must take the boys with you---and go away from here!  . . . How lonesome it will be for me . . .to lie here all alone.”

. . .  “But promise me one thing: put me away in the big chest! . . . I have emptied it and made it ready. . . And you must be sure to dig the grave deep! . . . You haven’t heard how terribly the wolves howl at night! . . . Promise to take plenty of time and dig deep down—do you hear!” . . . “Leave as soon as spring comes! Human beings cannot exist here!. . . They grow into beasts. . . .”

7. . . . the gradual unfolding

Of brilliance and strength in the future, earth’s bosom is holding
Today in those scurrying leaves, soon to be crumpled and broken.
Let those who have ears hear my word and be still. I have spoken.

8. He has just one stupendous superiority. In his intellect he is supreme. The Higher Animals cannot touch him there. It is curious, it is noteworthy, that no heaven has ever been offered him wherein his one sole superiority was provided with a chance to enjoy itself. Even when he himself has imagined heaven, he has never made provision in it for intellectual joys. It is a striking omission. It seems a tacit confession that heavens are provided for the Higher Animals alone. This is matter for thought; and for serious thought. And it is full of a grim suggestion: that we are not as important, perhaps, as we had all along supposed we were.

9. County Attorney: (facetiously) Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to—what is it you call it, ladies?

______: (her hand against her pocket) We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson.

10. “Here is the deed to our kingdom, ____! See to it that you take good care of the papers. . . . Isn’t it stranger than a fairy tale, that a man can have such things here, just for the taking? . . . Yes—and years after he won the princess, too! . . . . If the soil out here is half as good as it’s cracked up to be, we’ll have a fine crop the very first fall! . . . It’s going to be wonderful; you’ll see how wonderful I can make it for you, this kingdom of ours!” ____ laughed until his eyes were drawn out in two narrow slits. “And no old worn-out, thin-shanked, pot-bellied king is going to come around and tell me what I have to do about it, either!”

11. When this jangle of free-will and instinct shall have been adjusted, when perfect understanding has given the former the power to replace the later entirely, man will no longer vary. The needle of understanding will yet point steadfast and unwavering to the distant pole of truth. . . .

_____’s state was remarkable in that she saw possibilities in it. She was no sensualist, longing to drowse sleepily in the lap of luxury. She turned about, troubled by her daring, glad of her release, wondering whether she would get something to do, wondering what _____ would do. That worthy had his future fixed for him beyond a peradventure. He could not help what he was going to do. He could not see clearly enough to wish to do differently. He was dawn by his innate desire to act the old pursuing part. He would need to delight himself with ____  as surely as he would need to eat his heavy breakfast. He might suffer the least rudimentary twinge of conscience in whatever he did, and in just so far he was evil and sinning. But whatever twinges of conscience he might have would be rudimentary, you may be sure. . .
“Got on the new shoes, haven’t you? Stick `em out. George, they look fine. Put on your jacket.”
_____ obeyed.

12. ___ shrank and quivered, expected the blow; stood, half hypnotized by the eyes of the man he had a moment before despised—a man transformed into an avenging demon. But in the deadly hush between the lift of the weapon and its fall there came a gush of faint, childish laughter and then across the range of his vision far away and dim, he saw the sun-bright head of his baby girl, as with the pretty, tottering run of a two-year-old, she moved across the grass of the dooryard. His hands relaxed: the fork fell to the ground; his head lowered.