American Experience: American Gothic: History and Horror

English 115W Lecture 1


Instructor: Bridget M. Marshall


Office: Bartlett 462

Office Hours:  Tuesdays 12 – 2 pm

Class Meetings: Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:30 – 3:45

Meeting Place: Hamden 200 

From the Salem Witch Hysteria of 1692, to Indian massacres, to the legacy of slavery, America’s past includes a dark history.  It is a history frequently ignored in our history books, but one that repeatedly surfaces, particularly in our literary tradition.  In American Gothic, we will trace the history of interpreting these moments of America’s past, and also consider how these dark events serve as literary devices and backdrops.  How does the interpretation of history change over the years?  What does the re-interpretation of historical events say about our times?  We will seek, through discussion and readings of both primary sources and interpretative materials from a variety of fields, to learn more about American history and literature, using one to illuminate the other, and, ideally, to discover the darkness that lurks beneath.

Course Requirements and Evaluation:

Classroom Citizenship: 20%.

Your attendance at our class meetings is essential to the success of our course, and is required as a part of your grade.  You are allowed only two “free” absences (one week’s worth of class).  For every class beyond those two that you miss, your final grade for the class will be lowered half a grade.  (I.e., if you have an “A” for the class, but have missed 3 classes, you will receive an “A/B” for your final grade.)  Please be prompt; extensive or repeated lateness will be considered an absence. 

Class participation is also necessary and required.  This includes contributing to the class discussion and actively listening to the thoughts and comments of your peers.  Please be considerate and respectful of your classmates and make the classroom a space where everyone can speak their mind.  We will have full-class discussion, as well as small group work.  If you are not particularly comfortable speaking in the full-class discussion, be sure you are making up for it in the smaller group discussions.  As a matter of common courtesy to your classmates and to me, please TURN OFF your cell phone during class time.

Short In-Class writings: 10%

We will often begin class with short writing prompts that will remind us of the readings, and hopefully prompt discussion.  They are not quizzes, but I will use them to judge how well you are keeping up with and engaging with the readings.  Mostly they are meant to help us all focus our attentions at the beginning of class, and to help us keep discussion moving.  These writing assignments are a chance for you to tell me what you think about the readings, and a chance for me to respond to your thoughts on an individual basis.  Please save these assignments; they will be helpful as you develop your longer writing assignments and final projects.

Group Presentation: 15%

There is one Group Presentation during the semester. Groups will be responsible for leading discussion on the chosen text during the assigned class period.  There can be no “make-up” for this assignment.  Group and text assignments will be made a few weeks into the semester, and more details will be provided at that time.

Two Short Response Papers: 25%

There are two Response Papers due during the semester.  These should be focused writings of about 2 to 3 pages, illustrating your knowledge of and interest in a particular text that we have read in the class so far.  You MUST have a paper in class on the day it is due, as we will share our papers in small groups during class as a start to the day’s class discussion.  I will respond to the papers with detailed comments on both content and form, so that you will get an idea of what I am expecting for the final paper. 

Final Paper: 30%

There is a final paper, 6 to 8 pages in length.  The topic is open, though you must focus on a text we have read in the course.  I will ask that you have a topic approved by me before the last week of the semester.  We will have peer response sessions during the last week of class to help you develop your ideas.  There is no final exam.

Evaluation and Grading

Grading is my least favorite aspect of the course; however, grades are necessary, not only to the University, but also in many cases in order to motivate students.  I will give a grade or a number for the two short papers and the group presentations, and “checks” for each day’s attendance and for your short writing assignments.  Particularly active class participation or strong short writing assignments will earn a “check plus.”  Class participation or writing that is particularly lacking will receive a “check minus” or, in extreme cases, a “zero.”

If you have a concern about a grade or a question about your standing in the class, I am quite happy to talk with you.  This type of conversation is best suited to an individual conference.  You can see me during my office hours, or schedule an appointment at another time.

A final word on the unpleasant part of grades, specifically the bad ones: you are not eligible for a passing grade of D unless you have attended at least 11 of 14 weeks worth of classes, and completed 90% of the assignments.  This is non-negotiable.  If you have a serious absence/attendance problem, I recommend that you drop the course.

About Academic Honesty

All University policies on plagiarism apply to all writing assignments in this course.  This means that if you plagiarize an assignment, you will receive an “F” for the course, and you are subject to other discipline (including expulsion from the University) at the discretion of the instructor and the University.

Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism.  You must cite all sources that you use, including online sources.  Also, remember that “using” a source includes DIRECTLY QUOTING, PARAPHRASING, AND USING IDEAS from any source.  There is nothing wrong with “getting help” from other writers, just be sure to acknowledge it by using quotation marks and/or author/page citation. Please take the time to give proper credit to the work of other authors.  It is a matter of respect – for yourself, for other authors, for your classmates, and for me.

Course Textbooks:

Novels will be available at Food for Thought Books in downtown Amherst.  Feel free to purchase used copies – you can find many of these at the local bookstores and online.  Most of the readings are collected in the course packet, available at Copy Cat in downtown Amherst.  There is also a copy of the packet at the Reserve Desk in the library.  Some readings will be provided in class handouts.

Calendar of Assignments:

Below you will find a preliminary outline for the semester.  If you miss a class, you are still responsible for what was due on the day(s) you missed and on the day you return, so ALWAYS consult the syllabus (or a classmate, or me) if you have missed or will miss a class.


What’s Due for this class

Tuesday 29 January

First class meeting

Thursday 31 January

Overview of the Salem Witch Hysteria

Cotton Mather: “Discourse on the Wonders…” (handout)

“New England Witches” from An Underground Education (handout)

Tuesday 5 February

Salem Primary Source Material

Cotton Mather: “Remarks Concerning the Accused,” “A Further Account of the Tryals,” and “The Tryal of Bridget Bishop”

Thursday 7 February

Salem Primary Source Material

Deodat Lawson:  “A brief and true narrative,” Letters of Gov. Phips

Tuesday 12 February

Salem Interpretive Material

Marc Mappen:  Witches & Historians (excerpts)

Thursday 14 February

Literary Interpretations

Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Alice Doan’s Appeal”

Mary Wilkins Freeman: “The Witch’s Daughter”

Tuesday 19 February

No Class: University follows a Monday Schedule

Thursday 21 February

Scientific Interpretations of Salem

Excerpts from Laurie Winn Carlson: A Fever in Salem(handout)

Tuesday 26 February

Dramatic Interpretation

Arthur Miller: The Crucible pp 1 - 46


What’s Due for this class

Thursday 28 February

Arthur Miller: The Crucible pp 47 - 76

Tuesday 5 March

Arthur Miller: The Crucible pp 77 – 135

Thursday 7 March

First Response Paper Due

Tuesday 12 March

James W. Loewen: “Celebrating Genocide”

James W. Loewen: “Red Eyes”

Thursday 14 March

Washington Irving: “Traits of Indian Character”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Hiawatha” (excerpts)

March 19-21


Tuesday 26 March

Zitkala-Sa: “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” and introductory material on Zitkala-Sa

Thursday 28 March

Helen Hunt Jackson: selected poems (packet)

Emily Dickinson: selected poems  (handout)

Tuesday 2 April

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Giant Wistaria” (handout)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Thursday 4 April

Edgar Allan Poe:  “The Black Cat,” “To Helen,” “The Raven”

Sarah Helen Whitman: selected poems

Tuesday 9 April

William Faulkner: “A Rose for Emily”

Strange Fruit Lyrics, associated readings (handouts)

Thursday 11 April

Second Response Paper Due

Tuesday 16 April

Charles W. Chesnutt: “The Goophered Grapevine” (packet)

Thursday 18 April

Charles W. Chesnutt: “’Po Sandy” (packet)

Charles W. Chesnutt: “Sis’ Becky’s Pickaninny” (packet)

Tuesday 23 April

Toni Morrison: Beloved pp. 1 - 49

Thursday 25 April

Toni Morrison: Beloved pp. 50 - 105

Tuesday 30 April

Toni Morrison: Beloved pp. 106 - 158

Thursday 2 May

Toni Morrison: Beloved pp. 159 - 199

Tuesday 7 May

Toni Morrison: Beloved pp. 200 - 235

Thursday 9 May

Toni Morrison: Beloved pp. 239 - 275 (end)

Tuesday 14 May

Last Day of Class: 2-page draft of final paper due

Peer Review of Final Papers

Friday 17 May

Final Paper Due