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Introduction to the American Hero

Page history last edited by Abigail Heiniger 8 years, 4 months ago

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  • Syllabus
  • Syllabus contract 





Welcome to American Literature after 1865: the American Hero


America was nearly shattered by years of Civil War, and it emerged looking for heroes to strengthen a quaking nation. This course looks at the way that heroes are used to create national narratives after 1865.  




Our heroic journey in this class begins with the syllabus.


What makes a hero?






Discussion Question: what do you know? 

  • What are some the American hero-myths with which you are already familiar?
  • What separates a mythic American hero from personal heroes?
    • My grandfather has always been one of my personal heroes, but he is not a shared mythic American hero. Why? 
  • Do you know any comic heroes?
    • Historical persona?  
      • Can people be mythic? 






Group Work:

Consider Vladimir Propp's "Thirty-One Functions of the Hero's Quest" and relate it to a quest narrative that you know.  





'pity this busy monster, manunkind'

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
                          A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

E. E. Cummings


How does e.e.cummings define the hero's quest in this poem?  

Heroes for a Broken Nation


The cost of the Civil War is hard to fathom, despite the fact that we have lived through the longest war in American history. Go to "Maimed Men - Life and Limb: The Toll of the American Civil War."


Walt Whitman (very deliberately) create heroes for a broken nation through his poetry in Leaves of Grass.


Discussion Questions


  • How does Whitman valorize the common American man?
  • How does Whitman create heroes for America through his poetry?
    •  What literary devices does he use?
  • Are there any unresolved tensions about the American hero in Whiman’s poetry? 

Whitman and Propp


Group Work:

Consider Vladimir Propp's "Thirty-One Functions of the Hero's Quest" and relate it to one (or two) of Whitman's poems. How does Whitman's work conform to (or resist) Propp's description of the quest?   




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