English 116W-01 Topics in American Literature
Spring 2006: Women Writers
MWF 9:10-10:10
Eaton 308

Frann Michel
Eaton 204
office hours: MWF 10:20-11:20, F 2-4,
and other times by appointment

texts and links



policies and problems

This course examines selected prose worksó-novels, short stories, and memoirsó-by American (European-American, African-American, Cuban-American, and Chinese-American) women writers since the mid-nineteenth century. We will explore the intersections of sentimentalism and slavery, realism and race, class and characterization, hybridity and history, fantasy and family myth. We will consider the forms of textual communication and the forms of culture they may express or help constitute, including ways that race, ethnicity, and class shape ideas about womanhood, as well as the ways race, ethnicity, class, and gender influence ideas of American identity.

This course fulfills the Interpreting Texts MOI requirement. As such, it will help you develop your skills in analyzing and understanding textual representations of human experience. We will consider style and genre; study various interpretive strategies and problems; and examine dynamic relations among author, reader, and text.

This is a writing-centered course, and informal writing will be a primary mode of learning. In addition, the course requires two critical essays, in on time. Brief in-class and at-home writing assignments and peer editing will contribute directly or indirectly to the development of these essays, as will oral reports.

Students will present oral reports on texts (20% of final grade) as well as participating in class discussion (20% of final grade), will write two papers (20% each), and will complete a final examination (20%). Please see below for more information on course requirements.

Texts available at WU bookstore:
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
The House of Mirth
Bread Givers
The Woman Warrior
Memory Mambo

Texts on reserve or available online:
Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Far, "In the Land of the Free"

Some links on Writing 

Harriet Beecher Stowe 1811-1896

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

Extensive site on Uncle Tom's Cabin and its context

Text of the novel from U Penn

Text of the novel from U Virginia

Text of the novel

Harriet Jacobs 1813-1897

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

Extensive site on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Timeline of events 1808-1861

Images relevant to the text

Text of Incidents

Voices from the Gaps site on Jacobs

Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1860-1935

"The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892)

PDF text of the story

Study questions about the story


Sui Sin Far (Edith Eaton) 1865-1914

"In the Land of the Free," Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912)

American Passages Site on Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far

Voices from The Gaps Site



Edith Wharton 1862-1937

The House of Mirth (1905)


Edith Wharton Society




image at right: Reynolds's Mrs. Lloyd, the painting Lily Bart replicates for the tableaux vivants



Anzia Yezierska c.1885-1970

Bread Givers (1925)

American Passages site on Yezierska



Maxine Hong Kingston b. 1940

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976)

Voices from the Gaps site 

Site on Kingston including study questions 


Achy Obejas b. 1956

Memory Mambo (1996)

Voices from the Gaps site on Obejas


back to top of page

Tentative schedule of readings

M Jan 16 Introductions

The mid-nineteenth century: Slavery and Sentiment

W Jan 18 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapters 1-8 (3-82)
F Jan 20 Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapters 9- 14 (82-158); oral reports

M Jan 23 Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapters 15-19 (158-245); oral reports
W Jan 25 Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapters 20-27( 245-312); oral reports
F Jan 27 Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapters 28-36 (312-390); oral reports

M Jan 30 Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapters 37-45 (390-456); oral reports
W Feb 1 Continued discussion; write a discussion question
F Feb 3 Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, "Preface"-"What Slaves are Taught to think of the North" (2-40)

M Feb 6 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, "Sketches of Neighboring Slaveholders" -"Scenes at the Plantation" (41-80); oral reports
W Feb 8 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, "The Flight"-"Aunt Nancy" (80-122); oral reports
F Feb 10 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, "Preparations for Escape"-"Free at Last" (122-164); oral reports

M Feb 13 Continued discussion; write a discussion question; passage for first essay due

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century: Immigration, Class, Race, and Realism

W Feb 15 Far, "In the Land of the Free"; Gilman,"The Yellow Wall Paper" (on reserve)
F Feb 17 Continued discussion; write a discussion question

M Feb 20 Draft of first essay due (3 copies); peer editing workshop
W Feb 22 Wharton, The House of Mirth, Book 1, Chapters 1-5
F Feb 24 The House of Mirth, Book 1, Chapters 6-10; oral reports

M Feb 27 The House of Mirth, Book 1, Chapters 11-15
Tu Feb 28 First essay due before 4pm; my box, Eaton 107
W Mar 1 The House of Mirth, Book 2, Chapters 1-5; oral reports
F Mar 3 The House of Mirth, Book 2, Chapters 6-10

M Mar 6 The House of Mirth, Book 2, Chapters 11-14; oral reports
W Mar 8 Continued discussion; write a discussion question
F Mar 10 Yezierska, Bread Givers, Chapters I-IV

M Mar 13 Bread Givers, Chapters V-IX
W Mar 15 Bread Givers, Book II; oral reports
F Mar 17 Bread Givers, Book III

M Mar 20 Continued discussion; write a discussion question; passage for second essay due

Late twentieth century: Hybrid histories, family fantasies, postmodernism

W Mar 22 Kingston, The Woman Warrior, "No Name Woman"
F Mar 24 The Woman Warrior, "White Tigers"; oral reports

M Mar 27-F Mar 31 Spring Vacation

M Apr 3 The Woman Warrior, "Shaman"; oral reports
W Apr 5 Draft of second essay due (three copies); peer editing workshop
F Apr 7 The Woman Warrior, "At the Western Palace"; oral reports

M Apr 10The Woman Warrior, "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe"
Tu Apr 11 Second essay due before 4pm; my box, Eaton 107
W Apr 12 Continued discussion; write a discussion question
F Apr 14 Obejas, Memory Mambo, Chapters 1-5

M Apr 17 Memory Mambo, Chapters 6-11; oral reports
W Apr 19 SSRD
F Apr 21 Memory Mambo, Chapters 12-16; oral reports

M Apr 24Memory Mambo, Chapters 17-22; oral reports
W Apr 26 Continued discussion, write a discussion question
F Apr 28 Continued discussion, review

M May 1 Last day of class; review

Tu May 9 8:30am-11:30am Final examination


participation & discussion questions

oral reports


final examination


I expect everyone to come to every class on time, fully prepared, and to participate actively in discussion. Basic rules of courtesy apply: listen to each other, don't interrupt, don't hog the floor (don't tempt others to interrupt), don't carry on side conversations or other distracting activities (please turn off cell phones), don't attack anyone personally. Do challenge each others' ideas, ask questions, share your reactions, stay on topic.

Discussion Questions

These will be counted as part of your participation in class. A discussion question is one that cannot be answered simply by looking the answer up somewhere, one that does not have an obvious answer, but that must be explored and argued. It is not completely open-ended, but specifically grounded in the text. It arises from careful consideration of the reading assignment: what the text says, and how it says it. In about half a page (150 words), explain what prompted the question, what thinking went into arriving at the question, what possible answers (if any) have been considered, and why those answers are unsatisfactory. You may wish to quote from the text (include page numbers). Try to frame the question itself in one brief interrogative sentence. Discussion questions must be typed, and will not be accepted late.


Oral reports

Everyone should present at least two oral reports-preferably more. Oral reports should review and present an aspect of the day's reading. Mapping and reviewing a text does not in itself constitute textual interpretation, but it is essential groundwork. Reports have multiple purposes: they should help you consolidate your knowledge of a text, help you begin noticing patterns and structures in the text, and provide a basis for our class discussion. Reports should be about 5 minutes long, and you should turn in a one-page outline of your comments at the end of that class. Do not prepare handouts for the rest of the class, but do feel free to use the blackboard. Be sure to consult with classmates who will be reporting that day, to avoid duplication of topics.

Here are some possible things you might consider for a report:

Plot- Do not simply summarize what happens, but consider how it is presented-for instance, its order, duration, and frequency. That is, in what order do things happen? Is there any difference between the order in which events occur (sometimes called the story) and the order in which they are presented (sometimes called the discourse)? How long is spent on reporting events? Are long passages of time dealt with briefly? Are brief moments described in great detail? Are some events described repeatedly?

Narrative- Who speaks the story? If the narrative is first person (I), is the narrator a participant in the story? If so, to what degree? If the narrative is third person (she/he, with no "I" telling the story), do we have access to the consciousness of a particular character? Lots of characters? None? That is, who sees the narrative?

Characters- You might list and discuss the new characters introduced in that day's reading, or might list and discuss groups of characters (e.g., mothers in Uncle Tom's Cabin). You might consider the significance of characters' names, physical descriptions, dialogue, behavior, or juxtaposition with other characters. Keep in mind that characters in literary texts are made out of words; even if the characters are based on real people, the text offers not the person but his or her textual representation.

Settings-What does the text tell us about where and when the tale occurs? Where settings are described in detail, what does this detail tell us about the location, the characters associated with it, or the events that occur there?

Images or figurative language-for instance, does the text use particular kinds of metaphors repeatedly? What might these images suggest?

This is not an exhaustive list-you may wish to explore other aspects of a text. Whatever aspect of the text you choose to report on, it will probably be helpful to call our attention to specific passages in the text.



writing links





optional revisions


For each essay you will pick a brief passage from the text (no more than a page or so) and analyze its significance in relation to the work as a whole. For your first draft, I suggest you simply go through the passage, noting and explaining significant details; also note correspondences or contrasts with other parts of the text, or other connections to the work as a whole. For your second draft, think about what you have found and reorganize (and where necessary cut and develop) your discussion to support a thesis about the significance of the passage. Beginnings, endings, and turning points are generally safe bets for choices, but any passage you find striking, puzzling, resonant, or otherwise interesting is worth study.

Each essay should be about four to five pages long (1000-1250 words). The first essay is due on Tuesday, February 28 before 4pm. On Monday, February 13, bring to class a typed copy (not a photocopy) of the passage from either Uncle Tom's Cabin or Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl on which you will be writing your paper (include page numbers). You will include this page as an appendix to your essay. On Monday, February 20, bring to class three copies of a complete draft of the paper (at least a second, if not later, draft). The second essay is due on Tuesday, April 11. On Monday, March 20, bring to class a typed copy of the passage from either The House of Mirth or Bread Givers on which you will be writing your paper. You will include this page as an appendix to your essay. On Monday, April 3, bring to class three copies of a complete (not first) draft.

Each essay should have a clearly-stated thesis that takes account of both conceptual and stylistic aspects of the text and relates them to each other. The thesis should be supported through quotations from the text and through analytic discussion of quoted words, phrases, and sentences. More information on how to write an essay can also be found through the links below, as well as in guides to academic writing available in the Writing Center library. You may also discuss your essay with Writing Center consultants. The WU Writing Center is located in Matthews Hall. Call x4822 or 370-6300 for an appointment. You may also consult with me. For an appointment, email fmichel@willamette.edu, call x6389, or see the sign-up sheet on my office door (Eaton 204).


Writing Center
On Writing about Literature
Getting an A on an English paper
Online Writing Resouces
The Elements of Style
Brief MLA Style Guide
On Plagiarism and how to avoid it

Essay Organization:

*State your thesis clearly at the end of the first paragraph.

*Make sure each paragraph in the body of the essay has one main point, supported with evidence and analysis.

*Build from less important to more important or more complex points.

*Always revise; never turn in a first draft.


Stylistic Tips:

1. Use inclusive language (no generic "he"--try "she or he," or pluralize everything; use "humanity" instead of "mankind").

2. Use active voice ("Sandy hit the ball" instead of "The ball was hit by Sandy").

3. Keep parallel subjects (don't switch from "one" to "he or she").

4. Use present tense for discussing literature (it says the same thing every time you read it).

5. Underline titles of book-length works; put quotations around the titles of shorter works. Use neither for your own title.

6. Avoid repeatedly saying "I think" or "I believe"--it's your paper.

7. Refer to authors by their full names the first time, thereafter by last names.

8. Align the meaning of your sentence with grammatically important words--the main subject and verb should say more than "it is" or "there are."

9. If you are analyzing a text, don't evaluate it. A book review is a different genre.


Essay mechanics

1. Type or print in black on standard 8 1/2 x 11 inch white paper.

2. Use 10- or 12-point font; double-space between lines; leave one-inch margins on top, sides, and bottom.

3. Number each page after the first in the upper right corner. Put your surname on each page below the number. Staple pages in the upper left corner.

4. On the upper left corner of the first page, put your name, the course number, a word count, and the date on which you are turning in the paper.

5. Give your essay an informative and interesting title, neither underlined nor put in quotation marks nor put in all capitals. Do not include a separate title page.

6. Quotations should be precise, accurately punctuated, and fully documented; include a list of Works Cited. The MLA Handbook provides further information on format (chapter 3) and documentation.

7. Proofread. Make necessary corrections neatly in ink.

8. Keep a copy. Hard copy is safer than disc.


Essays will be graded as follows:

A An excellent essay typically includes an outstanding thesis, thoughtful consideration of concepts and perceptive analysis of text. Detailed reading, cogent and graceful argument, vivid and sophisticated prose.

B A good essay typically includes a strong thesis and coherent argument, effective supporting attention to the text, and generally fine and clear prose with only occasional lapses in grammar. The difference between an excellent essay and a good one lies less in what is wrong with the good essay than in what is right with the excellent one.

C A satisfactory essay typically includes a thesis that is too general or simplistic, and vague readings of the text. Generally competent prose but marred by consistent grammatical or organizational errors.

D A below standard essay typically has an ill-defined or ill-supported main idea, together with serious flaws in grammar, logic, or argumentation.

F A failing essay is typically one marred by plagiarism. It may also be an essay that reveals no knowledge of the text and that is written in unidiomatic English.



You may turn in an optional revision of the first essay no later than the last class meeting. You may turn in an optional revision of the second essay no later than the final examination.

Paper clip the revision to the copy of the original essay bearing my comments. I will not accept revisions without graded originals.

A revision should be just that: a re-vision, a re-seeing and re-thinking of the original. Do not limit your changes to points on which I have commented; such limitation will severely compromise the value of the revision.

With your revision, turn in a description of your revision process and of the changes you have made (about one typed page).

I will average the grade on the revision with the grade on the original version.

Some suggestions for revision:

*Reread your essay, read my comments, and think about them. Refer where necessary to a handbook of style such as the MLA Handbook or Rules for Writers (several handbooks are available in the Writing Center). If you have any questions, come talk with me.

*In revising, start with ideas, and then consider structure and style.

*Review the text that is the subject of your essay. Take fresh notes on relevant passages. What is important about the passage? What else do you notice about the text?

*Put your essay aside and do some fresh writing on your topic. Write a brief summary of your thoughts on the topic. Write a response to the topic from the perspective of someone who disagrees with you. Write about the most puzzling or difficult aspects of the text.

*Think about the ideas in the essay. Can you improve your thesis? Can you add further supporting points, or develop those you have included in the original? Can you delete or strengthen weaker points? Rewrite the essay to incorporate conceptual changes.

*Consider the structure of the essay. Make an outline, writing one complete sentence summarizing each paragraph. Can you improve on the order of the points? Can you clarify the organization by combining or dividing paragraphs? Consider the rhetoric of the essay. Are the transitions between and within paragraphs clear and effective? Revise accordingly.

*Refine the prose of the essay. Read your revised draft aloud. Does each sentence say exactly what you want it to say? Can you make the prose tighter, more active, more precise? Is there continuity, flow, from sentence to sentence?

*Remember that writing and revising are recursive processes, and you may move back and forth among these activities. For instance, reorganizing the essay may prompt you to do more fresh writing. Refining the prose may lead you to new ideas.

*Get as much feedback as you can. Take your revised essay to the Writing Center, read it to a friend, bring it to me for a consultation.


Final Examination, Fall 2004
Note that the materials for this version of the course were slightly different from those we are studying this term. In other words, the final examination questions themselves will be different; the format, however, will be similar.

Part I
Choose eight (8) of the following passages, and identify each of them by author, title, context (1 point each) and comment on its style and significance for the work in which it appears (2 points). Each answer is worth 5 points (40 total).

1. "You must not tell anyone," my mother said, "what I am about to tell you."

2. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.

3. "Lo!" said the mother of the toddler. "Thou wilt bear a child thyself someday, and all the bitterness of this will pass away.

4. I felt literally Mother's soul enter my soul like a miracle.

5. In fact, my mother had been weaned at three months old, that the babe of the mistress might obtain sufficient food.

6. I've always thought of memory as a distinct, individual thing.

7. Slowly the thought of the word faded, and sleep began to enfold her.

8. Just before the spirit parted, he opened his eyes, with a sudden light, as of joy and recognition, and said, "Mother!" and then he was gone!

9. The American people were so interesting and mysterious.

10. All her children made up their minds to major in science or mathematics

Part II
Choose one topic and write on it a clear, well-focused essay; it should have a clear thesis statement, and should be well-focused, supported with evidence, and legible. In your essay, you must focus on either The Woman Warrior or Memory Mambo, and draw (more briefly) on at least two of the other texts we have read (including the short stories). (60 points)

Narrative structure. The late-twentieth-century texts we have read employ considerably more complex narrative forms than do our earlier readings. Describe these narrative strategies, and explain why these writers might find them more appropriate to the content of their works than the styles of earlier works. Are there any ways in which these later texts do use more familiar narrative strategies?

Motherhood/mothering. The mid-nineteenth-century cult of true womanhood placed great emphasis on women's moral status as mothers. How do later works challenge or revise the meaning of motherhood or mothering? You might consider whether the works present motherhood from the perspective of mothers or of children or both.



Late Policy

Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the scheduled date. If you will have a particular problem meeting an essay due date, speak to me individually, in advance.


Problems? Questions? When you have questions about materials or assignments, please raise them in class--others are likely to have the same questions. When you have questions or concerns about your work, problems with the course, or suggestions for improving the class, please come see me as soon as possible. I will do my best to answer questions, resolve problems, and make use of your suggestions. Thanks. My office is Eaton 204. I will be available for conferences MWF 10:20-11:20, F 2-4, and other times by appointment. You can reach me or my voice mail at x6389, or you can email me at fmichel@willamette.edu.