To truly understand the United States of America, you must explore its literary tradition. Works by Melville, Whitman, Faulkner, Hemingway, and others are more than just masterpieces of Western literature – they’re powerful windows into America’s spirit. According to Professor Arnold Weinstein, “American classics are wonderfully rich fare. America is a mythic land, a place with a sense of its own destiny and promise, a place that has experienced bloody wars to achieve that destiny. The events of American history shine forth in our classics."
When was the last time you read them? Possibly not as recently as you'd like. Why? Not because you wouldn't love it. But perhaps the demands of your daily life or some other reason have prevented this pleasure. Now, here is the opportunity to gain an extraordinary familiarity with each of these authors within a manageable amount of time, as well as review the great works you may already know. What Explains Greatness?
These works are both American and classics. The course has been crafted to explain why some works become classics while others do not, why some "immortal" works fade from our attention completely, and even why some contemporary works now being ignored or snubbed by critics may be considered immortal one day.
One memorable work at a time, you'll see how each of these masterpieces shares the uncompromising uniqueness that invariably marks the entire American literary canon.
From Sleepy Hollow to The Great Gatsby, Professor Weinstein contends that the literary canon lives, grows, and changes. What links these writers to each other—and to us readers today—is the awareness that the past lives and changes as generations of writers and readers step forward to interpret it anew.
The course was born from Professor Weinstein's conviction that American literature is our "great estate," and that claiming this rightful inheritance—the living past and the lessons we can take from it—should be nothing less than a unique and joyous learning experience. Experience Two Centuries of America's Greatest Works
Professor Weinstein explains that America's classic works should be savored as part of our inner landscape: part of how we see both America and ourselves.
He leads you through more than two centuries of the best writers America has yet produced, bringing out the beauty of their language, the excitement of their stories, and the value in what they say about life, power, love, adventure, and what it means, in every sense, to be American.
Perhaps you recall:
- Melville's prowling Ahab, on the search for Moby Dick, and the power of the "grand, ungodly, Godlike man"
- The quiet diner in The Grapes of Wrath and the pain of one of John Steinbeck's "Okies" trying to purchase a dime's worth of bread
- The parlor in Long Day's Journey Into Night and the lifetime of tension in a simple request to a father that he turn on the lights.
Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 25 years for some mysterious reason—but what exactly was it? Why did Emerson believe in self-reliance, and why do we?
Twain, our first media celebrity, tells stories that have an inkling of Peter Pan: Tom Sawyer never does grow up. But Huck Finn must grow up to face the racism of the South and get past his own polluted conscience—can he do it? James brings American innocents to Europe for them to inherit the world—but do they? Discover the Stories behind America's Immortal Writers
- Emily Dickinson was virtually unheard of in her own time.
- William Faulkner's books were out of print until the mid-1940s.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald died believing he had been forgotten.
Readers of their times would be astounded if they knew the immortality these writers achieved, just as we are astounded that they once were overlooked.
Most of us don't know that when Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass—seemingly in answer to Ralph Waldo Emerson's memorable wish for the poet America deserved—he sent a copy to Emerson, America's most revered man of letters. When Emerson replied in extraordinarily flattering terms, Whitman published his letter, virtually forcing the new poet's acceptance by a literati that would might have preferred to flee from Whitman's startlingly new, often sexual, poetry.
Perhaps you share the common picture of Emily Dickinson: a passive, gentle, reclusive spinster content in her father's Amherst, Massachusetts, home. If so, allow Professor Weinstein to introduce you to her friend, clergyman and author Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who said of "gentle" Emily: "I never was with anyone who drained my nerve power so much. Without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her."
Through this course, you will learn to:
Savor the Joy of Great Reading
- Explain the roles of self-reliance and the "self-made man" in the evolution of American literature
- Identify the tenets of American Romanticism
- Describe the evolution of the American ghost story, from Poe and Hawthorne to James and Morrison
- Outline the epic strain in American literature, from Melville and Whitman to Faulkner and Ellison
- Explain the importance of slavery as a critical subject for Stowe, Twain, Faulkner, and Morrison
- Summarize perspectives on nature revealed in poets Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, and Eliot
- Identify the tenets of Modernism in the work of Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner
- Identify the contributions of O'Neill, Miller, and Williams to American theater
- Summarize the threads of the complex relationship between America's great writers and the past.
Dr. Weinstein is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching literature to packed classrooms since 1968. Brown University student course evaluation summaries reported: "By far, students' greatest lament was that they only got to listen to Professor Weinstein once a week."
One customer writes: "Professor Weinstein is inspiring. Not only am I enjoying these lectures, but I am also rereading these wonderful classics and having a wonderful time."
The course will lead you to read or reread masterpieces that intrigue you most. And with the deeper understanding you gain from the lectures, you will likely experience such joy from great reading that you may wonder why you have spent so much time on contemporary books.
The 84 carefully crafted lectures in this course, each 30 minutes long, are your royal road to recapturing the American experience—and our intellectual and cultural heritage. Just review the lecture titles. All of this can be yours, and the journey will be as rewarding as the arrival.