Classics of American Literature

Course No. 250
Professor Arnold Weinstein, Ph.D.
Brown University
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Course No. 250
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Study the first American story - and the first American storyteller - in the context of the nation's history.
  • numbers Take an in-depth look at the Transcendentalist movement and its impact on philosophy, religion, and literature.
  • numbers Examine the ways American literature was used to perpetuate Puritan morals and values.
  • numbers Explore American books and authors who promoted groundbreaking ideals - and ensconced them into modern society.

Course Overview

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

Consider that:

  • 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:

  • 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.
Savor the Joy of Great Reading

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.

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84 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction to Classics of American Literature
    What do we mean by a "classic"? And what makes these original and uncompromising works "American"? x
  • 2
    Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography—The First American Story
    Franklin is one of the towering figures of America. His life is an example of self-making so potent it created what we now call the American Dream. x
  • 3
    Washington Irving—The First American Storyteller
    This no-longer-fashionable writer has much more than nostalgic value, revealing many of the growing pains and anxieties that accompanied the momentous shift from English colony to independent nation. x
  • 4
    Ralph Waldo Emerson Yesterday—America's Coming of Age
    Ralph Waldo Emerson was the guiding spirit of American Romanticism, and his early works created a resounding "declaration of independence" from the Old World in culture, literature, and ethics. x
  • 5
    Emerson Today—Architect of American Values
    Emerson's most famous work, "Self-Reliance," offered a bold and confident vision of the Self to which American values are still in debt—provided we remain alert to its radical implications. x
  • 6
    Emerson Tomorrow—Deconstructing Culture and Self
    Though Emerson is easily misconstrued as a facile optimist, his thinking went much deeper, vigorously confronting issues like alienation even as he envisioned a heartening ethic of freedom. x
  • 7
    Henry David Thoreau—Countercultural Hero
    Long regarded as a shadow to Emerson, Thoreau has made his own reputation as dissenter and environmentalist, achieving in Walden a homespun pragmatism of great appeal in a society that has lost contact with the land. x
  • 8
    Thoreau—Stylist and Humorist Extraordinaire
    Thoreau deserves far more serious accounting as a writer—a voice rich in pungent humor, biting satire, and splendid evocations of the natural world. x
  • 9
    Walden—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
    Thoreau transcends ideology as he fashions a breathtaking new language for portraying nature. In his paean to the surging life forces at Walden Pond, he offers us a new discourse of hope. x
  • 10
    Edgar Allan Poe
    Poe's poetry is often dismissed, but his finest work is haunting in its suggestiveness. Even more certain is the impact of his famous theory of literature, which forever altered the course of European poetry. x
  • 11
    Poe—Ghost Writer
    Well before Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Poe was plumbing the depths of the divided self in haunting tales such as "William Wilson," "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," and "The Fall of the House of Usher," raising familiar phantoms that haunt all of us. x
  • 12
    Poe's Legacy—The Self as “Haunted Palace”
    An examination of three of Poe's most fully realized short stories—"The Black Cat," "The Tell-tale Heart," and "The Pit and the Pendulum"—shows how rich and bristling Poe's territory is. x
  • 13
    Nathaniel Hawthorne and the American Past
    Hawthorne was America's first great artist of the novel and short story, and in this lecture we see how his search for subject matter drew him into a past he saw as richer and more compelling than the young nation of his own time. x
  • 14
    The Scarlet Letter—Puritan Romance
    In telling this complex tale of Puritan crime and punishment, Hawthorne creates a fresh, riddling vision of fiction that defies our own efforts to arrive at a final interpretation. x
  • 15
    Hawthorne's “A”—Interpretation and Semiosis
    Hawthorne's "A" is the most famous and potent hieroglyph in American literature, with meanings that transcend the boundaries of the obvious "Adultery" to include "Able," "Angel," and, indeed, "Art." x
  • 16
    The Scarlet Letter—Political Tract or Psychological Study?
    The traditional reading of The Scarlet Letter is a psychological one. But this remarkable novel also reflected many of the political conflicts of the mid-19th-century America in which it was written, including the women's movement, the threat of anarchy and revolution, and the nature of dissent. x
  • 17
    Hawthorne Our Contemporary
    Hawthorne is the first American writer to brood on the idea of the past—both personal and societal—and to explore morality without flinching. He heralds the great dark novels of Faulkner and other Southern writers, as well as the New England literature of Cheever, Lowell, and Gaddis. x
  • 18
    Herman Melville and the Making of Moby-Dick
    Melville had already built a successful reputation as a true-life adventure writer by the time he began work on Moby-Dick. x
  • 19
    The Biggest Fish Story of Them All
    Although whaling is covered in extraordinary detail, Melville's ultimate topic is greatness itself. His depictions of whales at sea are springboards for profound meditations on the nature and whereabouts of truth. x
  • 20
    Ahab and the White Whale
    In Ahab, Melville creates and indigenous American tragic hero—a mad imperial figure whose quest becomes a map of the human enterprise, the heights and depths of which Melville charts in unforgettable ways. x
  • 21
    Moby-Dick—Tragedy of Perspective
    A limited point of view is the fate of all people, and one of Melville's greatest achievements is to render Ahab's monomaniacal quest from the perspectives of several participants, giving readers a dramatic perspective. x
  • 22
    Melville's “Benito Cereno”—American (Mis)adventure at Sea
    One of Melville's most brilliant works is the largely unread short story, "Benito Cereno." In this strange and complex account of an encounter with a mysterious slave ship, Melville's choice of narrator allows him to make a striking and original contribution to the contemporary debate over race and colonialism. x
  • 23
    “Benito Cereno”—Theater of Power or Power of Theater?
    The true meaning of the strange events of Benito Cereno" is withheld from the narrator—and thus the reader—until the very end. This technique enables Melville's meditation on power to make its most telling point about the nature of "vision" as a cultural product. x
  • 24
    Walt Whitman—The American Bard Appears
    Emerson, spokesperson for mid-19th-century literary America, had asked when America would have the poet it deserved. Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, is the dramatic answer, in which Whitman celebrates the political, moral, and verbal grandeur of democratic America. x
  • 25
    Whitman—Poet of the Body
    Whitman's powerful portrayal of the human body struck a deep—and often offensive—note in his 19th-century audience. Reversing body/spirit dualism and its religious corollary of a superior spirit, he insisted instead on the sanctity of the body and its natural passions. x
  • 26
    Whitman—Poet of the City
    Whitman ranks as one of the first poets to plumb the changes wrought by the modern city. In one of his greatest poems, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," he bears witness to the city as an unparalleled locus of energy, encounter, and attachment. x
  • 27
    Whitman—Poet of Death
    Although Whitman is properly seen as a vital, even titanic, force whose poems celebrate life in all its varieties, a deep intimacy with death runs throughout his work. As life's truth and art's source, death emerges as the bedrock of his poetry. x
  • 28
    The Whitman Legacy
    This lecture examines the signature features of Whitman's art: the humor, elusiveness, open-endedness, and the genial persona as intimate and guide that endows his work with such an intense, personal flavor. x
  • 29
    Uncle Tom's Cabin—The Unread Classic
    Harriet Beecher Stowe published several novels, but she is known only for this one, which captured the attention of the entire world in 1852 but has since virtually vanished from the landscape. Her book changed the course of American history, but many readers have trouble with it, and we examine why. x
  • 30
    Stowe's Representation of Slavery
    Stowe approaches the outrage of slavery and its assault on the family from the viewpoint of a mother who has herself lost children, and we see how the book's authority is inseparable from its family theme. x
  • 31
    Freedom and Art in Uncle Tom's Cabin
    The power of Stowe's classic depiction of slavery derives from the alternative vision she proposes at every step: an absolute freedom whose spirit shimmers throughout the book, which emerges as a far greater tribute to art than we have thought. x
  • 32
    Emily Dickinson—In and Out of Nature
    Dickinson's poems are either breathtaking in their immediacy, with the natural world delivered fresh and vital for our inspection—or inferential to the point of madness. This lecture explores how Dickinson's poems often put our own deciphering powers to the test. x
  • 33
    Dickinson's Poetry—Language and Consciousness
    We see how Dickinson's poetry helps us realize that the project of great literature is frequently one of unnaming—cleansing the world from its customary labels in order to invite fresh perceptions. x
  • 34
    Dickinson—Devotee of Death
    Dickinson is perhaps best known for her startling poems about death, including her own death, and we see the extraordinary range that this unsettling subject provides her. x
  • 35
    Dickinson—"Amherst's Madame de Sade"
    Dickinson was far from the simple figure she cunningly constructed for posterity—the virginal, demure, wrenlike observer of the world around her—and we enjoy the tonic provided by her harsh language and recurring bouts of murder and mayhem that punctuate so many of her poems. x
  • 36
    Dickinson's Legacy
    We examine a legacy that is clear in many regards, including her role as a "poetic founding mother" among feminists in particular and women in general, and her status as the great metaphysical poet of the 19th century—with a sense of wit and brilliance that have no counterpart in American literature. x
  • 37
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—American Paradise Regained
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was Mark Twain's first foray into children's literature, but its enduring hold on the American imagination is testimony to his already keen, even shrewd, sense of American boyhood and innocence. x
  • 38
    Huckleberry Finn—The Banned Classic
    Ever since its appearance, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has offended, with its views on race and language hotly disputed. But its significance as a central text about the journey to freedom is indisputable. x
  • 39
    Huckleberry Finn—A Child's Voice, a Child's Vision
    We see the truth in Hemingway's claim that all modern American literature comes from this single volume. We come to understand Twain's achievement in examining slavery through the eyes of a child who discovers that his conscience, shaped by the society in which he lives, is at war with his heart. x
  • 40
    Huckleberry Finn, American Orphan
    We learn that the central truth of this great novel is Huck's orphanhood, and now Jim's symbolic role as Huck's father is only achievable when all of the obstacles of race and class have been surmounted. x
  • 41
    Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson—Black and White Charade
    Pudd'nhead Wilson is Twain's most experimental, even surrealistic, novel, and it deserves much fuller recognition as his boldest account of the conventions of race and class—a meditation on the kinds of freedom that are available to us, in art if not in life. x
  • 42
    Henry James and the Novel of Perception
    Henry James is not easy for modern readers. His writing displays a complexity not easily negotiated by those accustomed to the work of Hemingway and the Minimalists. A look at The Ambassadors will allow us to gauge both the Jamesian manner and the crucial role that imagination plays in his fictional world. x
  • 43
    The Turn of the Screw—Do You Believe in Ghosts?
    The Turn of the Screw is a candidate for the greatest story in literature, even though it has none of the Gothic features so familiar to us. Its themes of innocence and guilt, swirling around two children, have no less power to terrify us than any of Poe's or Hawthorne's darkest stories. x
  • 44
    Turning the Screw of Interpretation
    There are two totally opposed readings of James's famous ghost story—one that denies it has any ghosts at all—and we see how the story reveals the moral stakes of interpretation, and how lethal that interpretation can be. x
  • 45
    Stephen Crane and the Literature of War
    The Red Badge of Courage, written by a young man who had never been in battle, took the world by storm and gave birth to a new kind of American writing about war: an unflinching, quasi-journalistic vision that showed a new image of the human combatant. x
  • 46
    The Red Badge of Courage—Brave New World
    Crane's central strategy is to juxtapose the inner private world of a soldier in battle with the external world around him, and we see how he invents a new kind of expressionistic prose to accomplish this. x
  • 47
    Stephen Crane—Scientist of Human Behavior
    Many argue that Crane's greatest accomplishments lie in the realm of the short story. We take a close look at two of his most famous forays in this genre: "The Open Boat" and "The Blue Hotel." x
  • 48
    Charlotte Perkins Gilman—War Against Patriarchy
    Gilman's work is filled with tribulations of family, especially the impossible demands placed on women. Her fateful encounter with America's ruling physician of hysteria, S. Weir Mitchell, ultimately produced this harrowing account of a woman essentially going mad by a doctor's orders. x
  • 49
    “The Yellow Wallpaper”—Descent into Hell or Free at Last?
    This 20-page story is one of the most unforgettable pieces of prose in all of American literature, lodging itself in the mind in a Kafkaesque manner and leaving readers with a most difficult task of final assessment. x
  • 50
    Robert Frost and the Spirit of New England
    The reputation of Robert Frost is by no means a settled matter, and there are many scholars who still insist on denying all seriousness in his work. But a careful look at some of his most well-known poems shows us that they are considerably more complex and less settled than is usually thought. x
  • 51
    Robert Frost—“At Home in the Metaphor”
    Every poet has a stake in the significance of metaphor, and we learn about the debate over whether this vital tool too often substitutes a poet's own projections for "hard facts." Frost was critically alert to this problem, and some of his most interesting poems show us that they are considerably more complex and less settled than is usually thought. x
  • 52
    Robert Frost and the Fruits of the Earth
    Although countless poets have waxed lyrical about Nature and the "good life," Frost remains one of the few who have written about work. We look at some of his most unforgettable poems about labor in all of its guises. x
  • 53
    T.S. Eliot—Unloved Modern Classic
    Eliot's importance as both poet and critic was recognized almost as soon as he burst on the scene, and this lecture begins our examination of a career that ultimately defined him as the arbiter for English-speaking poetry in the first half of the 20th century. x
  • 54
    T.S. Eliot—“The Waste Land” and Beyond
    No poem challenges us like "The Waste Land," which demands that we domesticate its fierce strangeness and confront its formidable array of artifice and allusion. We journey into the heart of this monumental poem before concluding with a brief look at Eliot's haunting final work, "The Four Quartets." x
  • 55
    F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby—American Romance
    F. Scott Fitzgerald is our great chronicler of the Jazz Age, and this distinguished masterpiece shows why. But the book is more than mere chronicle. As we look at the writer understood to be the "lyric poet of Capitalism," we begin to understand the burning desire that drives Gatsby. x
  • 56
    The Great Gatsby—A Story of Lost Illusions?
    We take a closer look at Gatsby's flawed characters and the dreams they pursue, and we grapple with the same questions that faced their author: Is the dream itself flawed? And can desire—even the superhuman desire that has animated Gatsby—be sustained once it is gratified? x
  • 57
    Fitzgerald's Triumph—Writing the American Dream
    We learn that Fitzgerald saw the story of Gatsby as a tale of how dreams give glory to life, whether they are true or not, and that the dream itself is incorruptible, no matter how the dreamer and the woman he loved might be discredited. x
  • 58
    Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises—Novel of the Lost Generation
    As the 20th century ends, Hemingway's reputation in the American canon is under fire, even though his status as the most influential American prose-writer of the century is without dispute. We begin our examination of how this irony came to be with a look at the novel often regarded as Hemingway's best. x
  • 59
    The Sun Also Rises—Spiritual Quest
    On the surface, this novel—which first introduced America to the Paris of the 1920s—seems like pure realism. We soon realize that the plight of Hemingway's Americans in Europe has deeply symbolic overtones. x
  • 60
    Ernest Hemingway—Wordsmith
    More than any other writer, Hemingway remade the American literary language; much of the verbiage and rhetoric of "English" has vanished from American prose because of his efforts. Yet nothing is as simple as it appears, and this lecture about the way Hemingway used words may change the way you view this seminal writer. x
  • 61
    Hemingway's The Garden of Eden—Female Desire Unleashed
    In this posthumously published and fiercely edited version of a 1500-page manuscript that Hemingway worked on for more than a decade, we finally see the explosive sexual issues that lurked behind the scenes of his other work, as well as his first fully developed female character. x
  • 62
    The Garden of Eden—Combat Zone
    We conclude our look at Hemingway with the frankest account we will ever have from him about the relationship between the sexes. x
  • 63
    William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury—The Idiot's Tale
    Beginning with an overview of William Faulkner's career, this lecture introduces the masterpiece that marks his reinvention of the novel form: the account of a Southern family's decline that opens with the most famous piece of American prose of the 20th century—the idiot's monologue. x
  • 64
    The Sound and the Fury—Failed Rites of Passage
    We see how Faulkner enlists stream-of-consciousness style to explore the gathering drama of a young man's agonized sense of failure—giving us a prose that duplicates in print the rich, choruslike nature of human thought. x
  • 65
    The Sound and the Fury—Signifying Nothing?
    In the final part of the novel, Faulkner narrates in the third person, thereby changing entirely what the reader sees and bringing issues of community into this drama of a sick and dying nuclear family. x
  • 66
    Absalom, Absalom!—Civil War Epic
    Published in the same year as Gone With the Wind, Faulkner's most complex novel collapses all of the narrative distinctions of Margaret Mitchell's linear plot, crafting a story that moves forward, backward, and sideways in giving us a profound view of the unhealed wounds of the Civil War. x
  • 67
    Absalom, Absalom!—The Language of Love
    This lecture will explain the reasons behind Faulkner's intentionally disjointed prose and the remarkable impact it allowed him to make. x
  • 68
    Absalom, Absalom!—The Overpass to Love
    In this final lecture on Faulkner, we see how the two youthful narrators are made to epitomize the novel's deepest concerns: how we process the past and what we bring with us when we enter the lives of other people and other times. Their joint narrative heroics constitute Faulkner's noblest utterance about what literature can predict. x
  • 69
    The Grapes of Wrath—American Saga
    Published in 1939, this documentarylike tale of people uprooted from their land by the Great Depression created a literary sensation, selling 430,000 copies in its first year. We see how Steinbeck's novel bears witness to the destruction of a way of life—a covenant between man and the land—that cannot survive the displacements of the industrial age. x
  • 70
    John Steinbeck—Poet of the Little Man
    Although he has been maligned as a superficial writer who deals in stereotypes rather than credible characters, Steinbeck's prose has a remarkable bite and pungency that reveals the collective voice of a nation and the forces that govern it. x
  • 71
    The Grapes of Wrath—Reconceiving Self and Family
    Will the revenge implied by the title actually come? Does justice prevail? Is there a reward for the innocent? Wisely, Steinbeck refrains from answering, but in the novel's controversial conclusion, he reconceives the bonds of family with a redemptive vision. x
  • 72
    Invisible Man—Black Bildungsroman
    Ralph Ellison's novel comes at a time when Richard Wright's Native Son seemed to epitomize the goals of much black writing: a tragic, brilliant account of conflict depicted as social realism. We see how Ellison creates an entirely new idiom commensurate with the rich, multileveled story he wants to tell. x
  • 73
    Invisible Man—Reconceiving History and Race
    Much of the drama of this famous work—often regarded as a candidate for "novel of the century"—is rooted in the protagonist's search for authority. We see how the events of his life repeatedly re-emphasize his "invisibility," and how each bout of futility and exploitation is contrasted with moments of passion and self-discovery. x
  • 74
    Invisible Man—“What Did I Do, to Be So Black and Blue?”
    The patron saint of Ellison's book and of his artistic vision is Louis Armstrong, and we see how Armstrong's music—composed of bits and pieces of black history, improvisational rather than rigid, adept at recycling and "signifying"—announces the new aesthetic that reigns in this novel. x
  • 75
    Eugene O'Neill—Great God of American Theater
    Though O'Neill's language can seem flat on paper, his plays succeed magnificently on stage, where he rules supreme as America's premier dramatist, single-handed creator of an entire repertory of plays and theatrical techniques. We examine his roots and see how key events of his life are central to many of his plays. x
  • 76
    Long Day's Journey Into Night—There's No Place Like Home
    O'Neill's genius lies in his theatrical vision, his ability to invest the simplest everyday events into shimmering symbols, resonant with feeling and history. By the end of this story of accusation and revelation, every member of a tortured family has bared his or her soul, and we know the full power of the theater. x
  • 77
    Tennessee Williams—Managing Libido
    This lecture examines the great themes of Williams's work and takes a close look at The Glass Menagerie, the only major Williams play to be untroubled by sexuality, before introducing his masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire. x
  • 78
    A Streetcar Named Desire—The Death of Romance
    Two of Williams's most memorable characters negotiate a tense battle over the place of beauty and poetry in a harsh and pragmatic culture, while beauty itself makes a pathetic stand against the passage of time. x
  • 79
    Death of a Salesman—Death of an Ethos?
    The passage of time is also a character in Arthur Miller's most memorable play, as the "national conscience" of American theater tells the story of a salesman facing the agonizing realization that he is becoming obsolete in his own lifetime. x
  • 80
    Death of a Salesman—Tragedy of the American Dream
    Miller's play becomes a tragedy of the Modern Age, questioning our notions of defining, achieving and sustaining success in a world that breeds disillusion. x
  • 81
    Toni Morrison's Beloved—Dismembering and Remembering
    Toni Morrison has become the pre-eminent American novelist of our time, and in this first of three lectures devoted to her most acclaimed work, we see her original approach to exploring the profound wound that slavery has left in the black—and the national—psyche. x
  • 82
    Beloved—A Story of “Thick Love”
    Though we know from the outset that Morrison's novel deals with a hidden crime, the full horror and resonance of that crime are slow to unfold. When they do, however, we are immersed in a monstrous tale, before arriving at Morrison's astonishing version of a people's origins. x
  • 83
    Beloved—Morrison's Writing of the Body
    Morrison shows us that a literature of the body is both possible and long overdue, producing a work whose power comes from its insistent translation of slavery into physical terms—a crime committed against the body and against the tenderness and compassion that any human being should be able to share. x
  • 84
    Conclusion to Classics of American Literature
    In concluding this course we learn that literature, more than anything else, is a privileged access to the lessons of the past, a past we continue to live in, even as we turn our attention to the future. x

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Your professor

Arnold Weinstein

About Your Professor

Arnold Weinstein, Ph.D.
Brown University
Dr. Arnold Weinstein is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching for over 35 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Romance Languages from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Among his many academic honors, research grants, and fellowships is the Younger Humanist Award from the National Endowment for...
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Classics of American Literature is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 68.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not My Favorite Course Reading all the other reviews, I was left wondering what I missed. I found Professor Weinstein's voice to be so monotonous that I actually fell asleep several times! The lectures on F. Scott Fitzgerald were wonderful, and I am not sorry I purchased the course, but don't think I could recommend them.
Date published: 2011-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course This course not only presented fascinating and informative reviews of the texts studied, but it also provided an approach to reading and interpreting that is transferable to other works. This is one of the text of the more than 80 Teaching Company courses I've done.
Date published: 2011-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Priceless Powerhouse Course I knew after two hours that these lectures were special, and among the very best that TTC offers. Thank goodness there were still 40 hours remaining, giving me something to look forward to and lose myself in ... over three weeks of terrific, mesmerizing listening. Professor Weinstein has a wonderful speaking voice and avoids clichés and jargon. He’s very much aware of today’s traps of political correctness, and carefully steers us ever so gently through requisite gender and racial filters to non judgmentally reveal the exquisite genius and talent of America’s finest writers. On a personal note, it was difficult for me to get through Lecture 69, on Steinbeck’s magnificent ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ I kept choking up and wiping away tears, overwhelmed. I’ve read ‘Wrath’ twice (and have seen the movie) and can attest that Weinstein brilliantly and beautifully captures its message and essence better than any other review or analysis I have ever read. This course will pull you in and keep you spellbound. When you finally emerge on the other side, after 84 lectures, you will have gained a profound and masterful understanding of ‘The Classics of American Literature’ -- how they shaped our culture, our national consciousness, the American dream, and our collective character. If you’re ready for a full intellectual and emotional workout, don’t hesitate! Just get this course and enjoy!
Date published: 2010-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Case for Best TTC Course My drive time is such that I get to listen to six lectures a week. That means I have had the real pleasure of looking forward to and experiencing Professor Weinstein's course on American literature for the past three months. I'm sad it's over. Weinstein is extremely well prepared, brilliant, and remains among the best of TTC's able assembly of teachers. He loves literature. He sees and extracts real gems from these books. He understands and teaches the vast wisdom in these almost universally superb authors' works. And, as a real plus to students of American history and culture, he shows through literature a compelling and enlightening picture of the developing American story. I have now taken almost 25 TTC courses, and I strongly believe that the run of lectures on Hawthorne through Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson was the absolute best I've experienced with any of the courses. As to Dickinson, in particular, I must confess to having a view of her that was frozen in earlier studies. It was a special treat to learn how profound and brilliant she is. The course is not without its flaws. Weinstein is not convincing that Pudd'nhead Wilson belongs among the classics either of Twain or this course more broadly. I was equally unimpressed with Crane's stories and the work of Charlotte Gilman. But, even with these limitations, this course is incontestably of 5-star quality.
Date published: 2009-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid, and worthwhile Yes, there were times when Dr, Weinstein was too esoteric. Yes there were parts (mainly Poetry) that I fast forwarded thru. But overall this a very worthwhile course. HIghlights for me would include: 1)Benito Cereno 2)Yellow Wallpaper ( as an obstetrician, I found this particularly interesting) 3)HIs brave (in the face of political correctness) admiration for Faulkner 4)HIs great studies of Death of a Salesman, and Streetcar named Desire. As the ultimate compliment: I have order six of the works he reviewed to read on my own. Maybe this time I'll get thru Moby Dick. Certainly a course to buy.
Date published: 2009-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Weinstein IS a classic! I have always listened to Prof. Weinstein on the audio CD's but decided to purchase this course in DVD format. Now I know what he looks like while presenting in his easy to understand and easy to listen to voice. Sad to say but there were many authors and many books I knew nothing about or thought I didn't. I must have gotten something through osmosis somewhere. Anyway, Prof. Weinstein brought the information I did have and combined it with new information and a new way of looking at a selection of American literature through the history of our country. That in itself was interesting, knowing what else was happening in an author's life. Now reading books by these authors will be more meaningful. I have completed Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography already as well as Walden Pond. I love his lectures and recommend any of Professor Weinstein's Teaching Company courses.
Date published: 2009-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Worthwhile I'm still working my way through this course, but so far it has been one of the best experiences I've had with TTC. Prof. Weinstein speaks well, in a relaxed and clear voice. He focuses on the material, not on himself, and shows such enthusiasm for it that you will be eager to turn to the books and read them for yourself. That said, this is not really a course for the beginner, or for most high school students. It presumes some academic experience with literature and American Studies. Weinstein refers to current academic concepts and concerns. To get the most from this course, you should have been exposed to them previously, but Weinstein never makes "academic" seem far removed from the readers' own experience. The course does not provide plot summaries. Weinstein gives enough background on the authors and their times to support his points. His focus is on his theses, but there are other sources one can turn to for encyclopedic treatments. I happened to listen to "Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement" by Ashton Nichols before listening to this course. That course supplied more ground-level information, so this one complements it well. I found Weinstein's treatment of Emerson to be especially challenging, and it's good to have more than one perspective in any case. While the ideas in the course aren't always easy to grasp, Weinstein shows us that good literature is meant to be for everyone. In all, this is a very stimulating course for more sophisticated readers, and I recommend it highly.
Date published: 2009-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Wonderful This course is an excellent way to acquire a well-rounded understanding of the incredible richness of American literature. Excellent indeed.
Date published: 2009-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Cornerstones of the TC Curriculum Believing that good citizens require knowledge of the values society embraces, Columbia University compels its student to take a core curriculum that covers Western cultural development including surveys of intellectual thought, literature, art and music. Likewise, there are four courses that form the teaching company’s core curriculum: Greenberg's How to Listen to and Understand Great Music; Kloss' A History of European Art; Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition; and this phenomenal course, Classics of American Literature – all five start courses. Here, Weinstein undertakes a mammoth project providing us with 84 lectures, 42 hours, of intriguing material that enlightens and inspires the listener. Because of Weinstein I read Moby Dick - even the Cetalogy that most readers skip. His insights into Faulkner motivated me to read the Sound and the Fury. How anyone can appreciate the emotional content of this novel without Weinstein's lectures is beyond me. Intelligent friends have read the novel unable to comprehend more than half of it, frustrated by Faulkner's unorthodox style. But reading the novel after listening to Weinstein's lectures I wept at the end of the Idiot's Tale feeling fully Benjy's loss of and longing for his sister Caddy, the only person from whom he felt unconditional love. That is but a taste of what Professor Weinstein can do for you. He will enhance your reading experience not only in the numerous books he covers, but others you will read having the weapons Weinstein places in your intellectual arsenal.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A College Prep Treasure As a homeschool family, we are always looking for the best curriculum to challenge our child, yet make learning enjoyable. The authors chosen for this course provide a wonderful foundation to American Lit., the lectures are the gemstones to this treasure! Prof. Weinstein is articulate, personable, and engaging. He provides tidbits of information (contextual information about authors or analytical perspectives) that you may not easily find in other literature programs that merely offer a summary analysis of the book. Don't expect these lectures to be merely a DVD/audio version of 'summary cheat notes' for a piece of work; they are so much more! You will gain much if you actively listen to the lectures, read the books, and complete the essay/discussion questions provided with the course. I beg to differ with one of the reviewers of this course: this course can be used for beginners. We are using this college-level course as a beginning American Lit course for our 9th grade student, and she is doing exceedingly well with it. Before beginning this course, we introduced literary elements with another curriculum, and supplement this course with the discussion, essay questions, and quizes on Due to the number of works and vast amount of information in this course, it is not possible for us to complete this course (with the additional essay discussions and essay writing we assign) within a school year. Therefore, we have chosen to divide it into a two-year course: American Lit. I (novels) and American Lit. II (plays and poetry). I can't say enough about this course. We own approximately 8 other TC courses, but this one is our most treasured!
Date published: 2009-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Gem This may be the best literature course in the outstanding menu that TTC offers.However I must warn you that it is not easy.It is above a college level course. It is less decriptive and more analytical emphasizing deeper themes of love,fear,hate,racism,courage,Incest,eroticism and the complex human condition.You have to listen to each lecture very carefully and often relisten to understand the in depth analysis of each work.I dont think this course is for a beginner.Weinstein does not outline the plot for you but assumes the reader has some familiarity.It may help to look at a summary on Spark Notes if you are not familiar with the work.Also it helps to read the full transcript of his lecture and relisten to those that are difficult to grasp. Having said that it is a TTC gem with numerous insights in to the great American works.As I said you cant just sit,relax and expect an easy listen.However if you are willing to concentrate and read the transcripts and or relisten to the lectures you will obtain a deeper,fuller appreciation of American Literature.For beginners I wouldnt recommend this course first due to its in depth analysis and presuppostion of familiarity with the books.To start in literature I would recommend Great Authors of The Western Tradition, Prof Fears pas de deux of Books That Have Made History... and Life's Lessons From the Great Books and Gary Voth's World Literature.These are more descriptive and are an easier listen.(as well as being outstanding courses in their own right)Then when you have the time and energy delve in to this 84 lecture masterpiece. Prof Weinstein does an excellent job in conveying the 20th century authors such as Fitzgerald,Hemingway,Faulkner,Williams,O'Neil and TS Eliot.I have a much deeper insight to thses authors and their works thank to this course.You will hear and learn things you will not find elsewhere.You will read some of the works again and have a completely different perspective and a richer awareness of the style,plot, symbols,esoterica and pathos.You will go back and read Hawthorne and Melville with a completely different outlook and dare I say you might even complete Moby Dick as you see the symbolism that Prof Weinstein iterates in his lectures come alive as you amble through the pages.You will never look at Walt Whitman the same way after Prof Weinsteins reads,discusses and analyzes "I Sing The Body Electric " I must confess I am quite biased in that I have not met a TTC course that I havent liked and I kid you not I have purchased well over 95% of all of the courses.So take that into consideration as I am a TTC addict and a lover of literature.I would hope with some effort and study you will enjoy this course as much as much as I did.
Date published: 2009-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My Favorite Professor I'm slowly savoring this course, and just had to write a review before I finished it. Prof. Weinstein is my favorite Teaching Co. professor. I borrowed this course from the library on VHS tape and immediately fell in love. He's brilliant, witty, and evocative. He's also handsome (a completely unnecessary but welcome perk)! Since returning the VHS tapes to the library, I listen to this course on audiocassette but can picture Prof. Weinstein as I do so, which makes it very enjoyable. Prof. Weinstein's lecture style is refined, yet relaxed, clear, articulate, and very conversational. You feel like you're discussing books over coffee with a friend. He is not embarassed to convey emotion, and often interjects humor ( this course has a live class which you can often hear tittering in the background, which seems to please Prof. Weinstein, when they laugh at his humor.) I find this so refreshing, compared to the theatrics of Prof. Fears (Books That Have Made History). I'm glad the TC has various professors with different styles of lecturing. Prof. Fears' style does not appeal to me as much, so if you have trouble with his presentation, try Weinstein. He usually devotes a few lectures to each author he touches upon. I recently finished the lectures on Walt Whitman. I have not studied or read poetry much, if at all, and this was a complete eye opener. As well, I had tears literally streaming down my face while Prof. Weinstein read "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." That's how good he is, that's how much he conveys what the poet is trying to convey. And all without drama and theatrics. A gifted teacher. These lectures have made me want to read every book touched upon, so far. I can't keep up because I want to listen to the lectures faster than I can read the material! I'm glad this is a very long course because it means I have so much more to look foward to. There's enough here for a lifetime, and this course could easily withstand repeated listening (I've already listened to the lectures on Poe twice). You will not regret purchasing this course if you are interested in American literature. It has broadened my horizons greatly, already, and I'm only at the beginning of it. I hope my comments are helpful.
Date published: 2009-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Weinstein delivers an engaging series of lectures that demonstrate his depth of knowledge, love of subject, and skill at conveying the topical essence of each work in a brief time frame. Thank God these are not plot summaries but instead feature well thought out themes that can be related to the culture of the US in the 1800s and 1900s when most of these were written. Weinstein is a bit monotone and dry but the intelligence of the content, the skill of distilling what the author wastrying to convey and his sheer appreciation for each author's creativity and style make up for the delivery.
Date published: 2009-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from After a graduate education on the sciences, your courses have introduced me to a learning experience far better than I ever invisioned.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Your courses stimulate and feed "the joy of learning." I find myself talking about The Teaching Company with anyone I think might be interested, and they always seem responsive. You have taped into a widely felt need for adult education.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Profesoor Weinstein is the most perceptive and articular literary critic I've ever encountered. Each of his lectures is a 30 minute work of art.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Since I have macular degeneration and can no longer read, you have opened a new world to me.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Having taught English & Music in the public schools, I find these teaching courses so informative & exhilarating! Thank you!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Some of your courses have been helpful to me in preparing to teach high school literature classes, and the prospect of listening to a good lecture motivates me to hop on my treadmill, which, at age 60, is a valued bonus feature!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am a retired M.D. I was an English major in college. At last I understand the meaning of those books I read so long ago.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Through these courses, I'm getting a better education than I did in college.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from R. Weinstein presented the materials in a way that made them crue to life. I experienced a range of emotions as well as gain greater insight.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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