Classics of American Literature

Course No. 250
Professor Arnold Weinstein, Ph.D.
Brown University
Share This Course
4.5 out of 5
68 Reviews
64% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 250
Audio Streaming Included Free

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.

Hide Full Description
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

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 84 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 84 lectures on 14 DVDs
  • 392-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 392-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Classics of American Literature is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 68.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Big Letdown Two features make this course immediately prepossessing as one begins listening to it. First, TTC/TGC has selected an imminently qualified instructor to present the material. Not only has Weinstein read every extant work by each of the authors presented, but he is also conversant in all the critical perspectives touching thereon (Marxist, feminist, post-modernist, what have you). Importantly, Weinstein is also extremely likeable--free from the abrasive arrogance associated with academics and showing little discernable political bias. Second, the course comprises 84 lectures (42 hours of lecture time), a length promising the listener an extremely thorough survey of this subject. These two features should be enough to guarantee the listener a 5-star experience. Sadly, so many weaknesses hobble this course that I can only give it 3 stars, and that’s being nice. Before writing my own critique, I read all the other critical reviews and found myself agreeing with five recurring complaints. Recurring complaint #1 is Weinstein’s obsession with semiotics (that is to say, the study of symbols in communication). Obviously, the whiteness of the whale and Hester Prynne’s scarlet “A” have meanings beyond the surface level, but Weinstein’s abnormal valuing of symbols over narrative made me want to grab his lapels and bellow, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!” Recurring complaint #2 is that Weinstein does not summarize the books or short stories that he covers. In all fairness, I think he may do this to avoid spoilers. And I very much enjoyed the lectures covering works that I had already read. But while listening to the lectures covering works that I had not yet read, I was simply lost. Weinstein’s modus operandi is to open a lecture with a brief introduction to the work, perhaps throwing in a jigger of biographical material, and then plunge into character analysis and semiotics. The overall effect is chaos. The course’s concluding lecture, a stream-of-consciousness sizzle reel of all the books covered in the course, is just insane. Recurring complaint #3 is Weinstein’s omission of authors like James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harper Lee, all the Puritan writers, and colonial revivalist writers like Jonathan Edwards. More on this anon. Recurring complaint #4 is Weinstein’s delivery. He intones every lecture in a raspy, unmodulated voice--this can readily fatigue one’s ears. The most grating byproduct of this unmodulated delivery is that one cannot tell where his quotation of a passage ends and where his commentary on it begins. It would help if he would do us the courtesy of bookending quotations with, “Quote/End quote.” Recurring complaint #5 is his non-standard pronunciation. Libido becomes “LIBB-uh-doe”; rudiments, “RUDD-uh-mints.” To these five complaints from other reviewers, I add one of my own; namely, Weinstein often gives more airtime to minor authors than to major ones. Herman Melville gets six lectures (composing 7.14% of the course) and Nathaniel Hawthorne gets five (composing 5.95% of the course). Those allotments seem appropriate given the colossal importance of these two writers. Yet Walt Whitman also gets five lectures. That’s right: poetaster Walt Whitman gets the same amount of space as the great Nathaniel Hawthorne. To quote John McEnroe, “You CANNOT be serious!” Just as maddeningly, Weinstein devotes five lectures to Emily Dickinson. While I like Dickinson and find her poems unique and interesting, five lectures are more airtime than Weinstein gives Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That book, arguably the most consequential novel in American history, gets only three lectures (3.57% of the course). However enchanting Dickinson’s poems may be, they have nowhere near the moment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These imbalances would not have been so galling had they not come at the expense of leaving no room in the course for other authors (see recurring complaint #3 above). I recommend that TTC/TGC retire Weinstein’s series, replacing it with a second edition that rectifies the first edition’s shortcomings.
Date published: 2020-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Guaranteed Enjoyment A wonderful series. I look forward with anticipation to each new lecture. It’s the best so far in the Literature Series.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great as always Great course for lit review. I remember reading most of the authors discussed and the explanations are excellent
Date published: 2020-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Voyage in the Stories and Themes of America After spending 42 hours with Professor Weinstein in this wonderfully rich course, I would readily sign up for even more! There was nothing that I found boring or irrelevant in this marvelous series, and the fact that Weinstein is an accomplished presenter, with a mellifluous voice and engaging manner that invites you to explore with him, added to my enjoyment. He also has a lovely sense of humor which often had me laughing with him. BTW, because this is a very early course offering from the Teaching Company (1998), for most of these lectures he actually has an audience, albeit a small one. I found that these people -- with their attentive faces, obvious interest, and reactive manner -- added to my enjoyment of the course! Covering almost 300 years of writing in America, he singles out a relatively few authors (25, if I have counted correctly) for for closer look, and for most of them he devotes two or more lectures. Some are writers of fiction, others -- like Emerson and Thoreau -- essayists, and others are playwrights. Weinstein helps us uncover their central messages, themes, and concerns and -- for the many works he spoke about that I had previously read in my long life (77 years and counting) -- he consistently revealed elements that I either had not noticed or else had paid little attention to. There were several themes that he identified that emerge now and again from these varied works over the centuries, among them: America as a place for and of "freedom," freedom from labels, titles, and the restrictions others would have placed upon persons because of their social or economic status; America as a place that offers the promise of actually "making" of yourself what you wish to be, the "self-made man," if you will; the evolution of that self-made man from the unsullied and admirable type of Benjamin Franklin to the flawed great Gatsby to the "unmade" man -- a man who no longer "fit" -- in the Death of a Salesman; America as a place unkind to, and often unaware of, women, of women both "kept" in their place and also of women breaking through or violating norms, and of the obvious discomfort this causes men's rigid expectations; America as a place haunted by the sin of slavery, a fact that even a hundred and fifty years after its abolishment continues to writhe within us, proving again and again that the wounds have not healed and that many of the ancient prejudices and grievances still smolder within us; of an America that worships youth, fears death, and tries to ignore old age, yet is far too ignorant about how our past -- regarded as "over" and "done with" -- has shaped us and continues to influence us; and an America in which our dreams are always shadowed by our myths and fears. If you want to experience "living" literature, this course is for you. Highest praise to Dr. Weinstein and the Teaching Company for giving us such a rich and substantive course offering!
Date published: 2020-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from unbelievably good I have nearly 300 Great Courses...yet,until now,I missed the lectures given by Prof.Weinstein...this man is an unbelievable genius, do not miss his contributions,its an investment into a absolutely fascinating intellectual delight
Date published: 2019-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive, authoritative, and excellent One of the most ambitious courses I've attempted (84 lectures), this was also one of the best. This is an in-depth examination of the importance and selected works of 25 American authors (of novels, short stories, essays, poems, and plays), including 5 each on Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickinson, Whitman, Twain, and Hemingway, and 6 each on Melville and Faulkner. This is not your grandfather’s American literature course—or for that matter anything I might have experienced in college in the 1960s. Contemporary university-level literature courses cover a much wider range of authors and subject matter than in my day, and I never encountered a professor quite at this level of erudition, articulation, and authority in all the humanities courses I took. Professor Weinstein is courtly, expressive, and surprisingly effective in reading the many excerpts, often with convincing accents and dramatic gestures. His eloquence and use of the English language are unsurpassed in all the courses I have taken so far, and the vocabulary he uses is substantially broader, without it ever seeming pretentious or gratuitous. On the other hand, his soft, mid-range voice, despite being well recorded and at an appropriate volume, is sometimes hard to understand and takes some getting used to. This is most definitely a course interpreting and contextualizing the works under discussion, not just describing them and summarizing what they say. A couple of reviews take Dr. Weinstein to task for including too much literary criticism and too much of his own personal analyses, but as a member of what I take to be the target audience--interested college-educated people who are not fellow English literature professors--I was not bothered by this and found the interpretations helpful. Dr. Weinstein pairs contemporaneous authors effectively in sequential lecture sets in order to compare and contrast their styles and messages—Robert Frost and T.S. Elliot, for example, and Fitzgerald and Hemingway—and refers frequently throughout the course to previously discussed authors and works, pointing out themes and approaches as well as differences. He also deliberately discusses a number of texts that are less known and not usually addressed in courses like this, and makes an effective case for their value in understanding their authors’ more familiar works. Of mention is that the 5 lectures on 2 of the authors (3 on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man [with a warning about strong language and unsuitability for children] and 2 on Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman) are recent re-dos, with the presenter a dozen years older, and unlike the others they do not include extensive quotations from the discussed texts.
Date published: 2019-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What to Choose? Weinstein is, in many respects, a force of nature. However, he is not above a political correctness that is bothersome. How, for example, can he (or anyone) justify Toni Morrison's Beloved deserving as much attention and lecture time as Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick? Weinstein is so much more than just another leftist academic but he is sometimes wide of the mark.
Date published: 2018-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Difficult, but worth it If you are not willing to put in the work of reading each of the books on which Prof. Weinstein lectures, you will get next to nothing out of this course. But, if you do read the texts and then listen to these lectures, then you will get a new outlook on life. This was my favorite great course I ever listened to, quite possibly the most influential course of my life. Please listen to this if you wish to have your heart moved. Listen if you wish to understand how literature can help you feel a new, beautiful experience.
Date published: 2018-12-22
  • y_2020, m_11, d_24, h_16
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_8, tr_60
  • loc_en_US, sid_250, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 8.85ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought