Assignment Discovery American Beginnings Readings

A Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis

Use the guidelines below to learn about the practice of close reading.


When your teachers or professors ask you to analyze a literary text, they often look for something frequently called close reading. Close reading is deep analysis of how a literary text works; it is both a reading process and something you include in a literary analysis paper, though in a refined form.

Fiction writers and poets build texts out of many central components, including subject, form, and specific word choices. Literary analysis involves examining these components, which allows us to find in small parts of the text clues to help us understand the whole. For example, if an author writes a novel in the form of a personal journal about a character's daily life, but that journal reads like a series of lab reports, what do we learn about that character? What is the effect of picking a word like "tome" instead of "book"? In effect, you are putting the author's choices under a microscope.

The process of close reading should produce a lot of questions. It is when you begin to answer these questions that you are ready to participate thoughtfully in class discussion or write a literary analysis paper that makes the most of your close reading work.

Close reading sometimes feels like over-analyzing, but don't worry. Close reading is a process of finding as much information as you can in order form to as many questions as you can. When it is time to write your paper and formalize your close reading, you will sort through your work to figure out what is most convincing and helpful to the argument you hope to make and, conversely, what seems like a stretch. This guide imagines you are sitting down to read a text for the first time on your way to developing an argument about a text and writing a paper. To give one example of how to do this, we will read the poem "Design" by famous American poet Robert Frost and attend to four major components of literary texts: subject, form, word choice (diction), and theme.

If you want even more information about approaching poems specifically, take a look at our guide: How to Read a Poem.


The Poem

As our guide to reading poetry suggests, have a pencil out when you read a text. Make notes in the margins, underline important words, place question marks where you are confused by something. Of course, if you are reading in a library book, you should keep all your notes on a separate piece of paper. If you are not making marks directly on, in, and beside the text, be sure to note line numbers or even quote portions of the text so you have enough context to remember what you found interesting.



The subject of a literary text is simply what the text is about. What is its plot? What is its most important topic? What image does it describe? It's easy to think of novels and stories as having plots, but sometimes it helps to think of poetry as having a kind of plot as well. When you examine the subject of a text, you want to develop some preliminary ideas about the text and make sure you understand its major concerns before you dig deeper.


In "Design," the speaker describes a scene: a white spider holding a moth on a white flower. The flower is a heal-all, the blooms of which are usually violet-blue. This heal-all is unusual. The speaker then poses a series of questions, asking why this heal-all is white instead of blue and how the spider and moth found this particular flower. How did this situation arise?


The speaker's questions seem simple, but they are actually fairly nuanced. We can use them as a guide for our own as we go forward with our close reading.

  • Furthering the speaker's simple "how did this happen," we might ask, is the scene in this poem a manufactured situation?
  • The white moth and white spider each use the atypical white flower as camouflage in search of sanctuary and supper respectively. Did these flora and fauna come together for a purpose?
  • Does the speaker have a stance about whether there is a purpose behind the scene? If so, what is it?
  • How will other elements of the text relate to the unpleasantness and uncertainty in our first look at the poem's subject?

After thinking about local questions, we have to zoom out. Ultimately, what is this text about?



Form is how a text is put together. When you look at a text, observe how the author has arranged it. If it is a novel, is it written in the first person? How is the novel divided? If it is a short story, why did the author choose to write short-form fiction instead of a novel or novella? Examining the form of a text can help you develop a starting set of questions in your reading, which then may guide further questions stemming from even closer attention to the specific words the author chooses. A little background research on form and what different forms can mean makes it easier to figure out why and how the author's choices are important.


Most poems follow rules or principles of form; even free verse poems are marked by the author's choices in line breaks, rhythm, and rhyme—even if none of these exists, which is a notable choice in itself. Here's an example of thinking through these elements in "Design."

In "Design," Frost chooses an Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet form: fourteen lines in iambic pentameter consisting of an octave (a stanza of eight lines) and a sestet (a stanza of six lines). We will focus on rhyme scheme and stanza structure rather than meter for the purposes of this guide. A typical Italian sonnet has a specific rhyme scheme for the octave:

a b b a a b b a

There's more variation in the sestet rhymes, but one of the more common schemes is

c d e c d e

Conventionally, the octave introduces a problem or question which the sestet then resolves. The point at which the sonnet goes from the problem/question to the resolution is called the volta, or turn. (Note that we are speaking only in generalities here; there is a great deal of variation.)

Frost uses the usual octave scheme with "-ite"/"-ight" (a) and "oth" (b) sounds: "white," "moth," "cloth," "blight," "right," "broth," "froth," "kite." However, his sestet follows an unusual scheme with "-ite"/"-ight" and "all" sounds:

a c a a c c


Now, we have a few questions with which we can start:

  • Why use an Italian sonnet?
  • Why use an unusual scheme in the sestet?
  • What problem/question and resolution (if any) does Frost offer?
  • What is the volta in this poem?
  • In other words, what is the point?

Italian sonnets have a long tradition; many careful readers recognize the form and know what to expect from his octave, volta, and sestet. Frost seems to do something fairly standard in the octave in presenting a situation; however, the turn Frost makes is not to resolution, but to questions and uncertainty. A white spider sitting on a white flower has killed a white moth.

  • How did these elements come together?
  • Was the moth's death random or by design?
  • Is one worse than the other?

We can guess right away that Frost's disruption of the usual purpose of the sestet has something to do with his disruption of its rhyme scheme. Looking even more closely at the text will help us refine our observations and guesses.


Word Choice, or Diction

Looking at the word choice of a text helps us "dig in" ever more deeply. If you are reading something longer, are there certain words that come up again and again? Are there words that stand out? While you are going through this process, it is best for you to assume that every word is important—again, you can decide whether something is really important later.

Even when you read prose, our guide for reading poetry offers good advice: read with a pencil and make notes. Mark the words that stand out, and perhaps write the questions you have in the margins or on a separate piece of paper. If you have ideas that may possibly answer your questions, write those down, too.


Let's take a look at the first line of "Design":

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white

The poem starts with something unpleasant: a spider. Then, as we look more closely at the adjectives describing the spider, we may see connotations of something that sounds unhealthy or unnatural. When we imagine spiders, we do not generally picture them dimpled and white; it is an uncommon and decidedly creepy image. There is dissonance between the spider and its descriptors, i.e., what is wrong with this picture? Already we have a question: what is going on with this spider?

We should look for additional clues further on in the text. The next two lines develop the image of the unusual, unpleasant-sounding spider:

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—

Now we have a white flower (a heal-all, which usually has a violet-blue flower) and a white moth in addition to our white spider. Heal-alls have medicinal properties, as their name suggests, but this one seems to have a genetic mutation—perhaps like the spider? Does the mutation that changes the heal-all's color also change its beneficial properties—could it be poisonous rather than curative? A white moth doesn't seem remarkable, but it is "Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth," or like manmade fabric that is artificially "rigid" rather than smooth and flowing like we imagine satin to be. We might think for a moment of a shroud or the lining of a coffin, but even that is awry, for neither should be stiff with death.


The first three lines of the poem's octave introduce unpleasant natural images "of death and blight" (as the speaker puts it in line four). The flower and moth disrupt expectations: the heal-all is white instead of "blue and innocent," and the moth is reduced to "rigid satin cloth" or "dead wings carried like a paper kite." We might expect a spider to be unpleasant and deadly; the poem's spider also has an unusual and unhealthy appearance.

  • The focus on whiteness in these lines has more to do with death than purity—can we understand that whiteness as being corpse-like rather than virtuous?

Well before the volta, Frost makes a "turn" away from nature as a retreat and haven; instead, he unearths its inherent dangers, making nature menacing. From three lines alone, we have a number of questions:

  • Will whiteness play a role in the rest of the poem?
  • How does "design"—an arrangement of these circumstances—fit with a scene of death?
  • What other juxtapositions might we encounter?

These disruptions and dissonances recollect Frost's alteration to the standard Italian sonnet form: finding the ways and places in which form and word choice go together will help us begin to unravel some larger concepts the poem itself addresses.



Put simply, themes are major ideas in a text. Many texts, especially longer forms like novels and plays, have multiple themes. That's good news when you are close reading because it means there are many different ways you can think through the questions you develop.


So far in our reading of "Design," our questions revolve around disruption: disruption of form, disruption of expectations in the description of certain images. Discovering a concept or idea that links multiple questions or observations you have made is the beginning of a discovery of theme.


What is happening with disruption in "Design"? What point is Frost making? Observations about other elements in the text help you address the idea of disruption in more depth. Here is where we look back at the work we have already done: What is the text about? What is notable about the form, and how does it support or undermine what the words say? Does the specific language of the text highlight, or redirect, certain ideas?

In this example, we are looking to determine what kind(s) of disruption the poem contains or describes. Rather than "disruption," we want to see what kind of disruption, or whether indeed Frost uses disruptions in form and language to communicate something opposite: design.


Sample Analysis

After you make notes, formulate questions, and set tentative hypotheses, you must analyze the subject of your close reading. Literary analysis is another process of reading (and writing!) that allows you to make a claim about the text. It is also the point at which you turn a critical eye to your earlier questions and observations to find the most compelling points and discard the ones that are a "stretch" or are fascinating but have no clear connection to the text as a whole. (We recommend a separate document for recording the brilliant ideas that don't quite fit this time around.)

Here follows an excerpt from a brief analysis of "Design" based on the close reading above. This example focuses on some lines in great detail in order to unpack the meaning and significance of the poem's language. By commenting on the different elements of close reading we have discussed, it takes the results of our close reading to offer one particular way into the text. (In case you were thinking about using this sample as your own, be warned: it has no thesis and it is easily discoverable on the web. Plus it doesn't have a title.)


Frost's speaker brews unlikely associations in the first stanza of the poem. The "Assorted characters of death and blight / Mixed ready to begin the morning right" make of the grotesque scene an equally grotesque mockery of a breakfast cereal (4–5). These lines are almost singsong in meter and it is easy to imagine them set to a radio jingle. A pun on "right"/"rite" slides the "characters of death and blight" into their expected concoction: a "witches' broth" (6). These juxtapositions—a healthy breakfast that is also a potion for dark magic—are borne out when our "fat and white" spider becomes "a snow-drop"—an early spring flower associated with renewal—and the moth as "dead wings carried like a paper kite" (1, 7, 8). Like the mutant heal-all that hosts the moth's death, the spider becomes a deadly flower; the harmless moth becomes a child's toy, but as "dead wings," more like a puppet made of a skull.

The volta offers no resolution for our unsettled expectations. Having observed the scene and detailed its elements in all their unpleasantness, the speaker turns to questions rather than answers. How did "The wayside blue and innocent heal-all" end up white and bleached like a bone (10)? How did its "kindred spider" find the white flower, which was its perfect hiding place (11)? Was the moth, then, also searching for camouflage, only to meet its end?

Using another question as a disguise, the speaker offers a hypothesis: "What but design of darkness to appall?" (13). This question sounds rhetorical, as though the only reason for such an unlikely combination of flora and fauna is some "design of darkness." Some force, the speaker suggests, assembled the white spider, flower, and moth to snuff out the moth's life. Such a design appalls, or horrifies. We might also consider the speaker asking what other force but dark design could use something as simple as appalling in its other sense (making pale or white) to effect death.

However, the poem does not close with a question, but with a statement. The speaker's "If design govern in a thing so small" establishes a condition for the octave's questions after the fact (14). There is no point in considering the dark design that brought together "assorted characters of death and blight" if such an event is too minor, too physically small to be the work of some force unknown. Ending on an "if" clause has the effect of rendering the poem still more uncertain in its conclusions: not only are we faced with unanswered questions, we are now not even sure those questions are valid in the first place.

Behind the speaker and the disturbing scene, we have Frost and his defiance of our expectations for a Petrarchan sonnet. Like whatever designer may have altered the flower and attracted the spider to kill the moth, the poet built his poem "wrong" with a purpose in mind. Design surely governs in a poem, however small; does Frost also have a dark design? Can we compare a scene in nature to a carefully constructed sonnet?

A Note on Organization

Your goal in a paper about literature is to communicate your best and most interesting ideas to your reader. Depending on the type of paper you have been assigned, your ideas may need to be organized in service of a thesis to which everything should link back. It is best to ask your instructor about the expectations for your paper.

Knowing how to organize these papers can be tricky, in part because there is no single right answer—only more and less effective answers. You may decide to organize your paper thematically, or by tackling each idea sequentially; you may choose to order your ideas by their importance to your argument or to the poem. If you are comparing and contrasting two texts, you might work thematically or by addressing first one text and then the other. One way to approach a text may be to start with the beginning of the novel, story, play, or poem, and work your way toward its end. For example, here is the rough structure of the example above: The author of the sample decided to use the poem itself as an organizational guide, at least for this part of the analysis.

  1. A paragraph about the octave.
  2. A paragraph about the volta.
  3. A paragraph about the penultimate line (13).
  4. A paragraph about the final line (14).
  5. A paragraph addressing form that suggests a transition to the next section of the paper.

You will have to decide for yourself the best way to communicate your ideas to your reader. Is it easier to follow your points when you write about each part of the text in detail before moving on? Or is your work clearer when you work through each big idea—the significance of whiteness, the effect of an altered sonnet form, and so on—sequentially?

We suggest you write your paper however is easiest for you then move things around during revision if you need to.


Further Reading

If you really want to master the practice of reading and writing about literature, we recommend Sylvan Barnet and William E. Cain's wonderful book, A Short Guide to Writing about Literature. Barnet and Cain offer not only definitions and descriptions of processes, but examples of explications and analyses, as well as checklists for you, the author of the paper. The Short Guide is certainly not the only available reference for writing about literature, but it is an excellent guide and reminder for new writers and veterans alike.



I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth—
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.


Great Basin College

English 451A

American Literature I:  Beginnings to 1865 

Course Syllabus

Spring Semester 2015, Online

Instructor: Professor Susanne Bentley

Office: MCML 126 Hours: M: 10 – 12:30 a.m., Tues: 10 – 11 and 1 – 3 p.m., TH: 10 – 11 a.m., and by appointment.

Phone:  775-753-2358

FAX: 775- 753-2131

E-mail: Use Web Campus e-mail for all correspondence

If you are unable to contact me through Web Campus, you may use my office e-mail at: susanneb@gwmail.gbcnv.

Course Description: Reading and discussion of major American authors from the beginnings to 1865.

Credits: 3

Prerequisites: A 200-level literature course or instructor’s approval

Required Texts and Materials

These must be obtained by the end of the first week of class:

  • WebCampus login
  • Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Shorter Eight Edition. Volume I . W.W. Norton: 2012. ISBN: 978-0-393-91886-1.

    In addition to selections from your book, you will read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and chapters from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  I have these books linked to You may read the books on an electronic device or download them and read them as PDFs. You will see the links in the reading assignments.

  • Norton Anthology of American Literature Online Website:
  • A college dictionary (an online dictionary will be fine)
  • A storage device for storing your work

Additional Required Reading: Literature Websites linked to the learning modules.  


  • To present the chronological study of American literature from around 1865 through the present.To introduce the student to the various genres, movements, and styles of literature found within the chronological period
  • To acquaint the student with the historical, political, social, intellectual, and economic influences affecting American literature and the English language.
  • To develop the rhetorical skills taught in an upper-division English course,
  • To build on the student’s skills in argument development and critical analysis
  • To help students recognize form and pattern in literary works as a means of understanding their meanings.
  • To help students understand the influence of race, class, and gender on literature and interpretation.

Learner Outcome


1.     Know the chronology of each literary period covered by the course and be familiar with the historical, political, literary, and economic forces occurring in those periods.   

  • Evaluation of communication with instructor and other students in discussion postings
  • Evaluation of weekly writing assignments
  • Quizzes and exams

2.     Demonstrate comprehension of basic historical, political, social, intellectual, and economic influences on American literature.

  • Formal Essays evaluated by rubric
  • Evaluation of communication with instructor and other students in discussion postings
  • Evaluation of weekly writing assignments
  • Quizzes and exams

3.     Recognize and evaluate form and pattern in literary works and identify their contribution to the work and its meaning.

  • Formal Essays evaluated by rubric
  • Evaluation of communication with instructor and other students in discussion postings
  • Evaluation of weekly writing assignments
  • Quizzes and exams

4.   Demonstrate rhetorical skills appropriate for an upper-division English course.

  • Formal Essays evaluated by rubric
  • Evaluation of communication with instructor and other students in discussion postings
  • Evaluation of weekly writing assignments
  • Quizzes and exams

5.   Demonstrate skill in argument development and critical analysis of literature

  • Formal Essays evaluated by rubric
  • Exams
  • Discussions

6.   Evaluate and demonstrate understanding of the influence of race, class, and gender on literature and ideas in a given period, especially in terms of the society and culture.

7.    Integrate knowledge of various literary periods and synthesize ideas from different literary works to form original interpretations.

  • Formal Essays evaluated by rubric
  • Discussions, Quizzes, and Exams
  • Formal Essays evaluated by rubric
  • Discussions, Quizzes, and Exams

Methods Instruction: This class will take place in a variety of ways including online lecture, online discussions, cooperative group activities, student-led discussions and presentations, tutor feedback, instructor feedback, and student question/answer. Assignments are submitted via WebCampus and through the companion Website to our text, Norton Anthology of American Literature Online.

Class Activities:  Our class revolves around reading, discussing, and writing about literature. Contributing to class discussions is essential. As a student in this class, you should be prepared to spend at least 9 hours a week reading, preparing assignments and participating in class discussions.  It is essential that you commit yourself to this degree of involvement to be successful in this course. The class transfers to major universities, such as the University of Nevada and the University of California, so you should be prepared for a workload and a level of intellectual engagement comparable to these systems. The specific assignments and requirements for the class are explained in detail in the “Assignments” section of WebCampus.

Web Campus : This is an online course. Assignments are due each week through the Web Campus platform. Become familiar with these tools and plan to check them regularly:

  • Learning Modules: Your assignments are outlined in detail on Web Campus. The best way to stay organized with this course is to always check each week’s Learning Module early in the week.

Go to the homepage and click on the appropriate Learning Module (This is an icon that looks like a backpack titled Week 1, Week 2, etc.) to find each week’s lecture and assignments. You should begin each week by reading the lecture.

  • Calendar: Also refer to the “Calendar” tool in Web Campus to keep track of assignments each week.
  • Assignments: Your assignments are explained here, and this is where you will submit assignments. Be sure to open each assignment and read it several times before you begin working on it.
  • Web Campus E-mail: I frequently use e-mail to send updates and correspondence that will help you with your assignments. Plan to check your e-mail at least twice each week.
  • To Check Your Grades: Go to “Assignments” and click on “Graded.” You will see your grade for each assignment that has been graded. On some assignments, I will give you feedback directly on your paper. To see my comments, click on the attachment. Essays and major assignments also have a grading form, which you will be able to access through the graded assignments tab.

Course Policies and Expectations

Assignment due dates:

  • I adhere to a “no late papers” policy.
  • Each assignment has a due date. If you experience an emergency and miss the due date, you may submit your assignment within 48 hours of the due date for a twenty percent reduction in credit. The assignment will be marked as “late.”
  • No more than two late assignments will be accepted during the semester.
  • After the 48-hour period, you cannot submit your assignment. Only assignments submitted through the correct assignment drop box will be accepted.

No assignments will be accepted through e-mail.

  • We may have peer reviews for some assignments. Missed peer reviews cannot be made up.

Satisfactory Progress on Written Assignments:

  • In order to pass this class, students must receive a passing grade (60 percent or higher) on the following written assignments:

Syllabus Quiz

Thought Papers

Written Essays


Discussion participation

  • Within a week of receiving grades, a student who does not receive a passing grade on any of these assignments, excluding the final paper, must contact me to attend a mandatory conference to discuss his or her progress in this class. Students out of the Elko area need to contact me to arrange a telephone conference. It is always the student’s responsibility to make an appointment for a conference. Any student who does not comply with this requirement within a week of receiving a failing grade will earn a failing grade for the assignment and will likely need to drop the course.

Assignment Submission Guidelines:  All work must be typed and be formatted according to current MLA guidelines. Your work must be saved as a Microsoft Word document. This means the file extension will say either “.doc” or .docx.”  If you do not have Microsoft Word, you need to save your document as a PDF in order for me to read it and make comments on your paper. It is your responsibility to understand this process. Microsoft Works is not the same as Microsoft Word.  If I can’t open your document, you will not receive a grade for the assignment. Ask the Help Desk for assistance if you do not understand how to save your work in the correct format.

Computer Problems: Every semester, at least four or five students experience some kind of computer problem. It usually occurs after students have written a substantial paper, which subsequently vanishes. Then, students have to recreate weeks of research and writing, and sometimes they have to drop the course and start all over again. Do not let this happen to you.

Computers crash, flash drives get lost, students go out of town and do not have Internet access, dogs eat memory sticks, and your Internet service provider may not work. It is your responsibility as a college student to plan ahead to avoid these problems. Save your work often to avoid losing it. Computer or Internet problems are not valid excuses for not submitting your assignments.

***One easy way to save your work is to e-mail it to yourself through WebCampus. Plan on doing this before you close whatever you are working on each day.***

Format for Papers: All essays must be submitted in proper MLA format. If you have been away from college for over a year, the new MLA format is different from what you previously learned.

Refer to the “Related Websites” folder on the course homepage for links to using MLA style or use a new edition of a handbook. I expect that all work students in upper-division classes present is carefully proofread and written according to academic standards.  NOTE:  Failure to follow these format guidelines may result in your paper being returned without an evaluation.

Your assignments are outlined in detail on Web Campus. Go to the homepage and click on the appropriate learning module for assignments.

 Professionalism in Writing: This course is a professional setting, and every message you send in such a setting needs to be clear, concise, and checked for spelling and grammar. Do not assume that because email and discussion postings can be written quickly that they can be sloppy. An infrequent mistake is understandable, but if your email messages and postings are continually difficult to read, this will affect your final grade. Use correct grammar, capitalization, and punctuation for all of your e-mail correspondence and discussion postings. Use the HTML editor on all of your email messages and check them for spelling using the “ABC” icon before you send your message. I will not respond to e-mail messages that do not meet the standards of correct grammar, punctuation, and syntax.

In this class, as in any professional setting, your writing reflects your thought processes. Every message you send has the potential to influence your reader’s opinion of you. How do you want to be perceived? Make a conscious decision to show readers that you are a careful thinker and that your ideas are worth considering.

Point of View and Use of Contractions: In academic writing, use the third-person point of view (he, she, it, or they). For writing about a personal experience, it is permissible to use first-person point of view (I), but use this sparingly and only when it adds to a paper. Do not use second-person point of view (you) in academic writing. Also, avoid using contractions in academic papers. For discussions, the use of first- and second-person point of view is fine, as discussions are really a conversation with other students.

Attendance: My recommendation is that students regularly log on to the course Website a minimum of three days per week and spend time actually reading the lectures, assignments, and background information. I track how much time students spend on the class, and students who log in fewer than seven or eight hours per week usually are not very successful in my classes. Make a commitment now to keep up with reading and assignments if you expect to do well in this class.

Tutors: As a student in a 400-level class, you will likely not find a need to meet with a tutor. However, the GBC Elko campus has an Academic Success Center with skilled writing tutors, and branch campuses also have writing tutors. You can make an appointment with the GBC tutors in the Academic Success Center by calling 753-2149.

Student Responsibility for dropping courses: If you are missing assignments, it is your responsibility to drop the course at the Admissions and Records Office before 60 percent of the course is finished. Consult the GBC Calendar for dates. Students who have incomplete or late assignments who do not drop the course will receive a failing grade.


Academic dishonesty is defined as an act of deception in which a student claims credit for the work or effort of another person or uses unauthorized materials or fabricated information in any academic work. Academic dishonesty is a violation of the GBC Student Code of Conduct and will not be tolerated in this class. Any evidence of academic dishonesty/plagiarism in this course will result in a failing grade on the assignment and/or a failing grade for the course. You should be aware that at other schools you will risk failing courses and potential suspension/expulsion for academic dishonesty, which is considered a very serious offense. If you are ever uncertain about using material form a source, please ask me about it. GBC tutors can also assist you with questions about documentation. Acts of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • CHEATING--unauthorized copying or collaborating on a test or assignment, or the use or attempted use of unauthorized materials;
  • TAMPERING--altering or interfering with evaluation instruments and documents;
  • FABRICATION--falsifying experimental data or results, inventing research or laboratory data or results for work not done, or falsely claiming sources not used;
  • PLAGIARISM--representing someone else's words, ideas, artistry, or data as one's own, including copying another person's work (including published and unpublished material, and material from the Internet) without appropriate referencing, presenting someone else's opinions and theories as one's own, or working jointly on a project, then submitting it as one's own;
  • ASSISTING--assisting another student in an act of academic dishonesty, such as taking a test or doing an assignment for someone else, changing someone's grades or academic records, or inappropriately distributing exams to other students.

With online research, it can be tempting to use others' ideas and words from the vast resources on the available online. Do not give in to this temptation unless you are willing to cite your sources completely. Remember, if you found something on the Internet, chances are I can find it too.  Most assignments will automatically be submitted through a plagiarism prevention Website called any portion of a paper or assignment is found to be plagiarized, it will result in failure of the course. 

Student Conduct Policy

Students are expected to follow the Student Conduct Policy for students in the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) outlined in the Great Basin College Catalog. Students will specifically be held accountable for behaving in a civil and respectful manner toward other students and the professor in their classroom and online communications such as e-mail messages, discussion postings, and written assignments.

 The college catalog states, “Messages, attitudes, or any other form of communication deemed to be outside the bounds of common decency/civility as judged by common standards of classroom behavior (determined, as they would be in a regular classroom, by the instructor) will not be tolerated” (29).

Pay particular attention to those last four words. Any student who behaves rudely to another student or to me will be dropped immediately. During the first week of class, students will be required to sign an acknowledgement that they have read the Academic Integrity Policy and Student Conduct Policy and understand that they will be dropped from the class for violating it.

Confidentiality:  The English Department respects the policy that your grades are your and your instructor’s business only.  However, during the semester, student writing will be shared with peers and/or Writing Center tutors for revision purposes and may be publicly displayed.  This is an integral part of the college writing program.  If you have comments concerning this policy, please make them known to me during the first week of the course.

Grading Policy: The final grade for the course is based on completion of all assignments.  If you do not complete all writing requirements, you will not pass the class! No exceptions!  Assignments that are turned in past the due date will not be accepted, and you will receive a grade of “0” for that assignment. 

Your final grade is based on the following assignments:            



Syllabus Quiz


Discussions (9)

20 each

Thought Papers (3)

60 each

Essays (2)





10 - 15

Pluses and minuses may be figured into the final grade.

 In order to receive full credit, an assignment must:

  1. be turned in on time and follow proper format
  2. be complete and well thought out and meet minimum word requirements
  3. reflect academic, college-level writing
  4. incorporate critical thinking skills
  5. follow MLA standards for formatting and documentation (discussion postings that refer to passages from our text do not need a Works Cited page, but do use quotation marks and page numbers).

Assignments (see Assignment Dropbox and Calendar for due dates):

During most weeks, unless a major paper is due, we will have discussions on the reading for the week. “Discussions Guidelines” appear in the Week 1 Learning Module and in the “Assignment Information” folder on the homepage. Read the appropriate lecture and discussion questions each week. Links to discussions will appear in the weekly Learning Module, and you can also find discussions by using the drop-down menu on WebCampus.

Your initial discussion posting is due no later than Thursday, and you need to respond to two students by Saturday of the week discussions are due.

Discussions will usually be open for one week.

These are short written assignments on particular works or topics. You will find more about Thought Papers in the “Assignment Information” folder.

Each essay must meet the minimum word requirement on the assignment sheet. Essay format will follow 2009 MLA guidelines. At times, we may also be sharing parts of these papers with our peers for critique and assistance.  

Quizzes are designed to help you review and remember the reading material. You will have two opportunities to take each quiz, and the quiz grades are not a major portion of the overall grade. Please save each answer as you progress through the quiz.Sometimes your Internet provider will interrupt your service, and you can lose the connection, as well as your answers. That is why it is important to save each answer after you complete the quiz question. 

We will have a mid-term exam covering literary terms and the readings we will have covered up to that point. Details will appear in the WebCampus assignments section.

How to Succeed in this Class:

  • Purchase and read the required texts. Then, read, read, and read some more.
  • Stay current with all reading assignments. We have a great deal of reading to do each week. Be prepared to spend any spare time you have reading.
  • Annotate your text. Underline passages, write in the margins, ask questions, and talk back to the authors.
  • Keep a notebook with you each time you read to record your thoughts, reactions to the author’s language, themes of the readings, and literary devices.
  • Anticipate that you will read each piece more than once.
  • Before you start working on a paper, read the assignment several times. Do not assume that you understand an assignment until you have gone over the assignment sheet thoroughly.
  • Complete all assigned writing and reading on time.
  • Post thoughtful ideas to discussions and respond to your classmates’ postings within the allotted time. 

My personal goal is to see you succeed in this class while enjoying a challenging and exciting learning experience.  I am very excited about teaching American Literature, and I want our class to enjoy making discoveries together about some exceptional writing.

Accommodations:  GBC supports providing equal access for students with disabilities.  An advisor is available to discuss appropriate accommodations with students.  Please contact the Student Services Office in Elko at 753-2271 at your earliest convenience to request timely and appropriate accommodations. 

This is your class.  If you have any concerns, academic problems, or need special assistance, please discuss all matters with me as soon as you can. If you have further concerns, see the current GBC Catalog. 

ENG 451A, American Literature, Beginnings to 1865

Reading Schedule, Spring 2015

Some assignments may change, depending on the needs of our class

Unless otherwise noted, readings are from The Norton Anthologyof American Literature:Beginnings to 1865,Shorter Eighth Edition, Vol. 1. Nina Baym, editor.

ISBN: 978-0-393-91886-1.

In addition to selections from your book, you will read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and chapters from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  I have these books linked to You may read the books on an electronic device or download them and read them as PDFs. You will see the links in the reading assignments.


First, read the lecture for the week in the Learning Module for the appropriate week.

Read all works by the author, unless specific works are listed. Read each assignment closely, unless it is marked (skim), which means you can read the selection for background information.

Highlighted Readings Are Required. Others are suggested, but these may be skimmed. (a PDF that shows the highlighting will be attached within the Week 1 Learning Module)


Week 1 (1-20– 1/24)


  • “What is Early American Literature?” linked to Course Readings Folder.
  • “Beginnings to 1700,” pp. 3-19
  • “The Iroquois Creation Story,” 20 - 23
  • Christopher Columbus, “Letter to Luis de Santangel Regarding the First Voyage” (1493) and
  • “Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage” (1503), pp. 25-28

Early Settlement and Puritan Literature

  • John Smith, from “The General History of Virginia (1624),” pp. 57-69
  • John Smith, “A Description of New England” (1616), pp. 69-72
  • Thomas Harriot, from “A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588).” You can access the text online at Read a few selections from “The First Part: Of Merchantable Commodities,” then scroll to the bottom and study the pictures.

Early American Poetry

  • Anne Bradstreet, “The Author to Her Book,” “Before the Birth of One of Her Children,” “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” and  “To My Dear Children,” pp. 119-126.
  •  “A Letter to Her Husband, Absent upon Public Employment,” “Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666”
  • Phillis Wheatley, “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” “To the University of Cambridge, in New England,” and “To S.M., a Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works,” pp. 403-404, 409-410.
  • Edward Taylor, “Huswifery,” p. 149.

Week 2 (1/26 – 1/31)


  • Jonathan Edwards
         “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” 209 – 220 (Skim to get an idea of the Puritan philosophy)
  • Mather, “The Trial of Martha Carrier,” pp. 153-55.

“American Literature, 1700 – 1820,”  pp. 157 – 169.

  • Cluster: “Native Americans: Contact and Conflict,” 221 – 223. Read “Pontiac,” (222-24) and “Tecumseh, Speech to the Osages” (231-33).

Week 3 (2/2 – 2/7)


  • Benjamin Franklin, “The Autobiography [Part One],” pp. 248−271
  • Benjamin Franklin, “The Autobiography [Part Two],” pp. 293-308. Read 301 – 308.
  • St. John de Crevecoeur, “Letters from an American Farmer,” 309-23.
  • Thomas Paine, “Common Sense,” 323 – 31.
  • Thomas Jefferson, “Autobiography,” 337-344.

“Slavery, Race, and the Making of American Literature,” 761-62.

  • Thomas Jefferson, “Notes”  762-65
  • Sojourner Truth, “Speech” 775-78.

Weeks 4 and 5 (2/9– 2/21)

Abolitionist Literature and Slave Narratives

  • Olaudah Equiano, from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 355-366.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Chapters TBD from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 779 – 818
  • Harriet Jacobs, from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 818-39
  • American Literature, 1820 – 1865 (445 – 63)

Weeks 6 and 7 (2/23 – 2/28, 3/2 – 3/7)


  • William Cullen Bryant, “The Prairies,” 495 – 98.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne,  The Scarlet Letter, linked here and in the “Course Readings” folder.
  • Henry Wadsworth  Longfellow, all poems 656-664.

Paper Due

Week 8 (3/9 – 3/14)

American Transcendentalism

  • “American Literature 1820-1865,” pp. 445-463
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson,” Nature,” Intro and Ch. 1, 508-11)
  • “The American Scholar,”  536-549 or “Self-Reliance,” 549-566.
  • “Each and All,” and “Brahma,” 581- 82.

Weeks 9 and 10 (3/16 – 4/4)


Herman Melville from Moby-Dick, linked here and in the “Course Readings” folder.


     Chapter 1. “Loomings,”

     Chapter 28. “Ahab”

     Chapter 36. “The Quarter-Deck”

     Chapter 41. “Moby Dick”

     Chapter 42. “The Whiteness of the Whale”

     Chapter 47. “The Mat-Maker”

     Chapter 87. “The Grand Armada”

     Chapter 96. “The Tryworks”

     Chapter 98. “Stowing Down  and Clearing Up” 

     Chapter 132. “The Symphony”


  • Henry David Thoreau, from Walden: “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” “Solitude,” “Spring,”  901-926


Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven,” “The Black Cat,” “Annabel Lee” 688-724.

Paper Due

Week 11 (4/6 – 4/11)

American Poetry

  • Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” pp. 1024-1067. Focus on Sections: 1, 2, 3, 15, 21, 22, 24, 30, 31, 32, 43, 51, 52.
  • "Out of the Cradle," "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed,” “A Noiseless Patient Spider”
  •  “Beat! Beat! Drums!” “Cavalry Crossing a Ford,” and “The Wound-Dresser,” 1079-1082
  • Explore The Walt Whitman Archive:

Week 12 (4/13 – 4/18)

  • Emily Dickinson, Poems #112, 124, 202, 340, 355, 359, 373, 409, 479, 519, 591, 656, 764, 1096, and 1263.

Week 13 (4/20 – 4/25)

The Emergence of Realism

  • Rebecca Harding Davis, Chapters from Life in the Iron Mills, (TBD)1219-1246

Week 14 (4/27 – 5/2) Work on final paper and exam preparation

Week 15 (5/4 – 5/9) Paper Due

Week 16 – Final reflection

The syllabus page shows a table-oriented view of the course schedule, and the basics of course grading. You can add any other comments, notes, or thoughts you have about the course structure, course policies or anything else.

To add some comments, click the "Edit" link at the top.

Course Summary:

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