Faculty Course Description
ENG418WI: The American West in Literature and Film
Dr. James Watkins
Office: Evans 217
Office phone: 233-4072
The American West that we will concern ourselves with in this course is more a figurative space than a specific geographical region. Since the earliest period of European colonization in the North America, the presence of the wilderness to the west and the mythic meaning we have assigned to it have played a defining—if not the definitive--role in the shaping of America=s conception of itself. To the extent that America=s self-image is associated with the idea of progress, then that self-image is a western one, since we have always measured our Anewness@ and cultural distinctiveness against the A Old World@ of Europe to the east. We will explore the ways in which various writers and filmmakers have used the western landscape as a backdrop against which a number of sometimes conflicting cultural narratives have been acted out. Special emphasis will be given to the development of the cowboy western, from the “low-brow” dime store novel tradition, to its more “middle-brow” literary manifestations, to the pioneering work of film director John Ford, to the various parodies and ironic subversions of the western film. We will also read Native American and Latino/Latina counter-narratives to the “westerns” tradition.
Most class meetings will be devoted to the screening of film clips (students are expected to view videotapes of films in their entirety before class) and discussion of films and assigned readings; occasional meetings will include some collaborative work or discussion of issues raised in students= informal reaction papers.
Each of you is required to write a total of six informal reaction papers, 1-2 pages in length . You will also write a 5-page midterm essay and a 6- to 8-page final essay. A final exam will be given. I expect regular attendance and full participation in class discussions.
class participation 10%
informal reaction papers 15%
midterm essay 20%
final essay 25%
final exam 20%
Films (that we'll watch in their entirety):
The Virginian, Owen Wister Stagecoach, Dir. John Ford
Riders of the Purple Sage, Zane Grey Red River, Dir. Howard Hawks
Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolpho Anaya The Grapes of Wrath, Ford
Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko The Searchers, Ford
The Literary West, ed. Thomas Lyon The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ford
Little Big Man, Dir. Arthur Penn
The Wild Bunch, Dir. Sam Peckinpah
Unforgiven, Dir. Clint Eastwood
(I'll show clips from other westerns by Zinneman, Leone, Sturges, Hill, Brooks, De Laurentis, and others, as well as some clips from t.v. series.)
PR: One 200-level English class. Students may take this class for either film or English credit.