Tu/W/Th/10:00-12:30 255 Dwinelle Instructor: Keith Budner

Session D:  July 3rd-August 11th.

Who are America’s heroes? Are they caped crusaders and cowboys, or are they of a more ordinary sort – oddball schoolmasters like Ichabod Crane and country lawyers like Atticus Finch? In this class, we’ll explore the question of American (both Northern and Southern) heroism by asking whether, how, and why America looked (or perhaps needed?) to create heroes that were different from the chivalric knights and epic warriors – including the Vikings that reached America – of the Old World(s).

To explore these questions, we’ll consider a wide variety of heroes – from cross-dressing conquistadors to female Korean revolutionaries, wanna-be cowboys to comic book superheroes – as well as their broad range of fans – from Holocaust survivors to a first-generation Dominican American teen. With an eye toward contemporary American popular culture, we’ll also think about why in the last decade we’ve seen the simultaneous rise of the Anti-Hero in cable television (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter, etc.) along with the return of comic book Superheroes in film (The Dark Knight, The Avengers, etc.).

From a cultural perspective, we’ll ask how heroes reflect and respond to society’s values and anxieties, as shaped by politics, race, and gender. Do heroes operate within society’s bounds of convention and authority (perhaps even reifying social norms and hierarchies) or are they, as they often portray themselves to be, defenders of the downtrodden, perhaps even figures with revolutionary social potential? With such questions in mind, our exploration of heroism will be placed within larger questions of “myth-making” and “mythologies” that seek to ask how America (or the Americas) understands itself, its past, and its future. If a hero can function as a symbol of cultural or national unity, can heroism also tell us about the divisions within American society, be it the divide between indigenous Amerindian populations and later settlers, the north/south split(s), or divisions of class, race and ethnicity?

Our exploration of such topics and questions will lead us to consider both major literary texts and films as well as comics, graphic novels, and television episodes, either in their entirety or excerpted. We will have a course reader with shorter texts and theoretical essays; major texts may be selected from among the following:

Literature –

The Vinland Sagas, The Norse Discovery of America: “Graenlendinga Saga” and “Eirik’s Saga”

Catalina de Erauso: Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World

Washington Irving:  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories 

American Indian Myths and Legends (edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz)

Mark Twain:  Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins

Teresa Hak Kyung Cha:  Dictée

Michael Chabon:  The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Junot Diaz:  The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

Film and Television –

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

The Searchers

High Noon

To Kill a Mockingbird (plus excerpts from the novel)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Sopranos