Weekly Writing Due Sep. 19, 8pm

PROMPT: Whichever “criterion” for what makes a “Great Work of American Literature” you plan to address in your first essay (from the list on the assignment sheet, included again below), use this post to draft a working definition for it. The first assignment asks you to make it clear how you understand the criterion – in this post you can develop that material, which you can then revise and use in the essay itself. Talk about what you think is meant by the criterion, and think about the reasons English professors might place value on it. You may be delving into a realm of speculation here, but that’s OK – we’re just beginning to develop our discussions and critiques of these values, and at this early stage you should feel free to explore your impulses.

Here are the criteria again: “The work should be considered a ‘great work’ if it…”

  • …speaks to a “universal” human experience
  • …reflects American culture/life
  • …has affected American culture/life
  • …is a work of stylistic mastery/beauty
  • …has endured through time and remained relevant
  • …represents a uniquely “American” voice/tradition
  • …shows the American experience in its diversity
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23 thoughts on “Weekly Writing Due Sep. 19, 8pm

  1. The criterion I chose for a work to be considered a “great work” is that it has endured through time and remained relevant. This means that although a work may have been written many years ago, and on the surface the material may seem a little old-fashioned or out of date, the core messages and takeaways have remained applicable for readers and audiences through the years to the extent that people are still willing to pick it up and read/watch it. English professors tend to place value on these works, calling them “timeless” and “gems.” The reason for these praises, in my opinion, is that it takes a certain degree of foresight on the part of a writer to produce something intending or hoping for it to remain relevant for future generations. These authors have been able to zero in on values that are universal, not just ones that may have been important at the time the work was written. Additionally, on a practical level, professors would rather assign works from which students can glean still-relevant messages and lessons, because this would make students more enthusiastic when it comes to discussing and reflecting on the work. People usually get excited about things they can apply to their own lives, not things only previous generations could relate to.

    • I agree with your opinion. The canon must able to stand the test of time, no matter how much time has passed,the canon are always the canon. In addition, canon are always related to mainstream and positive thoughts, thus ordinary people are always able to benefit from the canon.

  2. In my opinion, the work should be considered as a ‘great work’ if it speaks to a “universal” human experience.It means that although this media object may have been written many years ago, and the material may seem out of date, people are still willing to read it or watch it, and people are still can learn something and absorb some benefits from it regardless their education, race and culture. Indeed, I think the most important standard of judging the qualification of a canon is, whether it can speaks to universal people and speaks universal human experience. English professors wants to place value on these works, I guess the reason is that, they wants everyone, no matter what your race and culture, no matter where you were born from, and no matter what religious you are, you can get some common knowledge and literacy from those canon. Every one could able to achieve a certain level of basic literature attainments by learning those canon. And every one could able to find some experiences and positive attitude in those canon. After all, if there is some things can provide all those benefits above to all kind of people, it could be definitely defined as a canon.

  3. The criterion that I most closely and strongly feel represents the American canon and represents what a “Great work of American Literature” is, would be one that has endured through time and still remained relevant. Each of these criteria listed above are all equally as important when it comes to characteristics of a special piece of literature, but I personally feel that this one in particular speaks for them all in a way. A work of literature that can be passed on for centuries but still be presented in a class with current value, must indicate that it has a level of timeless and universal importance regardless of the period it was written in. As well as that, I feel like it would also contain a form of connection to American culture and traditions, having the advantage of reading a form of literature from the past. The world is always changing, and our country although keeps some traditional values, we still adapts so quickly that kids may even forget what things were once like in their own country. In a way, it would be like temporarily removing your current knowledge of what one knows today, and being captivated by a piece of literature during a time period we couldn’t actually relate to. One amazing thing about movies, literature, textbooks etc is that it gives us humans the ability to learn about different time periods and events that we weren’t able to physically experience ourselves. If a teacher presents the class with a text with these attributes, it is because they also find value in such a ancient yet classic piece that they believe would still holds meaning in readers today. English Literature Professors also typically hold onto the “classics” more than other modern writing pieces, for the reason that they have an attachment to it since they are often more unique and original then todays novels. Literature is so broad that its hard to simply identify what makes a great work without sounding biased, however this criterion seems to be very fair and equal in the sense that no matter what age, race, origin etc someone is, they can still find a common value in a literature that is from a completely different time but still relates to all people.

    • I strongly agree with your point of view. “Literature is so broad that its hard to simply identify what makes a great work without sounding biased … all people.” There cannot be just one reason for a literature to be great.

  4. The criterion that I think makes a “Great Work of American Literature” is definitely one that has endured through time and remained relevant. In a world that forever changes and adapts with the times, there are still a few details about the world that we live in that will always remain relevant. The work can also contain all the other criteria which are important to consider, especially to an English professor. Some of these works might be written at a time that may seem outdated, but if the student manages to grasp and identify with the universal message that is expressed in the current generation, then it makes sense that the work would be considered a “classic”. This is why English professors usually teach these works to their students, so they reflect and see themselves within the characters that present the message in a meaningful way before delving deeper into the author’s writing style. Although, a great work doesn’t have to be an old novel, it can be broaden and expanded to include so many other works like a timeless concept album or a beautiful visual masterpiece that was made recently and has affected you the same way like a classic would. You just hope that someday these recent works will stand the test of time and join the canon, in hopes of influencing the new generation. That’s the beauty of a great work of American literature to me, if I can relate and be affected in a way that I can learn and apply the message to my life while forgetting when the work was made.

  5. The criterion that I am thinking about exploring in my paper is “reflects American culture/life” and may blend in some “has affected American culture/life.” Personally, I think that something that accurately affects American culture and touches upon topics that need to be discussed will spark discussion. A great work can affect different groups of people and people can walk away with a different interpretation that can be discussed and potentially debated. If someone is impacted by a work then, at least to him/her, that work is great. If a whole group of people is impacted by that same work then that is even more ground for it to be considered great. English teachers may agree with this and that is why they traditionally assign texts. When those texts first came out they were probably popular, and as people read them they may have talked about it and that same text may have affected American culture or reflected the culture of the time. Right now I’m thinking of different forms of media besides texts that accomplish to show that not only books can be analyzed. Potentially a music album.

  6. In my opinion, the criterion that represent a work as a “Great Work of American Literature” is when it has endured through time and remained relevant. When a work offers the same emotion and satisfaction, over the years, even decades.
    The years mean “time”, and time involves changes; be it in generations, styles, rules, visions, etc. That a work has been important enough for humanity, so that it get integrated into society as an essential part of literary education, is what I consider to be a great work. And when I say “important” I mean an influential work which has had the power to trace time, changes, and generations. Many times its content marks a generation which identified with it, perhaps due to social events that they were going through. But then with the passage of time, the work is not recognized by future generations as something similar to what they are living, but as a story about their ancestors. And that’s what continues making the work a relevant one, although it is not appreciated in the same way that years ago, it continues having an important weight in the generations but with a different interpretation.

  7. For me, the criterion for a work to be considered a ‘great work’ is that it has endured through time and remained relevant. There are many great literatures that are not written in this generation but from a long time ago; however, those works are still popular even nowadays. Why? I feel the main reason is the connection between the literatures and the readers. Almost all of the literatures have a core message or hidden messages that the authors are trying to illustrate to the public, but not every literature becomes the great work of American literature. They must be able to stand the test of time. A work can endure through time and remain relevant I believe it should be something closely related to the general population and is for everyone, included the children. The message or lesson should bring resonance to all kind of people. Maybe it is a event that may occur on everyone, or maybe a common issue or situation people may meet during their lifetime. Even though the other criterions are also the essential qualities of being a great work, it is all based on the capability of withstanding the test of time because if it doesn’t remain long enough, how it is able to affect the American culture and be read by more people. English professors tend to place value on these works because first of all, the work themselves had already proven their value through the time. Second, when the English professors assign the works, the messages or the lessons from these works may have some relation with the students in various ways that the students are most likely discover the common ground with the literature. This way, it prompts the student’s interest to be more willing to read and learn.

    • Hi YaWen, I agree with you that it is very important for a work to connect with its readers. And such connection should be able to stand for a long period of time, it should allow audiences from a different era to learn from the message and apply it to their lifetime. And such ability of endured through time and remained revenants is what a “great work” should have.

  8. When we starts from how America has become to how American literature was invented, all origins were not originally from America. They were initially from Europe. In my writing piece, I would like to talk about the American experience in diversity since the foundation of all American literature is from diversity of cultural background. As you may know, North America continent was filled with Red Indians or Native Americans as you may call. If by country definition, all American literature should be composed of Native Americans history, their culture, their background as well as religion yet not all is about Native Americans. It is due to the fact that founders of America were from Europe. It is very interesting because American as a whole never considered themselves part of ethnicity, meaning American is not your nationality or your genetic foundation. It is the origin and the land you were born on. Even in literature, American literature is in fact diversified and relevant to cultures of those outside of the country. It is because American foundation is created by different people of different background. A great example of “American experience in diversity” would be production of latest movies like Crazy Rich Asians which is mainly composed of Asians lifestyles and such. Or Black Panther which is a movie based on African American experience and culture combined with science-fictions. For a professor of English literature, their main values lies in the content of evolutions of American literature as well as how it is changing yearly based on new culture, new trends and new traditions. It could be mainly of one race experience in American or it could be fictions like Harry Potter from Europe that influenced American literature which started changing styles and formats of what is originally consider American literature. What is more interesting about American literature is that there is always a change to it and every change has its own meaningful ways of representing America as a country, the union of diversity. That is why readers such as us are interested and excited in reading about transaction of American literature as well as ideology behind its evolution.

  9. I believe a great work of literature is one that is a combination of all the criteria listed. Mainly, one that has endured through time and remained relevant; to be specific, for it to be a great work of American Literature, it would also show an American experience and culture/life. Many works of literature has been reprinted and physically survived through the ages. I strongly believe in order to really survive the test of time, one should not be forgotten. A great work of American literature is not just reprinted, nor one that represents a unique experience, but also with a certain depth that would captivate a reader and tell a story of an important time once long ago. It is a window into the past full of meaning and experience that has fought the trials of present times. A great work American of literature makes a connection to you, to the present world, through the use of words. I feel that there is no one reason for an English professor to choose a great work of American literature. To be a great American literature, one has to survive the trials of time, telling a tale of the past that shouldn’t be forgotten.

  10. I believe a work should be considered a “great work” if it has endured through time and remain relevant. There are many works that could only represent some period of time in the past, but readers and audiences are not able to apply the core message from the text in today’s life. Many works contain some characteristics of an era, the characteristics separate the work with their audiences. Therefore, some works that were praised during its period of time will slowly leave the stage. However, there are great works that are still connected to the audiences nowadays because there’s some message that people can still learn and inspired from. Such works will keep having positive impacts on future generations, the author of “great work” has a much better understanding of the society. The understanding was great enough for people at a different time to take away lessons from time to time. English professors chose these works with the intention of influencing and educating students. And these “great works” have passed the test of time, they are proven by the time that they hold a universal value that will always enhance the readers in many ways, mentally, understanding, and etc. With all the values, readers will be interested in reading and learning.

  11. The criterion that I believe is most representative of a great work of American Literature, would be a combination of one that speaks to a universal human experience and a piece of work that has endured through time and stayed relevant. I think any good form of literature should be relatable in some way. You should be able to see fragments of yourself, your life, or emotions through a work in order to form a connection with it. I think it is through that connection that various forms of literature are able to with stand the test of time. There is a lot of changes that come with the passage of time, but if a form of literature is able to connect on a deeper level with a reader and conveys a valuable message to them, the more likely they are to pass it down to future generations. I think professors would place value on a work so universal and consistently relevant because it doesn’t discriminate from one person to another. It has the ability to speak to anyone no matter what religion, age or race they are. It only makes sense to value those criterion; coming from America, a place that is so culturally diverse.

  12. I consider a “great work” of literature to mean that it has affected American culture/life. Anything such as; language, people’s habits, people’s race can have an affect on the lives of people in America. There are many obstacles for immigrants to overcome while living in America. Unfortunately, many people from America have set up borders for immigrants who look different or speak different than people born in this country. People involved in civil rights causes have made some progress over the last fifty years. The progress that has been made never seems like it’s good enough for the minority people living in this country. Freedom, justice and equality are some of the important values that all people in this country should have access to.

  13. In my opinion, any work that can be considered great in American literature must genuinely withstand the test of time; reflect on the core American values, address America’s diversity. American culture is very diverse and this diversity brought about by the constantly evolving cultural values makes it difficult for simple literature to remain relevant. However, if the work reflects on values that stay within the American society, even when there are changes, the work qualifies to be considered as great. Any great work of American literature is crucial to the American culture and plays a vital role in disseminating true American values. Time is another factor that erodes the relevance of simple literature. Ancient works were done at different times and reflecting different circumstances. It is also important to note that people did not have much exposure to information, as they continue to have now and in the future. Literacy levels also continue to rise compared to the past, and that means the rise of new talents and creation of modern literature. Nevertheless, if the work remains relevant despite the rise of new works, and changing literacy levels, it can be considered a great work of American literature.  Although America is the most diverse country in the world, still, there are those core values that any American cherishes and propagates.  Any work that supports these standards always remains relevant. The work that promotes self-government, unity, liberty, individualism, and equality is always going to stand tall and remain one among the great works of American literature. Even though America is ever-changing, and accommodating new people, from different cultures, such works are essential in reminding the American people who they are, what they stand for, what they believe in and where they belong.

  14. I believe “great work” of literature is a work that has affected American culture/life. Works of literature like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech changed American views of racism and had foreshadowed racial equality and what it should look like. Fast forward to today and many points that Martin Luther King Jr’s dreams have come true. Modern America accepts people of all race to be in the same schools, to sit together on public transportation, and to use the same public facilities. Of course not all Americans accept all races, but the general landscape of America has changed for the better, and whoever is considered “racist” in modern America is frowned upon. This huge shift that happened thanks to a movement that Martin Luther King Jr was preaching in his speech has helped America become a better place to live. To me, this speech is a “great work” of literature that holds a huge weight in American culture from its inception in 1963 all the way till today.

  15. I believe a “great work” of literature is a work that has affected American culture/life. Works of literature like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech changed American views of racism and had foreshadowed racial equality and what it should look like. Fast forward to today and many points that Martin Luther King Jr’s spoke about in his speech have come true. Modern America accepts people of all race to be in the same schools, sit together on public transportation, and use the same public facilities. Of course, not all Americans accept all races, but the general landscape of America has changed for the better, and whoever is considered “racist” in modern America is frowned upon. This huge shift that happened thanks to a movement that Martin Luther King Jr was preaching in his speech has helped America become a better place to live. To me, this speech is a “great work” of literature that holds a huge weight in American culture from its inception in 1963 all the way till today. In fact, this speech even embodies some of the other criterion given to choose from like, “reflects American culture/life”, and “has endured through time and remained relevant”. The speech is a topic that is continuously discussed in schools and in the media. A work of literature that has affected American culture/life is very much able to fall in multiple criterion, making that work that much more “great”.

  16. I believe that the the main criterion that make a Great Work of American Literature are that it has affected American culture and shows the American experience in its diversity. Every other criterion listed is certainly correct to me as what makes a Great Work of American Literature but the above two I mentioned are the most important to me. Literature that tells Americans how people made American life better is super important and very relevant to make the people understand the good life they have today. What I mean by this is that throughout history, literature on The War of Independence showed how we got this country, and we have books on the Civil War where Abraham Lincoln banned slavery and it shows the country become better by slaves being freed, thus being a country with more freedom for everyone. Also, literature that describe the many different races living free in America such as Spanish, Chinese, Africans and others describes that diversity is very important. Everyone has freedom, it shouldn’t be that only whites have freedom, and every other race is discriminated. Everyone has equal freedom, otherwise America wouldn’t be the great country it is today. It’s much greater than 1950s where blacks had to sit in the back of the bus and go to separate schools than whites, and were subject to tons of discrimination.

  17. This is from Daron –

    In my opinion, I think the work should be considered a ‘great work’ if it speaks to a “universal” human experience as well if it is ensured through time and remained relevant. I believe these criteria make a “Great Work of American Literature” because not only will the readers come to relate to its meaning and purpose, overtime generation after generation will come to an understanding of it as well. Me personally, I feel more enticed when I can put myself in the situation of my readings. To be able to grasp their emotions and put it toward my very own allows me to focus more on opinions I’ll have during the reading. Whether if it’s a setting during a time of the “Great Depression” or in a science fiction apocalypse, any reader will become more dissolved into the situation to continue forth on the outcome. If a “great work” takes key elements to take the reader to a personal level, it’s a work that will definitely last generations over. With these type of readings, I feel they are quite more engaging due to the wide variety of thoughts presented from person to person.

  18. I think that the criterion to make a good work should speak to a universal human experience. it is important for everyone to understand and grasp the ideas of a great work of american literature. it is important for everyone to be able to grasp and relate to a piece of writing even if they aren’t necessarily american. what makes american literature special is its diversity and ability to include everyone in its works and ideas. to be able to relate and reflect on a piece is very important and i think that is an important aspect for professors to highlight and incorporate into their teachings. I think all the criteria posted above is important for the sake of american literature to be able to “speak its language” and be able to communicate your ideas and connect to the piece.

  19. The criterion I have chosen to explore is that of speaking to a universal human experience. I believe that when a student, at any age, sits down to read a piece of literature, they want to be able to relate to it somehow. Whether it be by similarities between that student and the main character, similarities between that student’s struggles and a character’s struggles, I believe it is very important that a connection be made. As someone who was not so successful or interested in her past literature courses in high school, I can stand behind this statement. I always felt like there was not much I would gain from reading these, what seemed to be, random works of literature. I would be sitting in the classroom not understanding themes and motifs and not caring about a character’s inner struggles because I could not relate. I believe English professors should place a very high value on the establishment of a connection between a work of literature and their students because it will stimulate better discussion and more interest in the work.

  20. A work of literature is considered “great” if it contains the criteria of reflecting American culture/ life. Books that are about American culture include ideas of the newest fashion trends, fads, and the latest advances in technology. In addition, a piece of literature reflecting American values would include ideas such as very little connection to religion, an obsession over materialism, gossip over celebrities, freedom and equality, and lack of work ethic in the young generation. A text that describes how an average American lives helps the reader better understand and relate to it. The reader can make many connections to characters from the story and become empowered to make changes in their own life. Furthermore, a reader can learn from the experiences and mistakes of the individuals in the piece of literature, and use that information to make better choices. A professor may choose to use a “great” work of literature that includes the criteria of reflecting American culture/life because it is an engaging piece of work that is relatable to college students in America. These texts can be used to help students understand the perspective of other people in society. They can be used in assignments to encourage the development of critical thinking skills and making connections.

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