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ELA 11: American Literature—Semester B

20th-century bona fide American Shmoop.

Shmoop's ELA 11 course has been granted a-g certification, which means it has met the rigorous iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses and will now be honored as part of the requirements for admission into the University of California system.

You've tackled everything from Early American Literature to the depressing pre-WWI works we know as "classics." Now it's time to turn it up a notch.

In the second semester of our Common Core-aligned American Literature course, we'll hit you with all sorts of lesson plans, readings, activities, and projects. Here's what's in store:

  • Tapping out a beat with the Harlem Renaissance
  • Getting poetic with twentieth-century poetry
  • Digging into some of literature's Biggest Deals: Tennessee Williams, Toni Morrison, and…Stephen Chbosky?

P.S. ELA 11: American Literature is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester B, but you can check out Semester A here.

Course Breakdown

Unit 7. Regional Pride 1870 – Present

Short stories and poems from a wide range of American literary greats will provide ample discussion about different regions within the United States and how they're reflected in literature. A novel study on Huckleberry Finn will be used to examine author's style and tone; nonfiction selections will provide background and information for studies on realism. A continuation of the study on dialect is also a part of this unit—because let's face it, it wouldn't be Twaintime without it.

Unit 8. Jazz and American Change 1910 – 1950

This unit will focus on the movements of the Harlem Renaissance, the Roaring Twenties, and other changes in American literature of the time period—as well as well after the time period, with James Baldwin essays and a complete reading and viewing of A Streetcar Named Desire. After the Southern studies of Unit 7, it's a fascinating look at how American regional literature evolved—and didn't evolve—in a world rattled by post-Reconstruction change.

Unit 9. Novel Study: John (the Man) Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath 1930 – 1945

This unit will focus on an author study—our only author study. And why John Steinbeck? Besides the fact that he loved flying pigs and is Shmoop's personal hero, this unit will analyze why many readers and critics consider Steinbeck to be the quintessential American author. We'll conduct a novel study on The Grapes of Wrath and look at the social/historical/cultural context of the novel and Steinbeck's role in this period of American history. Wouldn't you guess it? It's still relevant today.

Unit 10. The Greatest Generation 1910 – 1960

Everything in this country was better when your great-grandparents were your age, Shmooper—especially the literature. That's why this unit will focus on Modernism and Postmodernism, from experimental e.e. cummings poetry to comparing The Feminist Mystique with The Catcher in the Rye. In a time in American culture where much went unsaid, we'll pay special attention to language, with a study of slang used in modernist writings and other multiple meaning words and phrases.

Unit 11. Civil Rights and Multiculturalism in Literature 1960 – Present

This unit will focus on the Civil Rights movement in America and the great speeches, memoirs, essays, and literature it inspired. Topics such as demonstrations, violence vs. nonviolence, major artists of the movements, and specific multicultural groups will be discussed, and the rhetoric of these speakers and writers will be assessed and analyzed for author's bias, claims and support, and persuasive strategies. A novel study on Toni Morrison's haunted Beloved will help students extrapolate the concepts of literature as history's ghost. Spooky? You bet.

Unit 12. Contemporary Literature 1980 – Present

ELA 11 concludes with a study of the here and now, focused at the high end of young adult texts with contemporary poetry and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. We know, we know: "coming of age" is a big deal in the eleventh grade, so topics such as life changes, academia, graduation, "fitting in" and being different will be the focus of the unit. Natch, the course also finishes with a student choice-driven research paper about the American identity. No, students cannot choose Shmoop as a research topic, but thanks for asking.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 5: Southern Gothic

A large, stately southern plantation house.
Bless your heart, would you just look at those columns?

Welcome to the dark side, y'all.

That's right: we're taking a break from Northern Great Migration and heading down south. Much like America was divided after the Civil War, its literature was too. While the Harlem Renaissance was often celebratory, Southern Gothic notsomuch. We've studied Southern Gothic (or SoGo, as it were) in Semester A, so you might recall that this is where we'll find a healthy dose of the grotesque, a hefty dash of violence, and as much disintegration and decay as the gothiest goth could want.

Yep. This lit is not for the squeamish.

But Southern Gothic literature is full of doom and gloom for a reason: it totally developed in the wake of the Civil War (1861 – 1865). The Civil War, which brought an end to slavery in the South, left behind it a society that was devastated, economically and socially, by defeat. The Civil War forced Southern writers—many of whom were born in the aftermath of the war—to really think about what it meant to be Southern. You don't see this much in the Northern Gothic works of Poe, but you'll definitely see it in the guilt-ridden Southern lit we'll read in this unit.

Southern Gothic, the literature that developed as a result of this questioning, raises issues like:

  • Why is violence such a huge part of Southern culture? 
  • How did the South's history of slavery and racial oppression warp Southern society? 
  • Why did the South have such a hard time picking itself up after its defeat in the war?

The war itself, of course, was a pretty grotesque experience. And the institution of slavery, which was the bedrock of Southern society for hundreds of years before the war, was even more grotesque. Is it any wonder, then, that Southern Literature has a tradition of violence and defeat as well as Unit 7 Mark Twain-style toe-tappin'?

Put on your Sunday best and shine up those shoes: we're dippin' our toes in southern waters now, friends.

  • Credit Recovery Enabled
  • Course Length: 18 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 11
  • Course Type: Basic
  • Category:
    • English
    • Literature
    • High School
  • Prerequisites:
    ELA 11: American Literature—Semester A

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