Austerity and Excess: The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, with Jan Sidebotham
Mondays from 1:30-3:30 pm on 4/27, 5/4, 5/11, 5/18, 5/26 (note date change of last class).
Classes will be held at the Wellfleet Library.
What can we learn from juxtaposing two “great American novels,” The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby?
Each novel gives the reader a window into an extraordinary moment in U.S. history. The Scarlet Letter, written some 200 years after the time period in which it was set (1642), depicts a culture where values like hard work, thrift, and religious devotion flourished. The Great Gatsby shows us how people handled prosperity in the 1920s — carelessly, selfishly, and lawlessly; their gods were money and power.
What do these two books tell us about the human condition? And, more narrowly, what might they tell us about the American condition? Perhaps these works of fiction can enlighten us about the troubled and troubling nation we live in today. Most classes will begin with a short lecture about literary elements (structure, narration, symbolism) or background information; but the course will rely heavily on a discussion in which every voice is valued and in which the text is our primary focus.
The editions I will use are The Norton Critical Edition of The Scarlet Letter (ed. Leland S. Person, W.W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 9780393979534) and The Great Gatsby (with notes and preface by Matthew I. Broccoli, Scribner, 1992. ISBN 0684801523). Alibris (www.alibris.com) is a good source for used books.
Please read all of The Scarlet Letter (except for “The Custom House”) for the first class.
April 27 The Scarlet Letter
May 4 The Scarlet Letter
May 11 The Great Gatsby (please read the entire book for this class)
May 18 The Great Gatsby
May 26 Comparing the two novels