Many circumstances cause people to leave their home and to travel to new and foreign places, for example warfare, religious pilgrimages, natural disasters, exile, or the quest for an education or a better life. Chief among these reasons for travel is commerce, which for centuries has sent business people traveling, taking financial risks, and negotiating and otherwise interacting with people who are different from them. Literature in English is full of stories of just this kind of acclimation to new cultures by merchants and those who interact with them. As the literary works we will read throughout the semester suggest, business interactions do not merely result in cultural assimilation, but instead change the cultures that interact.
Literature from the American tradition adds a new, and distinctively American twist to these stories: the quest for the American Dream, which is a term that we will define in class. The American Dream differs from the aspirations of merchants and tradespeople from other places because it implies social mobility, not only for those who own or provide goods and services, but also for all people. Yet although almost all children in the United States are told that they can achieve anything they want if they only work hard enough, the American Dream has not proved to be equally accessible to all people.
This course will examine concepts of commerce, communication across cultures, and the American Dream through drama, fiction, and poetry written in or occasionally translated into English. Readings will include selections from Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Hansberry, Raisin in the Sun, Miller, Death of a Salesman, selected short stories, Khemeri, Invasion!, Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, and more.