The American Character: Reading the United States Through Its Short Stories


Course Description

All Autumn 2020 courses will take place on Zoom. Readings will be available online and by in-person retrieval.

Irving Howe has written about how some works of literature "become part of [a] National Literature once they manage to shake off provincial self-centredness yet retain the pungency of local speech and the strength of local settings." Is there a definable set of features that enables a work of literature to speak both to the individual and the group? What does it mean to term a work of literature "provincial," "regional," "national," or "transnational"? What does Howe mean by the term "self-centredness"? Are some of these stories more American and/or universal than others? What makes them so?

This course will revolve around classic American short stories by 19th- and early 20th-century authors such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bret Harte, Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, Cynthia Wilkins, Theodore Dreiser, and Ernest Hemingway. If there is an enduring American component to these tales, wherein does it lie? In the style, language, setting, theme, characterization—in some, or all of these? Class discussion will focus on the extent to which these stories speak to the American character and culture, in relation not only to the historical periods in which they were published but also to present times.

Please note that this course has a maximum enrollment of 14 students.

Priority is given to students who pay upon registration.

For fully registered courses, a waiting list will be created. Should vacancies develop, those on the waiting list will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Course Details

First Session: Thursday 24 September 2020

Course Length: 8 weeks, Thursdays, 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Discussion Team: Anne Fitzpatrick, Michael Tritt, Bill Gilsdorf

Degree Credit: No

Course Fees: 

$130.00 (standard tuition)

$90.00 (promotion for new students)

Administrative Fee:



$160.00 (standard tuition)

$120.00 (promotion for new students)


Course fees are refundable in full before the second session. After the second session, a fee of $50 for the withdrawal will be applied. Refunds will not be issued after the third session. Please note that non-attendance does not constitute a withdrawal.

Degree students, course leaders, and students wishing to use credit vouchers should not register online. 

Degree students must schedule an appointment with the Admissions and Accreditation Committee to register for courses at

Course leaders, and students wishing to use credit vouchers from cancelled Spring 2020 courses, should call (514) 935-9585 to pay by phone or to schedule an appointment to pay in person.

If you are a RETURNING student

If you are NEW at TMI