Syllabus 1

I am working on my syllabuses. At first it was unbelievably overwhelming. I couldn’t figure out which book to use for what class, or how many books to use, etc. After the initial panic I decided it would be best if I focused on one course at a time. This is my reading list so far (which I intend to read in the following order):

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A World of Ideas (ed. Lee A. Jacobus) – an anthology
The Personal and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung (Jacobus)
The Allegory of the Cave by Plato (Jacobus)
Morality as Anti Nature by Friedrich Nietzsche (Jacobus)
The Origin of Civil Society by Jean Jacques Rousseau (Jacobus)
The Four Idols by Francis Bacon (Jacobus)
Why the Rich are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer by Robert Reich (Jacobus)
Masculinity by Germaine Greer (Jacobus)
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (I need to find an electronic copy of this)

While it might appear that the anthology is my primary text, it is really Gaiman’s novel that will be the main focus, with the remaining excerpts and short pieces all centering on how they relate to American Gods, and in multiple cases, to each other.

Gaiman’s novel is a commentary on modern American society, however his poignant observations can easily apply to all societies and civilizations; even as he sardonically criticizes the American lifestyle, he delves even deeper into the timeless realm of overall human nature.

From here I want to go into Jung and identify archetypes – which are easily spotted in the novel. I figured this would be an easy introduction to Jung, and provide a different way of looking at the characters.

Then I want to draw a parallel between the ways in which Gaiman portrays his citizens and Plato’s Cave allegory. The passivity most of them express when their ways are not only threatened but completely overturned is the same kind of acquiescence those in the cave exhibit. Who is the philosopher?

While it appears that Gaiman favors the old gods over the new, modern and ¬†materialistic gods, upon closer reading it seems his commentary is against any blind faith that robs people of free will, and quite in line with Nietzsche’s notion that life ends where “the kingdom of God beings,” and in American Gods, this kingdom is modern day America.

Nevertheless, when asked to fight against this unrighteousness, this usurpation of basic freedoms, everyone in the novel refuses. The reasoning behind this docile behavior is best depicted by Rousseau’s ideas of the social contract that can be traced within The Origin of Civil Society – people believe society functions best when certain personal rights are willingly abjured. They are partly right, in that conflict is avoided, safety is begotten, and peace prevails. But at what price? And what happens over time as more and more basic rights are forfeited?

Yet people don’t see things as they should, they don’t see the light in the cave, because there are several hindrances to understanding basic human nature, which Bacon outlines quite nicely in his Four Idols.

Bacon’s idea that most people don’t actually wish to think too deeply, or analyze their surroundings, including their lot in life, ties in with Reich’s theory of why the disparity between the haves and the have nots is constantly growing. The side stories within American Gods espouses this disproportion of socioeconomic status, providing a glimpse into the reasons for its existence and perpetuation.

Lastly, the last two excerpts to be read will be used to better understand character motivation, namely of Shadow, Wednesday, and the ever present Laura, looking at why they stand in for every man and woman, and how basic human nature along with social indoctrination propels them into the actions they take. I also want to compare and contrast the concept of masculinity between Shadow and Wednesday, along with the feminine equivalent of Laura and The Queen of Sheba. How do their respective roles pigeonhole them into the parts they play? Who adheres to the societal norms? And what are the consequences?

Next week I will be meeting with two English professors (who actually know what they are doing), to go over all of this, and gage the feasibility/coherence of my thought process and reading choices.

As for the assignments, I am unaware of the quantity I should assign for this type of class. Right now I am thinking two short papers (4-6 pages), and one long research paper (6-8 pages), but I feel that may be a bit much. I don’t know. This is all yet to be determined.

In the meantime I will be working on the next syllabus.



  1. It is an intro to Lit course. But the emphasis is on research and secondary sources. At least that is the way the curriculum is currently handled. The reading choices and direction of the course were left up to me… does it sound too Rhet?

  2. I was going to say this sounds like it could be a lit class. Your kids might revolt at having to read and synthesize so many critical primary texts, though, especially if American Gods is all they have to apply it to (in addition to looking for secondary sources on their own). Or they might be up to the challenge. They can only jump as high as the bar you set.

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