The role of literature in teaching freshman composition

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Weaver, Barbara Tag
Trimmer, Joseph F.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
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The freshman course in "writing about literature" is a metaphor of the profession of English. Political disagreements with English departments, vocational pressures exerted from outside the English department, and philosophical differences among composition specialists intersect in the composition course based on literature as they do in no other course. A new paradigm for teaching writing and a revival of rhetorical studies have led many institutions to exclude the reading of imaginative literature from freshman composition courses.This dissertation argues, however, that to include literature in freshman composition is both desirable and possible. Through a history of composition teaching in America, Chapter One analyzes relationships among rhetoric; literature, and composition, demonstrating that writing and reading were effectively interrelated for almost 300 years. It attributes the ineffectivenessabout literature" courses in recent years to an unexamined rhetorical theory and an inappropriate method of objective literary criticism.To reintegrate literature with composition on more solid grounds, Chapters Two and Three explore the needs of freshman students as writers and readers. Chapter Two examines contemporary research in composition, proposing a substitute for current traditional rhetoric. Chapter Three examines literary theories and response to literature, proposing a substitute for objective criticism.Chapter Four reviews proposals to integrate reading and writing, revealing a widespread assumption that writing about literature--in freshman courses as in graduate seminars--means writing objective, analytical, critical prose. It cites significant evidence from many fields that developing writers need to express personal, affective, and poetic ideas as well as to develop critical understanding.Chapter Five proposes a rhetoric for freshman composition that includes the reading and writing of transactional, expressive, and poetic discourse. Organized by means of Janet Emig's "inquiry paradigm," it clarifies a view of reality, a set of assumptions, an intellectual heritage, and a theory for this rhetoric. Finally, it offers one example of an introductory freshman composition course consistent with the rhetorical framework. Using conventional readings in American literature, it suggests methods of teaching and evaluating designed to create an environment in which the activities of reading and writing can be expected to reinforce one another.