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This article explores the question of how to rethink both the substance and methodology of teaching US literature, with an eye toward college-level survey courses. To reimagine this field, it draws from the critical vision of nineteenth-century commentator José Martí. The article argues for a reflexive understanding of the contradictions in US society and the ideologies informing the categorization of literature as "American." It concludes with an examination of how foregrounding specifically political and ideological concerns within texts can contribute to an understanding of aesthetic value, rather than detracting from it.