Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hawthorne, House of Seven Gables, Day #1

--In his preface, Hawthorne sets out famous, but rather confusing terms for his narrative as a "romance," which is differentiated from a novel by its divergence from the "probable" and "ordinary," instead focusing on something less conventional or realistic--more like a legend. Yet, Hawthorne claims that the romance can't be too different or it fails. In what ways do you see the narrative fitting Hawthorne's own strictures for the romance so far?

--Compare the way the narrator describes Hepzibah, the somewhat absurd old New England spinster maid, and Jaffrey, the impressive New England judge. What does this comparison suggest about Hawthorne's vision ofcharacter and personality?

--Clifford Pyncheon has been seen by some critics as a model of the failed artist, reflecting Hawthorne's vision of what the artist must be like (that is, something other than Clifford). What is it that Clifford lacks that makes him a great appreciator of beauty, but not an artist himself?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stoddard, "Lemorne vs. Huell"

--This is an image of the coastline in Newport, RI, where much of this story is set. Newport was a resort of the ultra-rich in the period of the story.

--The story is titled after a lawsuit that involves several of the main characters, but it is ostensibly a love story that ends in marriage. How is the love story not just entangled in, but actually parallel or metaphoric of the lawsuit (i.e., how is romance like a lawsuit?)?

--How is love and/or desire represented here? Compare its vision of romance to that depicted in The Coquette? What does it tell us about differences between Enlightenment and Romantic notions of love?

--The story ends strangely, from out of a dream. How does it comment on the love story and/or relations between the sexes?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women's Rights Writings: Grimke, Stanton, Fern

--This is an example of the way Fern's work would have appeared: in a newspaper column. By the 1850s, she was receiving the contemporary equivalent of $5000 per column!

--In her letter to Catharine Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's sister, an important advocate for women's education, but also someone who argued against women's equality), Grimke demonstrates the linkage between abolition and women's rights. Consider the means by which she constructs her argument for women's equality to men and whether or not such an argument would still be an effective tool of persuasion.

--Stanton's "Declaration of Sentiments" is a direct appropriation of Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence": how effective is it to shift the focus (without changing much of the language, at least in the beginning part)? What is your reaction to the list of injustices, this time directed not to the King of England but to a universal manhood ("he")?

--Fern's various pieces are intended for a wider popular audience and are meant to be funny, but also reflect an interest in women's rights as well. What are the underlying issues for gender inequality for Fern and how does she recommend that her readers address them?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Frederick Douglass, Narrative, Day #2

--Douglass' comments about religion throughout the text were negative enough that he feels obliged to write an appendix qualifying and explaining his views. But does the appendix in your view minimize or, to the contrary, make his critique more general? Some scholars have argued that the appendix functions as a jeremiad: do you agree or disagree with this?

--Douglass describes his experience with the 'slave-breaker' Mr. Covey as central to his later escape, restoring his sense of manhood. Earlier, he described his witnessing of Aunt Hester being whipped as his entry into slavery. To what extent does Douglass present being enslaved as being feminized and being free as masculinized?

--Even before he escapes slavery, Douglass discusses the meaning of labor and the significance of being paid for work. How does his vision of labor function as a critique of the slave economy and the morality of slavery?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Frederick Douglass, Narrative, Day #1

--Like Rowlandson's captivity narrative, Douglass' slave narrative came to readers with authenticating prefaces by culturally sanctioned authorities who contextualize his work. How do these prefaces work to explain, justify or even belittle (however inadvertently) Douglass' writing?

--Douglass' slave narrative is also an autobiography, an account of his life, and thus can be compared to other such narratives; for this class, we can compare it easily to Franklin's autobiography. Compare the first chapters of both narratives and explore how the condition of slavery affects Douglass' ability to write his life.

--How does Douglass try to capture the reality of the experience of slavery in his writing? What are some of his literary techniques? Compare his arguments against slavery to those we read last class (Walker, Garrison, & Grimke): who does he most resemble?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Abolitionist Readings: Walker, Garrison, Grimke & Whittier

--This day's reading is a selection of a range of abolitionist voices, reflecting the different identities and different strategies that went into antebellum abolition.

--Written at least in part in response to the work of Jefferson, David Walker's Appeal can be compared to Enlightenment protest texts, especially Paine's Common Sense. How does Walker use both reason and emotional calls to his readers to inspire abolition? Also, you could compare Walker to Equiano's abolitionism.

--Garrison makes an impassioned argument for abolition, invoking Jefferson's "Declaration." What are similarities and differences here between Garrison and Jefferson's text?

--Grimke offers a distinctively feminine reaction to the issue of slavery. How does she respond to the tradition of republican motherhood that we saw earlier in the term?

--Whittier uses poetry for his abolitionist critique. How does poetry work differently than the prose models read alongside this to forward abolitionism?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thoreau, Walden, Day #2

--In "The Pond in Winter," Thoreau seems to express contradictory views about the supposed 'bottomlessness' of Walden pond that reflects upon whether or not we think nature is knowable. Why is it good that people believe Walden to be bottomless? Is it a contradiction that Thoreau can measure its depth relatively easily?

--In "Spring," Thoreau focuses on the lessons derived from examining sand flowing on a melting railway embankment. What are the lessons of this experience and what do they say not only about nature, but also about man?

--In "Conclusion," Thoreau summarizes his experiences, offering lessons. What are the lessons of his experience? Also, critics have discussed whether T offers his experience to the widest possible audience or to a specialized few. Which do you see evidence for in the conclusion?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thoreau, Walden, Day #1

--This is a restored version of the interior of Thoreau's Cabin at Walden pond.

--In what ways are Thoreau's comments on deciding to live at Walden a reflection of Emerson's ideas about individualism in "Self-Reliance"?

--In "Reading," Thoreau develops a theory of reading and education. Compare it with your own vision of the purpose of reading and/or getting an education.

--"Sounds" discusses the railroad that travels quite near his cabin (suggesting first that this is no retreat into the wilderness); it is commonly read as emblematic or symbolic of technology more generally for Thoreau. What is his attitude toward the railroad? What are its positive and negative qualities? What does this suggest more generally about Transcendentalist attitudes toward technology?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Emerson, "Self-Reliance" (& Crawford)

--Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is a classic statement of American romantic individualism. As such, it is an interesting comparison to Franklin's Enlightenment version. How would you compare the two in terms of attitudes toward religion? What about attitudes toward 'virtue' (a term they share) or social responsibility?

--Crawford's comments on self-reliance come from a work about the loss of technical training in our educational system and, with it, a loss of independence and autonomy in our lives (in short, we are too used to having everything done for us). How does Crawford's view on self-reliance differ from Emerson's? Do you agree or disagree with Crawford? If you disagree, what do you think self-reliance should mean in our current day?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bryant & Cole--Poetry & Painting

This painting is Cole's famous "Oxbow"--it depicts the Connecticut River Valley area. Landscape paintings don't necessarily have much in the way of narrative, but many scholars have highlighted the way the river takes the form of a question mark and, with it, seems to ask a question about American development on our attitude toward the landscape. What do you think Cole is saying here?
--Bryant's poem "The Prairies" is very much about the history of the native peoples who lived in Illinois previously. How does Bryant envision their history and how does his vision of the future settlement of the land by whites fit into that history?
--The poem is framed by Bryant's solitary experience of the empty prairie landscape. What is his perspective on the landscape? What does being alone out there mean to him? What do you think is the over-arching tone (happy, sad, or something else) to the poem?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Irving, "Rip Van Winkle"

--This is a famous story which even people who haven't read it know in general outline, but many people find the details of the story surprising or unusual. If this was your first reading, what did you find surprising or notable here?

--This story is, in part, a commentary on the transition from colony to nationhood in America. What is the attitude toward that transition?

--Compare the fondly nostalgic tone here to the spirit of the Enlightenment that we saw in our previous section's readings.