Charles W. Mignon
University of Nebraska
INTRODUCTION TO EARLY AMERICAN LITERATURE
COURSE CONTEXT, RATIONALE, AND GOALS
Twenty-five years ago, American literature was taught in an entirely different fashion than it is today. Back then the subject of this course (up to 1900) would have been a survey of eight major (canon) authors, namely Poe, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Whitman, Melville, Twain, and James with perhaps Franklin and Edwards thrown in for good measure. The approach would have been principally formalist and New Critical with attention to historical context. The pedagogy would have been lecture with some discussion of the recitation kind. The organization of the course would have been historical and there would have been frequent quizzes, a mid-term exam, a research paper, and a final exam--all modelled to cover the material.
The most daring early change to this canon was the addition (in the early sixties) of Dickinson to reflect newly edited materials by Thomas H. Johnson. As you will read in the Preface to the Heath anthology (our text for the course), the sixties and seventies brought into play a whole new scholarship in the recovery of forgotten or ignored works as well as works in which the cultural features of gender, race, and class in the literature promised to give us new perspectives and new materials for our concept of what American literature was. In short, the consciousness of the civil rights movement and of women's movements had an effect on the canon of works taught in our curriculae around the country. A corresponding revolution in pedagogy also took place, placing less emphasis on coverage and more attentiion to the techniques of teaching and on student learning.
The process of creating new courses to reflect this scholarship of new voices in our literature was, and still is to a certain extent, controversial, the chief argument against it (as one of my colleagues has succinctly put it) was "that the inclusion of more women and minority writers is a political rather than a literary or scholarly decision. In other words, critics claimed, authors were chosen to join or even replace those in the canon because of their race, gender, subject matter, or political slant rather than for their creativity, originality, facility with language, or depth of thought" (Bergstrom, 1995). There's some truth to this, but it's equally true that the canon writers were nonetheless chosen on social, moral, religious, or political grounds, not just aesthetic ones, themselves.
This canon shift finally came into curricular play with the publication of the first edition of our text, the Heath Anthology of American Literature in 1990. The teachers of American literature who had been content to teach the old canon were now challenged intellectually to consider this broader definition of what our literature was: could they learn this newer scholarship of discovery and recovery and incorporate it into their classes? The whole question came down to what they would include in a 1 5-week semester: what writers would they actually choose to teach?
My own approach to this problem was to begin gradually to incorporate the new scholarship into my courses and in 1995 I experimented with a 432/832 undergraduate/graduate course entitled "Diversity in Early American Literature" in which I not only grouped materials from the Heath anthology into thematic chunks, but set the students to decide for themselves what they wished to focus on in the course. I asked them to create a schedule for themselves. In discussing this strategy with one of my junior colleagues after the class was completed I learned that it might have been better to give the students more background to aid in their decision making. So, the planning for this course comes directly out of my experience teaching and assessing the 432/832 experiment
Introduction to Early American Literature
This course will treat oral and written literature arising from the area currently included in the continental United States and from the period before Columbus to about the end of the Civil War (1865). We will provide some information or connections not available in the textbook, and we will encourage active student participation through small group and whole class discussion.
The texts for the course are
Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain U New Mexico Press
the Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. I, Third Edition.Houghton Mifflin
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter Bedford edition (St.Martin's Press)
The requirements for the course are not unusual: regular attendance and participation (25% of the grade); ten 2-3 page reading journals (50% of grade); one 5-6 page paper (25% of the grade); with seven ungraded reading responses and an ungraded one page report on the course schedule in the early part of the course; a portfolio of all written materials; and an evaluation of the course. (The following pages will provide more detail about these requirements and the grading standards.) The work in the course will be substantial, with readings that vary in length and complexity, but few I would consider "easy." Caveat emptor.
This course will emphasize group work, class discussion, the sharing of insights and points of view--features that cannot be captured in class notes. "Participation" does not mean speaking out every day in class discussion. Rather, it means committing oneself to the work of the class-being ready for discussion, helping the work in small groups, and being mentally and emotionally engaged in what is going on in the course. As far as the grading of this aspect of the course is concerned, everyone starts with A. More than three unexcused absences will begin to take that grade down, as will a disengaged or obstructing attitude toward the work of the group. An unusual number of excused absences (illness or emergency) will call for a conference about an appropriate grade. 25% of grade.
The reading for the course will be without many breaks, but you can read ahead. Real reading is active and engaged: it demands that the reader involve her/himself in the text, following its direction and questioning its purpose. Read with a pencil in hand, marking the passages which excite, puzzle, or disturb you. A marked text is an important part of the process of thinking about the reading: it provides you with a focus for comments you want to make and questions you want to ask. Need I say "Always come to class with your book"? I expect you to read any introductions to the assignments in our text. The heaviest assignments will come with Momaday's The Wav to Rainy Mountain and Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. You may read ahead!
The purpose of the journals is to provide a place where you can respond to the readings. Even though you will be completing all readings, there is no reason to feel you have to write on everything-just the readings you notice for some good reason.
How can you decide for yourselves what's good or important in all these readings? Here's one possible guide (one I've adopted from one of my colleagues), a set of reader responses that relate to qualities in the texts. A text may be
l. Interesting: the text speaks about topics previously unknown or unexplored, or one that are familiar and comfortable. A text may employ a perspective which is original, illuminating, or exciting. From such a text we may learn something new, either about the world or about ourselves.
2. Entertaining: a text is written in such a way as to produce laughter, suspense, strong emotion, or other responses that remove the reader from the routine of everyday life. This may include forms of wish-fulfillment and escape.
3. Beautiful: the conception that underlies a text, the way it is structured, and the language in which it is expressed may in themselves produce admiration, awe, a sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
4. Profound: a text deals with vital issues of human existence, the physical universe, behavior, morality, spirituality, and does so in a complex and powerful manner.
The reading journals themselves: students will hand in ten 2-3 page reading journals at the times indicated on the schedule; the total number of pages will come to at least 22. Please mark your journals with name, number, and date, and save all the returned journals. Journals involve informal though serious writing, to be assessed solely on the basis of content unless the style or format interfere with our understanding of what you've written. All journals will begraded A, B, C, D, with pluses and minuses, and F, all nine grades to be averaged at the end of the semester. Here are the criteria (adopted from one of my colleagues's schemes):
A: the writer captures in a concise way the essence, central issues, or techniques of a work; approaches the text in an original, illuminating way (including personal way); provides possible answers to questions it formulates, and uses illustration.
B: the writer finds interesting aspects of a text and shows insight and attention to detail; uses examples; asks questions based on careful reading; relates some aspect to personal experience.
C: the writer demonstrates that the student has done careful and thoughtful reading; uses examples.
D: none of the qualities described above can be found in the writing.
F: this grade reserved for journals not submitted. I find it hard to keep track of late journals, so be sure you have copies of everything you turn in late. I will accept late journals, but only up to one week after they were due. Full credit within one week; thereafter lowered by one grade. No revision of returned journals unless approved by me. Keep the journals I return to you with my comments on them; place them in your portfolio.50% of grade.
Each student will write one 5-6 page paper, due on the date indicated on the schedule. The purpose of the paper is to provide an opportunity for you to bring together part of what you've
learned in the course. Your task will be to draw together for yourself what you've read (the "high points") into some interesting pattern--to begin to create a definition of"American literature" for this period. I will give you more information on this exercise later on. Grades will be based on a strong sense of focus and purpose, clarity of organization and presentation. and on mechanics appropriate to a class at this level. 25% of grade.
In the early part of the course we will ask you to write seven one-page response journals and a one-paragraph report--all this writing ungraded--on your decisions about the themes for the course. All these items are designed to help you decide which themes are the ones you want to explore at more length. I will ask to see them, but I will not read them; they're for your own use.
On May Day, the last Friday of the course, you will be handing in a paper of approximately 5-6 pages. These numbers are guidelines, not absolute rules. Anything much short of 5 pages is likely not to be as full or sophisticated as we would like, though it might be hard for us to downgrade a 4-page paper absolutely crammed with profound analysis. Longer than 6 pages is perfectly acceptable, but of course length in itself does not insure quality--you knew that.
The assignment is a challenging one--it's meant to be. We'd like you to look back over what you've read for the "high points." Not necessarily what you liked best at the time, but rather what you see as the most important reading you've done. Think about why these readings were important from your point of view. [It is not a good idea to try and figure out what we think! It is irrelevant to your purposes anyway.]
Next, consider what might link these texts--what they have in common, how they contrast with one another, how they progress through time, how they exemplify a central kind of writing or continuing theme. Just exploring possible connections can be profitable at the beginning.
Finally, in the paper itself, we'd like a report on what you have discovered in this course through these readings. There are lots of possibilities what have you discovered about "America"? What have you discovered about yourself? About religion or politics? About the purposes of literary art? About reading?
It would be really nice if, in the final draft, you could break away from the format the assignment suggests. In other words try to avoid saying "You asked us to tell you the most important...Here they are...Then you asked...."
It would not be good to fill up your pages with quotations, but it would be strange indeed not to quote anything from the works you do decide to include. If you do quote, please suppy the page number from the anthology.
In planning this course I decided to invite the junior colleague who gave me that advice to join me this semester in a teaching internship for this course: Matthew Hokom (who is a Teaching Assistant and a Candidate for the PhD in English with a specialization in American literature) agreed and we planned this course together. (The rules for this internship include provision for the intern's conducting no more than 20% of the semester classes--Hokom will teach two of the introductory theme classes and five classes on the Imperial Self at the end of the course. The rules also provide for assistance in planning assignments and reading some student writing; however, the instructor [that's me, Mignon] retains sole responsibility for all the grading of student work. You will be evaluating both of us at the end of the course.)
We decided to reserve seven class meetings early in the course for selected readings in seven prominent themes found in the literature; we would assign seven required but ungraded reading responses to these readings to facilitate the choices you--individually and as a class-would make about which four of these themes you wanted to focus on during the semester. We would devote five class meetings to each theme in the schedule.
After this introduction we would have a meeting in which you the students would choose four of the seven themes and give us advice about how you wanted to arrange these four in the schedule. We would add to this schedule two of our own sets (one of seven on Hawthorne and one of five on the theme of the Imperial Self) with a couple of days at the beginning and at the end to fill out the schedule.
Matthew and I are not really engaged at this time in classroom research, but we both agree that we wish to promote active learning on your part. With the reading assignments and the exercises we will devise for you in small groups and in whole class discussion, we intend to bring you to the classroom prepared to participate, in a meaningful way to you, in discussions.
To further give focus to our purposes, we are presenting you with five goals which we wish to accomplish for the course; naturally, we hope these will coincide with yours.
Goal 1: students will learn about the historical development of the concept of "American literature" achieved by: a syllabus which includes a section on the nature and background of the changes represented in the Heath anthology, xxxiii-xxxix top, and xliv-xlv, reported in a journal
Goal 2: students will think independently about the schedule for the course achieved by: a pre-session of readings and discussions of seven possible themes of the course, with seven one-page ungraded reading responses and a one-page ungraded report on choices
Goal 3: students will engage in active-learning achieved by: a set of decisions about the four themes to be treated in the course, the order in which they will be addressed, the journals, the subjects for daily class discussion and the course paper; attendance/participation
Goal 4: students will hear many "voices" that make up our literature in this period, and see their connections and their distinctions achieved by: a set of readings from the full range of the time period, by authors from a variety of points of view, from all walks of life, and in a variety of genres; journals and paper
Goal 5: students will enhance their ability to write coherently about what they have read. Achieved by: ten 2-3 page reading journals, and one 3-5 page paper.
Introduction: Jan 12, 14, 16 with journal 1 on the development of curriculum in Am lit
preliminary review: Jan 19, 21, 23, 26, 28, 30, Feb 2 (daily one-page responses due) on seven
themes in American literature from which you choose four to explore further
report on the choices and make the schedule: Feb 4 (reports due); Mignon makes new schedule
first theme- 5-day session: Feb 6, 9, 11, 13 with journal 2, 16
second theme- 5- day session: Feb 18, 20 with journal 3, 23, 25, 27 with journal 4
third theme- 5-day session: Mar 2, 4, 6 with journal 5, 9, 11
mid-semester Hawthorne session on The Scarlet Letter and some critical approaches:Mar 13 with journal 6, 16 18, 20 with journal 7
Spring break: Mar 23, 25, 27 Brownsville, etc.
resume Hawthorne session on The Scarlet Letter and critical approaches Mar 30, Apr 1, 3 with journal 8
fourth theme- 5-day session: Apr 6, 8, 10 with journal 9, 13, 15
end-semester session on the Imperial Self: Apr 17 journal 10, 20, 22, 24
dead week: Apr 27, 29 (evaluations), May 1 paper due and portfolios due
The journals are always due on a Friday, with one exception: Feb 6.
The heaviest sessions in terms of reading are Momaday's The Way to Rainv Mountain and the Hawthorne sessions: The Scarlet Letter.
* * * * * * * * * *
Actual "old-time" (sixties) schedule. American literature to 1865
Aug 21 introduction; lecture
23 Winthrop Bradford
25 Rowlandson John Williams
30 Sewall Cotton Mather
Sept 1 Edwards de Crevecoeur
6 Edwards Franklin
13 Paine Jefferson
Oct 2 Hawthorne (paper due)
Nov 1 Melville
8 review: Melville Stowe Douglass
13 Emerson Whitman
15 Whitman (paper due)
20 Bradstreet Dickinson
22, 24 vacation
Dec 1 review lecture 1
4 paper due: discussion
6 review lecture 2
Texts: Norton anthology, vol.1; Melville, Moby-Dick
Preliminary review Myths of Place
1) Scott Momaday, "The Native Voice" 5- 15 in Columbia Literary History of the United States.
2) Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain 2- 17.
Guiding questions: for 1) In "The Native Voice" Momaday demonstrates the sacred nature of language; how does he do this? Further in his essay he writes about the storyteller: "He creates the storytelling experience and himself and his audience in the process." Explain to yourself the meaning. Finally, what does the arrowmaker story have to do with identity?
For 2): As you read pp.2-4 in The Way, consider the idea of place and cultural history as forces contributing to the creation of identity.
Myths of Place in the course schedule
guiding question for these readings: consider, in each writer's case, exactly how place and culture contributes to the creation of identity.
day one: map exercise and Momaday The Way 18-40 day two: continue and complete Momaday, The Way 44-88
day three: Mather 419-427; the language of dominion; Bercovitch "The Puritan Vision of the New World" 34-44 in the Columbia Literarv Historv of the United States
day four: Emerson "Nature" 1578-1593; place as idea; Conron "Landscape as Idea" 225-228 in his The American Landscape
day five Emerson "Nature" 1593-1609: Conron 228-231
Preliminary review women in early American literature
readings: Reynolds "Types of American Womanhood" 337-top 342 in his Beneath the American Renaissance
Sedgwick 1427-32 or 1432-39
Guiding questions for 1) in the first three pages of this selection you can see that Reynolds is one of the scholars of unrecovered materials in the areas of antebellum women's culture and popular literature. His work confirms what Lauter and others have set before us as a new paradigm of "American literature." Just what was the "standard view" of women's culture and popular culture against which Reynolds' research has drawn new conclusions? What's the old view and what's the new view? In the subsection "Literature and the Diversification of Women's Roles" Reynolds gives us some important conclusions. Take notes on the more diverse range of female stereotypes he proposes. (Notice in passing page 340 in Reynolds, the pages of portraits; what conclusion can you draw from this?)
For 2) consider the two heroines in these excerpts from Hope Leslie: how thoroughly do they evoke Reynolds' category? And, do they each fulfill the description in the same ways?
Women in early American literature in the course schedule
guiding question: as you read each day's selection look for passages which evoke any one of the stereotypes Reynolds sets before us. Come to class prepared to point to a particular passage and to show how it does or does not fully illustrate a stereotype.
day one: Reynolds 342-351
Fuller from "Woman in the Nineteenth Centurv" 1714- 1735
day two: Reynolds 351 -355
Melville "Tartarus of Maids" 2444-9454
day three: LaLlorona 1328-1331
Stanton 2031 -2037
day four: Reynolds 359-363
Angelina Grimke 1955-56
day five: Jacobs 1846- 1863
Preliminary review the problem of evil
readings: Hawthorne "Young Goodman Brown" 2207-2218 on reserve: Baym "The Head, the Heart, and the Unpardonable Sin" NEO 40 (67):31-3 top
same guiding questions for all the readings:
1 What is evil? Where does it come from and what does it do? Is it social, personal, spiritual, learned, innate, relative, absolute, personal, learned?
2 Who defines evil in American society? To what end?
3 What is the relation of evil to good?
4 How can evil be recognized?
5 How can evil be avoided or overcome or transformed?
6 Does there seem to be a typically "American" attitude toward evil?
The problem of evil in the course schedule
day one: Emerson "Self-Reliance" 1622-38
day two: Emerson "Experience" 1661-77
on reserve: Whicher "Emerson"s Tragic Sense" AS 22 (53): 285-92
day three: Hawthorne "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" 2194-2207
Matthiessen American Renaissance "Hawthorne's Psychology" 344-49
day four: Melville Billy Budd parts 1 through 9 (2512-31)
Matthiessen AR 500-506
day five: Billy Budd parts 10 to end (2531 -2570)
Matthiessen AR 506-514
Preliminary Review myths of identity
readings: Franklin Autobiography 801-810
same guiding questions for all the readings:
1 What is self-identity? Is it multiple or unitary? Mutable or permanent? Invented, discovered, or revealed?
2 How do things like race, gender, class, and geography influence one's identity?
3. Is there a typical "American" attitude toward self?
4 How is an identity represented to others?
5. What, of any, are the differences between private and public selves?
Myths of identity in the course schedule
day one: Franklin Autobiography 762-783
on reserve Sayre The Examined Self 3-7
day two Franklin again 783-809
day three: Edwards "Personal Narrative" 581 -592
day four: Dickinson poems (2925-37); Johnson #s 249, 448, 675, 613, 640
Reynolds Beneath the American Renaissance 412-417
day five: Douglass Narrative chapters 1, 5, 6, 7, and 10 (1787-1795)
Preliminary review the American Dream
readings: 1) Richard Slotkin, "Myth and Literature in a New World"
3-mid 8 in his Regeneration Through Violence.
2) de Crevecoeur"What is an American?" 854-859
Guiding questions for 1) In the first two paragraphs of the first chapter, Slotkin places before us a certain claim. Find one sentence which you think contains this claim and think about it. A few paragraphs further Slotkin states that there are critical problems in the study of the myth of America; identify these problems for yourself. Slotkin's next section is "Mythogenesis" or mythmaking. In the four paragraphs assigned in this section, locate the topic sentences in each paragraph and decide for yourself whether these topic sentences are related.
For 2) As you read this selection, consider the differences the writer sees between European culture and the "modern society" he finds in "America." Notice, near the end of the first paragraph, de Crevecoeur's evocation of the concept of the limitless virgin land. (If we study frontier myths, we will find this to be a central idea.) What idea do you recognize in the second paragraph? (His use of the word "intermixture" did lead to a slogan later in our history.) Most challenging is his claim that "The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions." Can you ascertain what those "new principles" might be? Ponder the story of Andrew's first meeting with the Indians; what does it show about Andrew, and what does it reveal about de Crevecoeur himself ?
The American Dream in the course schedule
guiding question: explain to yourself how each writer, in a positive or negative way, conceives of "the American Dream"? What are the principal elements that define it for each?
day one: Handsome Lake 182-184
day two: Franklin 784-794
"The American Dream" 192-198 in the Literary History of the United States (LHUS).
day three: Whitman handout "Starting from Paumonok"
day four: Jefferson 916-923
day five: deCrevecoeur 859-866
Preliminary review frontier myths
readings: the Crockett Almanacs 1537-1550
Smith-Rosenberg "Davy Crockett as Trickster" from Disorderlv Conduct 90-93. 101-2
guiding questions for all the readings:
1. What and where is the frontier?
2. What defines the frontier and to what end?
3. How does the concept of the frontier relate to American national identity?
4. What does the frontier do to pioneers, and pioneers to the frontier?
5. What is the relation of the frontier to urban civilization?
day one: Columbus from the Journals 116-128
De Vaca from the Relation 128-140
day two: de Crevecoeur from Letter XII 866-81
Slotkin from "A Gallery of Types" 259-267 in Regeneration through Violence
day three: Cooper from The Pioneers chapter XXII 1413-18
Slotkin from "Men without a Cross" mid 484-top 494 in Regeneration
day four: Thoreau from Walden 2107-2141
Slotkin from "A Pyramid of Skulls" 526-top 533 in Regeneration
day five: same as day four
Preliminary review freedom in America
readings: Lincoln two speeches 2020-23; Boudinot "An Address to the Whites" 1878-87; Stowe "Sojourner Truth" 2382-90
some guiding questions for all the readings:
1. What are the limits and dangers of freedom?
2 Why/how do Americans value freedom?
3. Is freedom an unqualified good?
4 In what senses is America a free country?
5. How does one reconcile the American love of freedom in theory with our abuses of it in practice?
Freedom in America in the course schedule
day one: Jefferson Autobiographv 916-23,"Laws" from Notes 932-37; "Slavery" from Notes 939-40; two letters 944-46
Crevecoeur from "Letter IX" 859-66
on reserve Grabo WMQ 48 (91): 159-65
day two:Douglass "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" 1818-30
Truth"Reminiscences [about]" 2045-50
Bercovitch from "The Limits of Enlightenment" 516-25
day three: Thoreau "Resistance to Civil Government" 2090-2107
day four: Melville "Benito Cereno" 2454-2511
same as above
Freedom in America
Feb 9 Douglass "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" 1818-30
Truth "Reminiscences [about]" 2045-50
Bercovitch from "The Limits of Enlightenment" 516-25 in CHAL
Feb 11 Thoreau "Resistance to Civil Government" 2090-2107
Feb 13 journal 2 due; Melville "Benito Cereno" 2454-2511
Feb 16 Melville, as above
The American Dream
Feb 18 Handsome Lake 182-84; Slotkin 14-24
Feb 20 journal 3 due (free journal, or on the readings of this theme);
Franklin 784-94 and "The American Dream" 192-198 in LHUS
Feb 23 Whitman handout: "Starting from Paumonok" and LHUS 198-204
Feb 25 Jefferson 916-23 and LHUS 204-210
Feb 27 journal 4 due (free journal, or on the readings of this theme); de Crevecoeur 859-866 and LHUS 210- 15
The Problem of Evil
Mar 2 Emerson "Self-Reliance" 1622-38
Mar 4 Emerson "Experience" 1661 -77
On reserve: Whicher's "Emerson's Tragic Sense" AS 22 (53): 285-92.
Mar 6 journal 5 due; Hawthorne "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" 2194-2207 Matthiessen American Renaissance "Hawthorne's Psychology" 344-49
Mar 9 Melville Billy Budd parts 1 through 9 (2512-31)
Matthiessen AR 500-506
Mar 11 same, parts 10 to end (2531-2570)
Matthiessen AR 506-514
A Puritan and The Scarlet Letter
Mar 13 Journal 6 due; Puritan background: Edward Taylor (assignment to come)
Mar 16 The Scarlet Letter Introduction (3-18) and text 21-81 (Preface thru V)
Mar 18 Introduction: the Critical Background (205-221) and Psychoanalytic Criticism (223-32
Mar 20 journal 7 due; The Scarlet Letter 81-140 (VI thru XIV)
Mar 23 thru 29 vacation
Mar 30 reader-response 252-61 and feminist 275-84
Apr 1 The Scarlet Letter 140-201 (XV to end)
Apr 3 Journal 8 due; deconstruction 304-313 and new historicism 30-41
Myths of Place
Apr 6 Momaday The Way 18-40
Apr 8 complete The Way 44-88
Apr 10 journal 9 due; Mather 419-27 (the language of dominion); Bercovitch "The Puritan Vision of the New World" 33-44 in LHUS
Apr 13 Emerson "Nature" 1578-93 (place as idea); Conron "Landscape as Idea" 225-28 in his The American Landscape
Apr 15 Emerson "Nature" 1593- 1609: Conron 228-3 l
The Imperial Self
Apr 17 journal 10 due; Emerson "The American Scholar" 1609-21; On reserve: Anderson The Imperial Self 3- 14
Apr 20 Whitman "Song of Myself" 2743-94
Apr 22 same as last entry
Apr 24 Hawthorne "The Minister's Black Veil" 2216-24 with Anderson's Imperial Self 84 bottom-87: 227-29
Apr 27 Jacobs "Life of a Slave Girl" 1839-55; Stanton "Declaration of Sentiments" 2035-37; Grimke Letter VIII 2024-28
Apr 29 evaluations
May 1 paper and portfolios due
Nina Baym. "The Head, the Heart, and the Unpardonable Sin" NEQ 40 (67): 31-47
Norman Grabo, "Crevecoeur's American: Beginning the World Anew" WMO 48 (91): 159-72
Stephen Whicher, "Emerson's Tragic Sense" AS 22 (53): 285-92
chapters in books:
Bercovitch ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature vol. 1 (Bercovitch)
Brown and Ward, eds. Redefining American Literary History (Lauter and Kolb) optional
Conron in his ed. The American Landscape
Elliott ed. The Columbia Literary History of the United States (Bercovitch and Momaday)
Matthiessen The American Renaissance
Reynolds Beneath the American Renaissance
Sayre The Examined Self
Slotkin Regeneration Through Violence
Smith-Rosenberg Disorderly Conduct
Spiller ed. Literary History of the United States rev.ed. "The American Dream"
Some basic electronic sites for Early American literature
TAMLIT@guvax. ace. georgetown. edu
Teaching the American literatures, a moderated list, has seven headings:
SYL: Syllabi and Curriculum
NET: Electronic and Network Resources
JRNL:T-AMLIT: Journal (longer reflective postings on issues)
OCF: Open Canon Forum
I have subscription information.
http ://www.hnet.uci.edu/mclark/seapage.htm [Society of Early Americanistsl
http://www.georgetown.edu/bassr/heath/ [Heath site] sites.html#general
http ://www. georgetown.edu/bassr/portfolio/amlit/ summary. html
[course portfolio on "American Literary Traditions"]
http://www.earlyamerica.com/review [The Early America Review (18th centurv)]
Directions: Please write us brief, honest, and legible answers to the following questions. (Do not write your name on this paper.)
1) Can you describe one discovery you've made about the material we are working with that made an impression on you?
2) Can you describe how you learned this? (Reading? Journal? Discussion? Exercise?)
3) What are 1 or 2 specific things your instructors do that help you learn?
4) What are 1 or 2 specific things your instructors do that hinder or interfere with your learning?
5) Please give your instructors 1 or 2 specific, practical suggestions on ways they can help you improve your learning in this course.
Our review of the assessment
Matthew and I have read over, thought about, and then discussed together your mini-assessments and have the following conclusions and plans.
1) Threads in your responses: many of you reported that you learned whatever struck you mainly in class discussion, although some also mentioned the benefit of the journal in clarifying questions that had emerged from the reading. But there was considerable concern for a broader level of class participation along with some desire for more guidance to the reading assignments and journals. More than a few responses (but less than a quarter) wondered about the stiffness of the grading standards.
First plan: we will use a variety of means to approach the texts in small group discussion, which many of you seem to have found helpful in learning the material. Soon we will be asking you to respond to us again in a mini-assessment so we can use the methods that best suit learning in the class as a whole.
Second plan: we plan to provide you with more guiding questions a) to promote class discussion, b) to prompt topics for journals, and c) to facilitate your synthesis of the material in the paper. Our underlying purpose, as with small group discussion, is to identify the methods that best suit learning in the class as a whole.
Response on grading: we think the norms we have set out in the syllabus are appropriate for any 300-level course in this department. Nevertheless, both Matthew and I are willing to discuss with you our assessments of your work based on these norms and look forward to seeing you at our office hours or whenever you can arrange a visit.
Thoreau's Resistance to Civil Government
This essay takes a position similar to that in Emerson's essay "Politics" and is principally a reply to Paley's argument "The Duty of Submission to Civil Government Explained" in his The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy as well as to the reform movement known as NonResistance associated with abolition. The question was should one resist force with force. "After the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy was killed defending his press with a gun in his hands by an angry mob in Alton, Illinois, on November 7, 1837, Garrison brought out in December a new prospectus for The Liberator in which the familiar call for immediate emancipation was strongly coupled with a new declaration that it was wrong to oppose force with force This stand split the abolitionists, and those for whom the peace movement outweighed the emancipation issue began to go their own way." (Richardson, Henrv Thoreau 176)
The spirit of non-resistance breathes in Thoreau's essay, but he seems to combine both an abolitionist and a pacifist position along with his characteristic assertion of moral self-reliance with its central insistence on conscience (which seems to be for him the ultimate source of moral authority and political legitimacy).
Exercise: step one. We want each of you individually to try to come to a tentative conclusion on which of the three motives--abolitionist, pacifist, conscience--is most prevalent in the essay. Step two: When you decide, we will split the whole class into three groups who will then work to each find three paragraphs to support its position. Step three: we'll have a short "debate" to detennine which motive is most present in the essay.
Melville's Benito Cereno:
Guiding question for reading AND discussion
Fix your eye on the character of Captain Amasa Delano as you begin this long story. Pay close attention to the third paragraph of the story, try to describe his way of looking at the world, and linger over the final sentence of that paragraph (does it suggest that we may have, from time to time, an authorial intrusion?). Try to predict what might happen to a character who looks at the world the way he does: will he be able to perceive moral obliquity in any of its manifold forms? Will be able to recognize the presence of evil in man?
Then, as you reach further into the story, following him onto the Spanish ship, you will see Delano seeing things he does not fully perceive or understand. Pay sharp attention to his meeting with Cereno and Babo and notice the "charity" he exercises. Is this an expression of the way he views the world? And if so, does it help him understand the reality which underlies the surface narrative?
Now, at this point in your reading, ask yourself when (and where, specifically, in the text) you first began to suspect that things were not as they should be on board the Spanish ship? This question will be the basis of our first explorations of the text in class discussion.
For small group discussions we will distribute specific questions to each group on features of the story.
Whitman's "Starting from Paumanok"
Background: the cultural influence of ideas in Whitman's time included Renaissance sources such as the "awakening consciousness of the value of the individual" person and the "discovery of the marvels of the physical universe" (Stovall xv). The features of these influences that are most clearly reflected in Whitman's thought were, as Stovall has set them out-
( 1) the philosphy of progress, with its a priori method of reform and neglect of history;
(2) faith in the innate goodness of man and thr idealization of nature (Rousseau)
(3) the idealism of German philosophy, particularly the Hegelian doctrine of cosmic consciousness that unfolds through conflict and contradiction to divine ends; and
(4) the scientif1c conception o£ nature as a reality independent of cosmic reason but determined by the processes of histroical evolution.
Stovall goes on to add other influences to these, namely, New England transcendentalism, Quaker thought, and the individualism of the frontier. These rather more optimistic forces, as Stovall puts it, lightened "a life of sordid materialism with the leaven of romantic idealism" (xvi). Stovall sums up the emotional and intellectual atmosphere by dewcribing it thus:
"The pioneers of those days were a self-centered, raucous, and fleshly lot, but they were also sentimentalists and dreamers, and they were sustained by an unquestioning faith in their divine mission to possess and improve the world" (xvi).
Into this mixture of ideas Whitman held that this situation "was only the beginning of a new order of progress in the affairs of men" (xvi). In this new atmosphere, Whitman sought to teach the possibility of freedom in this new world.
Guiding questions for reading and discussion:
1. As you read, watch for the three great themes of this poem, which are also those of Leaves of Grass itself. When you locate and identify them, notice that these themes are connected to three constituents of human nature. Try to figure out what these are and how they are related to the three great themes.
2. Having identified the three themes, explain to yourself why and how they are related to the idea of freedom.
3. Now ask yourself what Whitman's purpose is in this poem: is it simply to announce his themes, or does he try to show how freedom might be achieved? If so, how can it be realized--by what means? Are the three themes the three means?
I believe that a careful consideration of these questions can give you an insight into the underlying design of Whitman's "project" in "Starting from Paumanok," and in Leaves of Grass.
The Jefferson Autobiographical Declaration
To read once again the Declaration and prepare for class discussion, choose from among the following questions:
1. Pick out the four or five most important ideas in the early part of the second paragraph of the Declaration in which are to be found (says Adler) almost all the underlying ideas of the Constitution.
2. "Genuine ideals belong to the realm of the possible. Utopian fantasies are dreams of the impossible." (Adler, 29) Notice that Jefferson (aware of Mason's version of natural rights in his "to obtain life, liberty, and property") uses the word "pursuit" in his phrase "the pursuit of happiness." "Pursuit" suggests an effort to secure something that may or may not be securable; and if it is secured its attainment may depend on the deprivation of it for another. In this context the right to pursue it cannot be secured for all. Is "happiness" to be thought of in this way?
3. How is "happiness" different from "property"? How much of a difference is there between "happiness" considered as a psychological conception (the feeling of contentment produced by the satisfaction of individual wants) and "happiness" considered as an ethical idea (we ought to seek everything that is really good for us). We ought not to seek what is bad for us and we ought not to seek for something at the expense of someone else. What is the right way to think about "happiness'?
4. Some people presented with this paragraph and asked to identify it, cannot; others think it is a document from a foreign country describing lawless activity. What part of the paragraph is radical in its call to action? And upon what right does it rest?
Another look at de Crevecoeur Letter IX
Following up on our work on the Declaration, I quote from Zinn in A People's History: "Jefferson tried his best, as an enlightened, thoughtful individual might [in recognizing the talents of Benjamin Banneker, the slave who taught himself mathematics and astronomy]. But the structure of American society, the power of the cotton plantation, the slave trade, the politics of unity between northern and southern elites, and the long culture of race prejudice in the colonies, as well as his own weaknesses--that combination of practical need and ideological fixation--kept Jefferson a slaveowner throughout his life" (88). Are there any clues here to throw more light on the conclusion of Letter IX (top 866)?
Many in class wondered about the strange change of tone as de Crevecoeur describes walking away from the scene of the caged black man to the plantation house where he was to have dinner. Why does he not go into more detail about the arguments "generally made us of to justify the practice" of slavery? Is there any hint in his language why he might not? Do the laws of self-preservation extend to property? What is the slaveholder preserving?
Do these two events side by side--the spectacle of the caged and mutilated man and the plantation dinner--comprise what we might call "the American Dream"? How would you describe the tone describing the dinner and how do you account for this change?
Do not the first two paragraphs of the section (859) describing the culture of Charles Town paint a picture of luxury and class which qualify for the description of "happiness"? Certainly it seems to be an expression of Locke's doctrine of natural rights: "life, liberty, and property." Does it fulfill the expectations of an ethical conception of "Happiness"?
A Puritan Profession of Faith
Edward Taylor's Profession gives us the basic elements of a Puritan theology. The first covenant God made with mankind was the covenant of works, by which life was promised on condition of obedience. Man by his disobedience and fall having broken this covenant, God made a second, the covenant of grace. In this he offered fallen mankind life and salvation by his redeemer, Jesus Christ, requiring faith in him. Christ's redemption is the first part ofthe recovery of the elect out of the fall; the second part is the application of his redemption to mankind in the process of regeneration.
The stages of regeneration set out by Taylor were effectual calling (whereby the soul is by grace turned from sin and joined to Christ by conviction and repentance), justification (whereby the soul, by gMce in Christ's righteousness, is pronounced righteous in the sight of God), adoption (whereby the soul is made a child of God), sanctification (whereby the soul is cleansed from the f~lth of sin and renewed in the likeness of God by the graces of the spirit), and glorification (whereby the soul is translated out of an earthly state of misery to a heavenly state of felicity).
The means by which the covenant of grace is dispensed in this world are the church and its ordinances. Taylor's congregational conviction is expressed in his conception of a "Particular, or Instituted Church," which he believed was a company of believers united together in a covenant to carry on the ordinances of divine worship--namely, the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. In the overall process, first came baptism, then the church covenant (which Taylor called the full state of churchhood), requiring a public confession of faith; then came the preaching of the word, self-examination and the Lord's Supper. Taylor believed that the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) were the seals of the covenant of grace, the means instituted by God whereby the benefits of Christ's redemption were applied to believers.
Grace is required for any progress in the process of regeneration; it is free grace and cannot be earned by any human works. The means of grace were manifold in the Puritan world: the Sabbath was a means of grace, each element of the church service was considered an ordinance, a public means of grace, a religious act through which God might work in the worshipper's heart. The Bible was the Word of God, a means of grace in itself. Singing was what Puritans called a converting ordinance. Private devotional exercises were most powerful channels through which grace might flow (study of the Bible, meditation, and prayer). The preaching and hearing of the sermon were the central acts in the New England worship service.
All these activities, inside and outside the church, existed to influence three main audiences: the communicants (church members who had given public Professions of Faith), the half-way members (those who had--like Young Goodman Brown--become church members by reason of their birth into communicating families), and inhabitants who either could not or would not join the covenanted community. It is important not to put too much emphasis on conversion in this whole process, because that moment of conversion was itself the product of a long struggle of preparation. The process of regeneration should also be understood to include the continuing struggle of those who had already been converted to continue to believe and to grow in faith. The Puritans had a word for this: conversation, which was a biblical and traditional term for "the practice of a Christian life." Hambrick-Stowe in his The Practice of Piety: "Conversion and conversation, not simply conversion, was the process by which saints prepared for and progressively came into union with Christ." When you consider the stages of regeneration (see above) you can see that sanctification (following conversion) was by far the longest part of the process. Believers were constantly having to struggle to maintain their faith. Once converted, a believer was not through struggling--the nature of "conversation" involved the idea of a pilgrimage, and pilgrimage was a long preparation for final union with God: glorification
The Scarlet Letter
day one: 1) the Puritan background. handout plus some Edward Taylor poems:
Preparatory Meditation 1.8 (391); Huswifery (385-6);
Preparatory Meditation 2.43 (395-6); from the Valediction (404-04)
Key your reading of Taylor's poems to the description of the stages of regeneration set out in the handout and look for signs of the several points of contact in those stages. Can you recognize any of the points described in the process of conversion or conversation in Taylor's poems? What do you think the purpose was behind his poems? Were they just exercises to prepare him for his ministerial duties? Or do you think the poems have the "ring" of an anguished desire for conversational grace?
What do you find strange about Taylor's language? Do you detect any repetition of images? (I guarantee you will find more than one reference to the "glorious robes [off Rich Grace"--what are the "Holy robes for glory" anyway?) Is "Huswifery" a poem about conversion or abour conversation? What does Taylor mean when he writes "Thine Ordinances make my Fulling Mills"? Make use of the footnotes; careful attention there will be rewarding.
2) the biographical and historical background. Introduction to The Scarlet Letter 3- 18
day two: The Scarlet Letter Preface through chapter V
day three: Introduction: the critical background 205-221
What is psychoanalytic criticism? 223-232
day four: The Scarlet Letter Chapters VI-XIV
day five: What is Reader-Response criticism? 252-261
What is Feminist criticism? 275-284
day six: The Scarlet Letter Chapters XV-end
day seven: What is deconstruction? 304-313
What is the new historicism? 330-341