Saturday, April 23, 2011

Critical Paper on Bryant's "The Prairies"


As we have noted in class, many writers of the young nation called for the emergence of an American poetics during the first half of the 19th century. Write an essay in which you perform a close reading of William Cullen Bryant’s “The Prairies.” How can we say that Bryant has established a distinctive American poetic voice in that poem?

In crafting your essay, you will need to establish your overall position in a clear and specific thesis statement in the essay’s opening paragraph. The success of your paper will hinge on your ability to defend that thesis in the body of your paper. Each body paragraph should express one main point that directly supports your thesis. Build that main point by quoting and analyzing Bryant’s text. In addition, you will need a reflective conclusion to end your paper.


The purpose of this paper is for students to closely explore a canonical text while relating its ideas to larger themes in American literature. This paper will also give students an opportunity to gain experience in analyzing and interpreting a work of literature while formulating a thesis-driven and well-supported essay.


This paper should be approximately 3-4 pages in length.


The format for this paper is MLA.


This paper will be given a traditional letter grade. It will be assessed as part of your “Major Assignments” grade.


This essay is due in class on 4/29 (No emailed papers please)

Herman Melville

Works Discussed:
* Melville, Benito Cereno

Topics Discussed:
* Historical Context: Slavery, Slave Revolt and Manifest Destiny
* Conception of Good and Evil
* View of Human Nature, Universe
* Relationship Between New World, Old World and Third World
* Nature of Reality, History; Role of Power
* Depiction of American Frontier/Nature
* Ideology and Practice
* American Innocence, Naivety

Due Next Class:
Due Next Class;
* Douglass, *The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" (pgs. 2064-2097)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Margaret Fuller

Works Discussed:
* Fuller, "The Great Lawsuit"

Topics Discussed:
* Relationship Between Abolitionism and Women's Movement
* Views of Female Condition and Society
* Assessment of National Ideology
* Views of Gender, Relationship Between Men and Women
* Importance of Individuality, Self-reliance
* Possible Contradictions in Argument
* Role of Transcendentalism in Argument

For Next Class:
* Melville, Benito Cereno

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Henry David Thoreau

Works Discussed:
* Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government"

Topics Discussed:
* Manifest Destiny and Slavery
* Radical Individualism: Differentiation Between Individual and Government
* Duty of Individual, Direct Action
* Views of Voting, Political Majority and Minority, Taxes Individual's Relation to Government, Society/Community
* Ideal Government

Due Next Class:
* Fuller, "The Great Lawsuit"

Edgar Allan Poe

Works Discussed:
*Poe, "The Raven;" "The Tell-Tale Heart;" "The Masque of the Red Death;" "The Purloined Letter;" "The Philosophy of Composition;" "The Poetic Principle"

Topics Discussed:
* Poe's Literary Voice: National vs. Cosmopolitan
* Influence of Romanticism
* Gothic Fiction: Grotesque and Arabesque
* Nature of Knowledge: Pure Intellect vs. Intuitive Reason, Elusive Beauty, Transcendental Meaning--Similarities and Differences With Emerson
* Significance of Human Psyche, Mystery, Chaos
* Literary/Poetic Theory: Aim of Poetry, Length, Subject Matter

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Works Discussed:
* Emerson, "Nature"; "Self-Reliance"
* Kant, from Critique of Pure Reason (Class Handout)

Topics Discussed:
Transcendentalist Movement
* American Renaissance:
Distinctive American Voice
* Influence of Romanticism, Influence of Kant
* Primacy of Individual: Relationship Between Nature and Individual, Universal Spirit, Importance of Intuition and Mind
* Role of Poet
* Conception of History
* Moral Redemption
* Problems with: Conformity, Travel, Imitation of European Culture, Progress

For Next Class:
*Poe, "The Raven;" "The Tell-Tale Heart;" "The Masque of the Red Death;" "The Purloined Letter;" "The Philosophy of Composition;" "The Poetic Principle"

William Cullen Bryant

Works Discussed:
Bryant, "Thanatopsis"; "To a Waterfowl"; "Sonnet--To An AMerican Painter Departing for Europe"; "The Prairies"

Topics Discussed:
* American Myth Making: Symbols of American Cultural Identity, Creating Mythologized Past
* American vs. European Culture; View of American Art
* Problems With Expansionism
* Democratic Ideas
* Vision of Nature; Ties to Romanticism

James Fenimore Cooper

Works Discussed:
* Cooper, from The Pioneers

Topics Discussed:
* Influence of Romanticism
* Making of American Myth
* Significance of Wilderness/Frontier
* Contradiction Inherent in Pioneering
* Individual's Relation to Society
* Criticism of Society, Institutions
* Consequences of Expansion: Native Americans, The Individual, Old Systems of Culture, Environmental Impact

Washington Irving

Works Discussed:
* Irving, "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow," "Rip Van Winkle,"

Topics Discussed:
* National Feeling: Dislocation and Newness
* Need for National History: Mythology
* Construction of the American Self
* Significance of American Landscape
* Town vs. Country
* Literary Identity: National or Cosmopolitan?
* Cultural Relationship to Europe: Romanticism
* Depiction of Women