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English

American Literature #2

Write a 250-word (minimum) response to each writing prompt below.   You must meet the minimum word count for each response to get full credit.  Use only the assigned readings unless otherwise instructed.  Your responses must include quotes from each text used to get full credit. Be sure to quote, cite, and reference from the text(s) using appropriate APA format.

 

1. Dickinson and Whitman are two important poets from the antebellum period. They are very different, both in terms of form (what their poetry looks like on the page) and content. Write a comparison, using poems from the assigned reading, that includes at least three terms defined in the Poetry Lecture in Week 1, as well as the poets’ purpose in writing. What messages are they trying to convey in their poetry? Are they successful? Of the two poets, which one do you prefer and why?

 

 

 

 

Terms used in lecture:

 

American Renaissance 

(1825-1865)

This period was considered the birth of American literary thought.  This “American” voice came about through several individual movements, including Romanticism (which began in Europe but spread to America), Transcendentalism, and Realism.

 

 European Romanticism 

(approx. 1800-1850)

This period in European history was essentially a revolt against the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.  Emotions were emphasized (as seen in the poems of the Romantic poets Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Blake, and Shelley).  Overall, emphasis was placed on individual expression in art and individual rights in politics.  This movement directly influenced the flowering of the first significant American literature.  In America, writers of the Romantic period were concerned with

 

what it means to be an American (or an American artist)

American government and political issues

the problems of war and slavery

expansionism and immigration

individualism and the frontier tradition

nature

experimentation in literary form 

 

 

Transcendentalism

(1830s and 1840s)

A subset of Romanticism.  The power of the individual was stressed, as was a personal connection with nature. 

Transcendentalism began as a way of establishing an American literary tradition.  Transcendentalist writers sought to separate American literature from traditional European literature.  They sought to understand religion and spirituality in terms of their environment.  Transcendentalists believed in the power of the individual and that every person had access to a higher power (God).  They also believed that people loved freedom, knowledge, and truth.  Not surprisingly, many Transcendentalists supported anti-slavery efforts and women’s rights. 

Transcendentalists believed that one could transcend or go beyond everyday reality through communion with nature, intuition, and searching inwardly rather than through the doctrines of established religions.  One can see these ideas illustrated best in the works of Americans Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

 

 Realism

These writers were concerned with everyday life.  Their work often depicted the lives of slaves and the poor.  It seemed that only the wealthy had the time and freedom to go into nature and concentrate on themselves.  Examples of Realists include Kate Chopin, Mark Twain, and Rebecca Harding Davis.

 

 

 Feminism

Modern feminist criticism emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s out of a sociopolitical movement aimed at the defense of women’s rights.  It addressed the need women felt to reinterpret literature, to rewrite history, and to change the power structure that has traditionally defined male and female relationships in patriarchal societies.  Like Marxist, African American, and the new historical criticism, the socially oriented perspective of feminist criticism has spread its voice in many directions.  Among other things, it has promoted a reevaluation of the Freudian theory of sexual differences, a reassessment of female and male writing, a revision of the role of gender in literature, and a critique of the oppressive rationale of patriarchal ideology.

In her essay “This Sex Which Is Not One,” the feminist critic Luce Irigaray revised Freud’s theory of sex difference, protesting against the view of a woman as a biological version of the male model.  In following the assumptions of Jacques Lacan, French feminists have also criticized, among other things, the logic of language that associates positive qualities such as those related to creativity, light, logic, and power with masculinity.  Many feminists like Helene Cixous, who tend to draw a relationship between women’s writing and women’s bodies, have also attempted to create a language or a specific kind of women’s writing that refuses participation in the masculine discourse.

Other feminists have promoted a feminist critique of masculine ideology, protesting against the political marginalization women have suffered as blacks, chicanos, Asian Americans, and lesbians.  For the feminist critic Catharine R. Stimpson, the defiance of sexual difference, the celebration of sexual difference, and the recognition of differences constitute the three major principles of feminist criticism.  Many of the critical efforts of feminists have also been aimed at the study of women’s history and the role of women in literary tradition.

Complementing feminism, lesbian and gay criticism, another by-product of a gender-centered approach, has sparked much recent debate in critical circles.  One of its main premises, shaped by a feminist viewpoint, ponders whether lesbians and gays read and write the same way or differently from heterosexuals.  (Gillespie, Pipolo, & Fonesca, 2008, p. 979)

 

 New Historicism

The new historicism,or cultural poetics, may be defined as a form of political criticism closely related to Marxist criticism.  One of its main goals is to focus on the critical study of power relations, politics, and ideology.  For the new historicist critics, such as Stephen Greenblatt, who coined the term new historical in the early 1980s, this criticism displaces the traditional view of history as a discipline committed to an altruistic search for truth and to a faithful reconstruction of the dates and events of the past.  Instead, the new historicist perspective advocates a focus on a historical dynamic or a view of history in action.  Its aim is to erase the boundaries among disciplines such as literature, history, and the social sciences.  The ideas of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926-84) seem to inform much of the rationale that new historicism established for the complex relation among language, power, and knowledge.

New historical critics tend to view Shakespeare’s plays as political acts reflecting and shaping the collective codes and beliefs of Shakespeare’s times.  New historicists also affirm the reciprocity between the text and the world, which they attempt to rewrite by showing the sociopolitical practices and institutions such as the theater can shape and transform cultural meanings.  When considering the relation between text and reader, the new historicists advocate the reciprocity between these two elements, viewing them as dynamic forces interacting with and responding to each other.  (Gillespie, Pipolo, & Fonesca, 2008, p. 981)

 

Psychoanalytic Criticism

 

Psychoanalytic criticism takes the methods used to analyze the behavior of people in real-life situations and applies them to the dramaticized patterns of human behavior in literature.  Overall, it explores some basic assumptions devised by the pioneer of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).  Most important among these are Freud’s fundamental ideas about the structure of the human psyche [and] his theory of repression.  (Gillespie, Pipolo, & Fonesca, 2008, p. 970).

 

Assigned Readings:

 

American Literature 1820-1865 Timeline (pp. 464-466) “Slavery, Race, and the Making of American Literature” (pp. 761-762)

Edgar Allan Poe biography (pp. 683-687) “The Fall of the House of Usher” (pp. 702-714)

Walt Whitman biography (pp. 1005-1009) “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (pp. 1069-1073)

Emily Dickinson biography (pp. 1189-1193) Poem 122 (“These are the days when Birds come back”) (p. 1194) Poem 207 (“I taste a liquor never brewed”) (p. 1195) Poem 236 (“Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”) (p. 1196)

Frederick Douglass biography (pp. 934-938) “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (pp. 1002-1005)

American Literature 1865-1914 Timeline (pp. 1279-1281)

Kate Chopin biography (pp. 1604-1605) “The Story of an Hour” (pp. 1609-1611)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman biography (pp. 1668-1669 ) “The Yellow Wall-paper” (pp. 1669-1681) “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wall-paper'” (access using this link )

Paul Laurence Dunbar

 biography (pp. 1805-1806) “Sympathy” (p. 1809)