American Selfies


Imagine: Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and Emily Dickinson get together (somewhere around 1850) and decide to make a trip to see Hiram Powers’ famous statue, The Greek Slave.  Based on what you know about each writer from the texts we’ve studied so far this semester, how would each of these authors make sense of the statue?  What would The Greek Slave mean to each of them?

In other words, your goal in this two-page essay is to interpret The Greek Slave from the perspectives of Whitman, Douglass, and Dickinson.  Another way of thinking about this: use the texts by Whitman, Douglass, and Dickinson that we’ve looked at to “read” the Powers statue.  (You might recall our discussion on Thursday about connections among “Song of Myself,” The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Dickinson’s poems, and The Greek Slave.  Somebody briefly noted that the statue is nude, and this seemed to offer a connection to “nakedness” in Whitman and Douglass.)

One possible way to tackle this assignment:

1) Observe The Greek Slave closely and take notes.  Your goal here is to record anything interesting or odd or significant about the statue.

2) Based on this careful observation, think about connections to Whitman, Douglass, and Dickinson.  Some connections will obviously stand out, e.g. captivity, enslavement, etc.  But, what you’re really trying to get to is how our various authors offer up different meanings for similar themes or topics or motifs.

3) Write down some notes for each of our literary authors.  In other words, write up a page of speculations about how The Greek Slave connects to Whitman’s poem, to Douglass’s narrative, and to Dickinson’s poems.  Bring these three pages of notes to class on Thursday, October 23.

4)  You only have two pages, so you will have to narrow the scope of your essay.  You can do this in several ways.  Perhaps, you’ll focus on one trait or motif shared by the statue and our writers and explore this motif in your essay.   Or, if you find a really powerful connection between the statue and one of our writers, you may focus on this relationship in your essay.  In either case, I’ll stop reading your essay at the end of the second page.

5) Once you’ve found a focus, proceed to write the essay!  The essay is due at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 30.  (Remember to proofread for errors.  And, remember, I don’t accept late papers.)

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