Mar 162012

The goal of this essay is to show me how ideas about freedom are connected among early 19th century American writers.  To do this, you’ll want to look back at the work we did in class on Tuesday (3/13) and Tuesday (3/6).  In other words, we’ve already done a fair bit of thinking and writing about the meanings of freedom in Emerson, Whitman, Douglass, and Dickinson.

Based on this work, take one of your four quotes (from Whitman, Emerson, Douglass, Dickinson) and make that the essay’s central idea of freedom.  Explain the meaning of freedom communicated or enacted by this quote.   How do the quotations from two of our other writers (e.g. not all of them – – you may select two) connect to this quote and its meaning?  What sense of freedom do they share? Where do they disagree about freedom?  How are different metaphors employed to communicate the meaning of freedom?  Where do these metaphors differ? How are they similar?

N.B. You don’t have to answer each of the above questions – – they are just ways to start thinking about how the various ideas of freedom “fit” together.

Draft due: Thursday, March 29.

 Posted by at 1:57 am
Mar 102012


"Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known... then went crazy as a loon." Lisa Simpson,The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

Two things for Tuesday:

1) Nuggets of Dickinson.  Based on your annotation work, find the richest, most interesting word in the poem you annotated. E.g. the word that seems to generate the most difficulty, pose the most questions, gather the most meaning, play the biggest role in organizing the poem, etc.  Explain all of the ways that this is the richest word.  Blog this.

2) You’ve blogged about the different definitions or meanings of freedom in Emerson, Whitman, Douglass.  Now let’s add Dickinson into the mix.  Select the single best quote (no more than a line or sentence or two) that expresses, in your opinion, each of these writers’ most important or interesting sense of freedom.  Blog these four quotations – – with some short commentary.  Be sure to print out and bring this blog post to class on Tuesday.

 Posted by at 1:29 am
Mar 072012

For Thursday, choose one of the Dickinson poems that you’ve read – – except #1129 (“Tell all the truth . . .”).  Read the poem through again.  Then, begin commenting on every line in the poem.  Your goal is to comment as extensively as you can on each line.

How to comment?  Head to your blog and create a new post.  Type the first line of the poem (use bold to distinguish it from your commentary) and record all of your observations, impressions, reactions to the line: what does the line look like? what do the words mean – – literally, figuratively, personally? how does the line fit with the rest of the poem? etc. etc. Proceed this way for each line of the poem.

Don’t try to explain the poem to me.  Instead, record your responses to and questions about the lines as fully and richly as you can.

When you’ve finished with your line-by-line commentary, pause and look back over what you’ve written.  List the most interesting, important, surprising discoveries or observations that you’ve made about the poem.

Still a bit unsure what I’m asking for?  Check out this commentary to get an idea.

Print out your blog post and bring it to class.

Questions?  Let me know.


 Posted by at 2:58 am
Mar 042012

Make sure you read the poems in our popup Emily Dickinson collection.

Also, you want to blog your reflections on the following questions:  Each of the previous three authors we’ve looked at – – Emerson, Whitman, Douglass – – has been pre-occupied with the question of freedom.  How do each of these authors define freedom?  What does each other identify as the main obstacle to freedom?  What similarities and differences do you find among these definitions?

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
Feb 152012

Frontispiece, 1855 edition, Leaves of Grass

Don’t forget, your first essay is due!

And, you’ll want to read Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself,”  up to page 32 in the online edition – – e.g. up to the lines, “All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses, /And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier. ”



 Posted by at 1:55 pm
Feb 082012

We’ve read three classic,  American short stories so far this semester (“Rip Van Winkle,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux), and we’ve  discussed the structure and dynamics of fictional narrative.  Now is the time to show me what you’ve learned.

Your goal in this assignment is to compare the stories we’ve read in class to a narrative from outside of class.  To do this, you’ll need to:

1) analyze your short story.  We’ve outlined several ways of getting at the narrative structure of the journey narrative.  Start with dividing your story up into a sequence of plot events.  Then, start thinking about the significance of these events: where is the disruption – – that place where the narrative exits the routine and the repetitive and enters into meaningful, exciting time?  how does this disruption help to organize the journey into different spaces or settings – – for instance, the space of the everyday versus the space of transformation? using your sequence of story events, can you identify the beginning and end phases of the story?

2) interpret your short story.    Interpretation is about meaning, and analysis helps to lay bare your the ways your narrative organizes meaning.  Some tools to help you interpret your story (recalling our class discussions): how is everyday space contrasted with the space of transformation?  (Recall the “pious” vs. “heathen” in “Young Goodman Brown,” or the familiar vs. the strange in “My Kinsman, or “petticoat (female) government” in “Rip” vs. bowling with the boys (e.g. female v. male.); to what extent is your story’s space of transformation similar to and different from the classic versions of “nature” in each of our three stories? how is the conflict defined in your story? (Remember, conflict isn’t just about people – – it’s also about values, e.g. the pious v. the profane in “Young Goodman” or black-and-white/everyday v. color/Hollywood in Lizzie’s Wizard of Oz example.); do you see any examples of “pollution” – – the confusion and mixing of things that should be separate – –  in your story? And, finally, remember that geographical narratives are almost always temporal narratives – – i.e. characters move over space but the real action is in the change that characters and settings undergo.  How can you define these changes in terms of the values and meanings that the story starts with? (Remember A – B -A’.)

3) argue for your “reading” of the stories.  Now that you’ve analyzed the stories – – you’ve probably noticed some interesting similarities and differences between your story and those we read in class.  Which of these seems the most interesting?  You won’t have time or space to explain all of the similarities and differences that you’ve discovered – – so you’ll need to focus on the most interesting.  Use your essay to explain why and how these similarities and differences are interesting.  You don’t have to use all of our in-class stories, but you do need to include at least one.

Your essay should be no more than two, double-spaced pages.  Be sure to include the authors and titles of the narratives that you examine.  Also, include all of your analytical and interpretive notes – – these don’t have to be typed.  Don’t worry about page citations or bibliography/works cited.  Be sure to double check for typos, spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors.  Your first essay is due: Thursday, February 16, at the beginning of class.

Don’t procrastinate.  Start analyzing your story now!  That way you can bring questions or concerns to class on Tuesday.  Enjoy!

 Posted by at 11:46 pm