Compare this creation story to other creation stories you know. What differences and similarities do you see?
Nature: Consider the role of animals in this story. What might that tell us about the Iroquois view of nature and its connection to people?
Motherhood/Role of woman: Consider the role that the mother-figure plays in this story. What might that tell us about Iroquois ideas about gender roles?
Origin of good and evil: Like most origin stories, this story tries to explain what good and evil exist in this world. How does this story go about doing so?
Pima Story of Creation
Again, compare this story with other creation stories, including the Iroquois story. What connections can you see? What important differences?
Again, consider the depiction of nature and animals.
Especially interesting here is the role of Juhwertamahkai, the creator/destroyer. What kind of creator is he? Why does he destroy and rebuild his creation several times?
Smith’s depiction of himself: Think about how Smith makes himself the hero of his stories. Where can you see him involved in self-promotion and aggrandizement? What makes Smith such a good leader (at least according to his own opinion)?
Native Americans: Why is the Pocahontas story so famous? After all, it only takes up a few lines on page 51. How does Smith portray Native Americans in general?
Promotion of America: As we discussed, one of Smith’s main objectives in these works is to encourage people to settle in the New World (with him as their guide and leader). How does he go about trying to convince people?
American dream: Smith is one of the first writers to articulate a specific version of the American dream. What does he have to say about hard work and material rewards?
Some general themes to consider with Bradstreet:
What difference does it make that she is a woman poet?
How can you see anxieties about living in a new and strange world reflected in her works?
What about Bradstreet’s poetry shows her to be concerned with Puritan ideas about human nature, God’s influence in daily life, and the way people should live their lives? In other words, how is her work shaped by her acceptance of (and occasional questioning of) a Puritan worldview?
“The Author to her Book”
Of note here, of course, is Bradstreet’s depiction of the mother/child relationship she has with her book. Why does she choose this analogy? How does it help her in her unconventional role as a female poet?
Describe Bradstreet’s attitude toward her book. Why does she seem so ashamed of it? What flaws does she see in it? How might this be a clever rhetorical strategy to avoid censure for speaking out a as woman poet?
“To My Dear and Loving Husband”
This is a passionate love poem—something we might not expect to see coming from a seventeenth-century Puritan housewife. So what’s going on here? How does this poem expand our understanding of Puritan America?
Consider Bradstreet’s use of images in this poem, specifically images of wealth and riches. Why does she choose the images that she does?
Tension between earthly love and heavenly rewards: As we discussed, Puritans believed they should concentrate on happiness in the next world (the heavenly world) instead of this immediate world. How does Bradstreet address this tension in her poem?
“Here Follow Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our House…”
Follow Bradstreet’s train of thought in this poem as she moves through what was once her house. How does her mood change throughout the poem?
How does Bradstreet come to some resolution at the end of this poem?
How does that resolution reflect her Puritan worldview? (And how convinced are you that she really is resolved?)
General questions/issues: Taylor’s overall mission in the first two poems is to get himself in the right frame of mind to write and then preach the communion sermons he would deliver to his parishioners. Why is this important? How does art serve (or attempt to serve) as a way that Taylor, as a flawed (sinful) man can reach what cannot be reached? To understand what is incomprehensible? How does Taylor view human nature? You should also think a lot about comparing Taylor to writers like Bradstreet and Wheatley, as well as the later writers we’ve studied (Poe, Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Hawthorne, etc.)
“Prologue”: Pay special attention to the images he uses in this poem and ask yourself why he makes the choices that he does. Why use the “crumb of dust” metaphor? Taylor’s central question in this poem is how can he—a flawed, insignificant person—adequately praise God. How does he come to some resolution here? (Hint: it has to do with his request to be “inspired” by God—remember our discussion of the two meanings of “inspire?” It means both to spark ideas/creativity and to breathe life into something.) Also pay attention to his use of repetition in this poem. What do you make of a line like, “Eternal Glory with a glorious glore?”
“Meditation 8”: Pay attention to the images Taylor uses here, too—specifically those involving bread, nutrition, and bodily functions. What do you make of all of that and how does it connect to his larger points about humanity, God, and salvation?
“Upon Wedlock, and Death of Children”: This is a great poem to connect to Bradstreet’s “Upon the Burning of Our House.” Both are about people trying to make sense of loss and pain in the world. Follow Taylor’s train of thought in this poem as he tries to make sense of what seems incomprehensible—the deaths of his children. You can really sense the struggle here, especially in his description of watching his child suffer. How does he come to some resolution in this poem?
“The Way to Wealth”: Remember that this piece is actually a compilation of “greatest hits” from earlier editions of Poor Richard’s Almanac. What stands out as representative pieces of advice and wisdom from this collection? In other words, according to Poor Richard, what do you need to do to succeed? What are we to make of the crowd’s response to that advice in the end?
The Autobiography: The selections we are reading from Franklin’s text concern his quest to seek “moral perfection.” Pay attention to his “list of virtues.” Why are they important? What do they tell us about how Franklin defines success and how to achieve it? Which virtues does he struggle with and why? Also of note are Franklin’s generally quite tolerant views of religious diversity. You can make a lot of smart connections to Franklin and other writers we’ve look at so far—lots of good differences and similarities to discuss.
“On Being Brought from Africa to America”: As we discussed in class, every word of this short poem is important. Remember how we analyzed the light/dark images? Also think about how we connected her discussion of “Cain” and “dye” to sugar and indigo dye, two big products that depended on slave labor. What are Wheatley’s main points here? What is her message to her white readers? Where does she get authority for her poetic voice?
“To the University of Cambridge”: Again, ask yourself where this black female (theoretically, the lowest person in the social hierarchy) finds the authority to address and give advice to graduates of the university (the highest members of society)? What advice does she give them?
“To His Excellency General Washington”: What about Washington is worth praising, according to Wheatley? Why is she, a black woman, so drawn to those attributes? Remember that she’s writing in the midst of the American Revolution and then, in the days when the young nation was finding its footing. Why does this matter?
As I mentioned in class on Thursday, for our next class, we’ll be discussing Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” (in addition to the first 66 pages of Colored People). “Self-Reliance” is a very important essay, but it’s difficult, too. Take your time with it. Read it twice if you have to. Take notes as you read. Emerson is very quotable and that helps make him manageable, I think. If you make a list of the quotations you feel seem more important, you might find a way to start getting a handle on him.
I’ve also posted some notes on “The American Renaissance,” transcendentalism, and Emerson’s life on the class website: http://webpages.shepherd.edu/hhanraha/courses/eng204/eng204.htm
Some of the information on these documents is more than you will need to know, but they will help you get an idea of the culture Emerson is writing in and will help you make sense of some of the ideas he is discussing. The time period in which Emerson is writing is a dramatic time of change and artistic growth in America. It’s important to know some details of why and how.
I am certainly not expecting you to understand every single point Emerson makes in this essay. In general, though, as you read, try to figure out what Emerson is saying about:
Self-reliance—what is it? Why is it a good thing?
Conformity—why is conformity so bad?
Society—what role does society play in our constant conformity? How should the self-reliant person respond to pressure or disapproval from society?
Good and Evil—what does Emerson have to say about the labels of “good” and “evil/bad”?
The past/tradition—why does he feel the past is a burden more than anything else?
Most of you didn’t do very well on your reading quizzes. This is nothing to panic about, since you will take enough of them to erase any really poor grades if you pull in several good marks. However, I think a big part of the reason for these poor grades is that you either A) aren’t reading or B) you aren’t reading carefully enough. I think that the latter is truer than the former. I know this is hard material, but I also know you are up to the challenge. We’ve got 75 minutes to fill each class meeting, and those minutes will be a lot more pleasant for everyone involved if everyone does the reading carefully and completely.
One last thing: as you read the assigned pages in Colored People, be sure to read the preface (pages xi-xvi). There is important information in there.
Have a great weekend and enjoy your Labor Day. I’ll see you in class on Tuesday.
Thoreau, Selections from Walden
For our next class, we’ll be reading selections from Walden. As I mentioned in class today, you do not need to read the chapter called “Spring.” Instead, concentrate your attention on “Economy,” “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” and “Conclusion.” Some things to keep an eye on as you read:
Connections between Thoreau and Emerson.
Differences/similarities between Thoreau and our other writers so far.
Thoreau says “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” What does he mean by that, and how does he suggest we go about fixing that?
Why does Thoreau note for us how much he spends on things and how much income he takes in? Why are these small details so important?
What does he have to say about “good” and “bad”?
Why does he go to the woods to begin with? Why does he leave?
Why is morning so important (as a time, as a symbol, as a theme) in this book?
What role does nature play in Walden?
I’ve also posted two sample commonplace book entries on the class website. Check them out if you are wondering what the heck these papers should look like. We’ll talk about them more in class on Thursday.
Just two more quick things to note: 1) Remember that you need to meet with or email me with your plans for leading course discussion before hand--by the Friday before a Tuesday presentation or by the Tuesday before a Thursday presentation. 2) If you’d like to write a paper on Emerson, I’ll allow that even though the deadline has passed. Just hand it on Thursday.
See you then,
Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
First of all, I want to thank you for hanging in there these first couple of weeks of class. The material we have to start the semester with isn’t easy (at all), but if you’ve done the reading, shown up for class, and really gave it a shot (and so many of you have), you’ve done your job and are in great shape for the rest of the semester. Now we are moving on to actual fiction—stories and stuff!
The Scarlet Letter, of course, is a classic of American fiction and it’s a shame we have to rush through it in a week. Although it’s got a great plot (jail, adultery, angry ex-husbands, a “who’s the daddy?” mystery, and even a possible witch thrown in for fun), the beginning sketch, called “The Custom House” isn’t an easy read. Let me give you some pointers to get you through that opening sketch and the rest of the book:
Hawthorne writes this piece to explain, among other things, how he allegedly found the scarlet letter Hester Prynne wore over 200 years earlier. In “The Custom House,” he talks about the time that he worked as a surveyor in the Salem Custom House, basically inspecting imports and taxing them appropriately. These appointments were political—he knew the President of the US and that’s how he got his job, but once there was a new President, he loses that job. Much of the sketch talks about the way that working in the Custom House prevented Hawthorne from doing any writing and therefore, when he gets fired, he actually says he thinks that’s a good thing, since his imagination is free to write again.
For our purposes, although I do want you to read the entire introduction, you really only have to concentrate on a couple of parts: from page 19 on. This is where he begins to describe finding the letter and the story that accompanies it. He also talks about the conditions required for writing Romance, which is not love stories, but instead a specific type of writing that we’ll talk about in class more on Tuesday.
Some other things to think about:
1) Why does Hawthorne write and include the Custom House sketch at all? How is he portraying himself in this sketch? The story about finding the letter, by the way, is completely made up. Why does Hawthorne do this?
2) Setting: why does Hawthorne, writing in 1840, write a novel about Salem in the 1600s? Here’s another way of thinking about it: why would a writer during the American Renaissance be interested in Puritan times? (It might be interesting to think about Hawthorne’s own background—his great-great grandfather was one of the judges during the Salem witch trials—he mentions this around pages 5-6).
3) Symbols/symbolism: consider the rose bush blooming outside the prison door (33-4). Consider the letter Hester wears. What might these symbols represent? Another major symbol/theme is the heart. Keep an eye out for these symbols and how Hawthorne is using them.
4) Hester: why is she an extraordinary character? How does her character and the way people see her change throughout the book?
5) Pearl: what seems to be her function in the book? What might she represent? How do different characters see her?
That’s probably enough for now. Also be sure to read the assigned pages in Colored People. You can expect a quiz on both readings.
Have a good weekend,
Poe, Selected Works
First of all, let me congratulate you on the great job you did with The Scarlet Letter. That was a lot of reading to do in a short amount of time (especially when coupled with Colored People), but you handled the task very well. I really enjoyed our discussions in class this week, and I hope you did, too.
Let me give you some things to think about as you read Poe for Tuesday. You might start with “The Raven,” then read “The Philosophy of Composition,” and then read the other two stories. (That’s the order we’ll discuss them in class).
1) As you read “The Raven,” think about what is going on in the narrator’s mind. His mood changes several times in the poem, but ask yourself, “Why does he keep asking the bird questions when he should know what the bird is going to say?” And what’s with the bust (statue) of Pallas Athena?
2) As you read “The Philosophy of Composition,” think about it as a “how-to” guide for writers. It’s an essay, not a poem or a story, so that might surprise you (and threaten to bore you!) a little bit at first, but stick with it. Pay particular attention to what Poe says is the “sole legitimate province of a poem” (751) and what is the “most poetical topic” (751, towards the bottom). What do you make of that? Finally, think about how seriously we should take this piece. Is it possible Poe is pulling our leg? If so, why?
3) The short stories: think about narrators, especially what happens when you have an unreliable narrator. In what ways are the narrators in “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” similar? How are they different? Who is scarier?
4) Think about irony, especially in “The Cask.” It’s so full of irony, people use this story to teach what irony is. (And look up “irony” if you’re not completely sure what it is—hint: none of the examples in Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” are actually ironic.)
5) Finally, think about how in the world we can fit Poe in with the other writers we’ve been studying. How is he an “American” writer? How, especially, can we connect him to writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, who were all his contemporaries?
6) Okay—one more thing: why are we still so obsessed with Poe even today? If you don’t think we still are, take a look at these two links about the Poe Toaster (no, you don’t put bread in it):
http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/books/08/16/mysteryvisitor.ap/index.html Okay—that’s all for now. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you on Tuesday.
Melville, “Bartleby, The Scrivener” Hi Folks,
Here’s another “long” message that you might not read. However, if you are struggling to get through “Bartleby” or want to know what you should be reading for, let me give you some tips.
First, be sure to read the introduction to Melville, beginning on p. 1081. It’s long and detailed, but I think it gives you a good understanding of Melville’s somewhat tortured life and his ideas about art, human nature, and even bigger questions about good and evil. Although we should be careful about drawing lots of comparison/connections between a writer’s life and his/her works, such studies aren’t inherently wrong.
Now as for “Bartleby” itself:
Think about what a scrivener does. Basically, he’s a copyist. In this case, the scriveners the narrator employs spend all day copying long, dry, lifeless legal documents—and most likely documents dealing with contested will, foreclosures, and other unhappy matters. Why might that be important for this story?
The narrator says that the fact that we don’t know Bartleby’s full story is an irreparable “loss to literature.” Why does he say this? Why is the narrator so captivated by Bartleby and what little he knows about him?
Think about Bartleby’s standard answer: “I would prefer not to.” Why is that response so important? Think about the words “I” and “prefer.” What do these indicate? (Think about individuality, free will, choice, etc.) Why is this a threat to the entire office—indeed, the entire system that the lawyer and his profession represent? Also think about how the entire office seems to “catch” the word—how they say “prefer” without even realizing it (1100). What do you make of that?
What about the narrator? What are we supposed to make of him? He describes himself an “eminently safe man” and one who believes the “easiest” way is best (1086). Is this important? How about how he treats the other men who work for him? Why does he put up with their antics and what does this show us about him? He doesn’t seem, on the surface, to be all that bad of a guy, but somehow we know his voice and Melville’s aren’t the same—that is, there is something that this narrator is missing that we, as an audience, are not. This is a confusing issue, and we’ll talk about it more in class, but do think about it.
Finally, think about the rumor the narrator hears about Bartleby’s former job (1111). Why is this so important? Why does it move the narrator so much? And what might that last line mean?
Okay—that should be enough. See you tomorrow.
I’ve posted a file on the class website (http://webpages.shepherd.edu/hhanraha/courses/eng204/eng204.htm) that contains the text of all the reading guide emails I’ve sent out. I’ll update it periodically, too. If you deleted some of those early messages, you can find the text of them there.
Now some tips for Tuesday’s reading: with Douglass and Stowe, we are moving onto abolitionist writings. It’s important to remember that during/around the same time period that Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman were writing, there were plenty of other folks writing, too. These people wrote about issues like women’s rights, abolition, Native American rights, temperance, and other social causes. In fact, these writers—many of whom you’ve probably never heard of—were the best-selling and most famous writers of their day. People like Hawthorne and Melville, as we’ve seen, sold far fewer books. In general, look for connections between these groups of writers—both similarities and differences.
Connections/Comparisons: Think about Douglass’s book (we’re only reading part of it here) as a response to Emerson and Franklin. How do you see Douglass responding to ideas of hard work, determination, and self-reliance? You might also connect Douglass’s struggles to those of writers like Bradstreet and Wheatley.
Family/Identity: Think about Douglass’s opening pages. What does he know about his father? What does he know about his own birth? How would you characterize his relationship with his mother? Why does Douglass choose to open his narrative with these details?
Education/Reading: Perhaps the most famous section of The Narrative is the section about Douglass teaching himself to read and write. Why are these chapters so important? How is knowledge both a blessing and a curse for Douglass? Why does Douglass argue that slavery and education incompatible—that once a slave learns to read, he is no longer fit to be a slave?
Mr. Covey, the slave-breaker: This is another very famous section of the story. Why? What does it mean when Douglass says, “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man” (957)?
The plot: here’s a very brief summary so you understand the parts that have been left out: Uncle Tom and Eliza are slaves on the Shelby’s plantation in Kentucky. Uncle Tom has a wife and kids and is very well-respected. Eliza is a mixed-blood slave who is so light that she could pass for white. Her husband, George Harris, is a slave owned by another man. Mr. Shelby is in serious debt and needs some quick money, so he sells both Tom and Harry, Eliza’s only son. Eliza finds out about this and warns Uncle Tom so he can run away. Tom refuses to run, saying that if he does, the master will be forced to sell even more slaves to cover his debts. Eliza, though, runs away with her son. That’s where the chapters you have to read open. Sam and Andy are two of Mr. Shelby slaves who are supposed to “help” Mr. Haley, the slave trader, find Eliza and Harry. You can see how they don’t really help at all—they do everything they can to slow Haley down. That should be enough to get you started.
The book’s reputation: We’ve only got a small section of Uncle Tom’s Cabin here, which is unfortunate. But, we’ll do what we can with what we’ve got. As I mentioned above, there were tons of other people writing in the nineteenth-century. A lot of them were women. Lots of these writers were subsequently forgotten or ignored after the end of the nineteenth century (for a variety of reasons, some of which we’ll discuss in class). Stowe falls into that camp. Although Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling book of its time—a cultural phenomenon, really—it was neglected after 1900 or so and Stowe’s reputation really suffered. It’s only since around the 1980s that we’ve started reading her again. I want you to think about the arc her reputation and the reputation of her best-known work have taken: why was it such a huge success when it first came out, why did it fall out of favor for most of the twentieth century, and why are critics and students turning back to it now?
Sentimentalism/appeal to emotions: It’s hard to miss all the ways Stowe tries to pull at a reader’s heartstrings. Is this an effective method for conveying her abolitionist message? Why or why not? Think about the places where she speaks directly to readers (774, for instance). Why does she do this? Also think about Senator Bird. Why is he in this book? Why is his job important to note? What changes his mind and makes him help Eliza and Harry? What role does his wife play in this transformation?
Motherhood: This issue connects with the topic above in important ways, but I’ll complicate it a bit more: why is the scene with Eliza jumping over the ice so famous (781-2)? (It is the iconic scene from the novel). Why does Stowe spend so much time on figures like Hagar and Lucy, the slave mothers on board the steamboat with Uncle Tom? Why does Stowe address her readers who are mothers directly?
Uncle Tom: These days, it isn’t a good thing for a black man to be called an “Uncle Tom.” In Stowe’s time, though, audiences saw him as the hero of the novel. Why do you think his reputation has suffered alongside the book’s reputation? We don’t see much of Tom in these excerpts, but based on what you do see, how would you characterize him and the way he responds to his situation?
Connections: Think about the work that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is trying to do. Then think about the work of writers like Hawthorne and Melville. What differences and similarities do you see? How do their writing styles differ? How could you connect Stowe to the other women writers we’ve read?
Okay—that’s more than enough. Have a nice weekend and I’ll see you on Tuesday.
You are about to start reading Walt Whitman and if you haven’t read him before, you are in for a treat. You are also probably going to feel a bit overwhelmed by his style. Simply put, Whitman uses a lot of words. In “Song of Myself” particularly, he’s got something to say about everything—he wants to include everything and everybody. (One of the points he’s making is that all people and things are connected and are worth celebrating.) Let me repeat what I said in class today before we ended: just get through “Song of Myself” and think about some of the ideas I’ve listed below and you’ll be in fine shape. Don’t get bogged down in trying to understand everything. Part of the experience of reading it (at least the first time through) is this feeling of being overwhelmed and swept up in it.
Let me remind you of the sections for “Song of Myself” that you should concentrate on (remember, it’s a very long poem and you don’t have to read the whole thing): Sections 1-6, 10-13, 15-17, 21, 23-24, 26, 43-45, 47-end. Also please read “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer.”
Okay—now that ubiquitous list of things to consider and look for as you read:
America as a symbol/theme in “Song of Myself.” In his preface to Leaves of Grass (the book that these poems appeared in), Whitman writes the following: “The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” Think about what that might mean—and how you see it reflected in “Song of Myself.” Who does he talk about in this poem? Does anyone or anything seem off limits? How is this inclusiveness “American?” How does all of this relate to the question of the individual’s role/place in a society?
Whitman’s Lists/Catalogues: Think about the long lists Whitman creates in some of these sections (section 15, for instance). What’s he up to here? How is his form (the way he says something) echoing his message (what he’s trying to say)?
Body/Sexuality: In “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes, “I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul.” He also writes, “Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean. / Not an inch nor a particle is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.” How does Whitman see the human body and sexuality? How might that differ from other people in his time (or in our own, for that matter)? You also might look at section 11 here—a very famous passage in which a woman watches naked men swimming. What’s going on here?
What is the deal with grass? Why does Whitman call his book called Leaves of Grass? Why does he use lots of grass imagery in “Song of Myself”? (Think about a field of grass and an individual blade—think about individuals and a larger group.)
“Out of the Cradle:” As I mentioned in class, this is a poem about an older Whitman remembering the time when he was young and realized his calling to be a poet. Think about what brings that realization about and the role that the birds play in it.
“When I Heard…”: A relatively easy poem compared to the others. Think about nature, science, and how a person interacts with both.
Okay—enough for now, right?
I will remind you again of the extra credit opportunity I mentioned in class today. If you go to one of the Henry Louis Gates events on campus next week (or the discussion tomorrow night) and type a one-page response to it, I’ll give you extra credit. Your response should talk about what you learned and how it affects your understanding of the book. These will be due no later than Tuesday, October 9. Again, I’ll only accept paper copies that are typed. You can find a full schedule of events here: http://www.shepherd.edu/ahwirweb/ See you next time.
First of all, something I meant to mention in class—although the syllabus says we’ll do Gates’ Colored Peopleand Emily Dickinson on Tuesday, I’d like to save Gates until Thursday. Feel free to get a jump on the reading—there’s a sizable chunk of the text left, but we won’t discuss Colored People until Thursday. We’ll also start reviewing for your exam on Thursday (more about that later—not in this message, though).
For Tuesday, then, concentrate on the Dickinson poems. I should have mentioned that Dickinson did not title any of her poems. Later editors gave them titles and numbers, but scholars argue even about those. On your syllabus, I have titled them according to their first lines. The poem I call “Faith in a fine invention,” for instance, is numbered 185 in your book. Just go by the first lines on your syllabus and you’ll be fine.
Now for the list of things to read for:
First, I highly recommend reading the editor’s introduction to Dickinson. You should be doing this for every writer we encounter, but it’s especially important for Dickinson.
In general, think about the look and feel of these poems. Pay attention to Dickinson’s line breaks and use of the dash. Both are very important. You might also think about why she capitalizes certain words.
“‘Faith’ is a fine invention”: A wonderful, short, witty poem. Think about what Dickinson is actually saying about “faith” here. Why is it in quotation marks? Why does she italicize the words she does?
“Wild Nights! Wild Nights!”: Another amazing poem. Read this one aloud to yourself to get a feel for the rhythm and the role of things like punctuation. (What affect do those exclamation points have?) Think about the boat and sea images she uses. This is, as you’ll see, a love poem—a really passionate one.
“The Soul selects her own Society”: What’s going on here? What might Dickinson be saying about the way we choose the people we are close to? Who is the “her” referred to in the poem (and there’s no right/wrong answer for that)?
“A Bird came down the walk”: A great poem about nature and Dickinson’s fascination with it. Pay attention to how she describes the bird’s actions—and how she beautifully recreates the images of him flying away. You can start connecting this to Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Whitman, too—images of nature, etc.
“After Great Pain”: This might be my favorite Dickinson poem, although it is quite sad. It’s a poem about loss and how we act after feeling a severe loss. Pay attention to the images and words she uses here. The last stanza uses the image of freezing to death. Why?
“Much Madness is Divinest Sense”: Dickinson is re-defining sanity and insanity here. What’s her point? And how does society treat those that it labels “mad?”
“This Was a Poet”: A tough poem to crack. Basically Dickinson is talking about what a poet does with language and how our experiences with that kind of creativity leave us feeling. You might think about Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” and Whitman’s poetry as you read this one.
“I heard a fly buzz…”: Another classic Dickinson poem. Basically it’s a deathbed poem—the speaker is just about to die when a fly buzzes by. Think about why this is so important. And think about how our speaker—who is dead—is speaking to us. Where is that voice coming from? (“Heaven” is too easy of an answer—and doesn’t quite work for this poem).
Letters to Higginson: These are important to see how Dickinson saw herself as a poet. Think about why she writes to Higginson to begin with (the introduction is somewhat helpful here). What do you think she is looking for? In the second letter, what does she mean when she says, “My business is circumference” and how does that apply to her poems? What does she mean in that same letter when she calls herself “the only Kangaroo among the beauty?” How about when she talks about “a supposed person”—not herself—speaking in these poems?
Okay—enough already, right?
See you next week.
On Thursday, we’ll finish up Colored People. Since this text is pretty straightforward, I don’t feel the need to give you too many extensive pointers for reading. Here are just a few:
Religion: What role does religion play in this book? In Gates’ personal life? (Consider his change in churches). In Gates’ community and family? How does this compare to the other writers we’ve encountered so far?
“Shattering the sugar bowl”: What does this chapter title mean? Why is it an important image not just in terms of Gates growing up, but also in terms of his growing political consciousness?
“Just Talking to the Lord”: Why the long chapter on Uncle Nemo? Why is he so fascinating to Gates and to readers?
The Coleman Boys and Integration: Gates talks about the differences between he and his uncles as he gets older. What does he come to understand about his uncles? Hint: it has to do with his realization that for them, “integration was experienced as a loss” (184).
“The Last Mill Picnic”: What do you make of this final chapter? Why does Gates end his book this way?
We’ll talk about anything else you are interested in, too, of course. If you’ve got the time, you might consider writing a commonplace book entry on Colored People. There are certainly plenty of good topics in the book.
Also, remember that we’ll use the second half of class to get started on reviewing for your exam. If you’d like to earn a free quiz grade, bring in two typed essay questions. Remember, good questions are broad enough to allow you to discuss three or more authors.
See you on Thursday,