Questions for Rowlandson – Day One

Close reading:

  1. Typology: How does the book of Job or the story of David or the the character of Daniel relate to Rowlandson’s captivity experience? How might this biblical context clarify her use of phrases like “ravenous Beasts” or “Barbarous Creatures” to describe indigenous people? What examples of Calvinism do you find in her narrative? Consider using this searchable online Bible to track down some of those biblical allusions.
  2. Captivity narratives: See this overview of the captivity narrative genre. In what ways do you see Rowlandson following these conventions or deviating from them in her personal account of captivity?

Intertextual reading:

  1. Race relations: How do the other texts we’ve read that pertain to race relations help you make sense of Rowlandson’s portraits of Native Americans? Remember that the publication date for this text is 1682, nearly two hundred years after Columbus’s first contact. What has changed about race relations in this span of time? What has stayed the same? This synopsis of King Phillip’s War will add historical context for Rowlandson’s narrative.
  2. Religion: How does her discussion of religion compare and contrast with other texts that we’ve read? In what ways might she be similar to other Calvinists? In what ways might she be different? What might these comparisons and contrasts suggest about religion in early America?
  3. Gender: What is the purpose of the anonymous preface? How might this compare to the preface Bradstreet’s brother-in-law wrote for her poetry collection? How does Rowlandson compare to the other women we’ve seen in colonial American literature (female figures in the origin stories, Eve, Hutchinson, and Bradstreet)?

Why did some white women prefer to remain with Native American tribes even after they had been ransomed?

Schedule for upcoming presentations

Edward Taylor                      Sept. 19                                  Amanda

Mary Rowlandson               Sept. 22 or 24                       Jasmine

Mather and Sewall              Sept. 26                                  Kaylee

H.S.J. Crévecoeur                Oct. 20 or 22                         Joe

Phillis Wheatley                  Oct. 24                                   Bailey

Harriet Jacobs                      Oct. 27 or 29                         Taylor

Ralph Waldo Emerson       Nov. 3                                     Kyle

Margaret Fuller                   Nov. 7                                     Aaron

Henry D. Thoreau               Nov. 10 or 12                         Chris

Washington Irving              Nov. 14                                   Kaitlyn

Nathaniel Hawthorne        Nov. 17                                   Justin

Herman Melville                 Dec. 1                                      Jessup

Walt Whitman                     Dec. 3 or 5                             Trevor

Close reading and intertextual reading for Taylor

Here are three ways of reading Taylor’s poetry that will help you prepare for the kind of writing we’ll be doing on the exams. Pick or adapt one to develop for your notes.

Do a close reading of Taylor’s “The Prologue,” “Upon Wedlock, & Death of Children,” or “Huswifery” in three separate paragraphs. This definition of the Meditative tradition could be useful context. Both Taylor and Bradstreet write in the Metaphysical tradition, as well.

  • Read the poem once asking what seems distinct about the language: word choices, alliteration, rhyme, memorable imagery?
  • The second time through reflect on the larger themes or ideas you hear Taylor addressing. How might this poem resonate with the meditative or metaphysical traditions?
  • The third time through, consider how these themes or ideas connect to the bigger picture of American history or identity: what you see this particular poem contributing to our discussions of the colonial period in New England.

For an intertextual reading of “The Prologue,” “Upon Wedlock, & Death of Children,” or “Huswifery,” try the following in at least three paragraphs:

  • Identify two or three important themes that connect this poem to other readings. Explain these connections as specifically as you can, using textual examples.
  • Identify two other readings we’ve already discussed that deal with the themes you’ve chosen. Explain how these other readings address the theme similarly or differently.
  • What conclusions do you draw from these intertextual connections How have these comparisons and contrasts affected your understanding of the two poems you selected?

The following template could also be adapted for an intertextual reading of one of the three poems:

Two core themes in Taylor’s poem, “X,” are ______ and ______. These are significant themes for early American literature because ______.  Taylor illustrates ______ [theme 1] as follows: “______.” [add more examples for depth]  Theme 2 is evident in the following: “______.” [add more examples for depth] In these passages, Taylor is suggesting that ______. This emphasizes Taylor’s central themes of ______ and ______.

The themes of ______ and ______ in Taylor’s poem is similar to Author X’s work, ______. Author X deals with these themes similarly in these ways ______. For instance, Author X writes, “______.” Like Taylor, Author X concludes that ______. However, Author X differs from Taylor in these ways ______. Where Taylor suggests ______, Author X suggests ______. If Author X were reading Taylor’s poem, “X,” he/she might raise these questions ______. The differences between Author X and Taylor are especially evident in these textual examples ______. [balance quotations and paraphrases to show breadth, but also to avoid excessively long quotations] These parallels and contrasts between Taylor’s letter and Author X’s work suggest the following conclusions ______.

Questions for Anne Bradstreet

  • By now we’ve read enough texts that I hope you’ll start drawing connections between them, noting echoes or sharp contrasts between the many voices in this early period. In what ways might Bradstreet connect to other authors? In what ways might she challenge some of the other authors we’ve read?
  • Who is the intended audience of “The Prologue”? Where do you hear Bradstreet addressing particular kinds of readers? What might she be trying to accomplish in this poem?
  • What do you see as the central metaphor of “The Author to Her Book”? What ironies and memorable imagery does Bradstreet develop by extending this metaphor? How might the historical context shape your understanding of this poem, if it was written sixteen years after her book had been published, possibly as a poem to include in a second edition?
  • “The Flesh and the Spirit” personifies two symbolic figures engaged in debate. Why is this debate important to Bradstreet? Which figure gains the upper hand in the debate, and why? What about Bradstreet’s cultural environment might have made this a risky poem to write?
  • Feel free to browse some of her other poems, particularly poems written about her children and her husband. Which of these stand out to you as particularly meaningful? Why?

Questions for Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth Plantation was written as history near the end of Bradford’s life. But as with other texts based primarily on memory, like Vaca’s The Relation and Smith’s General History of Virginia, Bradford’s narrative contains elements of memoir, where he is not only relaying facts but also conveying his interpretation of what happened. As a Calvinist Bradford would have been looking for confirmation of his election (or chosen status) while remembering his past.

Questions to consider:

  • History: How much of this narrative is factual history, how much is myth (symbolic of how Bradford wants to be remembered), and how can we identify the difference (if we can)? See Campbell’s timeline for a sense of where Bradford fits into the sequence of events in this early period. What similarities and differences do you see between Bradford’s history and others we’ve read?
  • Religion: What evidence of Calvinism do you find in Bradford’s narrative? See also Campbell’s definition of typology. What examples of typology do you find?
  • Style: Compare Bradford’s writing style to that of the other authors we’ve covered. What do you especially admire about his writing style? How does the content of his text differ from the others we’ve read? What seems notable about his metaphors, word choices (diction), and imagery?
  • Society: How do you think Bradford’s vision for Plymouth compares with Winthrop’s vision for Massachusetts Bay in “A Model of Christian Charity”? How does the fate of Thomas Granger compare with Anne Hutchinson’s?
  • Race and Identity: We get two contrasting glimpses of relations with Native Americans here. How might the oral narratives help you understand these contrasts? What do Bradford’s entries say about the state of seventeenth-century race relations in the New World?

Film clips about the first Thanksgiving:

Questions for Anne Hutchinson Trial Transcript

Anne Hutchinson has been a controversial figure in American history for her explicit challenges to Winthrop’s utopian project. She has been denigrated by some as an “American Jezebel,” but her resistance might also be seen as one of the earliest examples of political dissent, and she is often remembered today as an early advocate for women’s rights. Let’s try to understand both voices—Winthrop’s and Hutchinson’s—as we read this transcript and the story it tells.

Questions to consider:

  • What, exactly, is Hutchinson charged with? How would you describe her alleged crime in your own words?
  • Where do you find Hutchinson especially persuasive in defending herself? At what point does her self-defense falter? What are some of the main turning points in her trial?
  • What comparisons and contrasts might you draw between Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” and this trial transcript?
  • The brief biography at Perspectives in American Literature offers useful context.
  • How does Hutchinson’s use of the Bible both help and hurt her case? See the book of Titus and Jeremiah 46:27-28. This online Bible at the University of Michigan could be useful for searches about Daniel, Abraham, John the Baptist, and other figures that Hutchinson mentions.

How well does this dramatization of Hutchinson’s trial capture the essence of the text?

This CBS radio broadcast from 1947 offers another popular culture adaptation of Hutchinson’s trial:


Questions for Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity”

Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” has been a hugely influential text in U.S. history, so influential that Ronald Reagan quoted it in his farewell speech, John McCain invoked it during his 2008 campaign, and Romney alluded to it in 2012. Like John Smith’s version of Jamestown, which represents as much what he wanted to believe about himself as what actually transpired, Winthrop’s sermon crystallizes some of the earliest American myths. It’s a dense text, with lots to unpack, so give yourself time to read it at least twice.

Questions to consider:

  • What metaphors do you find in this sermon, and how do they help you understand Winthrop’s vision for the Massachussetts Bay colony?
  • What evidence do you find of Winthrop’s views on social class? How does this compare with your opinions about wealth and poverty in the U.S. today?
  • Why do you think this sermon is referenced almost exclusively by political conservatives today (beyond the obvious religious context)?
  • See Donna Campbell’s overview of Calvinism for the basic tenets of Winthrop’s faith. What illustrations of Calvinism do you see in “A Model of Christian Charity”?
  • How might a sermon be understood as a literary text? What makes a sermon different from other narratives we’ve read (origin stories, letters, and the hybrid texts we’ve considered this week that intertwine history, memoir, and other modes)? What stylistic examples do you see in Winthrop’s sermon that seem especially notable, and why might they be significant?
  • What mythological elements might we find in Winthrop’s sermon? What does the sermon contribute to our historical understanding of the Colonial period? What does Winthrop add to our understanding of colonial American literature?