Crevecoeur – Letters from an American Farmer (Day Two)

Journals from Friday writers are due by tomorrow night. As always, it’s better to respond to one or two of the questions below in depth rather than trying to answer them all. Consider the following goals for this week. Try sandwiching textual examples from the reading with both context and conclusions, setting up background for the points you want to make, using signal phrases to integrate quotations, and unpacking those examples with thorough conclusions. Connecting to other anthology readings or to resources from the course website could also add depth.

Questions to consider (or feel free to pursue your own):

  • The anthology excerpt leaps from Letter III to Letter IX, which omits much of Crevecoeur’s original text. However, this brings into sharp relief the contrast between the euphoric welcome of the “great parent” (America? Or Britain?) to the newly arrived European immigrant and Farmer James’ closing prayer to the Supreme Being. How do you account for this shift in tone? What changes Farmer James’ idyllic vision of American society and culture in the closing letters? Why does he view American independence so negatively?
  • We considered today the utopian aspects of Farmer James’ perspective. While we might assume that Crevecoeur projects some of his own feelings onto Farmer James the way novelists see themselves in their characters, we ought to read the narrator as a separate fictional figure who might not represent all of Crevecoeur’s opinions. In this light, we might ask what Crevecoeur is trying to accomplish by showing such a stark change in Farmer James’ outlook. Is Farmer James an innocent who shifts from naiveté to a more mature grasp of reality? Is Farmer James still just as much a dreamer at the end as at the beginning? Are we meant to read Farmer James as a dissenting (and perhaps heroic) voice arguing for social justice, like John Woolman? Is he meant to be an ironic caricature of the American, a symbol of Euro-American hypocrisy that Crevecoeur uses to critique America? Who is Farmer James, really?
  • How do you make sense of Farmer James’ closing view of Native American society? How does this connect or contrast with his earlier discussion of the melting pot? How might the speeches we began the week with help you read against the grain of Farmer James’ view of indigenous culture and his relationship to it?
  • For fun, consider reading D.H. Lawrence’s hilarious critical analysis of Letters from an American Farmer. This is kind of like The Onion, only in literary criticism.

Crevecoeur – Letters from an American Farmer

While all of the texts we’ve been discussing have grappled, implicitly, with the question of American identity, Crevecoeur is the first writer we’ve seen to attempt a direct definition. I’ll look forward to hearing how his definition of American identity compares with your own.

Journals from our Wednesday writers are due by tomorrow night. As always, it’s better to respond to one or two of the questions below in depth rather than trying to answer them all. Consider the following goals for this week. Try sandwiching textual examples from the reading with both context and conclusions, setting up background for the points you want to make, using signal phrases to integrate quotations, and unpacking those examples with thorough conclusions. Connecting to other anthology readings or to resources from the course website could also add depth.

Questions to consider:

  • Letters from an American Farmer is set in the years leading up to the American Revolution, though it was published in 1782, after the United States had successfully defined itself as an independent nation. How might that original historical context have shaped both the content of this book and its reception by the American public?
  • In what ways might this text have been shaped by Enlightenment ideas? In what ways does it contrast from other Enlightenment-era texts we’ve discussed?
  • How does Crevecoeur’s definition of American identity compare or contrast to other texts we’ve read? How does it compare to your own definition of American identity?
  • Like Franklin does in his fictional sketches, “The Way to Wealth” and “Remarks on the Savages of North America,” Crevecoeur adopts a fictional persona (Farmer James) for this narrative. What kind of image of eighteenth-century America does this fictional narrative create? How accurate is it historically, based on what you know from the biographies and from other primary readings from this period? That is, what does this narrative include and what does it exclude; or, what kind of myth of America does this story tell?

Syllabus Change for Monday

Instead of the Federalism Debate I had planned for October 15, I’d like to focus on the section, “Native Americans: Contact and Conflict.” The speeches in this section show the emergence of Native American voices in the American literature of the eighteenth century, culminating in Tecumseh, one of the greatest and most visionary chiefs to seek an alliance between tribes that might be able to stand up to the growing nation, the United States.

To prepare for discussion, please read pages 437-449 and watch the episode, Tecumseh’s Vision, posted below. We’ll resume our normal journal schedule, and I’ll look forward to journals from Maria, Kaity, Jordon, Makaye, Tim, Jalissa, and Hannah by Sunday night.

Questions to consider:

  1. What are some common themes among these Native American voices? How are their voices or tribal perspectives distinct from one another?
  2. What parallels and contrasts can you draw between the conflict described in these speeches and the film and the conflict described in the earlier accounts we discussed from Bradford and Rowlandson? What has changed in this story of race relations from the 17th century? What has stayed the same?
  3. What stylistic patterns in these speeches distinguish them from European-American texts, such as the sermons, histories, and memoirs we’ve read? In other words, what makes these speeches particularly literary?
  4. What comparisons can you draw between Tecumseh’s vision and the formation of the early United States? What similarities and differences exist between the American republic and the alliance Tecumseh hoped to build? Which scenes in the film do you find the most powerful and surprising?
  5. Imagine you are Thomas Jefferson or one of the other early American presidents during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. You have an entire continent before you filled with resources representing vast wealth for the rapidly expanding population of the United States. However, the lands containing these resources are already populated by Native American tribes, which are growing increasingly hostile to the American government and its citizens. How might you have responded to Native American nations and the prospect of westward expansion differently, based on what you know now about this history?
  6. Imagine you are an elementary school teacher preparing a lesson on American history. How might you communicate the contact and conflict between the U.S. government and Native American nations in terms that children could understand?

You can watch Tecumseh’s Vision in two formats: on Hulu (with commercials) or on YouTube as a series of smaller clips.

Hulu: Tecumseh’s Vision Hulu

Thoughts on The Crucible

One of the questions we considered this week was: Why remember the Salem Witch Trials? What does this event represent in our national history and national memory? Our readings from Cotton Mather and Robert Calef, coupled with the film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s drama, “The Crucible,” give us a glimpse of what happens to justice when it is determined by fear, suspicion, and prejudice. These paranoid behaviors are not unfamiliar to us in 2012, as I’ll explain presently.

First, a few words about Mather and Calef. Cotton Mather’s “The Wonders of the  Invisible World, as our biographical sketch for Mather indicates, is a defense of the Puritan worldview in the face of great public skepticism about the methods used to convict the accused in the Salem Trials, as well as the brutal punishments the accused received. Mather’s tortured rationale for why the trials took place begins with a claim that witchcraft was indigenous to the New World, since the Puritans settled in “the devil’s territories” (308). Like Bradford’s explanation of wickedness in Christian society as the result of corrupt servants and the “mixed multitude” accompanying the Pilgrims on their journey (107), Mather seeks to lay blame for the Salem hysteria on those outside of Puritan society. Satan’s “incarnate legions” and “army of devils” were hell-bent on persecuting the Christians, he claims (309). Thus, the ostensible outbreak of witchcraft revealed “an horrible plot against the country” (309). This conspiracy theory reveals a few assumptions that seem common to Puritan leaders such as Winthrop, Bradford, and Mather: 1) the Puritans, as the elect, were not perfect people, but were commissioned to do God’s business in New England and therefore were favored of God; 2) those who disagreed with Puritan leadership – Hutchinson, Morton, and others – were sowing discord and enmity among God’s people and therefore were not assisting in the divine task of taming the wilderness; 3) anyone not conforming to the Puritan mission must therefore be allied not with God, but the devil; 4) any social upheaval, be it war or theological disputes or competing visions of social order, could thus be attributed to the devil’s plot to reduce the “city upon a hill” to the laughingstock of the world. It is not difficult to see how these assumptions, in a time of great fear and suspicion, could lead to a false accusations against others and how those accusations, when judged by magistrates ascribing to Mather’s paranoid view of Puritan society as suffering constant spiritual attacks, would lead to false convictions and innocent deaths.

Robert Calef, in his correspondence with Mather, called Salem “the sorest affliction and greatest blemish to religion that ever befell this country” (338). The fact that Calef himself was not imprisoned and banished or executed illustrates the dramatic shift in Puritan society in just 50-60 years. Hutchinson’s conviction at the Court of Newton in 1637 and subsequent banishment from Massachusetts Bay was only a generation removed from Calef’s challenge to Mather. Yet we see markedly different analysis of the Salem trials in Calef’s observations. In his accounts of Margaret Rule’s testimony, taken from her bedside between what seem to be fainting fits, we can sense a critical mind at work. Most notable is the physical contact between Mather and the afflicted girl, which seems like molestation: rubbing her belly to calm her, feeling her breast and claiming to sense a “living thing” (336). Calef’s conclusion to his Sept 13, 1693 entry does not editorialize, but it is clear from the details he includes that Margaret Rule was not an eminently reliable witness, nor was her affliction necessarily the result of witchcraft. After the ministers leave her side, Calef notes, “the afflicted [Margaret Rule] desired the women to be gone, saying, that the company of the men was not offensive to her, and having hold of the hand of a young man, said to have been her sweetheart formerly, who was withdrawing, she pulled him again into his seat, saying he should not go tonight” (337). What might a rational mind conclude from this? Calef avoids leading the reader toward a particular conclusion, but the facts suggest that Margaret Rule could have been manipulating the ministers for their attention. Few ranked lower in Puritan society than female children and servants, and Rule’s ability to control a roomful of men would have been a sure incentive to heighten her “symptoms,” if only as a means to  power.

In The Crucible, we watch Reverend John Hale’s transformation from a fundamentalist Puritan (who believes that the marks of witchcraft are as “definite as stone”) into a rational thinker who can see the human motivations sparking deliberate falsehoods and can distinguish between these falsehoods and devil worship. By the end of the film Hale recognizes how absurd it is to assert certainty in a case such as John Proctor’s and even counsels John and Elizabeth to complete the charade of confession to spare their lives. How realistic a characterization this is of a Puritan minister is debatable, but Hale’s transformation symbolizes the shift in American society during the late seventeenth century toward rationalism.

As we’ve watched the film, I’ve asked us to consider what Salem in 1692 might have to teach us about our own time. One parallel we might draw between the Salem trials and 2012 is the ongoing fear, suspicion, and prejudice associated with the ongoing war on terrorism. This is not a perfect analogy: terrorism is not devil worship; in fact (and perhaps more frighteningly) it can be motivated by intense religious piety. But accusations of terrorism in 2012 are much like accusations of witchcraft in 1692 in that the accuser rarely suffers any penalty, even if no formal charges are brought against the accused, and the accused is, in many respects, presumed guilty before proven innocent (which inverts the presumption of innocence that underpins a rational approach to justice). The fact that racial profiling coincides with accusations of terrorism is also little different from the Puritan equation of diabolism with Native American culture (remember that Mary Rowlandson cannot bring herself to describe any of the converted Native Americans as Christians; instead, she holds them suspiciously at arm’s length as “praying Indians” whom she believes can’t  be trusted). Just as Judge Danforth reminds John Proctor and Giles Corey, “Either you are with this court or against it,” the United States is presumed innocent in all acts of terrorism, and the rest of the world is asked to declare themselves allies or, by default, enemies. Perhaps the most chilling part of The Crucible is Danforth’s belief that he can judge the accused in Salem with absolute truth, despite the prodigious doubts cast upon the character of nearly everyone involved. By demanding that Proctor confess before the proceedings be stopped, Danforth creates a false ultimatum between truth and falsehood, ensuring one of two unjust outcomes. Either Proctor gives a false confession to spare himself, his family, and the reputation of the court, or Proctor goes to his death an innocent man. Miller tries to drive this point home when Judge Danforth says, of those about to hang, “Who weeps for these weeps for corruption.” The irony, of course, is that the court is the most corrupt of anyone. Admitting error would be admitting spiritual uncertainty, and the Puritan mind was so convinced of its uprightness that it could not budge, even when faced with overwhelming confusion. Do we, like the Puritans, believe our purpose in the world to be so inerrant and true that we bear no responsibility for violence? Are we, like William Bradford and Cotton Mather, convinced that our destiny is God-ordained and therefore that all who oppose us are, by default, evil? Or might we consider our own imperfections, as Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor do, and as Robert Calef does in his observations about the Salem trials? What might a humble and rational view of American identity, both nationally and internationally, look like in 2012?

Research Presentation Schedule

John Winthrop                    Sept. 5                                    Mallory and Emily

William Bradford                Sept. 10                                  Vanessa

Anne Bradstreet                  Sept. 14                                  Lucie

Benjamin Franklin              Oct. 5                                      Lucas and Grant

H.S.J. Crévecoeur              Oct. 17                                     John

Phillis Wheatley                  Oct. 22                                   KateLynn

Harriet Jacobs                      Oct. 24                                   Macy

Harriet Jacobs                      Oct. 29                                   Jessy

Ralph Waldo Emerson       Oct. 31                                    Jordon and Jalissa

Margaret Fuller                   Nov. 5                                     Makaye

Henry D. Thoreau               Nov. 12                                   Maria

Henry D. Thoreau               Nov. 14                                   Kaity

Washington Irving              Nov. 16                                   Lauren and Hannah

Nathaniel Hawthorne        Nov. 21                                   Bryton

Herman Melville                 Nov. 28                                  Jeanette and Nathan

Walt Whitman                     Nov. 30                                  Tim

Emily Dickinson                  Dec. 5                                     Ron

Bibliography of research before midterm

Here are the sources presenters have used thus far. Please note that in MLA style, they would be double spaced continuously and wrapped lines would be indented.

Two sources I recommend for research for the midterm exam:

  • The Literature Resource Center (Go to the Library website –> Databases A-Z –> L –> Literature Resource Center
  • The Authors and General Resources pages on this website

Emerson, Everett. “John Winthrop.” American Colonial Writers, 1606-1734. Ed. Emory Elliott. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 24. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Sept. 2012.

Kelso, Dorothy. “William Bradford.” Pilgrim Hall Museum. 18 May 2005. Web. 9 Sept. 2012.

Wenska, Walter P. “Bradford’s Two Histories: Pattern and Paradigm in Of Plymouth Plantation.” Early American Literature 13.2 (1978): 151-164. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg. Vol. 64. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Sept. 2012.

Woodlief, Ann. “Anne Bradstreet.” Study Texts on Anne Bradstreet’s Poetry. n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012.

Ziegler, Vickie L. “The Colonial Poetry of Anne Bradstreet.” Medieval Technology and American History. n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2012.

Mary Rowlandson – Day Two

I’ll look forward to journals on the second half of Rowlandson’s narrative from Friday writers by Thursday night.

Good questions from today’s class were: Do we see evidence of Rowlandson changing throughout the narrative (both in terms of how she views Native Americans and in her own identity as a Puritan woman), or is her sense of self and her view of race relations essentially the same at the end as at the beginning? Cabeza de Vaca’s “The Relation” would be a good text to consider for intertextual readings. Also, Lucie raised the question of why Rowlandson seems incapable of interpreting what’s happening to her through any lens other than religion. Why is she so unaware of or willfully blind to the social history leading up to King Philip’s War? How might we sympathize with the difficulty of her experience while still reading against the grain of some of her representations and interpretations of it?

Other questions to consider (try to develop one in depth)

Close reading:

  1. Typology: How does the book of Job relate to Rowlandson’s captivity experience? Consider using this searchable online Bible to track down other biblical allusions that Rowlandson uses to interpret her experience. Why do you think it matters that she added these biblical references while looking back on captivity?
  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?
  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: Like Anne Bradstreet’s poetry collection, the original version of Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative contained a preface by a Puritan minister endorsing her writing as beneficial reading for other Puritans. See the original preface here. Why do you think the Norton anthology might omit these prefatory comments and begin directly with Rowlandson’s captivity account? How does Rowlandson compare to the other women we’ve seen in colonial American literature (female figures in Iroquois and Pima tradition, Eve, Hutchinson, and Bradstreet)?

The following template might also help you develop an intertextual reading:

A crucial theme in Rowlandson’s memoir is ______. More specifically, Rowlandson shows that ______. She writes, “______.” [add more examples for depth] In these examples, Rowlandson is suggesting that ______. This emphasizes Rowlandson’s central theme of ______.

This theme of ______ in “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson” is similar to Author X’s work, ______. Author X deals with this theme similarly in these ways ______. For instance, Author X writes, “______.” Like Rowlandson, Author X concludes that ______. However, Author X differs from Rowlandson in these ways ______. Where Rowlandson suggests ______, Author X suggests ______. If Author X were reading “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,” he/she might raise these questions ______. The differences between Author X and Rowlandson 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 Rowlandson’s memoir and Author X’s work lead me to the following conclusions ______.