Questions to consider (answer one or two in depth in the journals):
- Using this overview of Romanticism, track some of these elements in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Other than the spontaneous expression of feeling that we see in this narrative, what other elements of Romanticism do you see? For depth, contrast Jacobs stylistically with at least one other author.
- This is a useful study question from Paul Reubens: “Jacobs ends her narrative “with freedom, not in the usual way, with marriage.” Comment on the implication here that freedom matters more to Linda Brent than marriage. To what extent does Incidents suggest that the “life story” is different for enslaved women than for free (white) women?”
- With Farmer James and Linda Brent, we see the emergence of major characters in American literature: symbolic figures who represent cultural and historical themes and metaphors, rather than literal historical accounts told in the first person. Why do you think this shift might be significant in American literature? In other words, what might the emergence of a symbolic literature based as much on imagination as fact, tell us about American culture in the nineteenth century, compared to the previous periods we’ve covered?
- Related to this is the question we considered at the end of class today. How might we reconstruct a national identity that includes narratives like Harriet Jacobs’s, but does not lead to cynicism about national history? If you were to ask Harriet Jacobs what an appropriate metaphor for American identity might be (as opposed to Crevecoeur’s melting pot), what do you think she might say (based on examples in her text)?
The publication date for Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl fast forwards a hundred years from Woolman’s abolitionist essay, yet the narrative begins with recollections of the Revolutionary War and recalls experiences from the early nineteenth century, so the transition from the eighteenth century to Jacobs is smoother than it might appear. I hope, also, that this will give us some thematic continuity by continuing our discussion of Wheatley today.
- Intertextual echoes between Woolman, Wheatley, and Jacobs will be useful in extending our recent discussions of slavery. All of these writers agree on the subject of slavery. How do their voices and strategies differ?
- We’ve considered double voicing in Bradstreet and Wheatley. How does Harriet Jacobs respond to white prejudice while arguing (with a double voice) for abolition? One thing we considered in Wheatley’s poems is her insistence on remaining distinctly African, even while participating fully in eighteenth-century society. Does Jacobs similarly reinforce her cultural differences with her readers, or do you find her appealing more to commonalities?
- In terms of style, it will be useful to read Jacobs alongside Crevecoeur, because even though she appears to be writing a factual account, she conceals her identity with the pseudonym “Linda Brent.” Why might she do this, and how is this stylistically similar to and different from Crevecoeur’s use of Farmer James as for his narrator’s persona in Letters from an American Farmer?
- Captivity narratives and slave narratives both have a common emphasis on oppression and liberation. How are these two genres different? Consider Rowlandson’s earlier narrative as a possible comparative text.
- Jacobs was writing during the heyday of American Romanticism. In many ways, Romanticism offers a shift from the “freezing reason” of the Enlightenment to more lyricism, more freedom of expression, and more emotion. What evidence do you see of this shift toward Romanticism in Jacobs’s narrative?
- What does Harriet Jacobs teach us about American identity?
We’ll start The Crucible on Monday. I will ask for portfolio notes on supplementary materials next week in the hopes that we can “read” the film critically, as we would any of the texts we’ve covered. There are no requirements for which texts to consult, so feel free to read widely among these resources.
The attachment is a selected excerpt from the phenomenal Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project at the University of Virginia. You can browse the court records, maps, notable people, and literary works as you wish. The literary works include Longfellow’s dramatic poem, Giles Corey of the Salem Farms, which might have influenced Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
In keeping with our discussion today, it will be helpful to consider how Arthur Miller intended his 1952 play to address the particular social pressures of his time, and how these themes speak to our time (if they do). This overview of the play and the movie will add some context. More to the point is Miller’s essay, “Are You Now or Were You Ever?”, published in 2000, which offers his reflections on how Salem echoes in American thought in the 21st century.
These resources will help us more intelligently discuss what Salem ought to mean to us now and how effective this film is in conveying the meaning of that event, as you understand it.