Questions for Apess and Seattle

  • We began the course with indigenous stories, and these are two voices that survived the 300-year holocaust that decimated tribal communities. What stylistic or thematic differences do you see between Apess’ and Seattle’s attempts to engage a white audience in the 1800s? What choices do you see each of them making about how to present themselves and their messages to white America? See also the documentary below about Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader who tried to organize a pan-Indian alliance against the U.S. government during this time.
  • Elements of Romanticism that we’ve discussed so far include emphasis on a heroic self and emotive versus rational writing. Romantic literature is sometimes characterized by optimism about the past and/or future, as well as human nature. In what ways do Apess and Seattle respond to these 19th-century conventions? How well does Romanticism work as a classification for their texts?
  • Consider intertextual comparisons between these texts and Woolman, Franklin, Crevecoeur, Wheatley, and Jacobs. What similarities and differences do you see between the abolition and concerns about indigenous rights?
  • Today our discussion of American identity included themes like individualism, endless change, reform, conflict versus unity (the contact zone versus the melting pot), and liberty. How do Apess and Seattle speak to these themes?

Questions for Jacobs, Day Two

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)?

Questions for Jacobs, Day One

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?

Questions for Wheatley

  1. “On Being Brought from Africa to America” is Wheatley’s most controversial poem. It is also frequently cited as an example of her double voice. To whom might Wheatley be speaking in this poem? How does she code her more subversive message, and what might that coded message be? How does her message in this poem compare to Letters from an American Farmer or Woolman’s abolitionist essay?
  2. The footnotes will be helpful for close reading of “A Farewell to America.” Who is this poem written to? For what purpose? How would you explain Wheatley’s use of “health” and “temptation” within the context of the poem itself and its historical context in 1773?
  3. “Thoughts on the Works of Providence” resembles Bradstreet’s “The Flesh and the Spirit,” particularly in Wheatley’s personification of Wisdom, Chaos, Reason, Love, and others. What does this poem tell us about Wheatley’s theology, in comparison to other writers we’ve read recently, such as Edwards, Paine, and Crevecoeur? How might she define “God”? How does her view of nature relate to her theology?
  4. Close reading of the personified characters (see the capitalized and italicized names) will also help us get at the heart of this text. See this link for more on Phoebus. What is Wheatley trying to accomplish by dramatizing these characters? See, especially, the conversation between Reason and Love.
  5. Wheatley relies heavily on nuance in this poem, creating imagery that requires interpretation. For instance, why does she emphasize light so strongly? What other nuances seem significant to you?

Questions for Crevecoeur – Day Two

  • 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 shift in tone from beginning to end. 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 do you orient Crevecoeur within the Enlightenment period? What parallels or contrasts do you see between his work and the other texts we discussed before midterm?
  • 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. Great examples here of reading against the grain.

Questions for Crevecoeur – Day One

  • 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?

Resources for The Crucible

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.