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.

Questions for Mather and Sewall

  • Pick a larger course theme that you might want to pursue on the exam and explain how Mather’s narrative and Sewall’s text might contribute to that theme.
  • What echoes of other Puritan writers do you hear in Mather’s “The Wonders of the Invisible World”? What does Mather’s text add to your understanding of colonial New England?
  • What do you make of Mather’s claim to be “report[ing] matters not as an advocate, but as an historian”? How does this historical narrative compare to Bradford’s history of Plymouth?
  • Compare and contrast Sewall’s account of events in Salem with Mather’s account. What further evidence do you find in the Salem Witch Trials Archive that helps you make sense of what happened? Browse the court records or notable people.
  • Compare the trial of Martha Carrier (as well as Bridget Bishop and Tituba) to the trial of Anne Hutchinson and to Bradford’s prosecution of Thomas Morton. What are the turning points in these trials? What is the evidence presented against the accused? What do these trials add to our understanding of justice system in Puritan New England?

Soundtrack for A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

I don’t have explanations for all of the scenes that these songs would help frame in a film adaptation, but they present a very broad array of representations of Rowlandson’s mental and emotional state throughout the narrative.

For the death of Mary’s daughter, Sarah:

For the scene where Mary’s captors comfort her in a canoe:

For the opening battle scene:

For Rowlandson’s psychological breakdown in the Fourth Remove:

For the hopeful scene after the council, when Mary learns she might be ransomed:

For Rowlandson’s homecoming:

Other songs:

Questions for Rowlandson – Day Two

Intertextual reading:

  1. Your theme: Pick a theme that you believe encompasses the readings we’ve discussed so far and identifies an important trend in colonial American literature. Explain how Rowlandson’s text reflects this theme and how her treatment of it compares/contrasts with other authors.
  2. 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?
  3. Religion: How do you make sense of Rowlandson’s phrase “strange providence”? 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?
  4. 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 ______.

Reading against the grain:

We had a good start today challenging some of Rowlandson’s views by looking at exceptions in her own text. For instance, acts of kindness by Native Americans during her captivity undermines her larger claims about their “diabolical” nature. One of the accusations English settlers made against neighboring tribes was that their methods of warfare were devious, since they attacked at night and by stealth, rather than fighting in the open, as Europeans were accustomed to. (see excerpt from The Last of the Mohicans below). However, Bradford explains in his account of the Pequot War that English soldiers sought advice from Narragansett allies for attacking a Pequot village. Similarly, the ambush style of warfare was adopted by American revolutionaries while fighting against the British, as dramatized by The Patriot. Cases like these suggest a cultural double standard. How else might you use Rowlandson’s text to read against its own assertions?