American Literature

A Print and Digital Survey

Reflection of the Course

This class has taught me a lot this semester. The readings and the writing assignments have really developed my knowledge of early American literature. From Christopher Columbus to Herman Melville American literature has developed and changed a good bit. The lessons that I have learned from these great American writers cannot be replaced. I learned through the readings this semester that revision is important, nature is a great escape, and do not be scared to take an idea, even if it is totally different than anything that anyone has ever seen, and running with it.

The readings of Benjamin Franklin taught me that revision is important in life and in writing. He was big on the idea of revision. He believed that everyone should take the idea of revision and use it in all aspects of their life. He said that if a person does not try to use revision then they are not being the best possible version of themselves that they can be. He believes that revision makes everything better. I need to apply this idea to my life and my writing. He taught me to always save time and space for revision no matter what.

I learned through Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau that nature is a great escape from reality. These two writers wrote about how nature is a great place to go and experience God and one’s self truer than anywhere else. I am going to apply this to my life when I am getting stressed. If I am stressed I am going to turn to nature and the beauty of it to help me relax.

One other thing I learned from this class was not to be scared of an original idea. Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman proved that having original ideas is something to be proud of. Both of these writers took a new approach to their writing, and it really paid off for them. Poe wrote in a new form that submerged his audience into the story like no one has ever done before. Whitman changed the way poetry was written completely, getting rid of free verse and rhyme. These two were criticized at first, but now are praised for their work. I plan to apply this to my life and not be scared to try something new and different.

I enjoyed this class and learned a lot from it. Thanks for a great year!

Bartleby is Human Too

Herman Melville was a great American writer. He wrote all kinds of short stories, novels, and poems. One short story that he is best known for is “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” In this story, the narrator is an elderly lawyer. One of his employers is Bartleby. Bartleby is different than the rest of the lawyer’s employees. Bartleby is stubborn and refuses to do any work, but the narrator is extremely patient and understanding with Bartleby because he feels bad for him.

When the lawyer asks Bartleby to do work and Bartleby responds with “I would prefer not to,” the lawyer is taken back. He is not use to people telling him no and not doing their work. The lawyer does not say anything to Bartleby when he refuses to work because he is confused why Bartleby does not want to work. The lawyer could have been mean to Bartleby or fired Bartleby, but he does not do that. The lawyer takes Bartleby’s feelings in mind and is nice to him. All throughout the story the lawyer shows patience with Bartleby. When Bartleby stops doing work all together the lawyer does not make him leave the building. He lets Bartleby stay and hang out during the day.

Eventually the lawyer gets so tired of Bartleby being around that he ends up moving offices. Many will argue that this is the lawyer finally turning on Bartleby and giving up on him, but really he is thinking about Bartleby’s well being when he moves. The lawyer would rather move offices than to force Bartleby out of the building. This shows how much the lawyer truly cares about Bartleby. Another example where the lawyer cares for Bartleby is by making sure Bartleby gets good food while he is in jail. He even goes and visits Bartleby in jail to check on him.

The lawyer could have been mean to Bartleby, but for some reason he shows him mercy and patience. This is just an example of how we should treat others. I believe that Melville is trying to tell everyone to be cautious of how you treat others. No matter if someone is different from you, they still deserved to be treated right.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Perspective on History

Ralph Waldo Emerson was known as the pioneer of the transcendental movement. In his essay “History,” Emerson says that all men share one common idea or “mind” as he calls it  He also says that “once [every man] admitted to the right of reason [was] made a freeman of the whole estate.” I believe this means that Emerson thought that every man is born with the ability to discover the “universal mind” that pre-exists in each and every person. With that universal mind driving humans forward, the human spirit begins to embody every emotion, faculty, and thought that belongs to it when the appropriate event occurs.

Since every person has this ability, then Emerson says that you should read history as if you are reading someone’s biography. This allows us as we read these individual biographies to discover the principles of the universal mind. Emerson also says that by learning in all the spheres in subjects like “arts, poetry, science, heroic deeds, etc.” we can discover our own nature and our inner self. By discovery this, we can “live all history in [our] own person.”

Emerson believes that no achievement, discovery, or experience cannot just be explained without something to associate it with. Even the small experiences of life can relate to some old prediction that people heard or saw without ever really noticing.

In the end, Emerson believes that history should be about the life of a person with a concentration on the soul and experiences instead of facts. It should be about the life lived not about Rome, Paris, or other major cities but about how nature has evolved. History should be about the transformation of our ethics instead of symbolizing our selfishness an greed.

A Raving Review of Whitman

The reviewer of this edition of the of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass does not seem too keen on Whitman’s writing style as he calls it things like “abomination” and “detestable.” The reviewer sees Whitman’s poetry as horrible as Whitman’s free verse style was ahead of its time. Compared to the poetry at the time, I can see why people would be appalled and even weirded out by his writing style but the reviewer does not seem to mention the Whitman’s writing style. The reviewer also talks about he feels that Emerson was made to indorse Whitman’s book which he feels is almost an insult to Emerson for whom he respects deeply.

“Oh Captain, My Captain!”

In the textbook, many of the poems we see from Walt Whitman include his “Songs of Myself” and I can’t understand how my favorite poem of Walt Whitman’s will always be “Oh Captain, My Captain” not just because of the famous movie Dead Poets’ Society, but that will always be a movie near and dear to my heart. That poem also represents politics making their way into poetry because this poem is mainly about President Abraham Lincoln. After his assassination, Whitman wrote this as a tribute to Lincoln. In doing research, one exhibit said: “While Whitman is renowned as the most innovative of American poets, this poem is a rare example of his use of rhymed, rhythmically regular verse, which serves to create a somber yet exalted effect. Whitman had envisioned Lincoln as an archangel captain, and reportedly dreamed the night before the assassination about a ship entering harbor under full sail” (American Treasures of the Library of Congress). His use of equating Lincoln to a captain of a ship, which gave a new meaning to commander and chief. Since Lincoln steered this conglomeration of states towards unity by getting rid of slavery, which Whitman was opposed to. Whitman also equates the death of this man with a “bells.” He shows this when he writes: “O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,”

In this case the bells are a good thing because the bells must be showing the end of their journey, and sometimes when Whitman writes about death, mainly because he was alive during the Civil War, which was a pretty bloody time for the United States, he also brings up the idea of bells being rung when a person is dead. He does this in his other poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” when he writes, “With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang. Here, coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig of lilac” (Whitman 1084). This shows that the bells to which Whitman allude to can be to symbolize the end of a journey, either of life or the end of a ship’s journey.

 

 

Works Cited:

  • “O Captain! My Captain! (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of Congress.”  O Captain! My Captain! (Memory): American Treasures of the Library of                             Congress. Library of Congress, 27 July 2010. Web. 03 May 2016.                                        <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm013.html>.
  • Hunter, Walt Whitman – Poem. “O Captain! My Captain! Poem.”com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/o-captain-my-captain/>.

Emily Dickinson: Religion vs. Science

Emily Dickinson is revered for her new style of writing. In looking for things about her, this word of faith jumped out.
In searching for words for this assignment, Emily Dickinson’s background came into light and there were some things about her faith that didn’t seem to sit right. During Dickinson’s life was a time of struggle between the new scientific discoveries and the church. Emily was obviously a very competent person and even though she knew what she had been taught, she still wanted to make her own decisions. Over the course of this paper, there will be the definition of an examining the words “faith” and what this word means to Emily Dickinson. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word ‘faith’ as “allegiance to duty or a person” or “belief and trust in God” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Faith doesn’t seem like a word that would mean much to anyone, but these words were used to show Emily Dickinson’s tumultuous relationship with her faith.
In the Emily Dickinson Museum, they talk about Emily’s struggle with faith when it says, “Dickinson’s struggles with faith and doubt reflect her society’s diverse perceptions of God, nature, and humankind” (Emily Dickinson Museum). This is where her poem “Faith” is supposedly brought into effect. The poem reads,
‘“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!’ (1195).
The first time reading through this, one may detect a slight snub at the Church. However, reading through the argument could be made that this is Dickinson’s way of sharing that although she believes and has faith, she fails to see how God could help one in a true emergency. Faith is supposed to be considered the absence of seeing something physically, but believing it is still there. An example of this is the wind. No one may see the wind itself, but we believe it is there because the trees move and we feel it. She is saying that while faith is great to have when it comes to getting sick, faith might not help in the way that it should. Microscopes would be the one thing that could help people because as time goes on and the medical profession becomes more and more prominent and we begin to understand what all there is to see, then science can take over in an emergency situation. This brings up the long-standing feud that the church and science have had because one deals with believing while the other is about seeing. In this case, Dickinson is saying that she fairs more with science and how that has been more to her than her faith. When looking at different meanings for this short poem, there are no short answers:
“The short poem tries to compare a man of faith with the man of science. The “microscope” used in the poem is a symbol of science. The “gentlemen who see” symbolizes the church leaders. The poet sees faith as a handy tool for church leaders. Nevertheless, she maintains that faith needs to be practical. It should also rely on the physical sense. For her, faith is futile if it’s not tempered by the science of pragmatism.
From every indication, the poet frowns at how some Christians view faith. Oftentimes, they turn to faith and God in times of crisis. The poet maintains that faith must be mixed with practicality. She’s simply saying that there should be a practical balance between science and religion in the lives of Christians.
In conclusion, Emily Dickinson had a difficult time with her faith, and so she wrote about it and allowed it to be the center for some of her poems. Many of her works included talking about her faith or going to church, and in her mind, she believed in what she wanted and wrote what she felt.

Uncovering Bartleby, the Scrivener: The Importance of the Narrator

 

American Lit              Melville’s choice of narrator for Bartleby, the Scrivener is particularly odd upon first read but is in fact a truly genius and calculating move. His choice of making the lawyer his narrator is extremely important to the over all effect of the story. While Melville could have chosen any number of different forms from which to view the strange and slightly uncomfortable scrivener, his choice of the lawyer allows us to get close enough to form emotional attachment to Bartleby, and yet still feel profoundly bewitched by him. For the most part readers experience a majority of the story through the eyes of Bartleby’s employer, who is always some how directly affected by the Scrivener’s inaction in most instances throughout the story.  It is through these inactions of the Scrivener that we as readers gain yet another fresh perspective of the struggling and conflicted narrator. Melville immerses readers into the story and we ,like the narrator, are trying to navigate through the story and personally deal with Bartleby.  it is because of this feeling that readers will remain engaged in the story and continue reading all the way through as it heads to its tragic, and really unforeseen, ending.  None of this, in my opinion, would have been possible without making the lawyer the narrator. Melville knew this too, which is why he went with this approach. it adds so much more depth and emotion to the story. It does what other books try, and mostly fail to do, it engages the imagination and participation of readers, letting them navigate through the story as it unfolds. I highly recommend reading this book, it is unlike any book/novel we have read in American Literature all semester.

Walt Whitman Review

Charles A. Dana discusses in The New York Daily Tribune many different aspects of Walt Whitman’s Leave of Grass in his review of the collection of the poems. Dana seems to really enjoy Whitman’s poems. He calls Whitman a genus several times throughout his review. He describes Whitman’s poems as “certainly original in their external form, have been shaped on no pre-existent model out of the author’s own brain.”  He says that Whitman’s lack of structure from the original way of writing poetry resembles everything that is America. The start of America was literally taking what already existed and changing it to fit how we wanted it. That is exactly what Whitman is doing. He took poetry and changed the game for everyone by getting rid of free verse and the typical rhyme.

AWhitman 1856fter viewing the picture of Walt Whitman and reading the poems, Dana says, “Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves.” He clams that the soul loves Whitman because he is rugged and not so structured and organized like all the other poets of this time. Whitman looks rugged and bearded in his picture at the front of the book to represent his writing. Dana says that just because Whitman does not follow protocol to the standard way of writing poetry, “obedience does not master him, he masters it.” This means that he does not have to obey the typical way of writing poetry because he creates a whole new way of writing poetry, paving the way for many other poets to come. Dana says that just because there are flaws in Whitman’s writing, whether it is his language being too reckless or his independence being viewed as him being defiant, readers cannot deny that they are impressed with his “vigor and quaint beauty” in his writing. He goes on to say that readers cannot deny that Whitman is an “odd genus.”

I agree with what Dana is saying about Whitman. I believe that Whitman was a visionary of his time. It is a fact that we would not have the same kind of poetry today if Whitman would not have stepped up and wrote like this. I agree that yes, Whitman is a genus. It takes a genus to be able to completely change the way people view poetry.

I tried to embed the article of the review I read by clicking onto the picture, but if it does not work here is the URL:

http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/reviews/leaves1855/anc.00174.html

 

A Thoreau Mindset

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, Simplify.”  This means that our life needs to be stripped down to the bare bone or it is wasted. Thoreau was very interested in nature and its purity, which is why he is famous for Transcendentalism. He believed that taking a step into isolation will bring you closer to God.  While searing through the Digital Thoreau  Archive, I found that this archive contradicts the views of Transcendentalism and Thoreau himself.

This archive is based upon one quote from Walden, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marr

Back Camera

Digital Thoreau Archive.

ow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” They focus on the “live deliberately” phrase to approach Thoreau in different ways. Digital Thoreau is explained as “a resource and a community dedicated to promoting the deliberate reading of Thoreau’s works in new ways, ways that take advantage of technology to illuminate Thoreau’s creative process and facilitate thoughtful conversation about his words and ideas.”

I do agree that Thoreau should examined in creative ways, but I disagree that technology should be the way to do it. If Thoreau’s main focus was to strip away the advancing technologies, shouldn’t we do the same? I do realize that in today’s society that digital is a main way of communicating, but I feel like if they are true followers of Thoreau then they should create a simplified version of the archive. This means taking a digital archive away and having a specific library in a specific town. The only way we would have access is to physically go there. Doing this would connect us to him in a simple way. This may be unrealistic in today’s society but I feel it would be the only true way to connect with Thoreau,  and truly follow the Transcendentalism view.

Emily Dickinson and Mt. Vesuvius

Emily Dickinson seems to have a fascination with Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii.  She refers to Vesuvius as an image in many poems.  In poem 628 Dickinson writes: “It is as a Vesuvian face/ Had let its pleasure through” (628).  This suggests two things: the face of a Pompeii victim molded smiling in volcanic rock and the face of the volcano erupting allowing its hidden contents to spew out.   Both images, however, describe an aftermath situation.  Dickinson makes an observation on the human tendency to withhold emotions and to erupt, causing chaos for all involved.   volvol

She refers to Mt. Vesuvius also in poems 601, 175, and 1122.  This consistent reference correlates with mentions of repression and emotion.  Why Vesuvius though?  There are other famous volcanos. Vesuvius is famous in history, in Italy.  It seems rather important to Dickinson to have used it on more than one or two occasions in her poetry.  She appears to have been very meticulous and conscientious of how she wrote and what words she used.  This is why these references have stood out so strongly.  I have been researching her use of the word volcano, which is why I have stumbled across this more specific image.  I have drawn one rounded conclusion about her references.

Dickinson used Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius to provoke an image of aftermath thatdun dun many people could remember from history and directly imagine.  The famous image of people cast in volcanic rock, mass destruction, and a massive statue of an entire community.  Therefore, with her volcanic imager in her poems, Dickinson attempts to evoke the feeling of eruption, chaos, and aftermath all as they are experienced by repressed emotion (the volcano laying dormant represents the repression of human emotions).  This is subjective, but her language and specific references draw me to believe this is how she was imagining it.

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