Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Rose for Emily Questionnaire


1.- Reconstruct the time-line of the story. Try to put all the events of the story in order and to provide dates for some of them.

2.- The story takes place in Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, in the South, the setting for most of Faulkner’s stories and novels. What is the image of the South portrayed in this story? Think about the contrast between the North and the Old South.

3.- The story is told by “we”. Who do you imagine this narrator (or narrators) to be? Young or old? Male or female? Both? What is their attitude toward Emily? How does that attitude affect Emily?

4.- Consider the story as a detective story. Analyze the different detective story conventions and roles (detective, victim, setting). ‘Whodone’ it? More importantly, why?

5.- Think about the title of the story. What is the rose? Why is it ‘Emily’ and not ‘Miss Emily’?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner)


I made it on the bevel.

1. There is more surface for the nails to grip
2. There is twice the gripping-surface to each seam.
3. The water will have to seep into it on a slant. Water moves easiest up and down or straight across.
4. In a house people are upright two thirds of the time. So the seams and joints are made up-and-down. Because the stress is up and down.
5. In a bed where people lie down all the time, the joints and seams are made sideways, because the stress is sideways.
6. Except.
7. A body is not square like a crosstie.
8. Animal magnetism.
9. The animal magnetism of a dead body makes the stress come slanting, so the seams and joints of a coffin are made on the bevel.
10. You can see by an old grave that the earth sinks down on the bevel.
11. While in a natural hole it sinks by the center, the stress being up-and-down.
12. So I made it on the bevel.
13. It makes a neater job.


My mother is a fish.

Minority Texts


Compare these two texts from Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois and the following two poems from Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. What do they tell you about the situation of Blacks in America and about the response of African American writers to this? What about the form of the poems, which tradition do they belong to?

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON, Up from Slavery (1901) Extracts.

To those of my race (…) who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are’— cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all race by whom we are surrounded (…) No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities (…)

To those of the white race (…) you can be sure, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty in the past (…) so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours (…)

W.E.B. DUBOIS, The Souls of Black Folk (1903) Extracts

Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things:

- First, political power,

- Second, insistence on civil rights,

- Third, higher education of Negro youth (…)

Such men feel in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things:

  1. The right to vote.
  2. Civic equality
  3. The education of youth according to ability (…)

By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal (…)

LANGSTON HUGHES, “I, too” (1932)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll sit at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

COUNTEE CULLEN, “Yet Do I Marvel” (1925)

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,

And did He stoop to quibble could tell why

The little buried mole continues blind,

Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,

Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus

Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare

If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus

To struggle up a never-ending stair.

Inscrutable His ways are, and immune

To catechism by a mind too strewn

With petty cares to slightly understand

What awful brain compels his awful hand.

Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:

To make a poet black and bid him sing.



“Poema en tres idiomas y caló”


Españotli titlán Englishic

Titlán náhuatl, titlán Caló

¡Qué locotl!

Mi mente spirals al mixtli,

buti suave I feel cuatro lenguas in

mi boca.

Coltic sueños temostli

y siento una xóchitl brotar

from four diferentes vidas.

I yotl distinctamentli recuerdote

cuandotl I yotl was a maya,

cuandotl I yotl was a gachupinchi,

when Cortés se cogió a mi

great tatarabuela

cuandotl andaba en Pachuacatlán.



“I am Joaquín” (1967)

I am Joaquín,

Lost in a world of confusion,

Caught up in a whirl of a gringo society,

Confused by the rules,

Scorned by attitudes,

Suppressed by manipulation,

And destroyed by modern society.

My fathers

have lost the economic battle

and won

the struggle of cultural survival.

And now!

I must choose

Between the paradox of

Victory of the spirit,

Despite physical hunger


To exist in the grasp

of American social neurosis,

sterilization of the soul

and a full stomach.


ABELARDO “LALO” DELGADO, “Stupid America” 1969)

Stupid america, see that chicano

with a big knife

on his steady hand

he doesn’t want to knife you

he wants to sit on a bench

and carve christfigures

but you won’t let him.

stupid america, hear that chicano

shouting curses on the street

he is a poet

without paper and pencil

and since he cannot write

he will explode.

stupid America, remember that chicanito

flunking math and english

he is the picasso

of your western states

but he will die

with one thousand masterpieces

hanging only from his mind.


Literature written by African-Americans has always had a distinct identity in the context of American literature. Present since slavery times, its emergence and power walks parallel to a slow and difficult process of fighting for freedom, self-awareness and cultural consciousness.

The first books written by Blacks were the slave narratives from colonial times like OLAUDAH EQUIANO (1745-1797) and his The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789). In the 19th century, FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1817-1895), born a slave and escaped to the North, became a very famous antislavery leader and orator. He published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845). BOOKER T. WASHINGTON (1856-1915) wrote Up from Slavery (1901), an autobiographical work in which he tried to improve the lives of Blacks, although he accepted segregation. W. E. B. DU BOIS (1868-1963) wrote The Souls of Black Folk (1903) in response to Washington and in it he described the special culture of American Blacks and called public attention to the ‘Negro problem’. However, it was not until the HARLEM RENAISSANCE that works of true literary value were first produced. This was a movement of African American writers connected with the Harlem jazz clubs of the 20s and 30s. Their works were a vindication of their own literary identity. LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967), JEAN TOOMER (1894-1967) and COUNTEE CULLEN (1903-1946) are the three most important poets of the movement.

From the Depression to the 1960s three major figures stand out: Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. In Native Son (1940), RICHARD WRIGHT (1908-1960) used naturalistic techniques to describe the social and psychological pressures on his black hero. RALPH ELLISON (1914-1994) used in Invisible Man (1952) the metaphor of invisibility to talk about black people as seen by white society. JAMES BALDWIN (1924-1987) wrote moving fiction and essays about the black problem and also about homosexuality: Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Another Country (1962). Wright and Ellison are examples of opposite stands in a debate that is always present when talking about African-American literature: to what extent must art be a political weapon used to improve the status of African-Americans or mere art, just considered from an aesthetic point of view. Following this dichotomy, one could distinguish two lines in African American literature: one that is more political and combative, which uses art as a political weapon (and where one could find Wright, Baraka, Morrison or movie-makers like Spike Lee), and another one which stresses aesthetics and which, although usually thematically centered on problems of race, considers art from an aesthetic point of view (Ellison, Cullen).

► See Classroom Activity # 22 “African American Literature”, p. 182.

In the 1960s IMAMU AMIRI BARAKA (Leroi Jones, 1934- ) led the Black Arts Movement with powerful poetry and drama. Black awareness, political use of art, the search for Black English (called ‘Ebonics’) and a challenge to white tradition and forms are some of the features of a movement that also includes other writers like ED BULLINS (1935- ) and ADRIENNE KENNEDY (1931- ). LORRAINE HANSBERRY (1930-1965) wrote A Raisin in the Sun (1959), the first play by a black woman produced on Broadway.

From the 1970s to the present, African-American writing has known its best moments with female writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. TONI MORRISON (1931- ) has written novels which, although with clear political meaning, are consummate works of art. She wrote The Bluest Eye in 1970, and later other longer novels like Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977) and Beloved (1987), in which she employs the dreamlike techniques of magical realism. In 1993 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. ALICE WALKER (1944- ) has long been associated with feminism, presenting black existence from the female perspective. She uses a kind of lyrical realism to center on the dreams and failures of accessible, credible people. The Color Purple is her most famous work, an epistolary dialect novel which tells the story of the love between two poor black sisters. Some interesting contemporary African-American poets are RITA DOVE (1952- ), MAYA ANGELOU (1928- ), and ISHMAEL REED (1938-).

See Book Presentation Guide 5.7 “The Bluest Eye”, p. 143,

Other minorities

The last decades have witnessed a vindication of the literatures of different minorities, who write about their own cultural difference and about the difficulties in reconciling their conflicting origins and traditions with American society:

  • Native Americans:
    • WILLIAM LEAST HEAT-MOON (1939- ), travel writer, author of Blue Highways (1982), a cult road story in prairie territory.
    • SIMON ORTIZ (1941- ), poet.
    • LESLIE MARMON SILKO (1948- ), poet and short story writer.

  • Asian-Americans:
    • CATHY SONG (1955- ) and LI-YOUNG-LEE (1957- ) are poets who write about the contradictions of life in the US for Asian-Americans.
    • AMY TAN (1952- ): The Joy Luck Club (1989), a novel about two generations of Chinese-American women.
    • DAVID HENRY HWANG (1957): M. Butterfly (1988), a play inspired by the opera which was then turned into a film.

  • Latino writers are particularly interesting for Spanish-speaking readers, because of the interactions between the languages (including ‘Spanglish’[1] and ‘Caló’, a mixture of languages typical of Chicano culture) that we can be lucky enough to appreciate.
    • JOSE ANTONIO BURCIAGA (1940- ), RODOLFO ‘CORKY’ GONZALES (1928- ) and ABELARDO ‘LALO’ DELGADO (1931-) are three examples of militant Chicano poets from the 60s and 70s.
    • OSCAR HIJUELOS (1951- ), of Cuban origin. The first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer Prize for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989).
    • SANDRA CISNEROS (1954-), short story writer (The House on Mango Street, 1983) and author of the novel Caramelo (2002).
    • Other Mexican-American writers worth mentioning are RUDOLFO ANAYA (1927- ) and ROLANDO HINOJOSA-SMITH (1929- ), prose writers; and LORA DEE CERVANTES (1954- ) and ALBERTO RÍOS (1952- ), poets.

► See Classroom Activity # 23 “Chicano Poems”, p. 183.

[1] Look at this example of Spanglish and see if you recognize it: “In un placete de La Mancha of which nombre no quiero remembrearme, vivía, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo y un grayhound para el chase. A cazuela with más beef than mutón, carne choppeada para la dinner, un omelet pa’ los Sábados, lentil pa’ los Viernes, y algún pigeon como delicacy especial pa’ los Domingos, consumían tres cuarers de su income” (transladado al Spanglish por Ilan Stavans)


The period between the Civil War (1861-1865) and the First World War (1914-1918) witnessed tremendous changes in the United States, as we have seen. From a small, young agricultural country, it was transformed into a huge, modern, industrial nation, with all sorts of problems, like immigration and social struggle. All these changes, together with the birth of realism in Europe as a reaction against Romanticism (with writers like Stendhal, Flaubert or Balzac in France) brought about this new literary period in the United States.

The champion of Realism in the USA was WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS (1837-1920), who defended its principles as a critic, an editor and a novelist. Realism for him was an attack against a romanticized vision of life, an attempt to write about ‘real life’, and to criticize the new industrialized society with its associated poverty, inequality and the rise of materialism. Frequently a moral attitude runs together with the literary principles. Howells’s best novel is The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), the story of an ordinary businessman who becomes rich and tries to join Boston’s ‘high society’.

HENRY JAMES (1843-1916) practiced a different kind of realism. He was an observer of the mind rather than a recorder of the times. So, he was more interested in psychological realism and tried to show the process of thought that his brother William termed ‘stream of consciousness’. He also wrote about the difficulty of reflecting real life through literature (the importance of appearances and perception, the relationships between fact and fiction). In this aspect, he was a precursor of modernism. He spent most of his life in Europe and many of his novels deal with Americans trying to adapt themselves to European civilization: Daisy Miller (1879), The Ambassadors (1903) or The Portrait of a Lady (1881). Americans tend to be naive characters defeated by the stiff, traditional values of Europe. Quite interesting too are his short stories, like the ghost story “The Turn of the Screw” (1898) and “The Real Thing” (1893), about the relationship between art and reality.

EDITH WHARTON (1862-1937) is frequently associated with James as a ‘Cosmopolitan novelist’ because she also spent a large part of her life in Europe and made the contrast between Americans and Europeans a recurrent theme in her novels. In Ethan Frome (1911) and The Age of Innocence (1920) she shows the contrast between the natural instincts of people and a hypocritical society.

Another manifestation of realism is Regionalism (also known as ‘Local Color’), a diffuse movement of writers who mixed the qualities of realism with a strong feeling for a particular area in the USA. New England was the setting of the stories and novels of SARAH ORNE JEWETT (1849-1909, “The White Heron”, 1896) and HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (1811-1896, who also wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin). The West provided the setting and character for the writings of BRET HARTE (1836-1902, “The Luck of Roaring Camp”, 1868, a romantic vision of the frontier), and WILLA CATHER (1873-1947, My Antonia, 1918, about pioneers settling in Nebraska). The South as a setting plays an important role in the works of another group of writers: The stories and novels of GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE (1844-1925) and KATE CHOPIN (1851-1904, The Awakening, 1899) take place in Louisiana. ELLEN GLASGOW (1874-1945) often dealt with the history of Virginia.

Not really belonging to any of these groups, but still worth mentioning is AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1914?), a journalist and short story writer best remembered by his Devil’s Dictionary (1881-1906), a collection of satirical definitions that reflect a bitter and bright mind.[1]

MARK TWAIN (1835-1910) belongs to the regionalist tradition, and the area he described was the Mississippi River at a time when steamboats where the main means of transport in the US. He wrote about them in Life on the Mississippi, and later on in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “the best book” in American Literature according to Ernest Hemingway. Its colloquial narrative voice, its superb use of humor, and the development of themes like slavery and death set it apart from children’s books and turn it into one of the indispensable books of American Literature. In fact, in Huckleberry Finn we can already find a number of features that have become a feature of American literature as a whole: the use of colloquial speech as a literary language (with origins in Whitman), books based on the real experience of the writer (like Melville’s, Hemingway’s or London’s), the search for freedom in movement (origin of ‘road novels’ and ‘road movies’, from On the Road to Thelma and Louise), the portrayal of a male group surrounded by nature and escaping from a female-dominated civilization (Cooper, Melville, westerns) and even the opposition between American innocence and European sophistication (further developed by James and Wharton). Twain also wrote very good short stories (inspired by life on the frontier) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

► See Book Presentation Guide 5.3. “Huckleberry Finn”, p. 128.

In the 1890s many realists became NATURALISTS, a movement that started in France with Zola, influenced by Darwinism, the philosophy of Nietzsche and determinism. The world is perceived as a heartless machine where the individual has no freedom. In their novels the fate of characters is written right from the start, and society is shown as a place of depravity, hypocrisy and corruption. HENRY ADAMS (1838-1918) was also an important figure in the development of Naturalism, although not as a novelist but as a historian and thinker (The Education of Henry Adams, 1907). STEPHEN CRANE (1871-1900) is the first American naturalist. Maggie (1893) is the sad story of a poor girl who becomes a prostitute and in the end kills herself despite several attempts to change her life. The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is set in the Civil War and shows the war as a meaningless effort where good and bad, being a hero or a coward is just a matter of chance. Crane was also a journalist and a poet.

JACK LONDON (1876-1916) was deeply influenced by Darwin’s ideas of constant struggle in nature and ‘the survival of the fittest’. Not surprisingly, the heroes of some of his stories are animals, as in Call of the Wild (1903) or White Fang (1906), set in Alaska like the short story “To Build a Fire” (1910). The Sea-Wolf (1904) is about the captain of a ship who tries to be a master of nature but is in the end defeated by it.

► See Classroom Activity # 17 “Twentieth-Century Short Stories”, p. 176.

Also related with Naturalism is a journalistic and political movement called the ‘Muckraking movement’, which tried to expose the political corruption, ‘dirty business’ and social injustice that was taking place in the America of the beginning of the century. Some of the journalists also wrote novels, like LINCOLN STEFFENS (1866-1936) and his Shame of the Cities (1904) or UPTON SINCLAIR (1878-1968) and his The Jungle (1906).

Naturalism continued in the USA well into the 20th century. THEODORE DREISER (1871-1945) wrote Sister Carrie in 1900 but it was suppressed until 1912. Its main theme is the purposelessness of life. An American Tragedy (1925) explores the dangers of the American Dream, telling the story of a man who tries to reach success but ends up executed for murder

[1] Two examples are probably enough. Peace: “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting”; Marriage: “the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all two”.

Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 31

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter--and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.


I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking--thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a- floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a- trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll GO to hell"--and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

Reading Assignment: Dec 16th, "The Dead"

« The Dead » is the last story to appear in Dubliners, James Joyce’s collection of stories about Dublin. You can find the text, annotations and comments in these two websites:

After you read the text, answer the following questions:

This is a story of contrasts. Think about the contrast between the following:

- Gabriel and Michael

- Interior/Exterior (House/countryside, Thoughts/Spoken words)

- Ireland/England (at the time the story takes place Ireland was not an independent country)

- The living/The Dead (Why did Joyce choose this title?)

Think about the style in which the story is written.

- What‘s the point of view in the story? Does it change? And the narrative voice? The style Joyce uses in this story has been called “Free Indirect Speech”, you can find a definition here: Can you find examples in the text?

- Joyce is famous for his use of “epiphanies”: situations where his protagonists come to sudden recognitions that change their view of themselves or their social condition and often create a reversal or change of heart. Can you find any examples in the text?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Emily Dickinson

If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.


WALT WHITMAN “Song of Myself” (Leaves of Grass)

Who does Whitman sing to? How could you define the poem from a formal point of view?

I celebrate myself and sing myself
And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now, thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy (…)

EMILY DICKINSON “These are the Days when....” (Poem 130)

What is this poem about? Think about contrasts (life and death, joy and pain, cold and heat...) and about the relationship between the cycles of nature, the cycles of life and religion (death of nature, death of Christ)

These are the Days when Birds come back
A very few—a bird or two—
To take a backward look

These are the days when skies resume
The old-old sophistries of June—
A blue and gold mistake,

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf

Oh Sacrament of summer days
Oh Last Communion in the Haze—
Permit a child to join.

Thy sacred emblems to partake—
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine

This is an extract from another poem by Dickinson. Which metaphors or
comparisons do you see in it?

Each that we lose takes a part of us
A crescent still abides
Which like the moon, some turbid night
Is summoned by the tides

EDGAR ALLAN POE “The Raven” (extracts)

Compare these extracts with Whitman’s from the point of view of form and content. Think of the themes, the stanzas, the rhythm and rhyme, the images …

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this, and nothing more,

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Romanticism had started in Germany and had a very fruitful development In England, with poets like Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Shelley, before it came to the States. Some of its main features were the importance given to imagination, emotion and passion as opposed to reason, a celebration of nature (as opposed to civilization), an interest in the past and remote settings, and a spirit of idealism, individualism and political liberalism.
Romanticism in the USA coincided with a period of national expansion, a solidification of national identity and the search for a distinctive American voice. The result of this coincidence was a very creative literary period which includes movements like transcendentalism and the American Romance and which has been called the American Renaissance (a term originally applied only to the years 1850-1855, but that can also be used to talk about the whole period). In fact, Cooper and Irving’s works, although from an earlier stage, could also be considered as a manifestation of the Romantic spirit, because of the importance given to nature and the past.


Transcendentalism was a philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England as a reaction against rationalism. Its basic beliefs were the identification of the individual soul and of nature with God, and the consideration of feeling and intuition as the way to find the truth. Transcendentalists were also social reformers and abolitionists. They had a magazine (The Dial) and some of them lived in an experimental community (called ‘The Brook Farm Institute’).
The founder of the movement was RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882). He published several famous essays: Nature, The American Scholar or The Over-Soul, where his ideas were developed: the need for a new national vision and the notion of a cosmic over-soul (an all-pervading unitary spiritual power). In them, the influence of Eastern philosophy and religion can be felt strongly. HENRY DAVID THOREAU (1817-1862) was Emerson’s disciple. He was also an essayist who wrote Civil Disobedience (1749), a work of great influence on pacifist movements. He actually went to prison for not paying his taxes to protest against the war with Mexico. His best work is Walden (1854), a long poetic essay about his life in the woods and the search for self-discovery and true wisdom. Another transcendentalist was MARGARET FULLER (1810-1850), editor of The Dial, and an early feminist and essayist.
WALT WHITMAN (1819-1892) was inspired by Transcendentalism and is probably the greatest American poet. His poems are collected in Leaves of Grass (1855-1892), a book that he rewrote and revised throughout his life. In his writings, he identifies the poet with the poem, with the universe and with the reader (‘Walt Whitman, a Cosmos’). His democratic sensibility (‘The United States is essentially the greatest poem’, he said) made him use a plain style, with ordinary vocabulary that could be understood by ordinary people. From a formal point of view, he used free verse, with no stanzas and no rhyme. He was also one of the first poets to celebrate the joy of sex: “I am the Poet of the Body and I am the Poet of the Soul”, he wrote.

► See Classroom Activity # 15 “Nineteenth Century Poetry”, p. 174.

EMILY DICKINSON (1830-1886) shared the chronological space with Whitman, but her poetry, although influenced by Emerson’s ideas, is quite different from her contemporaries, and it anticipates literary sensitivities of the turn of the century. Mainly unpublished till the 1950s, hers is a very personal, private kind of poetry. She inherited the Puritan spirit (“she seldom lost sight of the grave”, said one critic) but infused her poetry with powerful images of a very modern sensitivity: images that are often felt deeply, rather than completely understood.
The ‘Brahmin Poets’ was a group of Boston-based poets and critics who became the literary establishment of the time: a respected and prestigious group of poets and essayists who behaved like a caste (hence, ‘Brahmin’) and who wrote conservative, conventional poetry in imitation of the English style. H. W. LONGFELLOW (1807-1882) spoke to the hearts of ordinary Americans and was extremely popular; OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES (1809-1894) was also an essayist and a novelist. JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL (1819-1891), finally, wrote both poetry and essays.

The American Romance (Hawthorne, Melville and Poe)

The term ‘Romance’ is frequently used to talk about a particular type of prose which has been considered as the distinctive voice of American fiction. As opposed to the realistic English novel of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Trollope, Elliot or Thackeray (or Tolstoi, or Balzac, or Galdós for all that matter) the American Romance is more emotional and symbolic, less realistic and less structured than the novel. The protagonists of the Romance are heroic, mythical figures, typically lonely individuals facing dark forces which in some mysterious ways grow out of their deep unconscious selves. Frequently the hero dies in the end. Setting is not used realistically, but as a space that recreates the psychological world of the characters. Hawthorne defined it as “a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with nature of the other”. Through Romance, a fiction is created to expose the inner truth of a real situation.
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE (1804-1864). Born in Salem, Massachusetts, his best work is rooted in the Puritan past of 17th-century New England, but it also has a strong allegorical quality. The Scarlet Letter (1850) is the story of the consequences of an adultery (‘A’ for adultery is the letter in the title) and has become the classic portrayal of Puritan America. The book is a love story as well as a study of guilt and punishment, and of the Puritan obsession with morality and sexual repression. It also has a strong romantic (from Romance) character, since it is full of symbolism, allegory and ideology. The House of the Seven Gables (1851) is the story of a family ‘cursed’ because of a terrible crime committed in the past, and of the resolution of the curse through love. Hawthorne was also an excellent short story writer (“The Minister’s Black Veil”, “Young Goodman Brown”)

► See Book Presentation Guide 5.1. “The Scarlet Letter”, p. 120.
► See Classroom Activity # 16 “Nineteenth-century short stories”, p.175.

HERMAN MELVILLE (1819-1891) was a sailor in his youth and used that experience to create his masterpiece: Moby Dick (1851), which has been considered as “perhaps the greatest novel of American literature”. On the surface, it is an adventure novel, as well as a (long) realistic description of the whaling business. But it has deep symbolic meaning and many possibilities of interpretation: the whale represents God, or maybe fate. And the quest for the whale is also a metaphor for the pursuit of knowledge and success. Captain Ahab is a “grand, ungodly, God-like man”, torn between his dark and his light side, a Faustian character who seems to have signed a pact with the devil. The novel is full of literary, historical, religious and philosophical references and symbols. For example, the narrator, Ishmael, is saved in the end by the coffin of his intimate friend, a heroic Polynesian harpooner called Queequeg (again a relationship between a white man and a non-white); so he is rescued from death by an object of death. It has also been called an American ‘natural epic’, because like many other American novels, it is the story of a group of men alone in wild nature, a subversion of class-oriented, female-dominated, urban civilization. The sea acts then as another kind of frontier, where an initiation theme is also developed using the character of Ishmael. It is a philosophical novel, but also a tragedy: when Ahab finds the whale, his ship is destroyed and he is killed and damned. In other works of Melville (Billy Bud, Typee) we can see the same tragic, dark view of life. In his fiction, man lives in a world divided into two warring parts: good against evil, God against Satan.
EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1848) was another writer interested in psychology and the darker side of human nature. He was a Southerner, and preferred to use the past and aristocratic characters more than his Northern contemporaries. He believed in the brevity of the work of art, and, accordingly wrote mainly short stories and poems. His stories are some of the best in the history of literature, in particular his horror stories and his detective stories, with which he single-handedly created this genre. His poetry (rhythmic[1], narrative, more interested in form and aesthetics) also stands out as opposed to the more conversational type represented by Whitman.

He liked to glamorize his past (made up adventures in Greece and Russia), and tried to compose a romantic figure out of his own life, but he was never very successful among the American public. In fact, he died drunk and forgotten in the streets of Baltimore. He has always been more popular in Europe, particularly after Baudelaire and Verlaine vindicated his work.

[1] In English poetry the concept of rhythm is frequently more important than the concept of rhyme. The English language as a whole is based on stress rather than on syllables. In Spanish, there is not as big a difference between stressed syllables and unstressed syllables, but in English stress changes everything: the pitch (like Spanish), the length (stressed syllables last longer) and the quality (unstressed syllables have weak vowels like the ‘schwas’ in the word America).
Rhythm in English poetry is based on that distinction, and uses concepts coming from Latin to talk about the different rhythmic patterns. A line of verse is made up of ‘feet’ or groups of syllables, each containing two, three or four syllables. The commonest foot is the ‘iambus’ (unstressed-stressed). Others are the trochee (stressed-unstressed), dactyl (stressed-unstressed-unstressed), or anapest (unstressed-unstressed-stressed). Depending on the number of feet, a line is a trimeter (3), pentameter (5), hexameter (6), etc.
The most popular line in English is the iambic pentameter, which was used for blank verse (verse without rhyme), the form that Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers used in their dramas and poetry. Iambic pentameter is also used in rhymed stanzas, like the sonnet, the couplet or others. Two examples of iambic pentameter by Shakespeare are: “My mis/tress’ eyes/ are no/thing like/ the sun/” or “To be/ or not/ to be/, that is/ the question.” To the English ear, the repetition of this pattern sounds as ‘poetic’ as rhyme in Classical Spanish drama to a Spanish-speaking audience.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reading Assignment: Girl (Nov 26th)

What does this text tell you about the society the "girl" is growing up in? Think about:

- Men and women/Types of women
- Family values/Mothers and daughters
- Social ethics/colonialism

What about the style and narrative voice?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


You need to prepare a lesson plan using a literary text for an English class. You can decide the (imaginary) target readers, their level of English and the type of text. You have examples in class. You can bring your lesson plan after Christmas or bring it to the exam. Make sure to include the following points:

Kindergarten-Primary-Lower Secondary- Upper Secondary)


English language learning class /English Literature Class
Literary/Linguistic/Cross-curricular (ethical values, cultural)
Poetry /Prose (fiction/non-fiction/traditional story)
Written text/Story-telling/Video/Film adaptation/Hypertext
· Cultural/Language/Personal Growth model
· Inductive/Deductive approach
· Textual/Contextual approach
· Extensive reading/Intensive reading
· In-class reading/outside class
class period/ Several periods/ A whole term or year
- Introduction
- Vocabulary
- Speaking
- Dramatization

Written text/story outline/video/hypertext


How to use Literature in ESL




MORE RESOURCES (Write Valentines “Roses are Red”)


Colonial America (1600-1776)

The story of American literature begins long before the US began its existence. Apart from the oral literature of Native Americans, the earliest writers were explorers like Captain JOHN SMITH (1580-1631), who wrote about his experiences in books like General Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles (1624, Pocahontas’ story). The first permanent settlers, the Puritans, were very interested in education and culture, which they felt were at the root of their project to start a new theocratic society. Harvard was founded in 1636, and the first printing press was started in 1638. Therefore, the New World saw the emergence of a literature which was mainly made up of sermons, histories, autobiographies and poems, all of them written with a religious purpose in mind:

· WILLIAM BRADFORD (1590-1657). Of Plymouth Plantation (1651) is the most interesting of the Puritan histories, narrating the origins of the colonies with the characteristic ‘plain style’ of the Puritans. Literature for them was something practical and they avoided elegant language.
· COTTON MATHER (1663-1728) was the third in a family of ministers and writers and wrote sermons and histories.
· JONATHAN EDWARDS (1702-1758) wrote extremely frightening sermons, like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1733).
· MICHAEL WIGGLESWORTH (1631-1705) wrote terrifying poetry which became very popular, like The Day of Doom (1662).
· ANNE BRADSTREET (1612-1672) was the first New England poet. She wrote simple, intimate poems.
· EDWARD TAYLOR (1645-1729) wrote the best poetry of the time, more personal than the rest, but unpublished until the 1930s.
· MARY ROWLANDSON (1636-1711) wrote the first Indian-Captivity Narrative, where she described her experiences when she was captured by the Indians.
Literature in the South, meanwhile, was less original. There were fewer writers and more connected to England. WILLIAM BYRD (1674-1744), for instance, wrote mainly for a London audience, whereas OLAUDAH EQUIANO (1745-1797) was a freed slave who wrote the first black autobiography.

► See Classroom Activity # 14 “The Beginnings of American Literature”, p. 173.

Revolutionary America (1776-1800)

At the times of political turmoil that came during the American Revolution most writings were political in nature. There were pamphlets like Common Sense (1776), written by THOMAS PAINE (1737-1809), which was often read aloud and became immensely popular. THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826) was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence (1776), a political document with undeniable literary qualities.
This was also the time of the Enlightenment, and American writers took a very active role in the development of this movement. Contrary to the Puritan tradition, they saw reason as the weapon to understand the world. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1706-1790) wrote his very popular Poor Richard's Almanac (1732-1757), full of proverbs and moral advice, and his Autobiography (1784), a book for self-improvement. J. HECTOR ST. JOHN DE CRÈVECOEUR (1735-1843) was a French Aristocrat who migrated to America and wrote Letters from an American Farmer (1782), which helped start the myth of the 'melting pot'.
The poetry written during these years imitated European Neoclassical models of epic, mock epic and satire. The Connecticut Wits were the first poetic circle. PHILIP FRENAU (1752-1832) was perhaps the best poet of his time. Finally, The Contrast (1787) written by ROYALL TYLER (1757-1826) was the first American play with American characters.

19th Century: Cultural Independence

The 18th century had brought important changes in the field of literature in England. This was the time of ‘the Rise of the Novel’, with writers like Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), Samuel Richardson (Clarissa Harlowe, Pamela, sentimental novels), Henry Fielding (Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews, satirical novels) or Walter Scott (historical novels, Ivanhoe). All these types were somewhat adapted in America, except for sentimental novels which were never too popular[1].
In the USA, the first professional novelist was CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN (1771-1810), who adapted the English Gothic novel to American settings. Gothic novels (like Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto) were characterized by exotic settings (ruined castles, abbeys), the use of magic and the supernatural (ghosts, mysteries, horror), and the predominance of suspense, psychological depth and emotional power. In Brown’s novels, the villain is a rebel against society, which is the way Americans saw themselves at the time, and maybe this is why this Gothic villain becomes the antecedent of the hero in later American novels. In fact, Brown is a precursor of the American Romance represented by writers like Poe, Melville and Hawthorne. His best novel is Wieland (1798).
WASHINGTON IRVING (1789-1859) adapted European legends to the American context, providing a kind of historical past that was felt to be missing. In The Sketch Book (1819) he wrote short stories like “Rip Van Winkle” (the beginning of the ‘men on the run’ pattern typical of American Literature), or “The Story of Sleepy Hollow”. Although of European origin, they have become part of American folklore. He spent several years in Spain, after which he wrote The Alhambra (1832), tales with a Moorish flavor. He enjoyed great success in his time, but has less prestige nowadays.
JAMES FENIMORE COOPER (1789-1851). In his ‘Leatherstocking Tales’ (already dealt with in section 3.3, p. 63) he adapted Walter Scott’s historical novels to the American situation and created the prototype of westerns. Although his literary and artistic skills have been questioned by some critics (particularly his somewhat clumsy descriptions) his stories still have great epic and mythical power. Besides, he is probably the first American writer to deal with a theme that would become a feature of American Literature: man vs. nature.
[1] Leslie Fiedler, an American critic, wrote in Love and Death in the American Novel that American Literature seems to be incapable of dealing with adult sexuality and is pathologically obsessed with death. Male characters tend to run away from society and conventional love, and join other men in natural environments. The examples he used were Twain, Melville, Cooper, Hemingway and others. Maybe this is the reason why sentimental novels have never been popular in the US.


Read the following extracts and think of an adjective for each:

Extract 1
…the God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire. He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire … you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended Him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince…(J. EDWARDS, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, 1733)

Extract 2
Thus shall they lie, and wail, and cry,
tormented, and tormenting
Their galled hearts with poisoned darts
but now too late repenting.
There let them dwell i’th’flames of hell;
there leave we them to burn,
And back again unto the men
whom Christ acquits, return.

The saints behold with courage bold,
and thankful wonderment,
To see all those that were their foes
thus sent to punishment:
Then do they sing unto their King
a song of endless praise:
They praise His name, and do proclaim
that just are all His ways.
“The Day of Doom”, 1662)
Extract 3
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay
The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere.
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Loving Husband” , 1678)

Extract 4
What is then the American, this new man? He is either a European or the descendant of a European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country… He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world … The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions.
(J. HECTOR ST. JOHN DE CRÈVECOEUR Letters from an American Farmer, 1782)

Extract 5
We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new governments…
(THOMAS JEFFERSON, The Declaration of Independence, 1776)