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University of Toronto St. George
Alan Ackerman

1 American Literature - Final Exam Notes Imagining A New World Whitman said The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem language itself brings the world into being symbolic codes give shape to the reality and culture that is America stories of moralpolitical choices shape actual choices women represent the new world - America is virgin land [unspoiled, poetic fantasy in eyes of European settlers] America represents social union developed by choice and consent Story of John Smith ethnocentrism in the story - Smith assumed he had more merit than them - via religious, technological bearings of Europeans Natives felt just as secure about themselves: to them, settlers were the other romance with Pocahontas: they are the foundational, mythic couple of America it is a relationship of consent showed the capacity to choose social identity in the New World American dream of success = material and spiritual achievement the writings of European settlers had no familiar language for the New World they were experiencing had to convey the new in terms of old language Puritans developed their own rhetoric in sermons insisted Anglican church in Europe had been corrupted and urged for return to pure practices = sought New World was spiritual rebirth missionaries founded New England and Virginia on religious notions believed in constant self-examination, dedication to God, limited free will culture composed of both conformity and individuality = contradictory used self-reflexive literature in attempt to determine path to salvation: sermons Jeremiah Sermon joined social criticism with spirituality holds community accountable for not living up to its ideals Winthrops sermon: stands for wealth and love within community; sacrifices for the greater good fuses secular with the sacred Puritans as the new Adam - found themselves exposed in the wilderness experiencing original sin = incentive to seek New WorldNew Eden The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin : attempted to live virtuous life both private virtue and civic virtue; figure of modernity Autobiography is not life of hero or saint: it is life of middle class tradesman presented self-invention is integral ideal of the book Franklins moral perfection project: a list of things he should observe to in order to be morally perfect; ironic project; precursor to the Constitution which speaks of perfection within a nation invented himself as a character in the book presents himself as a self-made man with humble origins enters Philadelphia as vagabond -- rags to riches story autobiography as a genre suggests unmediated access to Franklin however, he is a constructed character : he reflects on his life as a book, corrects mistakes to him, writing is an arrangement of thoughts develops selfhood in literary terms; meaning develops from multiple historic views autobiographies: identities include narrator, protagonist and the author views differ from time events occurred, when written, and when read real Franklin is not important; his literary construct is the focus 2 Franklin modeled character after the Puritans; they stood for self-improvement; prints sermons Franklin is first and foremost a printer; literally a man of letters print led to the public sphere - Franklin concerned with forming common language in pluralistic society print was a unifying language for Franklin - he learns rationality through words Self-Reliance, Emerson gives us new way of understanding reality through language attempts to inspire listeners to see reality from two points of view: what it is and what it may be begins with contradictory statement: trust thy the divine has accepted you we start with imitation of others; it is an instinct and starting point to learn we are in process of education when we learn self-reliance this speech is a revision of past thinkers; he alludes to Descartes and the Cogito argument in this instance he undermines himself by paraphrasing an author says we must overcome the difference between quoting and saying language is the model for membership in a community - words are common radical assertion of autonomous will within his work Divinity School Address, Emerson religion of old times is dying without a successor divine is in everyone, not just one or two people of high authority - focuses on the individual he instructs his listeners to practice religion alone, without mediators Emersons new prophets are writers points out two great errors of historical Christianity: 1. misunderstanding and mythologizing jesusworshipping of the bible this denies us divinity - he believes in divinity of all 2. Christianity denies first hand revelations [ie miracles of everyday life] what you experience is important; must trust own heart to gain confidence in other men he chooses artistry and humanity above christianity contradictions within his writings - he claims originality, however, frequently quotes literary figures values reason above all - must be exercised; can free self from falsehoods of tradition he challenges one to be a good reader - this is necessary to be a good citizen of the New World he draws on symbols of nature, history, etc to inspire citizens of young, liberal nation individualism - in Emersons time, term considered to be evil + fragmenting entity Emerson reconstructed term - brought new meaning: pertains to the perfection of human beings not just fragments of a society, but liberal members of it Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave structured around the acquisition of language: brings possibility of freedom also a self-made man, like Benjamin Franklin language renders slavery intolerable; writes himself into the mindset of freedom he uses the language of whitenessslaveholder to write about freedom = paradoxical displays unconsummated love between slave and America locates evil of master-slave relationship; brings out humanity in slaves he searches for humanity, language - exposes systematic means of keeping slaves ignorant juxtaposes: masters + knowledge; slaves + ignorance he is an embodiment of Emersonian idealism and its capacity to change a material reality into another often in book - slaves compared to animals; he transforms from a horse to a self he expresses the dilemmas of America without rejecting the nation Douglass [like Emerson] - present interpretation itself as a mode of belong to culture Narrative is a kind of sermon - it is a call to spiritual affirmation - meant to be preached; declarative trying to save readers souls from road to hell via slavery
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