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American Literature I

(See attached file for full problem description)

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The following are a number of reading selections from various authors as well as a number of questions which correspond to those readings. When you answer the question, be sure to write down the question number and copy the question. Take your time and give complete answers. Continue to "react" to the material!
Note: Please wait until you have completed questions 1- 8 before you submit the Unit 1 assignment to your instructor for grading. Click on the Quick Tour button on the course homepage to review the instructions before emailing your assignments and/or click on the Assignment Dropbox icon on the study guide homepage when you are ready.
Washington Irving, 1783 - 1859

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 626-627, pp. 637-650 Rip Van Winkle
pp. 650-671 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Written Assignment
Answer the following questions on Washington Irving:
1. "Rip Van Winkle" has been called the first American short story. What makes "Rip Van Winkle" an amusing story? What does Irving satirize in the new America to which Rip returns? Like much satirical fiction, account for the fact that this is popular as a children's story.

2. To what extent does "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" exhibit elements of legend, folklore, and the tall tale? Is Ichabod Crane a caricature? What is the significance of his being a schoolmaster? His wooing of Katrina? His return to Connecticut? How just is the complaint that Irving weakened his story of the supernatural by introducing satire and humor?
James Fenimore Cooper, 1789 - 1851

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 685-687, pp. 688-690 Preface to the Leather-Stocking Tales
pp. 708-714 (Chapter XXII) The Pioneers
Written Assignment
Answer the following question on James Fenimore Cooper:
3. Compare and contrast the two writings. Show how they introduce and summarize basic themes about man and nature. Discuss Cooper's use of elevated and literary language in the two chapters.
William Cullen Bryant, 1794 - 1878

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 714-715, pp. 716-717 Thanatopsis
Written Assignment
Answer the following question on William Cullen Bryant:
4. Bryant revised "Thanatopsis" adding an introduction (lines 1-17) and the conclusion (lines 66-81), see footnote #1, p. 716. What effect does this change have on the poem compared to its original form?
Edgar Allen Poe, 1809 - 1849

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 731-733, pp. 739-742 The Raven
pp. 771-785 The Fall of the House of Usher
Written Assignment
Answer the following questions on Edgar Allen Poe:
5. What actually happens in "The Raven"? What does the narrator think happens? Does the narrator go mad? If so, where in the poem is it evident that he has gone mad?

6. In his review of Hawthorne's "Twice Told Tales," Poe stated that the author of a tale should first select the effect he wishes to achieve and "If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step." Examine the first sentence and the first paragraph of "The Fall of the House of Usher." Discuss the effect on the reader of references to the isolation of the narrator, the tarn, the presence of decay, the vapor, the gray walls, the dark evening gloom, the low clouds, and the vacant windows.

7. Discuss the assertion that Roderick Usher is the distillation of Poe's isolated, dreamy, and introspective heroes. Can Usher be considered a tragic hero struggling against an overwhelming fate?
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803 - 1882

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 819-820, pp. 849-862 The American Scholar
Written Assignment
Answer the following question on Ralph Waldo Emerson:
8. Oliver Wendell Holmes described "The American Scholar" as "our intellectual Declaration of Independence." How is "The American Scholar" an example of literary nationalism and a call for intellectual independence?
Henry David Thoreau, 1817 - 1862

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 1340-1341, pp. 1342-1358 Civil Disobedience
pp. 1359-1403 (Chapter 1) "Economy" of Walden
Written Assignment
Answer the following questions on Henry David Thoreau:
9. Compare Thoreau's rationale for civil disobedience with justification for breaking the law (i.e., revolution) set forth in the Declaration of Independence. In what ways do these two arguments differ? What do they have in common?

10. Discuss the significance of Thoreau's observations that:

a. "I have travelled a good deal in Concord; and everywhere in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways."

b. "Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market."

c. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882

Reading Assignment
McMichael
pp. 1539-1540, pp. 1541-1542 The Arsenal at Springfield
Written Assignment
Answer the following question on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
11. Longfellow considered "The Arsenal at Springfield" to be a peace poem, his contribution to the growing peace movements in America and Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Discuss the optimistic forecast of the last two stanzas of "The Arsenal at Springfield." Is it meant to be accurate or merely heart warming?
Note: Now is the time to send in your answers to Unit 3. Be sure you have answered all parts
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Unit 3 Assignment
The following are a number of reading selections from various authors as well as a number of questions which correspond to those readings. When you answer the question, be sure to write down the question number and copy the question. Take your time and give complete answers. Continue to "react" to the material!
Note: Please wait until you have completed questions 1- 8 before you submit the Unit 1 assignment to your instructor for grading. Click on the Quick Tour button on the course homepage to review the instructions before emailing your assignments and/or click on the Assignment Dropbox icon on the study guide homepage when you are ready.
Washington Irving, 1783 - 1859

Written Assignment
Answer the following questions on Washington Irving:
1. "Rip Van Winkle" has been called the first American short story. What makes "Rip Van Winkle" an amusing story? What does Irving satirize in the new America to which Rip returns? Like much satirical fiction, account for the fact that this is popular as a children's story.
The character of Rip Van Winkle has transcended the pages of literature and has become a folk legend. Rip is universality known as the fellow who fell asleep, only to awaken twenty years later and to find his world quite topsy-turvy. Even though Washington Irving borrowed the material for "Rip Van Winkle" from German folklore, the theme of sleep and awaking, and symbolically--death and resurrection--is common in all cultures. Cartwright's quotation at the beginning of the story hints at this theme "in which I creep into / My sepulchre--." Obviously, Irving has written a story about Time, that great thief that slowly steals the most precious possession of all: life. What becomes ambiguous about "Rip Van Winkle" is the interpretation as to the specific meaning of Time in this particular case. Some critics observe that Rip is just an overgrown boy who refuses to grow up. Yet, this interpretation is too narrow, focusing only on the character himself. Indeed, Irving is more concerned with the greater issue of the maturity of a new republic making its mark in the world. Therefore, the personal confusion of Rip Van Winkle symbolises the greater ambivalence of the new federal republic as it denies the past by blindly accepting merely the present; yet while doing so, it deprives itself of a future.

Unfortunately, the only remedy for Rip to escape the past is to divorce his past. The past ought to prompt the sensitive soul to pity the oppressed, to glory in the noble, and to correct the misguided. In short, this is the office of history. Whether one can boast of a noble or ignoble past, history will cease to exist if it is suppressed and denied. In the case of Rip, his past was replete with "domestic tribulation." By minding everyone's business but his own, Rip avoided for the most part the incessant nagging of his wife. Yet this nagging created the patience and the "well-oiled dispositions" that Rip possessed. He would not have cared about his being hen-pecked except for the fact that "a tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use." His jaunt in the woods and his subsequent falling asleep result in his becoming separated from his past. One day he is a subject of the king of England; next he is a participate in a republic. One day he is married; next he is released from matrimony. One day he is young; next he is old. The world was suddenly different, and Rip had little to connect the past with his present.

The American War for Independence was not quite so drastic a severing of the past with the present. After all, the colonies did have nearly 150 years of self-government, and all of the institutions such as constitutions, churches, and colleges were already in place for the new republic. The trouble was how to treat the past, which was so woven together with English heritage and roots. Should everything English be rejected, or should parts of the English tradition be accepted? Unfortunately, imitation often copies the worst traits of that being emulated. Arguably, this is what the new republic did when it adopted common law based on human reason and property law centred in the feudal tradition. Yet the complete rejection of the past will leave the soul of any people void of purpose and of hope. For this reason, conquerors suppress and destroy the history of the conquered. Even worse are the few instances when a people wilfully denied their past, and by doing so, committed self-inflicted genocide like the Jews who became Babylonians during their captivity. Even though his past was vexing, Rip no longer had the stuff to give him hope for the future. Without his past, Rip Van Winkle became a nobody.

In addition to the above, the easiest way for Rip to live in the present is to accept the current myths. To be sure, Rip's appearing in town caused no small stir. Dressed in rags of vintage fashion while sporting an obsolete weapon were only the external evidence that Rip was out of place. Of course, when the poor fellow declares that he is "a loyal subject of the king," Rip learns that politics is about warfare, and no doubt would have been hanged had "the self-important man" not restored order. The only thing that saves Rip is the villagers' belief in the myth of Hendrick Hudson. Peter Vanderdonk spoke with authority, because "it was a fact, handed down from his ancestor the historian." Since Rip and the others were unable to account for his past, the myth about the Half-moon with the ghostly crew playing nine-pins sufficed, and "the company broke up, and returned to the more important concerns of the election."

Myths are useful only for suppressing the truth. This is especially true when the myth-making is controlled by oppressors. Yet when a historian overthrows an accepted myth with irrefutable evidence, he is accused of revisionism. Instead of denying the myth and accepting the truth, most folks choose the easier road, because debunking an official myth takes a great deal of courage. Of course, this is true whenever Truth is defended. Rip accepted not only the Hudson myth, but also the new myth that "he was now a free citizen of the United States." Regarding politics, there are only rulers and subjects. Regardless whether one can participate in choosing his rulers, this does not negate his being subject to the will of the chosen few. Irving prophetically reveals that the prevailing attitude of most "free citizens" would be apathy: "Rip, in fact, was no politician; the changes of states and empires made but little impression on him." Indeed, so long as Rip was free of the tyranny of "petticoat government," he was happy. So it is with the present: so long as the "free citizens" enjoy bread and circuses, "the changes of states and empires" are consigned to the mundane.

With his rejection the past and his acceptance of the current myths, the only role for Rip to play in the future is to be a quaint relic of the forgotten past. The value of the past with its history is to provide not only a continuity with the present, but a guide for the future as well. The best that ol' Rip could do was to tell his story to all who would listen. But the consensus of the villagers was that poor Rip was "out of his head" and "flighty," yet harmless, like an aged war veteran or any member of a non-political memorial society. The war vet or the membership of the "Glorious Whatever" is no threat to the political well-being of the entrenched. While it is true that "Rip now resumed his old walks and habits," he had no influence whatsoever in his community, because he had nothing to offer. Of course he was revered as a patriarch like any old-timer, who spends his day in front of a store. But like the old-timer, Rip must simply remain passive while his culture and way of life are destroyed for lack of an anchor. Such is the fate of those without a history.

And such has been the fate of the now-defunct American federal republic. With their rejection of the principles espoused by the founding fathers and the accepting of the myth of "Manifest Destiny," Americans have passively submitted to a subtle slavery while pretending they are the freest people on earth. The change from a federal republic to a centralised empire occurred with the invasion and the conquering of the Confederate States of America. Since that time, unscrupulous men, who profit from constant war, convince the Rip Van Winkles in every generation that there is no past, but only the bright future, spearheaded by progress. Unfortunately, progress has no destination; in other words, no one has a clue as to when progress is to stop. Rip could be safely ignored, because having no past as an objective standard, Rip could not possibly guide his neighbours toward enlightenment or a fulfilling purpose. In fact, the future was hopeless.

It required his living in Europe for Washington Irving to understand the importance of having a history. A people need a past in order to have a direction in which to travel. The loss of a people's history is the loss of its soul, and the loss of its soul is the certain road to slavery. As he discovered, Rip Van Winkle found no particular destination. His culture, his roots, and his way of life were considered later to be irrelevant as he settled passively in the "progressive" new society. "Rip Van Winkle" reveals a timely message for those who have ears to hear: no society can long endure if it is sustained by myths alone. A great people will discover and value truth in order to transmit this truth to the next generation. Only then will a nation not perish from the face of the earth.

Patron saint of the Catskills, Rip Van Winkle has belonged to all America from the moment he was born, by passage through Washington Irving's pen, in 1819. Only seven years later there was a Rip Van Winkle House along the road from Palenville to the nation's first resort hotel, the Catskill Mountain House; in 1850 there was another Rip Van Winkle House on the corner of Pacific Wharf and Battery Street in San Francisco. Rip's real-life presence was attested by nonagenarians who claimed to have known him and his virago Dame. Other Hudson Valley denizens claimed to have heard as children, whenever thunder rumbled in the mountains, the tale of Henrik Hudson and his gnomish bowlers, as if it were a folk tale eons old rather than Irving's invention. Today Rip is more prevalent - perhaps more real - than ever, the figure for whom every writer grasps when trying to convey our era's dizzying rate of change.

In 1872 William Cullen Bryant wrote, in Picturesque America: "As you climb up this steep road [to the Catskill Mountain House] ... here, by the side of a little stream, which trickles down the broad, flat surface of a large rock, is the shanty called "Rip Van Winkle's House...."

In a June 1906 issue of 4 Track News, an overwrought Charles B. Wells wrote: "Rip's 'Village of Falling Water,' Palenville, lies at the base and from the summit, looking far out over a field of fleecy cloud-tipped peaks, the gilded dome of the capitol at Albany tosses back the sparkling sunlight which glistens in the silvery Hudson below as though seeking to detain it in its mad onward rush to the pathless sea."

In 1947 Rufus Rockwell Wilson, wrote, in New York in Literature: "Most of the dwellers in present-day Leeds are prompt in their denials that such a man as Rip Van Winkle ever lived in the town, but there is one wrinkled veteran, far spent in years who, if discreetly questioned, will tell you in confidence that were he again a lad he would lead you to the rock, a little way this side of Palenville, where Rip used to camp and sleep on his hunting trips."

The real Rip is far more interesting. Let's hurtle back to the 18th century.

Washington Irving was born in New York in 1783, the year in which the American Revolution was won. In 1800 he made his first voyage up the Hudson. Writing of it long after, he said: "The Kaaterskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my boyish imagination. As we slowly floated along I lay on deck and watched them, through a long summer day, undergoing a thousand mutations under the magical effects of atmosphere." Presumably he gathered up stories on his travels in the Valley, as he did on subsequent journeys to Canada and, in 1804-6, Europe. Upon his return he elected not to go into the law, even though he had been admitted to the bar. Instead he published, with his literary cohorts, the Salmagundi papers (1807) and, in 1809 as "Diedrich Knickerbocker," a comic History of New-York that is fresh and funny today.

Flush from success on both sides of the Atlantic, he suffered a blow with the death of his fiancee, Matilda Hoffman; he was never to marry. A morose Irving entered the literary business, where his celebrity could not keep his Analectic Magazine from failing. In May 1815 he went to Europe and took charge of the family business in Liverpool, but in 1818 it failed too. He now had nothing on which he might capitalize but his fame: he had to write for a living.

Irving visited his admirer Walter Scott at Abbotsford and learned from him of the wealth of unused literary material in Scottish and especially German folk tales. Irving feverishly taught himself rudimentary German so that he might read (and borrow from) these tales. "Rip" met the light of day in May 1819 as the last sketch in the first installment of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., No. I, published in New York by, oddly, C.S. Van Winkle. Six installments followed until in 1820 the publisher issued them all in one volume.
Today we might say that with the Sketch Book, which also included "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving invented not only the American short story but the Catskills as a source of legend and enchantment. Yet even in his own day, Irving's critics pointed out that some passages in "Rip Van Winkle" were not mere borrowings but in fact direct translations from the German of Otmar's Volksagen, published in Bremen in 1800.

2. To what extent does "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" exhibit elements of legend, folklore, and the tall tale? Is Ichabod Crane a caricature? What is the significance of his being a schoolmaster? His wooing of Katrina? His return to Connecticut? How just is the complaint that Irving weakened his story of the supernatural by introducing satire and humor?
Washington Irving wrote of a little valley, an enchanted region, known as Sleepy Hollow. It was a place where you could hear astonishing tales ... of ghosts and goblins, of haunted fields and brooks and bridges, and, in particular, of a terrible Headless Horseman who raced along dark roads in the dead of night.
Irving's narrator opens ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' with a brief description of Sleepy Hollow itself, ''one of the quietest places in the whole world,'' a place of ''uniform tranquillity.'' Before moving on to introduce his characters he concludes, ''If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.'' In this opening, Irving establishes Sleepy Hollow as both of-this-world and not-of-this-world, an ''enchanted region'' of unparalleled.
Discussions of Washington Irving often concern gender and the artistic imagination, but these topics are usually mutually exclusive when associated with the two most enduring stories from the Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-20): ''Rip Van Winkle'' and ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'' Many readings of the former focus on gender, while discussions of the latter most often explore its conception of the artist's role in American society. ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' does indeed address this second theme, but also complicates it by making art an issue of gender.
Washington Irving's reputation as a genial writer- as, indeed, America's most genial writer-has been firmly established for a century and a half, despite general agreement that his most enduring works are satires. Knickerbocker's History maintains its good humor largely by making its narrator appear ...

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