American literature | English homework help


Short Answer Questions:

1.  Quite a few writers we’ve discussed have been recognized as literary pioneers (that is, they were the “FIRST” to use a certain technique or achieve a certain level of fame; for example, Ben Franklin wrote the first famous American autobiography and the first American rags-to-riches story).  Choose three writers we’ve covered since the last test and discuss how each was a literary pioneer.

2.  Compare the narrative voices of Phyllis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano.  How does each appear to feel about his/her captivity?  How does each feel about the dominant “white” society?  Give specific examples.

3. Recent research suggests (but does not prove) that Equiano may have been born in South Carolina, not in Africa.  How does this possibility change your assessment of his narrative?

One of the most quoted lines in Thoreau’s work occurs in “Economy”: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Discuss this statement and Thoreau’s observation that desperation is found in the city, the country, and even in our “games and amusement.”

5.  One of the PowerPoint slides contains the following assertion concerning “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: “The story may represent Irving’s view of what the world is becoming—rough, a bit uncouth, etc.”  Using examples, show how this statement can apply to BOTH “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

6.  Discuss how the subject of death is treated in ONE of the following poems: Freneau’s “The Indian Burying Ground,” or Bryant’s “Thanatopsis.”

7.  Define “frame story” and discuss Irving’s use of the frame story to separate the author or narrator from the story in “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  What might be his purpose in using the frames as he did?

8. Discuss some similarities between Franklin’s Autobiography and Equiano’s Interesting Narrative

9.  Summarize  Emerson’s  “Self-Reliance”  and state what you believe are its main themes.  What do you think Emerson wants readers to learn from the essay?

10.  Explain why, in your opinion, Thoreau undertook the experiment at Walden Pond.

11.  Define “frame story” and discuss Irving’s use of the frame story to separate the author or narrator from the story in “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” What might be his purpose in using the frames as he did?

12.  What are the major “errata” of Franklin’s life, and why does he mention these so prominently in the autobiography?

13.  In your opinion, what would Franklin most want to be remembered for?

14.  Compare Ben Franklin’s Autobiography and Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative as “rags to riches” success stories.

15. Discuss what Emerson means when he states,  “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.”  How does this fit in with the rest of his philosophy in “Self-Reliance”?  As a governing principle, how useful do you believe this statement to be?

16.  Lydia Maria Child’s fiction was, in her own time, sometimes described as “abolitionist propaganda.”  Today, her stories are often described as melodramatic.  Discuss what elements of “The Quadroons” seem overly dramatic, and how this drama helps shed some light on the abolitionist cause.

17.  Aside from his poetry, what other accomplishments was Philip Freneau known for?

18.  Discuss some ways Equiano’s slave narrative is typical of Ante-bellum slave narratives. 

19.  What are some of the “marvels” that Equiano encounters during his travels, and why does each impress him?

20.  Most of Equiano’s audience was white, Christian, and middle-class.  What qualities of prose style, what allusions, what details support the statement that the narrative was directed to such an audience?

21.  Washington Irving’s stories contain elements of satire.  What does Irving make fun of in “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”?

22.  One of the most quoted lines in Thoreau’s work occurs in “Economy”: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Discuss this statement and Thoreau’s observation that desperation is found in the city, the country, and even in our “games and amusement.”

23.  Thoreau believes in simple living.  Discuss several of the ways he simplifies his life during his experiment on Walden Pond. 

24.  Discuss the theme of beauty in any two poems by Freneau or Emerson.

25.  Discuss Ben Franklin’s plan for arriving at moral perfection.

26.  Phyllis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano both wrote to a primarily white, middle-class audience.  Discuss elements of each writer’s work that point at the accuracy of this assertion.

27.  Discuss Emerson’s concept of “self-reliance.” 

28.  Using examples from “Self-Reliance,” discuss Emerson’s ideas on individualism, nonconformity, and the nature of genius.

29.  In what ways is Ben Franklin the representative American of his era?  What good and bad qualities can readers learn from him, based on the Autobiography?

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