Charlotte Perkins Gilman – The Yellow Wallpaper

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Over the next two days we will be reading the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A feminist, social reformer and novelist, Gilman based the story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” on her own experiences with depression and the popular 19th century ‘rest cure’. In her short story she examines the impact that this ‘cure’ has on the mental state of her female protagonist, and makes a clear statement against the control that a patriarchal society held over every aspect of women’s lives in the 19th century.

 

As we examine this text, remember to apply the lens of Feminist Criticism to your analysis. If you’ve forgotten how to do this, remember:

Feminist Criticism:  Feminist criticism is concerned with the impact of gender on writing and
reading. It usually begins with a critique of patriarchal culture. It is concerned with the place of female writers in the literary cannon. Finally, it includes a search for a feminine theory or approach to texts. Feminist criticism is political and often revisionist. Feminists often argue that male fears are portrayed through female characters. They may argue that gender determines everything, or just the opposite: that all gender differences are imposed by society, and gender determines nothing.

Advantages: Women have been underrepresented in the traditional cannon, and a feminist approach to literature attempts to redress this problem.

Disadvantages: Feminists turn literary criticism into a political battlefield and overlook the merits of works they consider “patriarchal.” When arguing for a distinct feminine writing style, they tend to relegate women’s literature to a ghetto status; this in turn prevents female literature from being naturally included in the literary cannon. The feminist approach is often too theoretical.

Checklist of Feminist Critical Questions:

  • To what extent does the representation of women (and men) in the work reflect the place and time in which the work was written?
  • How are the relationships between men and women or those between members of the same sex presented in the work?
  • What roles do men and women assume and perform and with what consequences?
  • Does the author present the work from within a predominantly male or female sensibility?
  • Why might this have been done, and with what effects?
  • How do the facts of the author’s life relate to the presentation of men and women in the work? To their relative degrees of power?
  • How do other works by the author correspond to this one in their depiction of the power relationships between men and women?

Please click here for access to Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Paul Lawrence Dunbar – We Wear the Mask

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Paul Laurence Dunbar was an American poet, novelist, and playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dunbar’s parents had both been slaves prior to the Civil War, and he was apart of the first group of African Americans to be born free and emancipated from slavery in the United States. His work focused on the dialect and language of the Southern slaves and African Americans, though he had a difficult time publishing this work. He wanted to record and preserve the language of the southern African Americans, as slaves had been kept illiterate, and he knew that this history would be lost. Eventually Dunbar would go on to write poems, stories and articles in standard forms, and would receive acclaim and praise for them.

 

In class we are analyzing Dunbar’s poem ‘We Wear The Mask’, and tracing how not only the tone of the poem shifts in each stanza, but also how the speaker feels about the ‘mask’ they where. Please be sure to analyze this poem thoroughly, and it will be on your test!

 

Click here to access Dunbar’s poem.

 

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Fredrick Douglas, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?”

One of the greatest orators in American history, Fredrick Douglas was born a slave and worked tirelessly his entire life not only to escape his bondage, but to educate himself and be an active member of social and political causes. Born in 1818 in Maryland, Douglas was the son of a slave and an unknown white man. Douglas was taught basic reading and literacy skills by his master’s wife before being send to Edward Covey, a known ‘slave breaker’, where he experienced unbelievable cruelty before escaping in 1838. Douglas would go on to join the Abolitionist movement, become a member of a local black church, be inspired by and work with William Loyd Garrison, support the suffrage of women and even meet with and council Abraham Lincoln in the White House.

Below is a selection from one of Douglas’ most famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. Douglas was asked to deliver this speech by an abolitionist group in order to celebrate the anniversary of America’s independence on July 4th. While the organizers of the celebration no doubt expected a rousing speech y Douglas (who at this point was known as an amazing orator), they also expected a speech that would celebrate the ideals that America was founded upon and celebrating that 4th of July – the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and freedom and equality for all. Douglas did deliver a rousing speech that day, but one that very openly questioned the hypocrisy of asking an escaped slave to speak about freedom. Below you will find the PDF of the annotated version of this speech from my video – please make sure that as you walk through the analysis of the speech you pay close attention to Douglas’ use of parallelism and irony to achieve his purpose, as well as his use of rhetorical questions and imagery.

Click here to access the PDF of the speech.

Please  see videos below for an analysis of Douglas’ speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?”

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Women’s Rights – Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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One of the major issues that we are examining during the Realist period is the fight for women’s rights. In class we will be examining the work of two women – Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth.

Each of these women worked to further the cause of suffrage and the abolitionist movement.

One of the main figureheads of the suffrage movement in America, Stanton wrote the ‘Declaration of Sentiments’, which were presented in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention. Stanton not only fought for women’s right to vote, but also for women’s property rights, employment rights, custody  rights, and right to birth control.

 

Click here to read her ‘Declaration of Sentiments’

sojourner_truth_lc1In addition to Stanton, Sojourner Truth also worked to support the cause of suffrage and abolition. Born into slavery, Truth would have 13 children (11 of them sold into slavery themselves, never to be seen again) before escaping to freedom. She then took on the role of public speaker, and used her own experience to encourage others not only to support the abolition of slavery but also the equality of women. Though she was illiterate herself, her speaking was clear and powerful. Many different versions of her famous ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ speech exist today, but all of them share the similarity of tone and passion.

Click here to read her speech ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’

BONUS: Did you know that the original document ‘The Declaration of Sentiments’ has been lost? Click here to listen to an AMAZING podcast episode from the ladies over at ‘Stuff You Missed in History Class’ to learn more!

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Realism – A Reaction to American Romanticism

This week we are beginning our unit on Realism, the literary response to Romanticism. The style of Realism includes representing REAL life lived by REAL people (not the idealized life that Emerson and Thoreau presented), and a simple, direct language that everyone could understand.

Issues that we’ll examine throughout this unit include the struggles and trials of the Civil War, the last stand of the Native Americans in the Indian Wars, the suffrage of women and the emancipation of slaves, the influx of a new immigrant population, and the growing divide between the rich and the poor.

 

As we move through the unit please keep track of how these issues and themes play out across the texts and how they interact with each other in the individual texts.

 

If you would like to review the video notes from class today, please view it below:

 

 

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Walt Whitman – The Father of Free Verse, The Father of American Poetry

I usually attempt to remain unbais in my presentation of the authors, texts, events and ideas that we discuss in class – however, I cannot do so when it comes to Whitman. I love Walt Whitman. As we study his poetry in class I hope you can come to appreciate him as well – not just his style and the innovations that he brought to American poetry, but also for the message that his poetry contains.

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Walter “Walt” Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. His work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality.

Click here to watch a brief background video over Whitman and his poetry.

In class we will be analyzing Whitman’s poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and selection stanzas from “Song of Myself”. Please note, “Song of Myself” is essentially the American epic – almost 60 stanzas, so you will only be reading parts of it (though I encourage you to read it all on your own!).

Click here to access both poems.

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Whitman has the distinction of being one of the only American writer who, due to his long life publishing, is legitimately placed in two literary time periods – Transcendentalism and Realism. His early works, specifically Leaves of Grass, are obviously influenced by Emerson and the ideals of Transcendentalism, but as he aged and the politics of the Civil War took center stage in America, his style slowly changed and adapted to reflect the new literary tropes of the time. We will be reading early and later works of Whitman to help you observe the change in his style.

Additionally, there is a fantastic documentary by the PBS Program ‘The American Experience’ that devles into Whitman the poet in depth. For those of you that enjoy these poems or want to know more about Whitman in general, I would suggest watching it!

Click here for the American Experience documentary on Whitman.

 

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017

Thoreau’s Walden

Henry_David_Thoreau_-_Dunshee_ambrotpe_1861Friend and follower of Emerson, Henry David Thoreau is probably the most well known and well read of all the Transcendentalist. His book, Walden  is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings.The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance. First published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts. The book compresses the time into a single calendar year and uses passages of four seasons to symbolize human development.

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The one room cabin Thoreau built himself and lived in on the shores of Walden Pond.

Although Thoreau is held today in great esteem, his work received far less attention during his lifetime, and a considerable number of his neighbors viewed him with contempt and the book found only marginal success during Thoreau’s lifetime. It was not until the twentieth century that Thoreau’s extraordinary impact on American culture was felt. In the upsurge in counterculture sentiment during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era, Walden and “Civil Disobedience” inspired many young Americans to express their disavowal of official U.S. policies and declare ideological independence, even at the risk of arrest.

Click to watch a video that tours Walden Pond and Thoreau’s cabin by the woods.

Walden also expressed a critique of consumerism and capitalism that was attractive to the ‘hippies’ and others who preferred to drop out of the bustle of consumer society and pursue what they saw as greater and more personally meaningful aims. Moreover, Thoreau politicized the American landscape and nature itself, giving us a liberal view on the wilderness whose legacy can be felt the current environmentalism. He did not perceive nature as a dead and passive object of conquest and exploitation, as it was for many of the early pioneers for whom land meant survival. Rather, he saw in it a lively and vibrant world unto itself, a spectacle of change, growth, and constancy that could infuse us all with spiritual meaning if we pursued it.

The American poet Robert Frost wrote of Thoreau, “In one book … he surpasses everything we have had in America”, while John Greenleaf Whittier, a contemporary of Thoreau, criticized what he perceived as the message in Walden that man should lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs. He said: “Thoreau’sWalden is a capital reading, but very wicked and heathenish… After all, for me, I prefer walking on two legs”.

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Thoreau’s original journals from his time at Walden Pond.

As you read through the excerpts of Walden this weekend, be sure to look for examples of Thoreau’ main themes – simplicity, self-reliance and ‘progress’ (think about our discussions during Expansionism for this one!). Also, you will need to be able to discuss how Thoreau is at once a student of Emerson, and also how he interprets Emerson’s Transcendental ideals in a new light, or how he contributes new ideals to Transcendentalism.

Click here to watch an overview of Thoreau’s Walden

Click here to read our excerpt from class, ‘Where I lived and what I lived for”

Click here to read an excerpt from Civil Disobedience.

Near Concord, Massachusetts --- Autumn Trees at Walden Pond --- Image by © Mick Roessler/Corbis

Near Concord, Massachusetts — Autumn Trees at Walden Pond —

We will have Socratic Seminar on Monday – and you will be writing a substantial essay over Emerson and Thoreau on Tuesday! Come prepared! I re-read all of Walden each summer you guys, so you’re really going to have to ‘bring it’ Monday…. I have high expectations of you next week! 🙂

11th Grade American Literature Spring 2017