Mrs. Pierce Recommends: Learning about Cannibalism at Jamestown and the Lost Roanoke Colony!

In an effort to provide you guys with additional historical context outside of class that DOESN’T require even more reading, I thought you would enjoy listening to these short episodes from the podcast ‘Stuff You Missed In History Class’. Remember, the best way to achieve a higher score on the AP Exam, to become a better writer and a more skilled analyzer of literature is to BUILD MORE KNOWLEDGE. The ‘Mrs. Pierce Recommends’ posts throughout the semester will point you in the direction of interactive, entertaining ways of learning more about American History and Literature, note and study techniques, and ways to de-stress and be happy! While you will not be directly quizzed on these podcasts, they will add a certain amount of depth to the analysis you are able to conduct on the assigned readings, and therefore could involuntarily improve your writing and grade! Enjoy!


Click here to listen to the podcast of “What Happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke?”

  • In 1587, English colonists in Roanoke mysteriously disappeared, leaving only a few cryptic clues behind. For centuries since, researchers have wondered what became of the lost colonists.


Click here to listen to the podcast of “Cannibalism at Jamestown”

  • As winter fell at the end of 1609, the settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, found themselves in dire straits. A powerful hurricane had all but destroyed a fleet of ships carrying provisions from England, leaving the colonial fort with a depleted food supply. Outside the walls, the Powhatan Indians had declared war and were laying siege to the fort, trapping the 300 settlers inside. Out of food and unable to forage, the desperate settlers ate horses, dogs, rats, and snakes. As winter dragged on, they turned to an even more unorthodox source of food: Today, scientists revealed the first physical evidence that the starving colonists at Jamestown ate their dead.
Mrs Pierce Recommends

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.


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.

Born in Huntington on Long Island, Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and—in addition to publishing his poetry—was a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War. Whitman’s major work, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 with his own money.  Whitman’s self-published Leaves of Grass was inspired in part by his travels through the American frontier and by his admiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson. This important publication underwent eight subsequent editions during his lifetime as Whitman expanded and revised the poetry and added more to the original collection of twelve poems. Emerson himself declared the first edition was “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.”

Whitman published his own enthusiastic review of Leaves of Grass. Critics and readers alike, however, found both Whitman’s style and subject matter unnerving. According to The Longman Anthology of Poetry, “Whitman received little public acclaim for his poems during his lifetime for several reasons:  this openness regarding sex, his self-presentation as a rough working man, and his stylistic innovations.” A poet who “abandoned the regular meter and rhyme patterns” of his contemporaries, Whitman was “influenced by the long cadences and rhetorical strategies of Biblical poetry.” The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with an American epic. He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892. After a stroke towards the end of his life, he moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined. When he died at age 72, his funeral became a public spectacle.

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.


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.

Click here for later works from Whitman that we will be examining.

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 Fall 2015 Uncategorized

Unit Test – American Romanticism

To prepare for the final unit test over American Romanticism, please be sure to review the information in the list below. I have also included the constructed response prompts you will have to choose from – so make sure that you annotate and bring the texts you need with you!


For the multiple choice:

  • Be able to identify poetics and devices in “Tide Rises, Tide Falls”, “The Chambered Nautius”, “I like to see it lap the miles”, the first stanza of “Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking”, and the ‘what is grass’ section of “Song of Myself”.
  • Be able to answer questions regarding Emerson’s use of diction, his syntax, the use of paradox and parallelism and how this was influenced by his target audience.
  • Be able to answer questions regarding Thoreau’s use of metaphor, imagery and paradox and how this was influenced by his target audience.


For the short answer:

  • Be able to answer questions over the syntax, diction figurative language and authorial importance for The Fireside Poets, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman.
  • Be able to answer general questions about the ideals of Transcendentalism.
  • Be able to answer general questions that relate issues of the Romantic period back to the Expansionist period (Indian Removal, the boom of big business, the advancement of industry).
  • Be able to discuss the writing style of the Dark Romantics.


For the constructed response:

Choose one of the the following prompts to write about…

Examine the form, style and content of the works of the Fireside Poets we read in class (Longfellow and Bryant) and the speech ‘The American Scholar’ by Emerson. Which of these would you consider the first uniquely ‘American’ text? Support your answer with evidence from the text.


Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman all used paradox in their text that we read in class. Examine their writings and explain how each of them used this technique, and why.

11th Grade American Literature Fall 2015

“Pond Scum: Why Do We Love Henry David Thoreau?”


This assignment is like the Russian Nesting Dolls of analysis – analyze Thoreau, then discuss literary criticism, then read Kathryn Schultz’s criticism of Thoreau, then criticize Schultz’s criticism.

As we have analyzed the work of Thoreau and discussed different types of literary criticism that can be utilized when reading literature, I wanted to direct your attention to an article that was published in The New Yorker this week by Kathryn Schultz, entitled “Why Do We Love Henry David Thoreau?”. Rarely do the texts we read in class end up as current event articles in the news, so when it happens we need to stop and take a closer look.

As you read Schultz’s article, consider the questions she is posing about Thoreau and his work –

  • Why had Thoreau been so cherished?
  • How did his work make it into the ‘canon’ of American Literature?
  • What is the ‘canon’ and who decides what texts end up there?
  • Can a text ever leave the canon?
  • What critical lens has Thoreau been viewed with in the past? Is this wrong?
  • Is there a ‘right’ critical lens to use when examining a text?
  • Why is Schultz re-examining Thoreau now?
  • What critical lens is she using?

You will also need to generate your own questions to ask each other and prompt discussion during Socratic Seminiar tomorrow! If you lost your copy of the article from class –

You can download a PDF version of the article here.

Or you can visit the New Yorker website and read the article.

11th Grade American Literature Fall 2015

Literary Criticism


“Let’s read the Declaration of Independence from a Marxist perspective…”



We have flitted around the edges of discussimg literary criticism for a few weeks now – many of you have already begun asking insightful questions about WHY we read texts a certain way in class, and whether or not this was the author’s intent. This is the perfect time then to discuss the types of literary criticism that we can use, and have been using, in class. Below you will find eight camps of literary criticism – make sure you have these in your notes for future reference, and see if you can identify the types of literary criticism we have used in class, and the texts we applied them to. Would our understanding of the texts have been different if we had used a another type of critical lens?

history matters1. New Historicism: A reading of a text that deems the historical political, economical, and sociological context of the time the text was written in order to truly understand the work(s).

Advantages: This approach works well for some works which are obviously political in nature. It also is necessary to take a historical approach in order to place allusions in their proper classical, political, or biblical background.

Disadvantages: New Critics refer to the historical / biographical critic’s belief that the meaning or value of a work may be determined by the author’s intention as “the intentional fallacy.” Thus, art is reduced to the level of biography rather than universal.

A Checklist of Historical Critical Questions:

  • When was the work written?
  • When was it published?
  • How was it received by the critics and public and why?
  • What does the work’s reception reveal about the standards of taste and value during the time it was published and reviewed?
  • What social attitudes and cultural practices related to the action of the word were prevalent during the time the work was written and published?
  • What kinds of power relationships does the word describe, reflect, or embody?
  • How do the power relationships reflected in the literary work manifest themselves in the cultural practices and social institutions prevalent during the time the work was written and published?
  • To what extent can we understand the past as it is reflected in the literary work?
  • To what extent does the work reflect differences from the ideas and values of its time?

Fitzgerald and Zelda, or Gatsby and Daisy?

2. Biographical Criticism: A reading of a text that deems the biography of the author most important in order to truly understand the work(s).

Advantages: This approach works well for some works which are obviously written about or influenced by the life of the author (Fredrick Douglas’ Narrative, Sojourner Truth’s ‘Ain’t I A Woman’) and can allow the reader to learn more about the author being studied through research.

Disadvantages: New Critics refer to the historical / biographical critic’s belief that the meaning or value of a work may be determined by the author’s intention as “the intentional fallacy.” Thus, art is reduced to the level of biography rather than universal.

Checklist of Biographical Critical Questions:

  • What influences—people, ideas, movements, events—evident in the writer’s life does the work reflect?
  • To what extent are the events described in the word a direct transfer of what happened in the writer’s actual life?
  • What modifications of the actual events has the writer made in the literary work? For what possibly purposes?
  • What are the effects of the differences between actual events and their literary transformation in the poem, story, play, or essay?
  • What has the author revealed in the work about his/her characteristic modes of thought, perception, or emotion?
  • What place does this work have in the artist’s literary development and career?

Nothing exists outside of this text!

3. Formalism / New Criticism:  A formalistic approach to literature, once called New Criticism,
involves a close reading of the text. Formalistic critics believe that all information essential to the interpretation of a work must be found within the work itself; there is no need to bring in outside information about the history, politics, or society of the time, or about the author’s life. Formalistic critics spend much time analyzing irony, paradox, imagery, and metaphor. They are also interested in the work’s setting, characters, symbols, and point of view.

 Advantages: This approach can be performed without much research, and it emphasizes the value of literature apart from its context (in effect makes literature timeless). Virtually all critical approaches must begin here.

Disadvantages: The text is seen in isolation. Formalism ignores the context of the work. It cannot account for allusions. It tends to reduce literature to little more than a collection of rhetorical devices. A

Checklist of Formalistic Critical Questions:

  • How is the work structured or organized? How does it begin? Where does it go next? How does it end?
  • What is the work’s plot? How is its plot related to its structure?
  • What is the relationship of each part of the work to the work as a whole? How are the parts related to one another?
  • Who is narrating or telling what happens in the work? How is the narrator, speaker, or character revealed to readers? How do we come to know and understand this figure?
  • Who are the major and minor characters, what do they represent, and how do they relate to one another?
  • What are the time and place of the work—it’s setting? How is the setting related to what we know of the characters and their actions? To what extent is the setting symbolic?
  • What kind of language does the author use to describe, narrate, explain, or otherwise create the world of the literary work? More specifically, what images, similes, metaphors, symbols appear in the work? What is their function? What meanings do they convey?

psychoanalytic literary criticism 1_00014. Psychological Criticism: Psychological critics view works through the lens of psychology. They look either at the psychological motivations of the characters or of the authors themselves, although the former is generally considered a more respectable approach. Most frequently, psychological critics apply Freudian and/or Jungian (archetypes) psychology to works. A Freudian approach often includes pinpointing the influences of a character’s psyche (Greek for “soul”), which consists of the: Id (reservoir of libido or pleasure principle in the unconscious) Superego (the moral censoring agency and repository of conscience/pride that protects society) Ego (the rational governing agent of the unconscious that protects the individual).

Advantages: A useful tool for understanding some works, in which characters manifest clear psychological issues. Like the biographical approach, knowing something about a writer’s psychological make up can give us insight into his work.

Disadvantages: Psychological criticism can turn a work into little more than a psychological case study, neglecting to view it as a piece of art. Critics sometimes attempt to diagnose long dead authors based on their works, which is perhaps not the best evidence of their psychology. Critics tend to see sex in everything, exaggerating this aspect of literature. Finally, some works do not lend themselves readily to this approach.

Checklist of Psychological Critical Questions:

  • What connections can you make between your knowledge of an author’s life and the behavior and motivations of characters in his or her work?
  • How does your understanding of the characters, their relationships, their actions, and their motivations in a literary work help you better understand the mental world and imaginative life, or the actions and motivations of the author?
  • How does a particular literary work—its images, metaphors, and other linguistic elements—reveal the psychological motivations of its characters or the psychological mindset of its author?
  • To what extent can you employ the concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis to understand the motivations of literary characters?
  • What kinds of literary works and what types of literary characters seem best suited to a critical approach that employs a psychological or psychoanalytical perspective? Why?
  • How can a psychological or psychoanalytical approach to a particular work be combined with an approach from another critical perspective—for example, biographical, formalist, or feminist criticism?


5. 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 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?

image-2-300x3006. Marxist Criticism: Marxist criticism is a type of criticism in which literary works are viewed as the product of work and whose practitioners emphasize the role of class and ideology as they reflect, propagate, and even challenge the prevailing social order.  Proletariat: that class of society, which does not have ownership of the means of production. Bourgeoisie: wealthy class that rules society. Power of the Base: Marx believed that the economic means of production in a society (the base) both creates and controls all human institutions and ideologies (the superstructure). This superstructure includes all social and legal institutions, all political and educational systems, all religions, and all art. These ideologies develop as a result of the economic means of production, not the reverse. Alienation — Marx believed that capitalist society created three forms of alienation: First, the worker is alienated from what he produces. Second, the worker is alienated from himself; only when he is not working does he feel truly himself. Finally, in capitalist society people are alienated from each other; that is, in a competitive society people are set against other people. Marx believed that the solution was communism, which would allow the development of our full “potentialities as a human.”

Advantages: History and texts are usually recorded and distributed by those of means, so a Marxist reading shifts the focus to the lower economic classes of society.

Disadvantages: Marxist readings can tend to over simplify texts as simply being about the economic power struggle between the social classes.

Checklist of Marxist/Cultural Criticism Questions:

  • What is the economic status of the characters?
  • What happens to them as a result of this status?
  • How do they fare against economic and political odds?
  • What other conditions stemming from their class does the writer emphasize? (e.g., poor education, poor nutrition, poor health care, inadequate opportunity)
  • To what extent does the work fail by overlooking the economic, social and political implications of its material? In what other ways does economic determinism affect the work?
  • How should readers consider the story in today’s modern economic setting (nationally, globally, etc.)?

nabokov_meme7. Reader-Response Criticism: This type of criticism does not designate any one critical theory, but focuses on the activity of reading a work of literature. Reader-response critics turn from the traditional conception of a work as an achieved structure of meanings to the responses of readers as their eyes follow a text. By this shift of perspective a literary work is converted into an activity that goes on in a reader’s mind, and what had been features of the work itself-including narrator, plot, characters, style; and structure-are less important than the connection between a reader’s experience and the text. It is through this interaction that meaning is made. This is the school of thought most students seem to adhere to. Proponents believe that literature has no objective meaning or existence. People bring their own thoughts, moods. and experiences to whatever text they are reading and get out of it whatever they happen to based on their own expectations and ideas.

Advantages: Reader Response allows readers to interpret the text in various ways and allows readers to bring: personality traits, memories of the past and present experiences to the text. It forces the readers to look past the words of the text, and search for deeper meanings. Allows teachers to connect with their students on a more personal level.Allows readers to see different perspectives of others while reading.

Disadvantages:  Reader Response provides a very skewed outlook on different works of literature.
One brings their personal interpretations to the text rather than examining the meaning that the other created. The reader brings a creates a narrow connection to the text, rather than looking at different perspectives. (connections to the world, connections to other text) – the interpretation can only be as nuanced as the reader’s education and intellect.

Checklist of Reader Response Criticism Questions:

  • What happens when a text and reader interact?
  • Does the real text actually exist in the mind of the reader? Or does it exist through the interaction of text and reader?
  • What is a reader? Are there different kinds of readers?  What makes readers different?
  • Do different texts demand particular kinds of readers?
  • Is our response to a text the same as the text’s meaning?
  • What shapes our knowledge (epistemology) of reading?
  • Do people read in different ways? Are these differences cultural or cognitive?
  • Do people from different eras or cultures read in different ways?
  • What is the purpose of reading?
  • Is reading an individual event or do other readers or communities of readers play in the interpretive process?  Is it a solitary affair or are we shaped by different interpretive communities?
  • Can one reader’s response be more correct than another’s, or are all responses equally valid?

ConceptualCollisionCOMIC8. Deconstructionism: Deconstruction is, by far, the most difficult critical theory for people to understand. It was developed by some very smart (or very unstable) people who declare that literature means nothing because language means nothing. In other words, we cannot say that we know what the “meaning” of a story is because there is no way of knowing.

Advantages: The advantage of deconstruction is that the reader is encouraged to question traditional assumptions and prejudices. For example, there are many assumptions regarding binary oppositions. Many of our thoughts and opinions are fixed in these binary oppositions, such as man/woman, white/black, west/east, good/evil, etc. In these binary oppositions, the first in the pair, man, white, etc., is considered to be the norm and therefore superior, while the second, woman, black, etc., is considered deviant and inferior. We tend to think that these oppositions are definite and fixed, whereas in reality they are often blurred and are in fact artificial. The power of ideology is that it puts forward ideas as natural and factual, but deconstruction helps us to see that they are not natural at all.

Disadvantages: A disadvantage of deconstruction might be the argument that it makes truth or knowledge impossible because everything can be deconstructed. So, truth and knowledge are only relative and often subjective. For example, a literary text will have a different meaning to each individual reader; it will have no absolute or fixed meaning. However, it is debatable whether this is a disadvantage or not.

Checklist of Deconstructionist Criticism Questions:

  • What are the binary oppositions and hierarchies that inform a text?
  • What is the thing that unites these binary terms?
  • What is marginalized in the text? Study the marginal: the discarded, the denigrated, the unessential, the fragment, the subordinate term, the mistake, the frame, the absence or omission, the footnote, the supplement. How does this marginalia enable or call into being what is supposed to be central?
  • Does the text says something different from what it intends to mean?
  • How does the text refers to itself? Here is where you’ll see texts start to
    unravel, to deconstruct themselves.
  •  What are the historical, cultural, social, and political processes that have brought this text into being?
  • What are the conflicting interpretations of a text?
11th Grade American Literature Fall 2015

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings – Project

As we wrap up our reading of Marquez’s short story and work towards a deeper understand of the characters and theme of this story, you will be working individually and in groups on a project.

For this project you will be in groups of 4 or 5 in class, and each of you will choose one of the characters from below:

  • The Old Man/Angel
  • The Spider Lady/Circus
  • The Townspeople
  • Peylao/Elisenda

For your characters you will need to create a visual aid, and provide the answers to the following questions in detailed, complete sentences.

  1. Did Márquez want the reader to like this character? What emotions did he want us to feel in response to their actions or their treatment?
  2. What were their relationships and interactions like with the other characters? Describe their relationships or the impact they had on at least one other specific character.
  3. What is one way that this character is representative of magical realism?
  4. What greater significance do you think this character might have? In other words, what do you think Márquez was using them to represent, beyond the story, in the real world?

Then, as a group, you will need to:

  • Reflect on these character studies and the roles each character played. Write down one theme
    statement (either your own, or one from class) that you think these characters are clearly used to convey.
  • Explain what connections can we draw between these characters and this theme? Specifically, how do these
    characters help portray the theme you chose?

You will present your individual character project and your group theme in class Wednesday, October 21st.

Click here for the project assignment sheet.

Remember, this is a chance to be creative with your visual aid! Some students are doing a movie or play poster, some are creating a powerpoint-  others are dressing up as their character, while others are making a shoebox diorama, and still others are making puppets or 3D models. Remember – BE CREATIVE! See images below of some creative ideas you can use…

Puppets of Pelayo and Elisenda:

Puppets of Pelayo and Elisenda:

Puppet of Elisenda:

Puppet of Elisenda:


A drawing of the Spider Lady at the carnival.


Construction paper circus tent for the spider lady…this fits over an open show box, and the spider lady is inside.


Student dressed up as the spider lady – poster board with a web and spider body drawn on it, and a hole cut in the middle for her to fit her head through.

4 Spidora - vintage photo 3

Box with a web and spider set up in it – a photograph of a girl’s face taped to the spider’s body.


Drawing of a towns person visiting the angel in the chickencoop.


Poster for a play, featuring the Angel.


Collage from magazine clippings of the angel in the chicken cage.


Drawing of the spider lady.

10th Grade Literature Fall 2015 Fall 2015

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – The Very Old Man With Enormous Wings


As we study magical realism in Latin American Literature this week, you will be specifically looking at the story by famous Latin American author and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez – “The Very Old Man With Enormous Wings: A Story for Children”.

Click here to read the story.

As you read the story be sure to identify where you see the four elements of magical realism (hybridity, irony, authorial reticence and supernatural as natural) and the six themes of magical realism (time, authority, carnivalesque, terror, revolution, no promise of a better life). See picture below for our notes from class on this. IMG_20151016_165310


Additionally, you will need to know the plot of the story as well as be able to explain your reasoning as to whether or not this should be considered a ‘children story’, as suggested by the title (see notes below for our notes from class).IMG_20151016_165159IMG_20151016_164606847

You will be completing an extended response on this story next week, so be sure to fill out your ‘Magical Realism Exploration’ chart in detail, as you can use it to help you write the essay!

Click here for the chart if you misplaced yours.


Just an interesting side note – two famous artist actually used this story as the inspiration for an amazing piece they displayed in London this summer – click here to read the article about this work of art that many people thought was real!

10th Grade Literature Fall 2015

Spotlight on Historical Context – Footbinding

After you read the poetry of Chinese activities Ch’ui Chin last week, many of you in class decided that you wanted to write your extended response over how Chin used imagery in her poems to protest the Chinese practice of footbinding. I thought I would post a little information for those of you that were interested in learning a little more about this ancient and taboo Chinese custom.

596441-001Foot binding (also known as “lotus feet”) was the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth. The practice possibly originated among upper-class court dancers during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in Imperial China (10th or 11th century), then became popular during the Song dynasty and eventually spread to all social classes. Foot binding became popular as a means of displaying status (women from wealthy families, who did not need their feet to work, could afford to have them bound) and was correspondingly adopted as a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture. Its prevalence and practice however varied in different parts of the country.

The Manchu Kangxi Emperor tried to ban foot binding in 1664 but failed. In the later part of the 19th century, Chinese reformers challenged the practice but it was not until the early 20th century that foot binding began to die out as a result of anti-foot binding campaigns. Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects, and a few elderly Chinese women still survive today with disabilities related to their bound feet.

Click here to listen to a very interesting podcast that details the history of foot binding, as well as the procedure and when it was outlawed. 

According to some news organization, foot binding has recently made a come-back in China, with modern girls choosing to have their foot broken and bound in the traditional ‘lotus foot’.

Click here to read a 2014 article about modern foot binding resurgence.

Remember, this isn’t information for a test or quiz – I just appreciated how interested so many of you were in learning more about this historical custom, and wanted to point you in the direction of more information! 🙂

10th Grade Literature Fall 2015 Fall 2015

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.




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”.


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


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 Fall 2015

Spotlight on Historical Context – Creating Transcendentalist Utopias

If it weren’t for the Transcendentalist, the summer of 1969 and the Hippie Communes of the 1970’s may have never happened – the idea of communal living and finding a ‘heaven on earth’ didn’t start in the 20th century, but way back in the 1840’s.

In the 1840s, Boston’s West Roxbury suburb — which was completely rural at the time — was home to an experiment in transcendentalist utopian living: the Brook Farm community. The idea was to create an environment of balance and equality. But as is often the case when a group of people unprepared for the realities of living off the land try to live off the land, the Brook Farm Community wasn’t a completely successful endeavor. Many famous Transcendentalist are connected to Brook Farm – Nathaniel Hawthorne lived there, and Emerson was invited on multiple occasions. Additionally, many of the women at Brookfarm were able to experience more personal freedoms than they had at any other point in their lives, contributing to the first wave of Feminism and the Women’s Suffrage Movement that was taking off in America.

Click here to listen to the podcast about the Brook Farm Community – A Transcendental Heaven on Earth

0520417cc1f0f804f082843ee3a6dacdIn addition to Brookfarm, there was also Fruitland, the community start by educational reformer and Transcendentalist Bronson Alcott. That name may be familiar as his daughter, Louisa May Alcott, is a famous Transcendentalist herself and author of the novel Little Women. The Alcott family lived in Concord, Massachusetts and was connected to many of the most famous Transcendentalist of the day – Hawthorne was good friends with Bronson, and bailed him out of debt on many occasions; Louisa was neighbors with Emerson, and would visit Thoreau at his cabin on Walden Pond, bringing him fresh wildflowers. The Alcott’s serve as a reminder that the Transcendental movements brought new ideas not just about scholarship and philosophy, but also education, slavery and women’s rights.

Click here to listen to the podcast on Bronson Alcott

And click here to listen to the podcast on Louisa May Alcott

11th Grade American Literature Fall 2015