Sunday, 22 January 2012

American Literature Comparison

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American Literature Grad. Standard Performance Package - History of the Arts

Part 1

History, as it is lived, does not divide itself neatly into periods; yet, with the advantage of retrospect, we can often classify people, events, and works of art according to certain shared characteristics. Strong differences in the religious, philosophic, economic, and social beliefs experiences uniquely shaped the content and character of the Colonial and Romantic literary genres. The literature of the Colonial period (1500- 1800) bears the mark of its creators and consumers European immigrants in search of religious expression. The writings of the Colonial period tied/connected closely to the life, work, and beliefs of those who gave the old world for the new, and were busy carving a country out of a wilderness. Restricted freedom of limited focus and interests in scope to biblical, devotional, and classical literature, the Puritans’ focus was restricted not only by their convictions, but by their economic circumstances as well. Their mantra was survival in a new world through obedience and moral purity, sustained by spiritual exercise and devotion. They had few possessions and little leisure time to waste on subjective distractions. They eeked out an existence in a challenging, undeveloped, new world. Literature’s directly related to its ability to offer encouragement and spirit - sustenance or substance??? in a hostile and unpredictable environment. There was certainly no heaven on earth, so the Colonial civilizations invested their energies in a world to come.

With the arrival of established communities and ever-expanding opportunities beckoning settlers on(as in the Romantic era), literature shifted from the individual and his God, to the individual himself. Stories of godly character were supplanted by stories of outstanding character and individuals. Growth in industry with broadening infrastructure of highways and communications multiplied the average citizen’s exposure to certain beliefs or information. Sermons were now supplemented by news weeklies, published almanacs, and circulars. Where once sovereignty of reason reigned supreme in shaping character through literature, there now thrived a broadened view of human beings questions, emotions, and reactions to nature and the world at large. With their very existence no longer hanging in the balance, people shifted their focus from their quest for survival to their quest for beauty and understanding.

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As America’s population, economy, and territory expanded, so did the middle-class. As wealth increased, so did literacy rates and the demand for novels and narrative literary works � a scarce commodity during colonial times.



One prime example of Colonial literature took the form of a sermon by Jonathan Edwards called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which functioned to awaken people to their powerlessness, depravity(badness, moral corruptness), and fateful dependence on God. His sermon, considered the most passionate and terrifying serm?on of the time, wa?s one of many that had been instrumental in shepherding people back to a faith which pioneer preachers feared w?as weakening in the young Americas. Churches wer?e the central stage of colonial social and cultural engagement. The absence of other available media left sermons as a popular expressive form of literature. Jonathan Edwards w?as key among several gifted communicators who effectively used the pulpit as a tool for social and spiritual change in the early 1700’s. His protracted, dramatic preaching helped spark a major religious revival, which spread throughout New England. Edwards- convinced that people had strayed from the faith which initially led them to New England- had been educated far above the masses, and used his literacy genius to capture their attention. The vivid imagery created by the use of metaphors pummeled the imaginations of parishioners and brought many to the brink of hysteria. His explicit and intense descriptions of hell showed people how close they had come to total annihilation. Parishioners reported visions of terror and some people went into shock. The Puritan culture’s emphasis on personal responsibility helped Edwards to use common contempor(of the time?-not contempor.)?ary presupisitions as a sounding board to hammer out(this sentence not specific/concrete to its meaning/too long,melodramatic…?) call for revival. Deep in their heart, Puritans were convinced of their guilt and need to reform and Edward’s vivid indictments brought them to (terror(some report.Visionsandothers going in shock) struckhome/personally?-already usedvisions…).

The metaphors in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God assist Edwards in conveying his point that the human race’s fate rests entirely in God’s hands with nothing they can do about it. One example he uses is to compare people to spiders or loathsome insects which God holds over the pit of hell just as one holds the spider. Edwards states in this comparison that it is nothing but his (God’s) hand that keeps the people from falling into the fire at any moment. You have nothing to lay hold of to save yourself……nothing you have ever done, nothing you can do to induce God to spare you. (Need to explain all the parts of people’s powerlessness Go

The Scarlet Letter functions in the form of a novel to explore the consequences of concealing the truth, and the rewards or gratifications of revealing it through its characters and symbolism. This work by Nathaniel Hawthorne maintains its character as a Romantic piece by steeping into the lives of a few outstanding-even extreme-characters(in unuususal stuations???). Hawthorne introduces Hester, the protagonist, after the birth of her child born out of wedlock. She proceeds to enrich all who observe her through the remainder of the novel, as she responds to the aftermath of her untimely predicament. Dimmesdale, the town preacher, under similar circumstances, reacts in an entirely opposite fashion from Hester, outwardly concealing the truth. The third character of significance, Roger Chillingworth, uses his own sense of betrayal and rage in an attempt to bring ruin to Dimmesdale and Hester (his estranged wife from an arranged marriage). Roger conceals the truth (their secret -- all three characters) and allows it to seethe and fester from within. Finally, there lives Pearl, a child of the perceived infidelity, whose natural and impulsive personality is disclosed throughout the novel as if breathing fresh oxygen into the stagnant Puritan community, closed to an objective, passionate world perspective.

Remaining true to the Romantic genre, Hawthorne uses symbolism to good effect to underscore themes of conflict in the novel. The symbolism functions to encourage personal reflection of all who consider the plight of the individuals involved in the story. Hester represents a modern everyday woman with an insatiable quest for her own identity. She draws on one’s sympathies facing a difficult, if not impossible, life situation. Never apologizing, she’s always evaluating her role in creating a life of integrity for herself. Unafraid of the opinions of others, she seeks her salvation by facing the truth of her circumstances head on. As a self-determined and strong-willed individual, she typifies the protagonist of Romanticism. In the course of being true to herself, she helps to save not only her own soul, but that of the ?commiunity?? around her, to whom she often appears irritatingly enigmatic. And as such a supreme enigma, Hester functions to help all who follow her questions about their own lives and own integrity as well.

Dimmesdale represents the status quo of his contemporaries in Puritan America. Full of and subject to his natural passions, the minister failed to contain them and tragically fell victim to the backlash of his own denial. From the Scarlet A -which he had carved into his own flesh- to his outbursts of demonic laughter, he cries out as one who could not reconcile his own weakness with the standards of moral perfection. Dimmesdale’s denial grew within him as a cancer that consumed his soul. He sharpened his preaching skills to a fine art due to the compulsivity of his cover-up, and fooled everyone except for those who cared about him most. He attempted in vain to keep this blot on his soul from coming forward, drawing one into his/her own questions and dilemmas about trying to be moral perfectionists.

Chillingworth, often referred to as a leech in the novel, fed off of others pain and remorse in an attempt to satisfy his fathomless appetite for revenge. He antagonized Hester and Dimmesdale by doing all he could to ensure that their awful secrets remain dark and hidden. In an attempt to reconcile the pain in his own life by making others pay their dues, he left a path of death and destruction - including his own. Chillingworth shows that pure evil and death does not lie in performing an immediate act of passion, but rather in making an art of carefully plotted and precisely aimed revenge as he was unable to forgive and made sure that the healing truth never came to light(toolong-runon).

Pearl, Hester’s free-spirited and unashamed daughter, depicts Hawthorne’s crisp, albeit anachronistic, infusion of Romantic individualism into his setting of repressive Puritanism. She was born into a community of people blinded by fears, excuses, prejudices, and unattainable ideals. The passion which led to her conception permeates her character - affirming the goodness of the primordial, natural order. She served as if a prophetess from the redeeming, natural world by provoking adults with pointed questions that drew their attention to the truths which they concealed. It is likely that Hawthorne realized a pearl is a gem derived from the presence of a grating irritation- such as a grain of sand. Her direct questions grated on the fixed mindset of the community (even her mother at times). She provides the text’s most penetrating judgment of Dimmesdale’s failure to admit to his adultery. Once Dimmesdale confessed on the scaffold (in Chapter ), airing the truth about his adultery, Pearl’s role in the novel satisfied and she became fully human.

Principles in Romantic literature usually don’t stand laid out in condensed, well defined formats; instead they are suggested through symbolism. Hawthorne used many symbols to outline the struggle between concealment and acknowledgement of truth. In the first chapter, the rosebush directly outside the prison door is introduced to symbolize beauty that stands alone and thrives undiminished by humanity and its dysfunctions that seek to constrain and hamper the spirit of nature. The forest represents escape from a rule-bound society where both evil and honest self-examination can occur. Shame-based and judgmental Puritans feared the wilderness, while Hester and Pearl entered it fearlessly. Placed on the outskirts of the town and the edge of the forest, Hester and Pearl’s cottage symbolized their roles as ambassadors of truth telling, beckoning the society to dispose of its judgments, secrets, and lies.

Perhaps most importantly, the scarlet letter, a symbol intended to shame and debase the bearer, becomes an emblem of victory in hester’s self-transformation. Instead of concealing her past which would thwart her energies, Hester chooses to proudly wear her history, even when the town fathers consider letting her remove it. The meaning of her embroidered A goes from an adulteress, to able, then even becomes a possible elevated status (Native Americans at the Election Day ceremony think of Hester’s scarlet letter as a sign of high status).

(Last paragraph-only sentences- and some others need to be longer. PLUS- this section does not seem complete- remember to use concrete examples from the lterature-tell exactly where in novel and exact.what happened- Also, DEVELOPING sentences after topic sentence!!!!!!)


If it were possible to publish the works by Hawthorne and Edwards together as segments of an anthology and produce a suitable title, one might name this ‘The Mortal Dangers of the Unexamined Life’. The idea of bravely submitting your life to the scrutiny of tough earthly questions and the idea of placing yourself at the mercy of God’s divine judgement, are two paths to the same destination of moral integrity. According to both authors, they are clearly the roads less traveled which lead to destinations seldom attained. Hawthorne’s protagonist Hester and her daughter Pearl are unusually strong, direct females, who always ask themselves and others the hardest of questions. Churchgoers who heed Edwards’ call to a state… of light and life succeed only through honesty, humility, and self-examination. In neither work is moral perfection ever suggested or asked for as a requirement for spiritual salvation in this world or the next. It is precisely only the individuals who are most willing to reveal their deep sinfulness and their very lack of perfection who have any glimmer of hope for either temporal or eternal salvation.

In The Scarlet Letter the only characters who seem to grow, thrive, have hope for a future, ask questions. Hawthorne’s Hester and Pearl face off with the harsh facts of their lives consistently. Hester chooses to wear the scarlet letter even when allowed to remove it by the town fathers. As an infant, Pearl persisted to draw attention to and ask the meaning of the scarlet letter. Hawthorne suggests this is the result of being like a child of the universe - like Pearl, who is unflinchingly candid and unashamed. Dimmesdale never

Edwards harshly questions and indicts the righteousness of his parishioners, hoping and trusting that they concur. He railed that the people who continue to sit attending His solemn worship are the same ones who provoked Him. They have hidden the truth of their sins and have caused the great waters of God’s wrath to rise higher and higher until the wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury.

Edwards suggests it is a gift of God’s grace. Both authors warn the only reward awaiting those who refuse to submit to this spiritual challenge is a hellish destiny.

If there were a difference between Hawthorne’s and Edawards’ assessment of this moral struggle, it might be to what degree human effort in this pursuit is effective. Edwards, in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God tells people -- even with their most diligent efforts- their fate rests at God’s mercy. Edwards focus’ on God as the active agent in salvation.

Hawthorne suggests heaven and hell are products of mankind’s own design and making and that most individuals have ample opportunity and ability to re-chart the course of their own lives � steering clear of the perilous, rocky shores of self-delusion. It would not be out of the question to speculate that Edwards would have agreed with Hawthorne that man plays a role in this battle. What else could explain why he preached to so many people, so vehemently, if he had not sincerely believed in the value of their participation. Indeed, he witnessed much human change during The Great Awakening of souls, the religious revival for which he is credited.

Several sides/angles/partsto? of the similar theme strengthen the connection between the two works. The theor??ies sta??ting that hiding from the truth will destroy a person, there are moral standards from which nobody is exempt, spiritual responsibility ultimately rests upon the individual, and that embracing the reality of one’s sinfulness makes the person more complete and enlivens him (or her), -idon’tknow?- ar?e some of these fragmen?ts.

In The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale….


The standards of moral. from which no one is exempt..regardless of position, status, or good deeds/achievements

In Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards says that even if you may have reformed your life in many things,..had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets and in the house of God, and may be strict in it, you are still in the hands of an angry God as much as anyone else.

In The Scarlet Letter, the very man believed perceived as the most holy becomes one of those most lost. Both works suggest, that regardless of your station or status in life, if you suppress the truth you are damned.

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