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Study Guide

American Literature

Michael Horan, Ph.D.

About the Author

Michael Horan earned his Ph.D. from Binghamton University with
a specialization in Renaissance Literature and has taught dozens of
writing and literature courses at various colleges and universities.
His business experience includes years writing research analyst
reports and advertising copy, as well as medical copy for consumers
and healthcare providers for both print and interactive media. A
New Jersey native, he currently resides in Boston, where he makes
his living doing freelance writing and consulting.

All terms mentioned in this text that are known to be trademarks or service
marks have been appropriately capitalized. Use of a term in this text should
not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.

Copyright 2004 by Education Direct, Inc.

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You probably already have some idea of what it means to be
an American. But as you read the selections that make up
this course, youll find that American has meant many things
to many people. What it means to be an American changes
with time. It changes in different regions, and people have
defined it differently based on their race and gender and
class and occupation and religion and nation of origin and
political views andwell, you get the picture. One of the purposes of this course, then, is to provide you with a broad
overview of the way in which these people have used the art
of the written word to express their sense of what it means to
be an American.
In this course, youll be introduced to writers from a variety
of backgrounds. As Americans, they represent the views of
others like them. As individual authors, they bring their own
unique perspectives as wellalong with their special ability
to entertain and amuse, to make you laugh, weep, think, and
feel more deeply.
America is a young countryvery young. American literature
begins in 1620 with the Mayflower Compact, the first document the Pilgrims drew up to govern the Massachusetts Bay
Colony. Thats less than 400 years ago. Although 400 years
may seem like a long time, consider that some Italian literature dates back to the early 1200s. People in England have
poems that are 1,300 years old. And Hebrew literature goes
back to the Bible.
What this means is that other countries have had a lot more
time to create a national identity. They can look back over
centuries of recorded history and literature and have a pretty
good sense of what it means to be Italian or English or
Hebrew. In addition, most nations, at one time or another,
have had an established religion. This religion has had a
great influence on creating a sense of national identity.

Instr uctions

Welcome to your course in American literature.

America, on the other hand, doesnt have as much of a sense

of national identity. Lets examine some reasons for this:
1. America is a nation of immigrants. It was founded and
settled by people who wanted to forget much of their
pasts and to make a fresh start. So, rather than having
a long, historical national identity, America instead is a
young country thats still forging its identity.
2. America is a big country, and theres a world of difference between the environments of New York City, Florida
beaches, the Oklahoma dust bowl, the Midwest farmlands, the deserts of the Southwest, the California coast,
the moist Northwest woods, and so on. An Irish immigrant who landed in Boston in 1910 will have a very
different view of America than one who settled in
Maryland in 1700, and so will their descendants. This
diversity makes it difficult to develop a national identity.
3. Americans are a politically diverse and very rambunctious people. What does this have to do with national
identity? Political analysts label the various states based
on the way the people in the state vote in each national
election. States that lean liberal are called red, and
those that lean conservative are called blue. This is
important because many people now talk about Red
America and Blue America as though they were two
different countries, with entirely different politics and
values. And as our national elections show, were pretty
evenly divided politically, just as we are on many basic
issuescivil rights, war, abortion, drugs, and so on. Yet
somehow, amazingly, despite our differences, we all still
claim to be American.
Instead of finding what Americans have in common, weve
just listed factors that illustrate all of the things Americans
dont have in common. Maybe thats because we Americans
are still defining ourselves, both as a nation, as a culture,
and as individual Americans. As a young nation, were like a
young personwere still in the process of forging a national

Instructions to Students

And that makes the history of our literature both meaningful

and interesting, because its a record of our struggle to define
ourselves, and it provides insight into how the different
groups that make up our nation and culture define America.
If were going to survive as a nation, as a democratic melting
pot, we can do so only by trying to understand our neighbors, to appreciate their struggles and issues. And one way
to do that is to study the literature theyve produced.
The material youll read for this course falls into the following
genres, or categories, of literature:

Short story. The short story has a long history, dating

back to the ancient Greeks. All six stories youll read
were written by American authors in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. These stories are in Great American
Short Stories, edited by Paul Negri, and The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving.

Novel. A novel is a work thats longer than a short

story. In this course, youll read one novel, O Pioneers!
by Willa Cather.

Poetry. Youll closely examine a number of poems in

101 Great American Poems, edited by The American
Poetry and Literacy Project.

Nonfiction. A work of nonfiction is one thats not a

product of the imagination. That is, its a story of something that really happened. For this course, youll read
the autobiography of Helen Keller, titled The Story of My
Life, and two essays from noted black educator and
activist W. E. B. Du Boiss collection The Souls of Black

Drama. Youll read one play, Beyond the Horizon, by

Eugene ONeill.

Instructions to Students

The term melting

pot has been used
to describe
America because
many nationalities
and cultures have
been melted into
a common culture.

This course includes the following materials:
1. This study guide, which contains an introduction to
your course, plus

A lesson assignments page with a schedule of study


Introductions to lessons and assignments, which

explain the genres youll be studying and provide an
analysis of the works you read

Self-checks and answers to help you assess your

understanding of the material

An examination for each of the lessons in this


2. Your course textbooks:

Great American Short Stories, edited by Paul Negri

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle by

Washington Irving

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

101 Great American Poems, edited by The American

Poetry & Literacy Project

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois

Beyond the Horizon by Eugene ONeill

In addition to these supplied materials, you may wish to

obtain a notebook or journal in which you can write notes as
you study and read the pieces for this course.

Instructions to Students

For most assignments, you must complete three steps:
1. Read the background material and analysis for each
work. This includes some details about each authors life
and some useful background material.
2. Read the assigned piece itself.
3. Complete the Self-Check at the end of the assignment.
Its very important that you follow this plan!


The general purpose of this course is to allow you to experience literature actively. You should become involved both
mentally and emotionally in what youre reading. Find a
place to read and study where its quiet and you can read
without the distractions of radio, television, or conversation.
Read with a pencil in your hand and take notes in your
journal. Write down words that are unfamiliar to you, and
look them up in a dictionary. Write down the dictionary definition in your journal, and then write a new sentence using
the word. By keeping a notebook of this kind, youll deepen
your understanding of the works you read and youll build
your vocabulary.
Also, take notes on the characters you read about and try to
understand them. Ask yourself if you would do the same
things if you were placed in their situations. Be prepared to
think about the theme of each story. As you read, consider
the characters in a story or play, and pay attention to the
rhythm and rhyme of each poem. Youll learn about theme,
characters, rhythm, rhyme, and many more elements of literature as you work through your course material.
Occasionally the work in this course will stretch you. Some
sections of text may seem difficult to understand or to interpret the first time you read them. Be prepared to read each
selection more than once. As you read, write down any

Instructions to Students

questions you may have. As you reread the selection, try to

find the answers to your questions. This study guide offers
commentary that will help you understand the selections you
read. The more you understand, the more youll enjoy what
you read and study, so refer to this study guide for guidance
and explanation during your reading.

When you complete this course, youll be able to

Read more effectively for both knowledge and enjoyment

Use your new vocabulary to discuss, write about, and

understand literature

Explain the characteristics of several genres, including

the short story, novel, poetry, nonfiction, and drama

Explain the importance of the written word

Describe in your own words what it means, and has

meant, to be an American

This course is divided into seven lessons, and each lesson is

divided into several assignments. After you complete each
assignment, you must complete a Self-Check to test how
well youve learned the material in that assignment. These
exercises are for your benefit only. Dont submit your
answers to the self-checks to the school for grading. You
can check your work using the answers at the back of this
study guide. If you have problems completing any self-check
questions, reread the sections of the book or study guide
that pertain to the problem area. If you still need assistance,
e-mail your instructor.
At the end of each lesson, you must complete an examination to submit to the school for grading. The directions for
submitting the examinations are printed on each exam.

Instructions to Students

Lesson 1: Introduction and the Short Story, Part 1

Read in the
study guide:

Assignment 1

Pages 1113

Assignment 2

Pages 1423

Read in the

The Legend of Sleepy

Hollow (The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van
Winkle, pages 149)

Assignment 3

Pages 2430

The Tell-Tale Heart

(Great American Short
Stories, pages 1317)

Examination 00779800

Material in Lesson 1

Lesson 2: The Short Story, Part 2


Read in the
study guide:

Read in Great
American Short Stories:

Assignment 4

Pages 3539

Pages 171178

Assignment 5

Pages 4045

Pages 1848

Assignment 6

Pages 4648

Pages 104114

Assignment 7

Pages 4953

Pages 115129

Examination 00779900

Material in Lesson 2

Lesson 3: The Novel


Read in the
study guide:

Assignment 8

Pages 5962

Assignment 9

Pages 6372

Pages 171

Assignment 10

Pages 7375

Pages 73122

Examination 00760100

Read in
O Pioneers!:

Material in Lesson 3



Lesson 4: Poetry, Part 1


Read in the
study guide:

Assignment 11

Pages 8186

Assignment 12

Pages 8898

Read in 101
Great American Poems:

since feeling is first

(page 74)
Ars Poetica (pages 7273)
From To the Right
Honourable William, Earl
of Dartmouth (pages 12)
Misgivings (page 22)
I Sit and Look Out
(page 23)
From Song of Myself
(pages 2526)
I, Too (page 76)

Assignment 13

Pages 100104

Bury Me in a Free Land

(pages 2728)
Chicago (page 53)
Shine, Perishing
Republic (pages 6364)
The Negro Speaks of
Rivers (pages 7778)

Examination 00760200

Material in Lesson 4

Lesson Assignments

Lesson 5: Poetry, Part 2


Read in the
study guide:

Read in 101
Great American Poems:

Assignment 14

Pages 111117

This Is Just to Say

(page 61)
In a Station of the Metro
(page 62)
Fire and Ice (page 48)
Mending Wall
(pages 4849)
The Road Not Taken
(pages 4950)

Assignment 15

Pages 118123

Sympathy (pages 4243)

Because I could not stop
for Death (page 29)
Success is counted
sweetest (page 32)
The Unknown Citizen
(pages 7980)

Examination 00760300

Material in Lesson 5

Lesson 6: Nonfiction

Read in the
study guide:

Read in the

Assignment 16

Pages 129135

Pages 3745 and 155164

(The Souls of Black Folk)

Assignment 17

Pages 136141

Pages 138
(The Story of My Life)

Assignment 18

Pages 142145

Pages 3875
(The Story of My Life)

Examination 00760400

Lesson Assignments

Material in Lesson 6

Lesson 7: Drama

Read in the
study guide:

Read in Beyond
the Horizon:

Assignment 19

Pages 151159

Pages 133

Assignment 20

Pages 161164

Pages 3589

Examination 00760500


Material in Lesson 7

Lesson Assignments

Read the following introductory material. Then take SelfCheck 1, which follows the introduction.

Reading Levels
During this course in American literature, youll be reading
a variety of types of literary genres. As you read the assignments, you may find yourself reading on several different
1. The literal level refers to the point at which you grasp
the essential facts of a story. You can usually determine
the characters and plot while reading at this level.
2. The inferential level refers to the point at which you use
your analytical skills to pick out the authors implied
intentions, such as the storys theme. To read on the
inferential level requires you to read a story at least a
second time. This second reading is especially important
for stories written in the 1800s or early 1900s, because
the English language used at that time was different
from the English language of today.
3. The critical level refers to reading in which you combine
the work of the first two levels. At the critical level, you
arrive at a judgment of how well the author has succeeded in achieving his or her intentions. To do this, you
must evaluate the authors stylefor example, the way
in which he or she uses figurative language.

As you can see, reading requires some active participation on

your part. You must invest yourself in thinking about and
questioning what youve read.


Introduction and the Short

Story, Part 1


Reading Short Stories

Short stories can be entertaining, but they can also provide
their readers with insight into themselves and others. To
help you read properly, find a quiet place with good light.
Keep a notebook and a pen or pencil handy as you read. Be
prepared to read each story twiceonce at the literal level to
find out what happens and at least once again to study how
the author achieved what he or she did.

As you read, youll probably encounter words you dont
understand. Dont just skip over them. Take time to reread
the context to determine the meaning. (Some of the works
youll read contain words or phrases common to an earlier
historical period. In such cases, the uncommon words are
defined and/or explained for you in footnotes.)

Context refers to
the words and sentences surrounding
a particular word or

If, after youve studied the context of a word, youre still

unsure of its meaning, take time to look up the word in a
Authors generally choose their words very carefully.
Therefore, as a reader, you should know what each word in a
story means. In addition, you must be able to differentiate
between the two possible meanings of words:
1. The literal, or denotative, meaning is the dictionary definition, which represents exactly what a word means.
2. The figurative, or connotative, meaning indicates what
the words suggest in terms of emotional or pictorial
content beyond the dictionary meaning.

A Reading Procedure
As you read, ask yourself questions and write answers to
them in a study notebook that you keep throughout the
course. Here are some examples of the types of questions
you should be thinking about:


What will happen next?

American Literature

How do I feel about the characters? How is the

author making me feel that way?

What is the author revealing about the characters

values and attitudes toward life and toward other

Who is trying to control the action? Or is the action

controlling the characters?

What is the central problem (conflict) being developed?

How is the setting (time and place) affecting the

characters and plot?

Who is telling the story? That is, from what point of

view is the story being told? Why do you think the
author chose that point of view? How would the
story be different if someone else told it?

What is the underlying meaning (theme) of the

story? What does the theme show about human

Asking questions as you read and making sure you understand the words used will help you to read closely and critically and therefore get the most from each story. In the end,
youll enjoy your reading more thoroughly.
Before you go on to Assignment 2, please take a few
moments to review what youve just read by completing the
following Self-Check.

Lesson 1


Self-Check 1
At the end of each section of American Literature, youll be asked to pause and check your
understanding of what youve just read by completing a Self-Check exercise. Answering
these questions will help you review what youve studied so far. Please complete Self-Check 1
Indicate whether each of the following statements is True or False.
______ 1. American literature helps us understand what it means to be an American.
______ 2. Inferential reading includes critiquing the writers style.
______ 3. Categories of literature are called genres.
______ 4. Making predictions and asking questions while reading increases the readers
______ 5. America is an old country.
______ 6. The literal meaning of a word tells exactly what the word means.
Check your answers with those on page 171.

Read the following Introduction to the Short Story and the
background information on Washington Irving. Then slowly
read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on pages 149 in The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. As you read,
mark up your textunderline examples that provide clues
about the setting. Identify key points in the plot. Look for the
climax. Indicate any things or actions that you think might be
symbols. When youve finished reading the story, return to
this study guide and read the story analysis. In your notebook,
jot down answers to the questions listed in Assignment 1.


American Literature

Introduction to the Short Story

Plot and Conflict
Plot is one of the most basic elements in any story, whether
a short story, a novel, or a movie. Plot tells what happens.
You should be able to read each of the assigned stories and
then write a one- or two-sentence summary of the plot in
which you give the road map of the story. Plot consists of the
major events without any description or analysis: Boy meets
girl, falls in love, and then discovers girl is cheating on him.
The plot is a sequence of events that usually center on some
type of conflict. In the boy-meets-girl plot just mentioned, a
problem arises when the boy discovers the girl is cheating
on him. That struggle or encounter may be within the boy
himself, or it may be between the girl and one or both of
the boys.
In any case, this stuggle represents the conflict for the plot of
that story. Simply put, conflict is some tension between the
protagonist (the main character) and someone or something
else. This encounter of two opposing forces creates reader
interest and suspense. More complex short stories and novels usually have a central conflict as well as several minor
Conflict usually takes one of three forms:
1. Person against person conflict. The protagonist
experiences a conflict with the antagonist (a secondary
character) or with society in general.
2. Person against nature conflict. The protagonist experiences a conflict with the environmentthat is, with
some outside force.
3. Person against himself or herself. The protagonist experiences a conflict with some aspect of himself or herself.
Of course, many stories, even short stories, contain elements
of all three types of conflict, but theres usually one central
conflict that provides the theme of the story.

Lesson 1


Each advancement in the plot serves to move the conflict further and eventually carry it to some sort of conclusion. The
will of the protagonist moves the story. He or she wants
something, struggles for something, and at the end of the
story, wins, loses, or ends up back where he or she started.
The basic plot structure includes exposition, rising action,
climax, falling action, and resolution.
1. The first part of a story, called exposition, is basically a
storys introduction. It establishes the setting (time and
place), gives any necessary history of events that happened before the story opens, and introduces the characters. This important background information helps
readers understand the situation or context of the story.
For example, in the boy-meets-girl plot, the exposition
could show that the two had lived on the same floor of a
large apartment building in the Bronx in the 1980s and
were close friends until age 10, when the girls family
moved to California. The boy goes to Columbia
University in New York City where he enters his
American literature class to find, seated near the back,
a shy young woman whose faint, rather sad smile is
hauntingly familiar.
Consider what expectations a reader would have after
reading this exposition. Would these expectations be different if the exposition were the following? Boy meets girl
in 1730. Hes the country village schoolmaster who, in
order to earn extra money, teaches lessons in singing
hymns to the village young folk. One of his pupils is an
18-year-old farm girl who is quite fetching and rather
Often during the exposition (and sometimes in the rising
action as well), an author uses foreshadowing to hint or
suggest to the reader whats ahead for the conflict and
characters. For example, suppose the schoolmaster
believes in ghost stories, one in particular about a headless horseman that haunts his countryside. Alert readers will begin to sense that this interest in ghost stories
will be important to the outcome of the story. In fact,
this fact plays a key role in the climax of the story.


American Literature

2. The rising action works from the information in the exposition to develop the conflict in a series of complications
faced by main characters. Its composed of events that
build one to the next. The rising action usually makes
up the lengthiest portion of a story.
For example, in the first boy meets girl scenario, the boy
introduces himself to the vaguely familiar classmate and
they discover they used to be friends and neighbors.
They have several chats over coffee after class. Two
months later, the boy sees her having dinner at a local
restaurant with one of the boys from his dorm. And so it

Complications are
the sequence of
new difficulties that
arise from the main
conflict faced by
the protagonist.

Or the schoolmaster pursues a courtship with the farm

girl, but hes rather awkward and boorish in his
advances. The girl encourages him with her flirting so he
begins to dream hell soon marry her (and inherit her
fathers prosperous farm). When hes invited to a special
dinner at her fathers house, he thinks of sweeping her
off her feet. Arriving at the same time, however, is a
handsome, strong farm boy from a nearby village. He
reins in his half-wild stallion and jumps to the ground.
The farm girl has eyes only for him. And so on.
3. The climax is the place in a story when the rising action
reaches its high point. The route to the climax is a bit
like a roller coaster working its way up the rise of its
track, building tension until that breath of a moment
before the plummeting fall. The climax is the point at
which the action is most intense and the readers interest is at its peak. What occurs at the climax represents
the culmination of all of the complications used to
develop the conflict. It determines the outcome of the
action. The climax usually occurs when the character
faces the ultimate, key decision in trying to resolve the
central conflict of the story.
The climax can often be phrased in terms of a question.
For example, who will win the girl? Will there be a fight
between the two men or between the man and girl? The
climax is the point at which these questions come to a
head and that action occurs.

Lesson 1


4. The falling action reflects the results of the protagonists

decision or action at the climax. Usually its comprised
of only a few eventssometimes only one. Thus, it represents a much shorter amount of space than the rising
action. Sometimes the falling action and the resolution
are the same.

Sometimes the falling

action and the resolution are the same.

The climax for the scenario with the college woman and
man occurs when she explains to her childhood friend
that she cares for him only as a friend. The falling action
involves his walking away from her dorm, his eyes
openwide openand his fists clenched to keep from
weeping and from looking back.
The climax for the schoolmaster occurs when hes
chased by the headless horseman. The falling action
involves the search for his body.
5. The resolution is a bit like the conclusion of a story. The
loose ends left from the climax are tied up (unless the
author wishes to cause the readers to ponder a question
to underscore his or her theme).
For example, after the antagonist wins the girl, the
author of the story about the schoolmaster chooses to
leave unanswered questions. However, he does provide
some hints regarding the resolution in terms of who may
have acted as the horseman.

Point of View
Point of view refers to the perspective from which a story is
told. It involves the narrator of the storythat is, the person
telling the story. All stories are written from a certain point of
view, and the readers see the action occur from that point
of view.
Lets say youre describing the creek that runs through your
backyard. You could write that description from various
points of view. One might be your own personal point of view
as you sit in a lawn chair beside the creek bank. Another
might be from your bedroom on the second floor. You could
also write it from the point of view of one of the minnows in
the creek or from each of your family members over the
course of a day. The point of view you choose impacts the


American Literature

way in which you describe the creek and what type of information you include. The same applies to any type of writing.
Authors deliberately choose a particular point of view based
on what they want to convey about the characters, the conflict, and the theme of the story.
Generally, authors write in either the first person or the third
person. The first person includes the pronouns I and we. The
third person refers to he, she, it, and they. (Authors can write
stories in the second person using the word you. In such situations, the reader becomes a character in the book. As you
walk down the hall, you see a shadowy figure disappear into
a bedroom. Writing in the second person, however, is difficult to sustain.)
First Person
The first-person point of view is easy to recognize because
the storytellers refer to themselves as I (the first-person singular pronoun). In the first-person point of view, the storyteller may be the protagonist, the antagonist, an observer, or
only a minor character. You might even discover a story told
in the first-person plural, or we. The first-person point of
view can be divided as follows:

First-person major participant: the character who tells the

storythe narratoris the central character or is deeply
involved in the action (narrators of The Tell-Tale Heart
and The Yellow Wallpaper).

First-person participant: the narrator is involved in the

story, but isnt a major player.

First-person reporting: the narrator tells the story, but

doesnt play a part in it (Diedrich Knickerbocker in
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow).

Third Person
The third-person point of view is also easy to identify
because it uses the pronouns he, she, it, and they. However,
this point of view can also be divided as follows:

Third-person dramatic or objective: the narrator has a

limited perspective. He or she reports on what the characters are doing but not what theyre thinking. The
author functions like a video camera, which can record
only what it sees and hears. Readers dont know the

Lesson 1

The stories in parentheses represent

examples of the various points of view.
Youll be reading each
of these stories as
you proceed through
this course.


thoughts of the characters, but they can make inferences based on how the author reports the actions of
the characters. For example, suppose the author writes,
She stared wishfully at the beautiful gown displayed in
the store window. From this statement, you can determine that the girl or woman would like to have the gown
for her own and maybe even is hoping to be asked to a
particular party or dance (narrator of Part I of An
Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge).

Third-person restricted (limited) omniscient: the narrator

can report on the thoughts and feelings as well as the
speech and action of a particular character, but cant get
into the heads of other characters. The word omniscient
means to know everything at once, but the word limited
restricts that knowledge to only one character (narrator
of Part III of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge).

Third-person unrestricted omniscient: the narrator can

describe at will the inner lives (thoughts, feelings, and
sensations) experienced by any number of characters.
The author gives snapshots of the action from each different point of view (narrator of A New England Nun).

Background: Washington Irving

Washington Irving (17831859) was born during the
American Revolutionary War. This war provided the colonists
with the first sense that they werent subjects of England
or simply residents of particular states, but were members
of a nation. Irving lived, then, during the period in which
all Americans were still figuring out just what being an
American meant. Interestingly, however, Irvings two bestknown stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van
Winkle, arent set during this period. Both are set in preRevolutionary New York state, called Knickerbocker after the
first Dutch settlers there.
As you read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, focus on the following elements:


Use of detail. Irving uses many descriptions that appeal

to his readers five senses.

American Literature

Irvings characterization. His two main characters are

Ichabod Crane (the protagonist) and Brom Von Brunt
(the antagonist).

Note: All numbers in parentheses refer to pages in your

Stop and read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Analysis of The Legend of Sleepy

Washington Irvings The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a
folktale, which means its a short story with ancient origins.
Folktales originally circulated by word of mouth among common folk and were probably repeated many times before they
were ever written down. Such stories, which are told over
and over before being recorded, are said to be part of an oral
tradition. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is actually based on
an old German folktale. Irving rewrote it and updated it to
take place in his own land.
When Irving adapted this story, he made it very much a
regional tale. Setting plays an important role in The Legend
of Sleepy Hollow. In fact, the environmentupstate New
York in the 1700sis as important as any character.
Irving opens the story by introducing the setting rather than
a character. Sleepy Hollow is just thata sleepy village far
removed from the mainstream, a place to dream. While Irving
identifies the exact geographic location of Sleepy Hollow, he
also makes it clear that its set apart from the rest of humanity (14). The result of this description is that the village
seems both real and yet unreal at the same time. As a
reader, you have a sense of reality as you enter the realm of
fantasy. Yet, the combination of reality with fantasy begins to
make you questions whats real and whats unreal.
Boundaries that initially seem clearly defined begin to blur,
causing both characters and readers to wonder what or
whom to believe or trust.

Lesson 1


The basis of Irvings story is a gullible man who is scared by

a practical joke. To set up the story, Irving makes it clear
that everyone in Sleepy Hollow is somewhat gullible and
continues under the sway of some witching power (3). His
description of Ichabod Crane makes him appear foolish but
not villainous (56). Crane, who resembles the bird whose
name he shares, is portrayed as a fool. Hes strict and vain,
hes a bit of a gossip, hes very interested in a young lady,
and hes very superstitious (613). Each one of these characteristics eventually leads to his downfall.
On pages 14 and 15, the setting of the story plays a key role
as Irving uses similar terms to describe Baltus Van Tassels
farm and his daughter Katrina. Both are abundantthey
provide everything a man could want. Everything in these
descriptions points to ripeness and abundance, an overflowing of good things. All of this, of course, is the opposite of the
scrawny Ichabod Crane, who is hungry for a prosperous life,
for status, and for a beautiful wife.
Irving continues to make fun of Crane when he describes his
horse (2627). Think about the descriptions Irving uses for
Crane and his chief competition, Brom Van Brundt (nicknamed Brom Bones). Everything about themincluding their
animalsare exactly opposite: their physical appearance,
their outlook, their attitudes, and behavior. Each is a type, a
representative character. Brom is the brawny, fun-loving
extrovert; Crane is the thin, intellectual introvert.
Irvings description of Van Tassels feast (3031) emphasizes
the mans abundance. Knowing what we do of Cranes notorious appetite, were not surprised to find him fantasizing
about owning it all himself (28, 31).
Of course things dont work out that way. Katrina rejects
Crane after the feast. Then, of course, hes terrified by the
headless horseman.
Irving doesnt come right out and say that Brom was posing
as the horseman, even though evidence seems to point in
that direction. Instead, Irving concludes the story the way he
began it, by adding the story of Ichabod to the long list of
legends told around the fire by the country wives.


American Literature

Think for a moment about the point of view in The Legend

of Sleepy Hollow. Whose perspective has Irving chosen to
use? The story is told in the first-person point of view. The I
of the story is someone who is thinking back to 30 years ago.
However, this person isnt actively involved in the events. His
name, Diedrich Knickerbocker, can be found under the title
of the story on page 1 of the text. Since hes telling a story as
an observer from memory, he may not be a reliable keeper of
the actual facts. This point of view leads to the mixing of
reality and fantasy, just as the setting does.
Note: There are several movie versions of The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow available on videotape: a 1949 version with
Bing Crosby, Disneys 1958 version, and Tim Burtons 1999
version. You may wish to view more than one of these versions so you can compare how different actors in different
times reenacted this timeless story.
Before you go on to your next reading assignment, please
complete Self-Check 2.

Lesson 1


Self-Check 2
Match the names in the left-hand column below with their descriptions in the right-hand

______ 1. Ichabod Crane

a. Nickname of the bully who was in love with


______ 2. Headless horseman

b. Rich Dutch farmer

______ 3. Baltus Van Tassel

c. Village where Ichabod came to teach

______ 4. Katrina

d. Schoolmaster who believed in superstition

e. Van Tassels daughter

______ 5. Brom Bones

f. Ghost that was searching for its head

______ 6. Hans Van Ripper

g. Farmer who lent his horse to Ichabod

______ 7. Gunpowder

h. Horse Ichabod rode to the party

______ 8. Sleepy Hollow

Check your answers with those on page 171.

Read the following information on symbolism and the background to Edgar Allan Poe and The Tell-Tale Heart. Then
read the classic story on pages 1317 in Great American Short
Stories. When you finish the story, study the analysis that follows.


American Literature

Characterization is the writers art of creating characters who
jump off the page. When writing a story, authors can simply
tell us about characters. For example, Katrina in The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow is described as a blooming lass of
fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and
rosycheeked as one of her father's peaches . . . (14). This
type of description is called direct presentation. Irving relies
heavily on this method since his narrator is an observer who
is thinking back to a previous time.
However, authors are generally careful not to overuse the
direct method. Instead, they work hard to create a situation
in which they can show how a character acts. Then they let
the readers decide on the character for themselves. This
method is called indirect presentation. For example, again
in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Irving shows how Brom
Bones and his gang persecuted Ichabod: They smoked out
his singing school, by stopping up the chimney; broke into
the schoolhouse at night . . . and turned every thing topsyturvy: so that the poor schoolmaster began to think all the
witches in the country held their meetings there (24). Notice
that this presentation reveals something about each character
and also works toward the climax and theme. When characters are dramatized, the author allows the readers to see for
themselves what the character is like as a person.
The protagonist and antagonist usually have motivation, or
reasons for their actions. Ichabod is motivated by his dreams
of prosperity and of getting the girl as well as by his superstitions. Brom is motivated to win the girl and make a fool of
Ichabod. In Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet, the protagonist
Romeo risks his life to enter his enemys house to see and
speak to the girl he loves. The father who breaks into a drugstore to get medicine for his child isnt out to make trouble.
A noble motivation for a character often makes him or her
sympathetic to a reader.
As you read, pay attention to what you learn about the characters. Youll find that there are many types.

Lesson 1


Round characters are like real-life people. They have

quirks and oddities, and we feel that we know them as
real people.

Stock characters are flat because they have only one or

two main traits. Theyve become so stereotyped by their
frequent use in fiction that all readers recognize them
right away: the wicked witch, the mad scientist, the brilliant detective with some rather odd habits.

Static characters dont change in any major way from

the beginning to the end of the story. Characters like
Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, and Katrina are examples
of static characters. For example, Ichabod doesnt learn
from his experience to be less fearful and more extroverted. Most short stories use some static characters to
help people in the story and to reflect any change in the
protagonist and/or antagonist.

Dynamic characters change in at least one distinct way,

either in personality or outlook. The majority of stories
youll read have dynamic characters. The change may be
large or small; it may be a good (positive) change or it
may be bad (negative). Nonetheless, the character
changes in some significant, basic way (not just in
habits or opinions). Usually the change is reflected near
the peak of the rising action, in the climax, and in the
falling action. In fact, the complications in the plot
engage the character in ways that lay the basis for the
potential to change and then show the character beginning to change.

Simply put, a symbol is something that stands for something
else. Symbolism, or the use of symbols, involves using an
object, a person, a place, or an action to represent a quality,
an attitude, a belief, or a value. Symbolism takes something
ordinary or basic and makes it more than what it is in reality. A symbol has both a literal meaning (what it really is)
and a symbolic meaning (what it represents).


American Literature

Some symbols seem almost natural. For example, in many

cultures, a rooster crowing symbolizes dawn, which may also
symbolize a new day or new hope. Other symbols are cultural. In many Western countries, for example, a red rose
symbolizes loveperhaps because red is the color of blood
and, therefore, of the heart. Yet another type of symbol is one
thats created deliberately to represent something. For example, the American flag, the bald eagle, and the image of Uncle
Sam have been created to symbolize the United States of
Writers of literature often use symbols that are meaningful
only within a particular story. At times, something becomes
symbolic in the eyes of a character. At other times, a character may be unaware that something is symbolic, but critical
readers recognize the symbolic meaning. Think, for example,
about the famous comic strip Peanuts. What does Linuss
blanket symbolize? And whats symbolized by the fact that
Charlie Brown is forever convinced that Lucy will hold the
footballeven though she always pulls it away at the last
second and he falls flat on his back?
Anything can be used as a symbol. In the The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow, for example, the setting was used partially as
a symbol because it represented an uneasy mix of reality and
fantasy. Crane meets his untimely end because he cant adequately separate fantasy from reality.
When you become aware that an author is using a symbol
and you understand its meaning, the story itself becomes
much more meaningful. You can better understand the plot,
the characters, the setting, and so forth. However, no matter
how exciting it is to search for symbols, be careful not to find
symbolic meaning in every object, name, and event in a
story. Sometimes things are exactly as they appear, with no
double meaning at all. Although understanding real symbols
can be crucial to understanding a story, the opposite is also
true. Creating symbols where there are none only distorts
the meaning of any piece of literature.
One way to determine if something is a symbol or not is to
observe how frequently the author uses or refers to a particular object or even a situation. If he or she repeatedly establishes something, it is quite likely done in order to develop a

Lesson 1


Background: Edgar Allan Poe and The

Tell-Tale Heart
For many people, the name Poe has been synonymous with
horror literature. The genre of horror often doesnt get much
respect. Literary horror and horror films are often considered
somewhat less respectable than other genreseven though
people love both! This may be because some people feel that
scaring people in stories or films is something like hiding
and saying Boo!theres not much to it besides creating
that certain emotion (fright) for a few moments.
Poe is best known for
his horror fiction, but
many readers also
enjoy his clever detective stories. He was
well known as a major
American poet and
published a good deal
of literary criticism as

While that may be true, a real artist can do so much more

with horror than scare people. Edgar Allan Poes horror stories are still read today because they dont simply scare or
shock the reader. They provide insights into the minds of
their protagonists, who are usually some pretty disturbed
people. And they reveal, sometimes, that theres a very fine
line between sanity and insanity.
Edgar Allan Poe (18091849) was orphaned before he was
three years old. He was raised by a stepfather, attended West
Point, served in the army, and then attempted to support
himself by writing. By 1845 he was married, drinking heavily, and nearly starving; his beloved wife Virginia died that
winter. Poe quickly fell in love with two other women. Torn
between the two of them, he attempted suicide.
In 1849, he tried to straighten himself out. He stopped drinking and became engaged to another woman. On his way to the
wedding, he stopped in Baltimore. He was discovered in a
miserable condition and died four days later. He was buried
next to his wife in a Baltimore cemetery.

Since 1949, each

year on Poes birthday, an unknown
stranger has left a
half-drunk bottle of
cognac and a single
red rose on his grave.


The Tell-Tale Heart is one of Poes masterpieces. Its narrated in the first-person singular (I). Its up to you, the
reader, to determine how trustworthy this narrator is. As you
read, look for indications of the narrators state of mind.

Analysis of The Tell-Tale Heart

The introductory paragraph to Poes The Tell-Tale Heart
provides an immediate glimpse into the narrators mind.
Read the paragraph aloud and pay attention to the tonethe

American Literature

rambling, confused way the speaker talks. It sounds almost

nonsensical. At the same time, the narrator is tryingmaybe
too hardto convince the reader that hes not mad, that he
can speak calmly and healthily. But he convinces us of
the opposite with every word he says.
In the second paragraph, the narrator continues in the same
confusing way. He doesnt give a chronological account,
explaining the events in the order in which they happened.
He doesnt provide any background information. Instead of
saying, There was an old man, he starts by explaining, I
loved the old man (13). It seems as if hes assuming that the
reader already knows the man. This is an example of an
unreliable narratorthat is, one that readers simply cant
trust to tell the truth.
In his desire to convince us of his sanity, the narrator
explains how methodical he was about his plan to murder
the old man. The irony is that the more he tries to prove his
sanity, the more insane he seems to be.
Irony is at work on another level as well. Note the narrators
very matter-of-fact tone as he describes his action after he
has murdered the man (16): First of all I dismembered the
corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs. He
could just as easily be describing how he made dinner. The
idea is that he feels absolutely no guilt or remorse. This
process seems almost perfectly normal to him; in fact, hes
proud of it.
But when the police come to investigate and the narrator
hears the heart, its clear that underneath his pose, guilt
has got the better of him. The heart, of course, makes no
noise at all. So what is the narrator hearing? Its the sound
of his own conscience. He pretends to us that he feels no
remorse, that the man deserved to die, and he pretends the
same thing to himself. But he hears the throbbing of his own
subconscious, and its that overwhelming sense of guilt that
leads him to confess his crime.

Irony is the expression of something

thats opposite to
the intended

Symbolism plays an important part in The Tell-Tale Heart.

One major symbol is the old mans eye, which is the narrators reason for killing the old man. The eye may symbolize
evil (as in evil eye), or it may represent the relationship
between the old man and the narrator. Although its not

Lesson 1


stated in the story, it seems as if the narrator works for the

old man. His eye may represent the constant overseeing of
the narrator and his responsibilities. Another symbol is the
sound of the old mans beating heart. Even after the old man
is dead, the sound of his heartbeat haunts the narrator. He
has killed the old man, but the old man still lives in the narrators mind. A third symbol in the story is light, which is
possibly a symbol for truth. Most of the story takes place
during the nightin darkness. However, when the narrator
goes to the old mans room to kill him, a ray of light from his
lantern lands on the old mans eye, revealing the truth of
why the narrator wants to kill him. Then, near the end of the
story, which probably occurs near dawn, the narrator confesses to his murder. The light of day brings out the truth.

Self-Check 3
1. Who is the protagonist of The Tell-Tale Heart? Do you know if this character is male or
2. What excuse does the narrator give for murdering the old man?
3. To what does the narrator compare the old mans eye?
4. What causes the narrator to confess to the crime?
5. True or False? The real reason the narrator murdered the old man was to inherit his
Check your answers with those on page 171.


American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to
When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 1, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
1. The label horror story is an example of
A. a character study.
B. informational reading.

C. a genre.
D. a universal truth.

2. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the point at which the narrator feels

forced to confess is the
A. exposition.
B. rising action.

C. resolution.
D. climax.

3. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving says

Ichabod Cranes voice resounded far above all the rest of his
congregation. This statement is an example of Ichabods
A. leanness.
B. strictness.

C. vanity.
D. superstition.


Lesson 1
Introduction and the Short Story, Part 1


4. Which one of the following words is an example of a literal meaning for the noun dog?
A. Mutt
B. Hound

C. Cur
D. Canine

5. Whom does Irving describe as being plump as a partridge?

A. Brom Bones
B. Katrina Van Tassel

C. Hans Van Ripper

D. Baltus Van Tassel

6. What irony is presented in The Tell-Tale Heart?



murder victim was actually blind.

narrators attempts to convince us of his sanity make him appear mad.
police officers arrive because they can hear the beating of the victims heart.
victims eye still haunts the narrator even after the murder.

7. Brom Van Brunt received the nickname Brom Bones because of his
A. horsemanship.
B. arrogance.

C. large size.
D. intelligence.

8. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the sound of the heart pounding is a symbol of


ill-gotten gains.
good detective work.
the desire of the dead for vengeance.

9. The protagonist of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is

A. Ichabod Crane.
B. the headless horseman.

C. Brom Bones.
D. Katrina Van Tassel.

10. Which one of the following people is an example of an unreliable narrator?


Washington Irving
Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart
The narrator of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

11. The conflict of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is

A. person against nature.
B. boy against girl.

C. person against person.

D. man against ghosts.

12. New York state is the _______ for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
A. setting
B. climax


C. plot
D. conflict

Examination, Lesson 1

13. What reason does the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart give for killing the old man?

He disliked the old mans vulture-like eye.

The old man was very unkind to him.
He was insane and couldnt control himself.
He planned to take the old mans riches.

14. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, part of the exposition includes describing the legend
A. Major Andrs tree.
B. Galloping Hessian of the Hollow.

C. Van Tassels wealth.

D. the black stallion Daredevil.

15. Why do the police visit the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart?

They can hear the heart.

The narrator dares them to.
They saw the light from the lantern.
The neighbors had heard a shriek.

16. How does the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart kill the old man?


stabs him.
suffocates him under the bed.
cuts his heart out.
scares him to death.

17. Writers generally use figurative language to


hint at the deeper meaning of something.

present factual information.
develop the rising action of a story.
present the denotative meaning of a word.

18. Why does the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart confess?



realizes there was no gold.

knows the detectives have it figured out.
feels guilty.
doesnt have an alibi.

19. Which one of the following words best describes Ichabod Crane?
A. Handsome
B. Superstitious

Examination, Lesson 1

C. Brave
D. Heavyset


20. What does Washington Irving introduce first in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?


The region
The character of Ichabod Crane
The legend of the headless horseman
Ichabod Cranes teaching style

Examination, Lesson 1

Read the following information on theme and the background
to An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce.
Then read the story on pages 171178 in Great American
Short Stories. When you finish the story, study the analysis
that follows.

Authors usually try to convey some point about life and what
that may mean to you or other readers. This point, which
can usually be summarized in one sentence about the storys
main idea, is the theme of a story.
A theme is different from a moral, which is a lesson taught
by a story. The fables of the Roman author Aesop are stories
that illustrate a moral. For example, in his fable The Ant
and the Grasshopper, a grasshopper plays all summer long
and then suffers from hardship in the winter because he has
stored away no food. He asks an ant, who has spent all summer working, to help him. The ant refuses and responds with
this moral: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
The sole purpose of a story with a moral is to teach people
how to behave. In contrast, other stories present believable
people acting in many different ways and asks the readers to
consider the results of their actions.
Some short stories may have no theme at all; others may
have more than one theme. In fact, the main theme of many
stories is often developed and reinforced by minor themes.

One of the first items to consider when determining a theme

is the main motivation of the character. In The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Cranes actions were fueled by his
vanity and his superstition. When that vanity was attacked
by the constant bullying of Brom Bones and the rejection of
Katrina, he fell beneath the spell of his own melancholy and
superstition. The storys main idea focuses on the interplay
of fantasy and reality. What is the point or statement the


The Short Story, Part 2


author is trying to make about the line between the two in

this story? Answering this question then leads you to state
the theme.
Heres one possible theme for this folktale: Stories arent
always trustworthy reflections of fact, but instead, they can
cloud a persons ability to discern between fantasy and reality. An even more general theme might be something like
this: Although stories can enrich a persons life, they can
lead you astray in dealing with the real world.
Keep your one-sentence theme as general as possible. That
is, dont use any characters names or specific events from
the story. Notice how the theme is qualified by the word can
rather than must. The word can shows that the theme isnt
universal. Obviously, not all people who hear or read stories
believe in them so much that they interpret everything that
happens in the context of the story. The choice of can indicates that this reaction is just a possibility. Remember that
your choice of words in expressing the theme must be as
careful as the authors choice of words in conveying meaning.
When identifying a storys theme, think about any symbols
the author uses. For example, in The Tell-Tale Heart, even
the title is used as a symbol. The narrator believes the heart
is beating so loudly that it tells the truth about the murder. It
also beats loudly on the narrators ears until it forces him to
tell the tale of that guilt. Understanding this symbol can help
you identify a theme related to guilt winning out in the end,
even if the guilty person initially show no remorse.
Identifying the theme of a story is quite helpful in understanding the story itself. However, formulating that theme
often requires much thought. It can stretch your thinking
and enrich your experience. Discovering a storys theme
requires inferential reading, not just literal reading.
To identify a theme, you must read a story several times to be
sure youre familiar with the plot, the characters, the setting,
the point of view, the conflict, and so on. Once youve come
up with a theme, make sure that its based clearly on the
authors use of the various tools of the trade and not on your
personal beliefs or feelings about the storys plot or character.
You dont have to agree with a storys theme or moral statements, but you should represent accurately what the author
is trying to convey.


American Literature

Background: Ambrose Bierce and An

Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Ambrose Bierce (18421914?) was an Ohio-born writer and
journalist. He served during the Civil War, which is the
setting for An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and later
became a journalist in San Francisco. He wrote tales of
horror and a good deal of satire (a literary technique in which
the author makes fun of people or society by making them
seem ridiculous).
His writing on such topics as politics, culture, and literature
made him very popular. However, the more popular he
became in his society, the less he returned the favor. Bierce
was disgusted by many of the things he saw around him,
especially the materialism of Americans, their lack of culture,
and the way they paid lip service to ideals without ever actually living up to them. As he grew older, Bierce grew more
and more disillusioned with his society. In 1913, he decided
to go to Mexico to seek what he called the good, kind darkness. The exact date of Bierces death is unknown.

Analysis of An Occurrence at Owl

Creek Bridge
Part I of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge opens with a
tableaua depiction of a scene. Nothing is actually happening; the scene is described as though it were a still image in
a photograph. This portion is an example of the dramatic
point of view. The unemotional language suits the mood. As
Bierce writes, Death is a dignitary who when he comes
announced is to be received with formal manifestations of
respect, even by those most familiar with him (172). Soldiers
are certainly among those most familiar with death. In the
code of military etiquette, silence and dignity are forms of
respect. The narrator ends his account of the hanging just as
the sergeant steps aside, allowing the convicted man to fall
to his death.

Lesson 2


In part II, the exposition, Bierce provides some background

to what led to this moment. He tells the story about how a
man visited the southerner Farquhar and his wife. Both
believed the man to be a fellow Confederate. Instead, hes a
Federal scoutthat is, a northerner. The scout sets up
Farquhar by encouraging him to burn the bridge. What hes
really doing is testing Farquhar. If Farquhar follows through,
hell be caught and hanged as a spy. Men not in uniform,
who engage in any military activity, arent made prisoners of
war. In most wars, theyre usually executed as spies.
In part III (174), Bierce shifts back to the scene at the bridge.
Farquhar is hanged, but he seems to have fallen into the
stream as the rope that was supposed to have suffocated
him breaks. He switches to limited omniscient point of view
to show whats going on in Farquhars mind.
As part of the rising action, Bierce devotes a page describing
the agony a man feels as he suffocates. Then, in a series of
complications, Farquhar reemerges from the water (176) and
lands on the bank of the river (177). At this point, Bierce
describes Farquhars heightened senses, suggesting that a
man who was supposed to die would take a special joy in
every detail around him:
He dug his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself
in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing
beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon
the bank were giant garden plants; he noted a definite
order in their arrangement, inhaled the fragrance of
their blooms. A strange, roseate light shone through
the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in
their branches the music of olian harps. He had no
wish to perfect his escapewas content to remain in
that enchanting spot until retaken (177).
Theres an expression about the feeling people have when
they think theyre going to die: Your whole life flashes before
your eyes. In Farquhars case, he imagines the future. As a
reader, youre led to believe that he did escape, and so the
end of the story is ironicyou expect one thing, but some-


American Literature

thing entirely different happens. The climax occurs with the

light followed by darkness. The falling action and resolution
occur in the last paragraph.
Is there a theme to this story? Readers can draw their own
conclusions, but Bierce seems to be commenting on the sadness and often stupid, meaningless loss of life that occurs
during wartime. Farquhar wasnt really a criminal. He was
set up to do what he did by the same people who executed
him for trying to do it (another example of irony). The reader
wants him to escape and hopes he succeeds. But instead,
Bierce tells things the way they usually turn out.

Self-Check 4
1. A still image of a scene is called a _______.
2. List some of the words Ambrose Bierce uses to describe how Peyton Farquhar felt as
he was awakened after he fell from the bridge.
3. What is the purpose of the vivid description of the riverbank (177)?
4. What bridge was Farquhar supposed to destroy? Can you see any irony in that?
Check your answers with those on page 172.

Lesson 2


Read the following background to Bartleby by Herman
Melville. Then read the story on pages 1848 in Great
American Short Stories. When you finish the story, study the
analysis that follows.

Background: Herman Melville and

Herman Melville (18191891) was born in New York City into
an established merchant family. He was the third of eight
children. Melville didnt live a conventional life. He signed on
to a whaling ship and spent some time living with the natives
of Polynesia, where he was fascinated by their lifestyles,
especially their open sexuality, which was very different from
the puritanical culture of America at the time. In his novels
that focus on Polynesian culture (Typee and Omoo), Melville
subtly satirizes the civilized American culture of his time.
At the time Melville was being published, many Americans
agreed that literature should, in the words of one novelist, be
meant for the whole family. Melville disagreed; he thought
literature should provoke, seek the truth, and if that meant
that it would sometimes offend, well, that was all part of the
nature of art.
Melvilles most famous novel is Moby Dick, a novel about the
captain of a whaling ship who wants to seek and kill the
whale responsible for the loss of his leg decades earlier. But
its much, much more than thatits also a long study on
the nature of human existence, of God, and of humans
relations to both nature and God.
Bartleby, the story youre about to read, is probably his
most famous short story. Unlike some of his famous novels,
Bartleby doesnt take place in a wild natural setting, but in
civilized New York. It, too, is critical of civilization, which is
represented by the narrator of the story. As you read it, pay
as much attention to the way Melville portrays the narrator
as he does the mysterious Bartleby.


American Literature

Note: In the story, Bartleby is a scrivener, or copyist. Before

copy machines and computers, lawyers hired people to copy
all the legal documents they needed. A scrivener sat all day
rewriting contracts, wills, and other legal documents.

If you enjoy Bartleby, consider reading the following

novels by Herman Melville:
Moby Dick

Structure of Bartleby
Herman Melvilles Bartleby was first published in 1853.
Although the setting is the New York City of 150 years ago,
it could easily be transposed to the office life of today. The
furnishings and the equipment and the clothing would be
different, but what remains constant is the description of
odd habits of individuals who work together, the repetitive
nature of work, and the oddity of human nature.
The basic plot description of Bartleby could be simply
stated as a stranger comes to town. In this case, the town is
the office of the narrator, and the stranger is Bartleby, who
works as a scrivener, or copyist.
It might be helpful as you reread this story to imagine a contemporary office setting. The cartoonist who draws Dilbert,
Scott Adams, makes fun of the current corporate office with
its cubicles, each filled with an individual who toils away
at a computer terminal. Bartlebys job, like that of his fellow
scriveners, was to copy by hand long, boring legal documents
or other such papers. In todays office, Bartlebys job would
be done by a photocopy machine.
The importance of the storys characters lies in the type of
individual each is. Bartleby, a static character, embodies a
pessimism that recoils before a universe he cant and wont
accept. The narrator, on the other hand, is willing to accommodate himself to the world, as evidenced by his comfortable
position in conventional society. The narrator (Bartlebys
employer) would seem to be a dynamic character, since his

Lesson 2


attitude toward Bartleby changes from initial outrage to

curiosity and finally to compassion.
The setting is important in that it helps to illustrate Bartlebys
withdrawal from the world. When hes hired, Bartleby is
placed away from the other scriveners, next to a window with
a brick wall outside, and behind a screen that keeps him out
of his bosss sight. In the end, Bartleby is totally isolated in
the quietest of the yards.
The point of view of Bartleby is apparent from the first word
of the story, I, which indicates the first-person point of view.
Although the title might make you think Bartleby is telling
the story, he isnt the narrator. Instead, its Bartlebys boss
who shares his perspective, or point of view, on Bartleby and
the other scriveners. Take a moment to imagine how the
story would have been different if told from Bartlebys point
of view.

Analysis of Bartleby
The name of the story is Bartleby, and it tells the story of a
very unusual man. However, the story is as much about the
narrator as it is about Bartleby. In fact, as readers, we never
come to truly understand Bartleby, but the more we read,
the more we come to understand what kind of man the narrator is. The narrator is the Master in Chancery for the State
of New York. Thus, hes a government employee. The office of
Chancery is a branch of law that deals with disputes over
The first two lines tell something about the narrator. Note his
very old-fashioned, very formal diction (word choice). He
doesnt say, Im an old guy, but calls himself a rather
elderly man (18). We sense immediately that hes a rather
careful, polite, cautious, formal person. In other words, the
narrator is a man to whom doing things the right way is
probably very important. His tone is that of a man set in his
ways, who likes things done in a traditional, ordered fashion.
We can draw these conclusions from his tone, but he also
states them outright: All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in


American Literature

pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next,

method (19). In this context, prudence means caution;
method means that he does things very carefully in a stepby-step manner.
Note, too, that the narrator talks a great deal about himself
and, in fact, seems very content with himself. Hes moderately successful and somewhat wealthy, and he clearly
thinks of himself as a very respectable figure. When you put
these pieces together, you can see why such a bizarre person
as Bartleby would be such a problem for the narrator.
The narrator runs a law office, and he values quiet and
order in it. Scriveners were expected to be little more than
machinesto act as recording devicesnot to express their
own desires or show much in the way of personality.
When the narrator hires Bartleby, his orderly world is soon
rattled. What bothers the narrator most, of course, is that
Bartleby doesnt argue with him. In fact, he refuses to even
explain why he wont perform certain tasksNothing so
aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance (27).
But the narrator keeps him on. In fact, he grows increasingly
fascinated with Bartleby, and he begins to observe him, trying to make some sense out of him.
On page 29, after a few unsuccessful encounters with
Bartleby, the narrator admits that Bartleby has defeated him
Shall I acknowledge it? The conclusion of this whole
business was that it soon became a fixed fact of my
chambers, that a pale young scrivener, by the name of
Bartleby, had a desk there; that he copied for me at
the usual rate of four cents a folio (one hundred
words); but he was permanently exempt from examining the work done by him, that duty being transferred
to Turkey and Nippers, out of compliment, doubtless,
to their superior acuteness; moreover, said Bartleby
was never, on any account, to be dispatched on the
most trivial errand of any sort; and that even if
entreated to take upon him such a matter, it was generally understood that he would prefer not toin
other words, that he would refuse point-blank.

Lesson 2


The narrator finds himself becoming considerably reconciled to Bartleby (30). He praises his punctuality and his
honesty, and he sees what good he can in him. Then, one
Sunday, the narrator arrives at the office and discovers
Bartleby there. He eventually discovers that Bartleby is living
in the office. He is at first sympathetic (32), but his pity
turns into repulsion (33), and he determines to speak with
Bartley. If Bartleby wont answer a few questions, hell fire
him (33). Bartleby, of course, refuses to say anything.
The narrator realizes that he and the other clerks are starting to use Bartlebys word prefer and that Bartleby is having
far too much influence on them: I thought to myself, surely
I must get rid of a demented man, who already has in some
degree turned the tongues, if not the heads, of myself and
clerks (35). He fears that Bartleby will drive them all crazy.
At this point Bartleby stops working altogether, and the narrator fires himor at least he assumes he has. He wonders
whether Bartleby understands that he has in fact been fired.
The narrator writes sarcastically, He [Bartleby] was more a
man of preferences than assumptions (37). This means that
Bartleby sees the world as he wishes to, not as it is.
The narrator himself is flabbergasted and doesnt know how
to respond when Bartleby refuses to leave. After others begin
to notice that hes employing a nonworking man and that
all through the circle of my professional acquaintance a
whisper of wonder was running round, having reference to
the strange creature I kept at my office (41). The narrator
wonders where this may lead and considers that Bartleby
may one day actually take over his office:
And as the idea came upon me of his possibly turning
out a longlived man, and keep occupying my chambers,
and denying my authority; and perplexing my visitors;
and scandalizing my professional reputation; and
casting a general gloom over the premises; keeping
soul and body together to the last upon his savings
(for doubtless he spent but half a dime a day), and in
the end perhaps outlive me, and claim possession of
my office by right of his perpetual occupancy . . . (41).


American Literature

The story becomes even more comic when the narrator actually moves his staff to a new office to escape Bartleby! The
new tenants feel that the narrator is still responsible and
they insist that he remove Bartleby. When Bartleby still
refuses to leave, hes arrested and taken to the Tombsthe
New York City prison system. Surprisinglyor maybe not so
surprisinglythe narrator visits Bartleby in prison and tries
to arrange to see that hes well taken care of.
After Bartleby dies in prison, the narrator discovers that he
had once worked for the Dead Letter Office in Washington,
D.C., where undeliverable mail is opened and reviewed before
being destroyed. The narrator reflects on what effect this
might have had on Bartleby and what effect reading all these
sad letters might have on any person:
Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?
Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a
pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling
these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames?
For by the cartload they are annually burned.
Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk
takes a ringthe finger it was meant for, perhaps,
moulders in the grave; a bank note sent in swiftest
charityhe whom it would relieve nor eats nor hungers
any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope
for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those
who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of
life, these letters speed to death (48).
Having read so many of these letters, Bartleby seems to have
fallen into a state of total despair over humanitys condition.
He has simply given up on life itself. As foreign as this idea
might have sounded to the narrator at one time, he seems to
have learned something from Bartleby. Although Bartleby is
a static character and his decline is a naural result of his
basic personality, the narrator is dynamic. His own perspective has changed, and hes unlikely to ever see the world
again as the pleasant, well-ordered place he once did.

Lesson 2


Self-Check 5
1. What kind of an office does the narrator run?
2. What kind of employee is Bartleby initially?
3. What is the significance of the wall?
4. What element (plot, setting, character) is most important in the story?
5. Glance over the story again and find at least five words the narrator uses to describe
Check your answers with those on page 172.

Read the following background to A New England Nun by
Mary Freeman. Then read the story on pages 104114 in Great
American Short Stories. When you finish the story, study the
analysis that follows.

Background: Mary Freeman and A New

England Nun
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (18521930) was born in
Randolph, Massachusetts. She wrote and published dozens
of short stories, mostly in magazines aimed at young women.
This meant that she had to write fiction that encouraged


American Literature

young women to behave according to the customs of the

time. Freeman was also a highly regarded author of ghost
stories and mysteries.
A New England Nun tells the story of a failed romance, but
its primarily a psychological portrait. To recreate the inner
life of her protagonist, she uses details from the protagonists
outer life. Pay particular attention to each of the small,
seemingly trivial details she uses throughout this work and
how they add up to provide a picture of her inner state of

Analysis of A New England Nun

Mary Freemans A New England Nun isnt about a real
nuna woman who takes religious vows. But her protagonist, Louisa, is a nun in a symbolic senseshes a lifelong
virgin who is obviously committed to living alone.
A New England Nun is a character studya psychological
profile of a person. The plot is quite simple: Louisa gets
engaged, her fiance travels, he returns, and they break off
the engagement.
But the real focus of the story isnt on plot, but on mood.
Freeman recreates the stillness of her characters mind and
existence in every line. Even the opening description of her
rural environment at twilight captures her own situation
rest and hush and night (104).
Louisa is slow and still in her movements (104). Everything
she does she performs with total focus and precision. Note
the long description of the way in which she sets her table.
Details are everything in this story, because attention to
detail is the essence of Louisas life itself. Notice how
Freeman uses both direct and indirect characterization.
The reader senses right away that Joe Dagget isnt the ideal
companion for her (if any man is). Everything in her house is
small and dainty; he seems to fill up the whole room. Shes
quiet; he has a loud voice. He looks younger than he is; she
gives the impression of being older (106). And when he
slightly rearranges her books, she has a feeling of uneasiness and feels compelled to get up and put them back the
way they were.

Lesson 2


Pay particular attention to what happens when Joe leaves

after his first visit. He accidentally knocks over her sewing
basket on his way out. This may seem like an incidental
unimportant occurrence, but think about it. The sewing
basket is a symbol of her orderly, neat life. What Joe does
to the basket is what hes also doing to her life.

A metaphor is a
figure of speech
that presents an
implied comparison
of two normally
different things.
For example, a
relatively modern
metaphor is to
call the Internet
an information

Freeman uses a metaphor to explain what had happened

while they were apartLouisas feet had turned into a path,
smooth maybe under a calm, serene sky, but so straight
and unswerving that it could only meet a check at her grave,
and so narrow that there was no room for any one at her
side (108). In other words, she had become set in her ways
and was unlikely to change, and her lifestyle allowed for no
one else.
When Joe returned home, Louisas reaction was consternation. That is, she was upset and concerned. She fears any
change in her routine. She isnt looking forward to moving
into Joes house and living with his mother, a domineering,
shrewd old matron. Even the thought of Joes clothes
strewn about frightens hershe dreads a coarse masculine
presence (109).
Shortly before the marriage, Louisa discovers that Joe is in
love with Lily Dyer. Ordinarily when such an occurrence happens, the jilted party feels anger and despair. In Louisas
case, finding out that Joe is in love with Lily provides relief.
Louisa Ellis frees herself of Joe, and in doing so is free to
sew linen seams, and distil roses, and dust and polish and
fold away in lavender, as long as she listedthat is as long
as she wanted to. To some this might seem dreadful, but
Louisa feels steeped in peace (113). Tranquility is her goal,
and she achieves itat the price of engaging life and other
people in any dynamic, meaningful way.


American Literature

Self-Check 6
In your own words, briefly describe the three characters in A New England Nun.
1. Louisa Ellis
2. Joe Dagget
3. Lily Dyer
Check your answers with those on page 172.

Read the following background to The Yellow Wallpaper by
Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Then read the story on pages
115129 in Great American Short Stories. When you finish the
story, study the analysis that follows.

Background: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

and The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (18601935) was born in Connecticut.
She had a difficult childhood; her father deserted his family
soon after her birth. She married in 1884 but divorced her husband three years later. Then, in a very courageous move for that
time, she moved with her daughter to California.

Lesson 2


By the 1890s Gilman was a staunch feminist. She lectured

widely on womens rights and wrote a book, Women and
Economics, which suggested that because women were financially dependent on men, they could never be truly free or
happy. She developed these and other ideas in other nonfiction works such as Concerning Children and His Religion and
Hers. Later in life she wrote a series of utopian novels
fiction that described a better world, one that comes about
by applying feminist ideas to real-world problems. Gilman
died in 1935 after making major contributions to both fiction
and feminism.
Heres an article Gilman wrote which appeared in The
Forerunner magazine in 1913.
Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper
Many and many a reader has asked that. When the
story first came out, in the New England Magazine
about 1891, a Boston physician made protest in The
Transcript. Such a story ought not to be written, he
said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.
Another physician, in Kansas I think, wrote to say that
it was the best description of incipient insanity he had
ever seen, andbegging my pardonhad I been here?
Now the story of the story is this:
For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholiaand
beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I
went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a
noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known
in the country. This wise man put me to bed and
applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique
responded so promptly that he concluded there was
nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home
with solemn advice to live as domestic a life as far as
possible, to have but two hours intellectual life a
day, and never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again
as long as I lived. This was in 1887.
I went home and obeyed those directions for some
three months, and came so near the borderline of
utter mental ruin that I could see over.


American Literature

Then, using the remnants of intelligence that

remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the
noted specialists advice to the winds and went to
work againwork, the normal life of every human
being; work, in which is joy and growth and service,
without which one is a pauper and a parasiteultimately recovering some measure of power.
Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow
escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its
embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I
never had hallucinations or objections to my mural
decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so
nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.
The little book is valued by alienists and as a good
specimen of one kind of literature. It has, to my
knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fateso
terrifying her family that they let her out into normal
activity and she recovered.
But the best result is this. Many years later I was told
that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his
that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia
since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.
It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save
people from being driven crazy, and it worked.

Analysis of The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper is an allegorya story in which
everything in the story can be taken symbolically. This
means that while were reading the story of one woman who
is basically imprisoned by her husband, we also understand
that Gilman is commenting on the state of women everywherethat all women were, in her time, in a kind of
The story focuses on the narrators relationship with her
husband John. We see at once that its a story about the
power relations between the two. John clearly has the
upper hand in their very unequal relationship. He laughs at
her (115), but she excuses that as something to be expected

Lesson 2


in a marriage. He doesnt believe shes sick, and shes willing

to accept that though she knows deep down inside that she
is. He refuses to let her see friends (118). He keeps her by
herself, with no work, no socializing, and no reading. He
even suggests that she not think about her condition
(page 116).
He portrays himself as her savior, and she accepts this. This
situation creates a sense of total dependency on her part. At
the same time, she feels indebted to him. While hes actually
torturing her, she feels she owes her existence to himhe
takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to
value it more (116).
While she thinks shes being taken care of in a pleasant
English manorin a room perhaps once occupied by childrenwe realize that something very different and eerie is
happening. The nursery really isnt a nursery at allits a
place where other insane people were once kept. Someone
desperate has already scraped off all the wallpaper she could
reach. The bed is nailed to the floor and the windows are
barred. The narrator doesnt understand this, but subconsciously she senses it, and the wallpaper becomes a symbol
to her of her imprisonment.
She constantly studies the wallpaper, looking for patterns.
A pattern suggests meaning and purposesomething that
helps us make sense of things. But she cant find one, no
matter how hard she looks. Her inability to find a pattern
suggests that shes sensing a lack of meaning in her life.
Eventually, the narrator begins to see the image of a
woman behind bars (124) in the wallpaper. Then, she sees
her creeping around, seemingly desperate to get out. This
vision may be her own subconscious realization of whats
going on. Finally, she sees many women. At this point, the
reader begins to understand how allegorical the story is.
Although its the story of one womans imprisonment, Gilman
wants us to understand that all women are creeping around
behind bars, and that theyre actually being so foolish as to
be grateful to their jailers. The jailers, of course, are men.
During Gilmans lifetime, men didnt allow women the right
to vote or work at certain jobs.


American Literature

Many of the lines in the story are intended to suggest the

same thing about the relations of men and women in general. Consider these statements from the story:

He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir

without special direction (116). This suggests that while
men may seem to be caring for women, theyre actually
controlling them.

I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest

and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden
already (117). This statement reveals Gilmans opinion
that women have been misled into thinking they should
be grateful for what men do for them.

What is it, little girl? (122) and Bless her little heart!
said he with a big hug, she shall be as sick as she
pleases! But now lets improve the shining hours by
going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning! (123).
Gilman uses such remarks to show that men often treat
women as silly children.

Finally, the narrator goes berserk. She gnaws at the bed and
throws away the key to her room. When John finds her, shes
crawling around on the floor with a rope tied around her,
surrounded by the sticky shreds of wallpaper she has torn
off in a rage. This condition symbolizes the idea that women
experience a kind of insanity when theyre treated this way
for a while. In other words, going mad would be a sane
reaction to that kind of treatment.

Lesson 2


Self-Check 7
1. What does the husband John do for a living?
2. What does he give as his wifes diagnosis?
3. What does the narrator see behind the wallpaper?
4. How is this vision similar to her own situation?
Check your answers with those on page 173.


American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to
When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 2, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
1. Of the following characters, the one you learn the most about in
Bartleby is
A. the narrator.
B. Nipper.

C. Gingernut.
D. Turkey.

2. During what war does An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

take place?

The American Revolutionary War

The Civil War
The War of 1812
The Spanish-American War


Lesson 2
The Short Story, Part 2


3. What hobby does Louisa constantly engage in?

A. Spying on Joe
B. Breaking hearts

C. Taking in stray dogs

D. Sewing

4. Who visits Farquhar and encourages him to burn the bridge?

A. His wife
B. A Confederate soldier

C. A Union soldier
D. An English soldier

5. When Joe Dagget visits Louisa in A New England Nun, what does he rearrange?

Flowers in the blue vase near the window

Lavender cushions
Books on the table
Fine china

6. The narrator of Bartleby says his own two chief characteristics are
A. wealth and fame.
B. prudence and method.

C. discipline and punishment.

D. height and good looks.

7. Which one of the following statements accurately expresses the theme of The Yellow

The best role for women is as housewives.

All women are being held in a kind of prison.
The best cure for insanity is rest.
Institutions for the insane need to be reformed.

8. Which one of the characters you read about is 12 years old?


The narrators daughter in The Yellow Wallpaper

Ginger Nut in Bartleby
Lily Dyer in A New England Nun
The son of the old man in The Tell-Tale Heart

9. When Farquhar dreams he has escaped, he imagines that


hes shot.
another man is hanged instead.
his wife is dead.
he swims to shore.

10. How does Bartleby explain his refusal to perform certain tasks?



becomes angry.
blames it on his work at the Dead Letter Office.
blames Turkey and Nipper for annoying him.

Examination, Lesson 2

11. How many years were Joe and Louisa engaged?

A. 7
B. 15

C. 20
D. 22

12. Which of the following stories is an allegory?


Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The Yellow Wallpaper
The Tell-Tale Heart

13. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is ironic because


the South lost the war.

the bridge burns anyway.
the narrative interrupts with a flashback of Farquhars previous life.
what we think is happening actually isnt.

14. Bartleby was written from the _______ point of view.


limited omniscient

15. Louisas reaction to Joes return is one of

A. excitement.
B. romance.

C. relief.
D. consternation.

16. Which one of the following incidents is an example of exposition?


The woman tearing off the wallpaper

Bartlebys death
The narrator hiring Bartleby
The breaking-off of Louisa and Joes engagement

17. Where does Bartleby die?


In prison
In the Dead Letter Office
On the street outside the narrators previous office
In the narrators arms

18. The resolution in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge occurs when


Farquhar is tricked by the visitor.

Farquhars body swings gently beneath the bridge.
Farquhar escapes the flying bullets and reaches the bank.
Farquhars wife steps from the veranda smiling joyfully.

Examination, Lesson 2


19. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the woman that the narrator sees in the wallpaper is

Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

a symbol of women everywhere.
the narrators mother.
the reflection of Johns sister.

20. A New England Nun is an example of

A. a suspense story.
B. a horror story.


C. a character study.
D. escapist literature.

Examination, Lesson 2

Read the following introductory material. Then take SelfCheck 8, which follows the introduction.

Introduction to the Novel

Simply put, a novel is a long story. The novel and the short
story share certain similarities, and yet each of these common elements is used differently. Lets examine some of the
characteristics of these two genres.

Short stories tend to focus on one particular episode. For
example, Ichabod Crane met the Headless Horseman in The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and a man is hanged during the
Civil War in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Novels, on
the other hand, include many such episodes.
Novels may also include subplots, which are like stories
within the novels. For example, if the short story The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow were a novel, Washington Irving
might have written a long biography of Ichabod Cranes
father, he could have devoted chapters to describing
Katrinas childhood, and so forth.
Each episode in a novel can be described in infinitely greater
detail as well. For example, in A New England Nun, Freeman
devotes just a few paragraphs to explain how Louisa and Joe
had become engaged. The freedom offered by a novel might
have inspired her to devote a whole chapter to their courtship.

Like the short story, the novel is made up of exposition, rising action, a climax, falling action, and resolution. But to
sustain interest over so many pages, most novels usually
have a number of climaxes, or subclimaxes. Each of these
subclimaxes is followed by falling action, which is actually
the rising action to the next climax. To help you understand
the difference, think about short stories and novels like
waves rolling in at the beach. A short story is like one wave




rolling in (rising action), cresting (climax), and then suddenly

fading away (falling action). A novel is like wave after wave
rising and cresting. Each wave is an episode in the novel. As
one wave disappears, it becomes part of the next wave
(episode), and so on. In fact, each subclimax represents a
complication on the overall rising action of the novel.

Short stories generally include a limited number of characters, and the protagonists are often present in each scene, or
at least theyre the subject of each scene. Novels usually
include many more characters than short stories, and
each of these characters tends to be more fully developed.
Characters in novels may have lives and stories of their own.

Most short stories have only one or two settings. Novels often
have many more. As you read novels, think about each setting. Try to determine why the author is using each one.
Youll find that setting is extremely important in O Pioneers!
In fact, some of the settings and what they represent are as
important as the characters themselves.

Like short stories, novels contain themes, which are the
authors reflections on their subjects or their point. These
themes are often bigger and grander than those of short

Narrative Point of View

As youve already learned, one of the first decisions an
author must make in writing a short story or a novel is to
decide who is telling the story. Making this determination
is an extremely important part of creating any story, because
it determines how much the author reveals to the reader.
(Note: See Point of View in Assignment 2.)
The ability of an author to describe the feelings and thoughts
of a character is called negative capability. This phrase was
first used by the poet John Keats to describe Shakespeare.


American Literature

Among his many other outstanding talents, Shakespeare,

perhaps better than any other author, was able to speak
from the viewpoints of a wide range of characters, from servants and criminals to kings and queens.
In using the phrase negative capability, Keats meant that
Shakespeare was able to negate himself. He stopped seeing
the world through the eyes of a young sixteenth-century
English poet (that is, his own eyes) and instead saw the
world through the eyes of his characters.

History of the Novel

The word novel means new. This term was first used in the
1800s, because novels were new at that time. Prior to that
time, people read collections of short fiction and romances,
which were usually based on legends and included elements
of fantasy. What made the novel different from these other
types of fiction was that the novel tried to be mimeticthat
is, it attempted to imitate reality. Although some novels
arent realistic, most give the impression that this could
really happen. People act and talk as they do in real life,
even if some episodes seem wild and unbelievable.
As you read novels in the future, ask yourself how realistic
the author is trying to be.

Novel Genres
Although the novel is itself a literary genre, it can be broken
into subgenres, such as horror fiction, fantasy, romance,
mystery, and comedy. The list goes on and on. Each genre
has certain conventions that allow readers to recognize it as
a certain type of story soon after they begin reading it. These
conventions involve both content and style. For example, if
you read a story that begins It was a dark and stormy
night, you immediately develop certain expectations. You
assume that the book is probably a work of mystery or suspense. However, if a book begins with The sun danced on
the wildflowers on this beautiful June morning, you develop
a very different set of expectations.

Lesson 3


Novel genres can be categorized in various ways.

Effect on Its Audience

Comedies make readers laugh.

Tragedies make readers sad.

Horror stories scare readers.

Satires make readers laugh and think.



Love stories

War novels


Childrens novels

Young adult novels

Adult novels

Country of Origin





Early modern



Most novels fall into more than one of these subcategories.

For example, a novel may be a postwar English love story
for young adults. When you complete your reading of
O Pioneers!, try to determine into what category or categories
it falls.


American Literature

Self-Check 8
1. The word novel means _______.
2. True or False? Short stories include much more detail than novels.
3. True or False? Novels may have more than one climax.
4. What narrative point of view is used in a novel that uses the pronoun I?
5. The ability of an author to describe the feelings and thoughts of a character is called
6. A mimetic novel is one that imitates _______.
Check your answers with those on page 173.

Read the following background to O Pioneers! by Willa Cather.
Then read pages 171 in the novel. When you finish your reading, study the analysis that follows. If you prefer, read the
analysis of each chapter as you complete your reading of it.

Background: Willa Cather and

O Pioneers!
Willa Cather (18731947) was born in Virginia and moved to
Nebraska when she was nine. She hated it at first and summarized her initial impression of it as bare as a piece of
sheet iron. Later she came to love it, and most of her fiction
revolves around the lives of ordinary people struggling to
survive in the West. Cather herself survived by writing, both
short stories and novels. Shes a very important figure in
American literature due to her ability to depict womens lives
and sensibilities honestly.

Lesson 3


Analysis of O Pioneers!
Part I
Chapter I. The novel opens with a description of the landscape. In O Pioneers!, the land itself is practically a character.
In fact, in the opening line, the land is personifiedthat is,
its given human characteristics: One January day, thirty
years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy
Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.
Look at the opening sentences, especially at Cathers use of
descriptive words (shown in bold type):
One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of
Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland,
was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine
snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie,
under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about
haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them
looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and
others as if they were straying off by themselves,
headed straight for the open plain. None of them had
any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind
blew under them as well as over them. The main
street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard,
which ran from the squat red railway station and the
grain elevator at the north end of the town to the
lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On
either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of
wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the
two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon,
the post-office. The board sidewalks were gray with
trampled snow, but at two oclock in the afternoon
the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were
keeping well behind their frosty windows.
This description tells us a good deal about the appearance
of the town. But it suggests something about the people that
live there, what their lives are like, and the degree to which
their lives are shaped by their environment. It also suggests
that a major conflict of the novel will be people vs. nature.


American Literature

Cather next introduces four children. Emil is a young boy of

about five years old. Alexandra is his older sister. Marie is
a young Bohemian girl that Emil meets in one of the stores.
Finally, Carl, a friend of Emil and Alexandra, is about
15 years old. Cather describes Carl as a thin, frail boy, with
brooding dark eyes, very quiet in all his movements. There
was a delicate pallor in his thin face, and his mouth was too
sensitive for a boys. The lips had already a little curl of bitterness and skepticism (4). Cather explains the effect of the
environment on Carls appearance (5): It was from facing
this vast hardness that the boys mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any
mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve
its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty,
its uninterrupted mournfulness. On page 6, Carl talks
about his desire to hang some pictures, which suggests the
importance of art to himand to civilization. While simply
surviving in this tough environment is the most important
thing, its not sufficient. For some people, Cather suggests,
survival isnt enough, and art plays a very important role in
their lives. Carl is one of those people, as we shall see.
Chapter II. This chapter describes a little of what John
Bergson, Alexandras father, is like. Like Carl, Bergson has
been defined by the land and his relationship to it:
In eleven long years John Bergson had made but little
impression upon the wild land he had come to tame. It
was still a wild thing that had its ugly moods; and no
one knew when they were likely to come, or why. Mischance hung over it. Its Genius was unfriendly to man.
. . . this land was an enigma. It was like a horse that
no one knows how to break to harness, that runs wild
and kicks things to pieces. He had an idea that no one
understood how to farm it properly, and this he often
discussed with Alexandra (8).
We also meet Mrs. Bergson, Johns wife. For eleven years
she had worthily striven to maintain some semblance of
household order amid conditions that made order very difficult. Habit was very strong with Mrs. Bergson, and her
unremitting efforts to repeat the routine of her old life among
new surroundings had done a great deal to keep the family

Lesson 3


from disintegrating morally and getting careless in their

ways (11). For Mrs. Bergson, maintaining traditions and
customs keeps her going.
John Bergson tells his sons that after he is gone, they must
follow the advice of Alexandra. He clearly recognizes her
strength and her intelligence.
Chapter III. This chapter focuses on the childrens visit to
Crazy Ivar, whose lifestyle is summed up on page 15:
Ivar found contentment in the solitude he had sought
out for himself. He disliked the litter of human dwellings:
the broken food, the bits of broken china, the old
wash-boilers and tea-kettles thrown into the sunflower
patch. He preferred the cleanness and tidiness of the
wild sod. He always said that the badgers had cleaner
houses than people, and that when he took a housekeeper her name would be Mrs. Badger. He best
expressed his preference for his wild homestead by
saying that his Bible seemed truer to him there.
Like other characters, Ivar is a representative character. That
is, he may have specific, unique individual characteristics,
but he also represents a certain class or type of peoplethat
is, a particular type of personality. In this case, hes what
might be called the natural manhe understands the ways of
nature, especially animals, and he loves the land. He lives in
harmony with it, rather than fighting it.
On page 17, he criticizes the farmers methods:
You feed them swill and such stuff? Of course! And
sour milk? Oh, yes! And keep them in a stinking pen?
I tell you, sister, the hogs of this country are put
upon! They become unclean, like the hogs in the
Bible. If you kept your chickens like that, what would
happen? You have a little sorghum patch, maybe? Put
a fence around it, and turn the hogs in. Build a shed
to give them shade, a thatch on poles. Let the boys
haul water to them in barrels, clean water, and plenty.
Get them off the old stinking ground, and do not let
them go back there until winter. Give them only grain
and clean feed, such as you would give horses or cattle. Hogs do not like to be filthy.


American Literature

Think about his remarks in terms of American history and

culture. Our farming methods todaywhich involve keeping
animals in warehouses all day and night and pumping them
full of chemicalswould be appalling to Ivar. Today, Ivar
would be the type of farmer to employ organic grain for feeding his animals, and he would be raising them free-range
style rather than in the animal factories where most of our
meat is raised. In a way, Ivar was a century ahead of his
timeand so was Cather!
Chapter IV. Cather presents the first dramatic crisis of the
novel when Carl announces that his family is leaving. This
announcement presents a personal crisis for Alexandra, who
is very close to Carl. It also provokes a conflict between
Alexandra and her brothers. The brothers are convinced that
sensible people are giving up working the hard land and are
retreating. Their immediate reaction to Carls news is everybody who can crawl out is going away. Theres no use of us
trying to stick it out (22).
Like Crazy Ivar, Oscar and Lou are representative types. But
theyre as different from each other as they are from Alexandra.
Oscar is a pure creature of habit, devoted to routinehe is
punctual, diligent, and persevering (22). Lou is scatterbrained and unfocused. Despite their differences, they seem
to understand one another, and theyre very good friends.
Chapter V. Alexandra has decided to visit a nearby river
country to see what the land is like there. She visits the successful farmers down there but isnt impressed. The farmers
here wont starve, she reflects, but they wont accomplish
anything great. Alexandra is very practical, but she also has
vision and great ambitionshe doesnt want to simply survive, she wants to accomplish great things. Doing that means
sticking with her own land, and in doing just that, she shows
herself a risk taker.
So far weve seen her to be intelligent, calm, logical, and
independent. In this chapter, we see how she views the land
that so many others dread:
For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged
from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was
set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes

Lesson 3


drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her.

Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit
which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it
ever bent to a human will before. The history of every
country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.
At the end of this chapter, Alexandra takes an even greater
risk. She gets a second mortgage on the farm to purchase
even more land. This is an all-or-nothing risk, and Part I
ends with the fate of the farm in mystery.

Part II
Chapter I. Cather begins Part II in the same way as she did
Part Iwith an extensive description of the land. But look at
the diction she uses now:
It is sixteen years since John Bergson died. His wife now
lies beside him, and the white shaft that marks their
graves gleams across the wheat-fields. Could he rise
from beneath it, he would not know the country under
which he has been asleep. The shaggy coat of the prairie,
which they lifted to make him a bed, has vanished forever. From the Norwegian graveyard one looks out over
a vast checker-board, marked off in squares of wheat
and corn; light and dark, dark and light. Telephone
wires hum along the white roads, which always run
at right angles. From the graveyard gate one can
count a dozen gayly painted farmhouses; the gilded
weather-vanes on the big red barns wink at each other
across the green and brown and yellow fields. The
light steel windmills tremble throughout their frames
and tug at their moorings, as they vibrate in the wind
that often blows from one weeks end to another
across that high, active, resolute stretch of country.
The Divide is now thickly populated. The rich soil
yields heavy harvests; the dry, bracing climate and
the smoothness of the land make labor easy for men
and beasts. There are few scenes more gratifying than
a spring plowing in that country, where the furrows of
a single field often lie a mile in length, and the brown
earth, with such a strong, clean smell, and such a
power of growth and fertility in it, yields itself eagerly


American Literature

to the plow; rolls away from the shear, not even dimming the brightness of the metal, with a soft, deep
sigh of happiness. The wheat-cutting sometimes goes
on all night as well as all day, and in good seasons
there are scarcely men and horses enough to do the
harvesting. The grain is so heavy that it bends toward
the blade and cuts like velvet (29).
Obviously things have changed from the hard, gray scene
with which Part I opened. As a reader, you become eager to
read on to discover more about these changes.
Chapter I ends with an interesting description of Alexandras
own house and yard. Reread the last two paragraphs. Compare the care taken in furnishing the house with that taken
in tending the gardens. You feel that, properly, Alexandras
house is the big out-of-doors, and that it is in the soil that
she expresses herself best (32). Cather uses a description of
things here to tell us something about character.
Chapter II. This chapter describes Alexandras household.
In addition to servants, Ivar lives with them. Since he dislikes human habitation, he lives in the barn. Alexandra
herself is also described in terms that show her innate connection to the natural world she loves: But she still has the
same calmness and deliberation of manner, the same clear
eyes, and she still wears her hair in two braids wound round
her head. It is so curly that fiery ends escape from the braids
and make her head look like one of the big double sunflowers that fringe her vegetable garden (34).
On page 36, Ivar makes an important speech in which he
summarizes his philosophy. The speech is interesting in that
it shows two different American attitudes. It summarizes the
conflict between the natural and the urban, the primitive and
the sophisticated, the wild and the civilized. This is an ongoing theme in American literature. In this case, Ivars fear is
that the country he loves will eventually want to lock up
everyone who thinks or behaves differently.
Chapter III. Some of the elements of civilization Ivar loathes
are described in this chapter. Note how the description of
Lous wife Annie tells us something about her:
Lous wife, formerly Annie Lee, has grown to look curiously like her husband. Her face has become longer,

Lesson 3


sharper, and more aggressive. She wears her yellow

hair in a high pompadour, and is bedecked with rings
and chains and beauty pins. Her tight, high-heeled
shoes give her an awkward walk, and she is always
more or less preoccupied with her clothes. As she sat at
the table, she kept telling her youngest daughter to be
careful now, and not drop anything on mother (38).
Annie is the opposite of Ivarin fact, shes one of those
people who feels that Ivar should be locked up.
Alexandra, on the other hand, straddles both worlds. Shes
very much part of the natural world, as weve seen, but she
also wants to buy Milly a piano, which indicates that she
appreciates the world of art and culture and sophistication.
Unlike Ivar and Annie, she doesnt feel it necessary to reject
one world or the other.
After dinner, they receive a surprise visit from Carl. Annie is
rather impressed by Carls appearance. When Lou senses
this, he sends her out of the room and then proceeds to
attack Carls city friends. This occurrence is another conflict
in the storythe rural versus the urban. And this is another
conflict still being played out in America today, where rural
and urban populations have different goals, different voting
patterns, different religious sensibilities, and so on.
Chapter IV. Alexandra describes to Carl how she became
successful: We hadnt any of us much to do with it, Carl.
The land did it. It had its little joke. It pretended to be poor
because nobody knew how to work it right; and then, all at
once, it worked itself. It woke up out of its sleep and
stretched itself, and it was so big, so rich, that we suddenly
found we were rich, just from sitting still (45).
This short speech once again shows the importance of working with and not against the land. Meanwhile, Carl describes
city life and his unhappiness with it (47).
Chapter V. During an early morning walk, Carl observes
Emil and Marie flirting. Since Marie is a married woman,
Carl has a sense of unease to find two young things abroad
in the pasture in the early morning (50). Weve already seen
Maries husband Frank described as one of these wild fellows (46), who is difficult to get along with. At this point, the
reader may begin to have a sense of uneasiness, as well.


American Literature

Chapter VI. Carl expresses to Alexandra some of the feelings he has for her. She, on the other hand, seems to largely
ignore his advances. Carl is also charmed by Maries vitality
and energy and comments, What a charming creature; I
dont wonder that her husband is jealous (53). As Carl and
Alexandra visit with Marie, they spend some time talking
over events of the past.
Chapter VII. Cather briefly interrupts the narrative to give
readers flashbacks into the histories of Frank and Marie.
Such information gives you, as a reader, a better idea of the
type of people involved in the story.
Chapter VIII. The story starts to become Frank and Maries
story. We learn a little more about Frank Shabata when he
becomes outraged about the newspaper account of two
wealthy peoples divorce. Marie and Emil are flirting again,
but they recognize that theyre treading on dangerous ground
and agree that they cant play as innocently as they once
did without becoming romantically entangled. This will be
the impetus for Emils leaving for Mexico.
Chapter IX. Emil reflects on the difference between his love
life and that of Amde. Amde has a fortunate marriage.
Emil feels unlucky in love (since hes in love with a married
woman). In the last paragraph of the chapter (63), Cather
uses a natural metaphor (two ears of corn) to compare the
states of the two young men:

A flashback is a
device used by an
author to present
events that happened before the
current time in the
piece of fiction.

It seemed strange that now he should have to hide the

thing that Amde was so proud of, that the feeling
which gave one of them such happiness should bring
the other such despair. It was like that when
Alexandra tested her seed-corn in the spring, he
mused. From two ears that had grown side by side,
the grains of one shot up joyfully into the light, projecting themselves into the future, and the grains from
the other lay still in the earth and rotted; and nobody
knew why.
In other words, the two men had grown up together, side by
side, but now they were quite different. Amde could boast
of his love, which brought him such happiness. Emil had to
hide his love, which brought him such despair.

Lesson 3


Chapter X. Since Carl is staying on longer than originally

expected, Alexandras two brothers become concerned that
shell turn her property over to Carl. During an argument
about the fate of the farm, the brothers explain that
the property of a family really belongs to the men of the
family (65). They admit that Alexandra has had some good
ideas, but they claim that theyve done all the hard work.
Alexandra has the upper hand when they leave, but she
knows that a rift has been opened between them.
Chapters XI and XII. In a few short days, Alexandra feels
that she loses a great deal. Emil is going away to Mexico.
Carl is leaving as well, and her brothers will not come here
again (68). Alexandra, whose work on the farm was for her
family, feels that everything was in vain, that shes alone
with nothing she really wanted. She has her farm but has
lost everything that made it valuable to her.

Self-Check 9
1. The narrative point of view from which O Pioneers! is written is called _______.
2. The major conflict in the novel is people vs. _______.
3. Which one of Alexandras brothers is scatterbrained and unfocused?
4. Part II of O Pioneers! begins _______ years after John Bergsons death.
5. Who is described as one of these wild fellows?
6. An interruption to a narrative in which the author talks about something that happened
prior to the narrative itself is called a/an _______.
Check your answers with those on page 173.


American Literature

Read pages 73122 in the novel O Pioneers! by Willa Cather.
When you finish your reading, study the analysis that follows.
If you prefer, read the analysis of each chapter as you complete your reading of it.

Analysis of O Pioneers!


Part III
Chapter I. Cather starts this part with another description
of the landscape in winterthe season in which Nature
recuperates (73). Chapter I then focuses on Marie. The
discovery of Franks old yellow cane leads to a discussion
between Marie and Alexandra about Maries marriage problems. It becomes evident that Marie is in love with Emil.
The chapter concludes with a description of the winter that
mirrors how Marie feels inside (79).
Chapter II. Cather describes Alexandra as having a blind
side. Shes not aware of her own personal needs and is
therefore not aware of the needs of others. However, the
underground stream was there (79). In other words, she
had needs, but they were generally pushed back. Only occasionally did they come to the surface.
This chapter also reveals Alexandras recurring vision of
being swept up by a kind of nature-god.

Part IV
Chapter I. Emil returns from Mexico and Alexandra once
again feels that her efforts had been worth while, both Emil
and the country had become what she had hoped (84). The
country had provided the opportunity for Emil to escape
from it. In making the land successful, Alexandra had
ensured that there was one of the family who had not been
tied to the plow, and who had a personality apart from the
soil (84).
Emil and Marie rekindle their old romance, and have their
first kiss in the dark (88).

Lesson 3


Chapters IIVI. The romance between Emil and Marie

finally culminates when they declare their love for one
another (9192). The following chapters chronicle their deepening relationship, even obsession. Emil represents a vital
and promising future to Marie, unlike Frank (98).
At the funeral for Amde, Emil feels inspired by the music,
just as Marie does on her walk in the woods at the same
time. Ecstatic and feeling fearless and hopeful, he rides off to
find her.
Chapter VII. The young lovers fantasy meets up with brutal
reality when Frank finds them and shoots them, not realizing, at first, that he has killed his wife (103104). In his
drunken remorse, he blames her for being careless (104).
Frank too is a victim. Once a carefree young man, he has
been beaten down by working the landthats what being
tied to the plow has done to many. His jealousy of Emil
and his insane remorse over what he has done make him
a sympathetic figure despite his crime. He is imperfect, but
not a total villain (as Alexandra later recognizes). Cather
doesnt ask us to forgive him, but she provides enough to
allow us to understand him.

Part V
Chapter I. The beginning of this chapter details some of the
suffering that Alexandra has had since the murder of Emil
and Marie. Then, one rainy evening, she visits the graveyard
where Emil is buried. When Ivar comes to take her home,
she explains, I think it has done me good to get cold clear
through like this, once. I dont believe I shall suffer so much
any more . . . .
Alexandra once again has one of her dreams, a dream of a
fertility god of the soil who makes things grow.
Chapter II. Alexandra determines to visit Frank in prison.
The meeting causes her to ponder the roles each person
plays in the lives of others and how mysterious life is (117).
Shes capable of taking a psychological approach to Frank,
not blaming him entirely for what happened.


American Literature

Chapter III. In this final chapter, Carl teaches Alexandra,

who knows all about the land, something about people. He
explains that Emil and Marie tried to avoid each other, but
that Marie was just too beautiful, too full of life and love,
and she cant help but draw others to her. He suggests that
these people spread ruin around them through no fault of
their own (121).
In the resolution, Cather ties together the various strands
that make up the novel when Carl mentions the incident
that opened the book, when Marie gave Emil her candy.
This incident was an example of foreshadowing.
Carl tells Alexandra, You belong to the land, and she
answers, Yes, now more than ever. She realizes that while
people come and go, the land is always here. And the people

Lesson 3

Foreshadowing is
the introduction
early in a story of
hints that suggest
what is to come


Self-Check 10
1. What does Cather mean when she says that Alexandra has a blind side?
2. Where does Emil go to get away from Marie for a while?
3. What possession of Franks leads to a discussion between Marie and Alexandra about
Maries marriage problems?
4. True or False? Cather presents Frank as a hardened criminal.
5. True or False? Alexandra is never able to forgive Frank for killing Emil.
6. True or False? Although Alexandra has managed a farm for many years, Carl is still able
to teach her about people.
Check your answers with those on page 174.


American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to
When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 3, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
who love it and understand it are the people who own itfor
a little while (122). This statement represents one of the
main themes in the novel.
1. When Cather describes the town as trying not to be blown
away, shes using a technique known as
A. foreshadowing.
B. flashbacks.

C. narration.
D. personification.

2. Alexandras mothers goal while living on the prairie was to


drive Ivar away.

maintain her traditional way of life.
buy more property.
find a new husband.


Lesson 3
The Novel


3. A representative character is one who stands for

A. a certain ethnic group.
B. a type of personality.

C. a certain political theory.

D. humanity in general.

4. Which one of the following characters is most in tune with nature?

A. Ivar
B. Annie

C. John Bergson
D. Emil

5. After the death of Mr. Bergson, who takes over the planning of the farm?
A. Alexandra
B. Lou

C. Oscar
D. Emil

6. The description of Alexandras house (page 32) suggests that she is


slovenly and uncaring about her appearance.

more comfortable outdoors than in.
likely to overspend on furniture.
musical and a fan of the piano.

7. When Carl says, We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing, hes

the farmers downriver.

the farmers in Alexandras community.
city dwellers.

8. Carls mention of Franks jealousy is an example of

A. a universal truth.
B. a convention.

C. foreshadowing.
D. falling action.

9. From two ears that had grown side by side, the grains of one shot up joyfully . . . and the
grains from the other lay still in the earth. What two characters does this quote describe?
A. Ivar and Signa
B. Alexandra and Otto

C. Otto and Lou

D. Emil and Amde

10. The yellow cane Alexandra finds at Maries house is a symbol of

A. Franks youth.
B. the ravages of old age.


C. Maries helplessness.
D. Carls sickliness.

Examination, Lesson 3

11. The branches had become so hard that they wounded your hand if you but tried to break
a twig. And yet, down under the frozen crusts, at the roots of the trees, the secret of life
was still safe, warm as the blood in ones heart; and the spring would come again! This
quote (page 79) is a metaphor for
A. Alexandras dreams.
B. Maries soul.

C. Emils career.
D. Carls heart.

12. Which character is not tied to the plow?

A. Lou
B. Otto

C. Frank
D. Emil

13. I carefully walked across the floor. Suppose this is a quote of the narrator in a novel
youre reading. What can you determine about the novel?


a tragedy.
a comedy.
written in the first-person narrative point of view.
written in the third-person narrative point of view.

14. What inspires Emil at Amdes funeral?


His memories of Amdes happy marriage

The sight of his horse
The music

15. She was a good girl, not to suffer. What does this quote refer to?

Emils reflections after having to shoot his horse

Mr. Bergsons reflections on his daughter Alexandra
Franks reflections after shooting Marie
Emils reflections on Amdes wife after his death

16. When Alexandra leaves Frank in prison, she says she will

try to get him pardoned.

beg for the death penalty.
send him care packages.
deliver his note to the governor.

17. When Alexandra says, And the people who love it and understand it are the people who
own it, shes referring to
A. the hammock.
B. the land.

Examination, Lesson 3

C. an education.
D. independence.


18. Of the following points of view, which one gives a reader the most insight into the minds of
the characters?

First-person major participant

First-person reporting
Third-person dramatic
Third-person unrestricted omniscient

19. Of what nationality are the people in Maries family?

A. Irish
B. Bohemian

C. Swedish
D. Mexican

20. The name of Alexandras niece is

A. Annie.
B. Signa.


C. Nellie.
D. Milly.

Examination, Lesson 3

Read the following introductory material. Then take SelfCheck 11, which follows the introduction.

The Elements of Poetry

This lesson may stretch you as a reader. Remember what
youve learned about critical reading so far. Youve learned
to look up words you dont know, and youve learned to read
slowly and carefully. Youve also learned to complete the
self-checks, check your answers, and, if you made a mistake,
to go back over the material until you found your error. Youve
learned to consider the pictures created by the words the
authors use. All these and more skills will be used as you
read poetry.
You may never have read any poetry before, or you may
already be familiar with and enjoy poetry. Most of us know
at least one popular song that we can sing, or at least repeat
the refrain. If you can do that, you can read and enjoy the
poetry in your textbook. Songs are just poetry set to music,
and the poems youll find in these pages are like the words to
songs. Poets, like songwriters, use poetry for several reasons.
They want to make language sound good, and they want to
tell a story or share an observation. So, reading poems out
loud may help you to understand them.
As you read, keep a pen and paper at your side, and remember to ask these questions:
What do I notice most?

What do I like most? Least?

What questions do I have?

What pictures come to mind from the words the author


An important thing to remember about poetry, as in prose, is

that the speaker of the poem isnt necessarily the author of


Poetry, Part 1


the poem. He or she may be, but sometimes isnt. Poets can
write in voices of an older man or woman, a teen, a child, or
perhaps an animal or inanimate object.

What Is Poetry?
Poetry was traditionally composed to be spoken aloud or to
be sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument. Our
earliest ancestors sat together around campfires, then later
at feasts to pass on their history by telling stories. Some of
these stories have come down to us through many, many
The earliest poems are the epic poems. Epics are long narrative poems recounting the deeds of legendary or historical
heroes. The oldest epic in English is Beowulf, the story of
an Anglo-Saxon hero who defeats a man-eating monster. The
oldest epic from the Middle East is Gilgamesh, which tells
the story of a man who loved his friend so much that he
went to search for him in the land of the dead. Greek epics
tell the story of the Trojan War in the Iliad and of Odysseus
journey homeward from that war, the Odyssey. Some of
these epics are still used for the basis of modern plays,
dramas, and films.
Because poetry is meant to be spoken aloud, the poet pays
a great deal of attention to how the poem will sound. Poets
use tools like rhyme, alliteration (as well as assonance and
consonance), and meter to make poems sound meaningful
when spoken.
Lets examine each one of these tools. Rhyme is the use of
words that sound alike, such as sound and round, say and
neigh, and size and rise. Alliteration is the use of words that
begin with the same consonant sound, such as clear, clatter,
and clasp or Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers (p
sound). Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound, as in
mad as a hatter. Consonance is the repetition of a final consonant, as in stroke of luck. Meter is a method the poet uses
to make each line of the poem have a pleasing rhythm. Again,
because sound and rhythm are so important in poetry, you
should read each poem aloud several times to understand
and appreciate it to the fullest extent. Allow the sounds of
the words to create images as well as feelings in your head.


American Literature

In addition to sounding good, poems usually tell a story or

create an image or idea, so poets need to be quite skillful
with words. They say as much as they can with the fewest
words possible. Choosing the right words and using the right
rhythm is truly an art. Some poets became so good at it that
even though their poems are hundreds of years old, we still
read and enjoy them today.

Figurative Language
One of the differences between poetry and prose is that
poetry relies heavily on the use of figurative language.
Youve already learned the difference between denotation
(dictionary definition) and connotation (what a word suggests). Connotative usage is a type of figurative language.
When authors wish to use figurative language, they deliberately choose words for both their denotative and connotative
meaning. The connotative meaning, or figurative meaning,
refers to the mental or emotional image the author is trying
to create in his or her readers mind. Think of it as a word
Figurative language uses figures of speech. Simply put, a
figure of speech is the use of a word or words to create a
certain effect by using the words in ways other than their
usual meaning.
The two most common figures of speech are simile and
metaphor. Both of these figures of speech compare two
things that are essentially unlike each other.

A simile uses the words like and as to express the


A metaphor is an implied comparison that doesnt use

the words like and as.

Lesson 4


Types of Poetry
Poetry, like other literary genres, can be divided into subgenres. Here are some categories of poetry:
Time Period


Eighteenth century



Type of Verse Used (These types will be explained later.)


Blank verse

Free verse


Tell a story (narrative)

Make an argument (discursive)

Describe an image (descriptive poetry)

Relate thoughts (reflective)

As you read through each poem, try to identify the category

into which it falls.

Meter is the Greek word for measure. Meter is used to
measure the number and kind of feet in a line of poetry.
Meter is determined by the pattern of stressed (accented) and
unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. Probably the most
common type of foot is the iamb. An iamb consists of an
unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Here are
some examples. (Note: The stressed syllable is in bold capital


com PARE


American Literature

A line of poetry consists of a number of feet, usually of the

same kind. A line is identified according to the number of
feet it contains:

One foot is monometer.

Two feet is dimeter.

Three feet is trimeter.

Four feet is tetrameter.

Five feet is pentameter.

Scanning is the process of determining the number and kind

of feet in a poem. For example, consider this line from the
poem To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth:
Should YOU / my LORD, / while YOU / pe RUSE / my SONG,
As you can see, the line consists of five feet, each of which
is an iamb. Therefore, the meter is iambic pentameter, one of
the most commonly used meters in poetry.

Verse Forms
Many poems follow strict patterns. Such poems are called
formal poetry, since they follow a specific form that evolved
over the years. A sonnet is one such form. A sonnet is a
poem that
1. Has 14 lines
2. Is composed in iambic pentameter
3. For the English sonnet, contains three quatrains (groups
of four lines) and a couplet (two lines)
4. For the Italian sonnet, contains one octet (group of eight
lines) and one sestet (group of six lines)
5. Has a specific rhyme scheme
The rhyme scheme of a poem shows which lines end in the
same sound. Letters of the alphabet are used to represent a
scheme. The ending sound of the first line of a poem is
always represented with the letter A. If the next line ends in
the same sound, its also represented with A to show it has

Lesson 4


the same sound. For example, look at the poem To My Dear

and Loving Husband on page 1 of 101 Great American Poems.
The first two lines are
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
Both lines end with a long e sound. So the rhyme scheme for
the first two lines is AA. Line 3 ends with a new sound, man,
so we assign the letter B to that line. Line 4 ends with can,
which rhymes with man from the third line. So line 4 will
also be labeled B. The rhyme scheme of the first four lines
is AABB. Line 5 ends in another new sound so we use the
letter C and so forth. The complete rhyme scheme for this
poem is AABBCCDDEEFF. (Lines 7 and 8 have near rhyme
since they contain the same ending vowel sound with the
second to last consonant the same.)
Some poetic patterns have assigned rhyme schemes. For
example, the rhyme scheme for the English sonnet is
ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. In other words, in each of the
quatrains, the first and third lines end in the same sound
as do the second and fourth lines. Finally, the two lines
in the couplet at the end rhyme with each other.
Blank verse is another verse form. Its usually composed in
iambic pentameter and is unrhymed. Free verse can be either
rhymed or unrhymed. It may have a regular or an irregular
rhythm, but it usually has no specific meter.


American Literature

Self-Check 11
1. A comparison using like or as is called a/an _______.
2. Beowulf is an example of a/an _______.
3. The most common meter used in English verse is _______.
4. A group of two lines in a poem is called a/an _______.
5. The phrase The day is done, and the darkness falls is an example of what poetic
6. A line of poetry that contains three feet is known as _______.
7. A sonnet has _______ lines.
8. What is the meter in the following line of poetry?
We wear the mask that grins and lies.
9. What is the rhyme scheme of the following lines?
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
Check your answers with those on page 174.

Lesson 4


Read the poems listed below. Read them to yourself; then read
them aloudslowly. As you do, look for examples of figurative
language, especially metaphors and similes. Determine what
the poet is doingreflecting, telling a story, making a point.
Identify the meter and rhyme scheme. Look for examples of
alliteration, assonance, and consonance. After youve read
each poem several times, return to this study guide and read
the analyses that follow.

since feeling is first by e. e. cummings (page 74)

Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish (pages 7273)

From To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth

by Phillis Wheatley (pages 12)

Misgivings by Herman Melville (page 22)

I Sit and Look Out by Walt Whitman (page 23)

From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman (pages 2526)

I, Too, by Langston Hughes (page 76)

Note: In this assignment, youll be concentrating on some of

the poets tools, such as metaphor, rhyme schemes, punctuation, and meter.

Analysis of since feeling is first

Edward Estline Cummings (18941962), better known as
e. e. cummings, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
attended Harvard University, and then served in the
Ambulance Corps in the horrors of World War I. He was
even imprisoned in a French concentration camp after
being charged with treasonable correspondence, but the
charges were found to be false.
These events helped shape the poets views of politics. He
was very skeptical about nationalism and patriotism, and
many of his poems mock the way leaders use language to
get people to do as they wish. In many of his poems, he
uses satire to mock Americans view of themselves and the
language we often use to make ourselves sound better than
we truly are.


American Literature

The poetry of e. e. cummings can be difficult at first. He creates new words as he sees fit. He blends different forms
just when you think youre about to read a sonnet, he might
break off into free verse. His grammar is ungrammatical, he
punctuates when he wants to, not according to standard
rules. In other words, he pretty much makes up the rules as
he goes along.
In his poems, form follows function. That is, the form of his
poems depends on what hes trying to say. In the case of
e. e. cummings, the form is very individual. Likewise, the
content of his poetrywhat hes sayingis all about the need
to be an individual in a world that demands conformity. He
celebrates manic exuberance in a world that asks people to
be quiet and polite, and he celebrates sexuality in an America
thats often uncomfortable with open talk about such things.
In the poem since feeling is first, cummings uses syntax
that is, conventional rules for writing sentencesas a
metaphor for romance. The opening four lines mean that
anyone who pays attention to rules and regulations cant
really let go and experience a true kiss. In other words, passion isnt bound by any rules or laws.
Note that form follows function here. Cummingss own
poems break all the rules. They dont adhere to any rhyme
scheme or pattern at all. And they dont follow the rules of
punctuation and capitalization. For example, look at the
syntax of these lines:
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
In orderly English, these lines would read, My blood says its
okay to be a total fool in springtime. Cummings deliberately
mangles the syntax to show the disordered mind of a person
in love. A fool in spring doesnt care about order and logic.
Cummings continues to criticize rationality in saying that
kisses are better than wisdom and that the flutter of an
eyelidpure instinct, but so attractive!means more than
anything his intellect can come up with. And he swears by
all flowers, which are natural and organic.

Lesson 4


In short, since feeling is first contrasts thought, intellect,

and reason with passion, physical attraction, and instinct.
Cummings concludes his poem with metaphors, returning
to his original argument: Lifes not a paragraph means that
life doesnt follow an orderly progression. Death . . . is no
parenthesis hints at the use of a parenthesis to interject
some comment before returning to the flow of the sentence.
Cummings means that death doesnt allow you to go on.
Since death is final, e. e. cummings presents the argument
that people should live their lives passionately and energetically, not rigidly following rules.

Analysis of Ars Poetica

Archibald MacLeish (18921982) was born in Illinois,
attended Yale University, and spent the 1920s in Europe.
When he returned to the United States, the country was in
the midst of the Great Depression, which caused MacLeish to
think seriously about social problems and how to solve them.
He became a hard-core liberal and wrote poetry and essays
opposing totalitarian dictatorships, war, and the impersonal
nature of modern society, where individuals didnt seem to
count for much. He was a poet who was also very practical.
He became Librarian of Congress, a very important position,
and even served as Assistant Secretary of State. He died at
the age of 90 after a very distinguished career as a poet, a
teacher, and a political thinker.
Ars Poetica, a poem about poetry, is paradoxical. That is, it
seems on the surface to be contradictory, but at the same
time it reveals some truth. For example, the poem says that
a poemwhich consists of words and soundshould be
mute, dumb, wordless, and silent.
He also uses several similes to compare the effect of a poem
to things we can toucha globed fruit, old medallions, and
worn stone. He then says that a poem should be still and
silent, and he uses images throughout the poem to show
what he means and to leave vivid sensory impressions.
Notice how the use of alliteration in the third couplet with
the s sound seems like someone telling another to hush.


American Literature

So, how can a poem be silent and motionless? MacLeish

gives a clue in his final line, when he says that a poem
should not mean, but be. Hes suggesting that a poem
shouldnt try to be truethat poems dont have to point to
anything beyond themselves. Theyre meant to be beautiful,
and thats enough.
Whats the meaning of a globed fruit? An old medallion
(coin)? Worn stone on a building? The moon rising through
the trees? MacLeish is suggesting that these things dont
have meaning, but that we can appreciate the beauty in
them nonetheless. Poems are like that too. They dont always
have to teach, to express anything in particularsimply
existing, as works of art, is enough.
Ars Poetica means the art of poetry. That name was used
over the century by writers who wrote rule books for poetry
how a poem should be written, what meanings it should convey, and so on. The original ars poetica was written by
Horace, an ancient Roman poet, who said a poem should
amuse and instruct. MacLeish says a poem doesnt have to
do eithersimply existing, conveying some image or emotion,
is enough.

Analysis of From To the Right

Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth
Phillis Wheatley (1753?1784) was born in Gambia in western Africa. She was captured and sold into slavery when she
was seven and sold in Boston in 1761. She was renamed
Wheatley after the family that bought her and Phillis after
the slave ship that brought her to America.
At the age of 14, she published her first poem. Around this
time, she was being tutored by Mather Byles, a Boston minister and Harvard graduate. In 1771, she was able to publish
a volume of poemsmaking her the first African American
and only the second woman to publish a book in the
American colonies! She traveled to London and met many
famous poets. She also became acquainted with Benjamin
Franklin, who promised to help her in any way he could.
When she returned home, she received her freedom, thanks

Lesson 4


largely to help from important friends in Britain. She corresponded with General George Washington during the
Revolutionary War and met him in Cambridge in 1776.
Her later career wasnt so successful, and she died in poverty
in 1784. Her philosophy can be summed up in a line she
wrote to a friend that was reprinted in many colonial newspapers when the colonists were clamoring for freedom from
England in 1774: in every human Breast, God has implanted
a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of
Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.
Lets begin by looking once again at the meter and rhyme
scheme of Wheatleys poem. Its meter is iambic pentameter.
That is, each line consists of five iambs:
Should YOU, / my LORD, / while YOU / per USE / my SONG,
Notice that the first two lines rhyme, then the next two, and
so on. Therefore, the rhyme scheme is AA BB CC DD and so
Because it was written so long ago, the diction used by
Wheatley might sound strange or old-fashioned to you. When
you encounter such a poem, its a good idea to paraphrase
the poemthat is, to rewrite it in your own, up-to-date language. If you were to do that with Wheatleys poem, you
might arrive at something like this:
If, while you listen to this poem,
You wonder why I love freedom,
And you wonder about the source of my wish for
everyones good,
That only feeling people can understand
Well, when I was young, my cruel destiny was
To be taken away from Africa, my happy birthplace.
What pain that caused!
How much suffering do you think that caused my
Somebody would have to have a heart of iron
To have taken a loved child from her father.
Thats what happened to me. So, how can I not pray
That other people never suffer from that or any other
kind of tyranny?


American Literature

In this poem, Wheatley manages to tie together the particular

and the universal. The particular refers to her own individual
case. She makes it clear how much she and her family
suffered when she was taken from Africa and brought to
America. But she also makes it clear that as a result, she
feels a universal sense of compassion for all African Americans.
She damns those who took her away. Steeld was that soul
and by no misery movd means those who kidnapped her
had hearts of iron and felt no compassion for those they
hurt. Then, in the final two lines, she expresses her prayer
that others dont suffer as she has.
The poem reflects the dark side of the American experience.
It was written just as the American colonists were talking
openly about freedom from taxation. Wheatleys poem highlights the hypocrisy of the American colonists, who preached
freedom while they continued to capture and enslave Africans.
Today, American poets and songwriters continue to write and
sing about freedom and about how, though we talk and write
about encouraging freedom and democracy, America still
supports tyrannical dictatorships around the globe.

Analysis of Misgivings
Youve already read a little about Herman Melville. (See
Assignment 5 in this study guide.) Now youll discover that
the author of the great novel Moby Dick and the famous
short story Bartleby was also a noted poet.
The poem Misgivings was written in 1860just months
before the start of the American Civil War. While it seems at
first glance to be about natural disaster, the poem is actually
a metaphor for wartime.
The title, Misgivings, indicates that something is wrong,
that something bad is going to happen. Melville contrasts his
own sense of impending disaster with the optimist-cheer,
the idea that things will be fine, which he says will be

Lesson 4


In various lines throughout the poem, Melville describes a

storm, which becomes an extended metaphor (the same
implied comparison developed throughout the poem) for the
storm of war. Here are some of those lines:

When ocean-clouds over inland hills

Sweep storming in late autumn brown,

Of yon black mountain lone.

With shouts the torrents down the gorges go,

And storms are formed behind the storms we feel:

But we know that hes talking about the circumstances in

the nation when he says, I muse upon my countrys ills.
Here, the ills are both slavery and the growing ill will
between North and South.
Melville uses metaphors other than the extended metaphor
to get his point across. For example, The hemlock shakes in
the rafter, the oak in the driving keel seems to be talking
about winds shaking a house and the wheel on a ship.
However, hes referring to the nation and to the ship of
state. (During the Civil War, Lincoln himself would use a
similar metaphor, saying that a house divided against itself
cannot stand.) The figurative meaning of the poem (war)
isnt the same as the literal meaning (storm). In this way,
the poem acts like an allegory.

Analysis of I Sit and Look Out and

From Song of Myself
Walt Whitman (18191892) is considered by many people to
be Americas greatest poet. He was born in Brooklyn and
spent his early adulthood editing newspapers and writing
second-rate poetry in New York and New Orleans. Later, he
returned to New York and immersed himself in popular culture and street life. He also studied science and philosophy.
These experiences, combined with his broad reading in classics, shaped the great poetry he wrote later.


American Literature

In 1855, he published his famous poetry collection Leaves

of Grass. In these poems, he used a simple, straightforward
style. He wanted to write like a plainspoken man speaking
to plain people. He expresses the idea that a person can
achieve his or her potential in various ways. Politically, he
believed that the mind and body are best in a democratic
political environment. The soul requires religion, but not
necessarily orthodox religion. And the heart requires giving
and receiving love.
During the Civil War, Whitman went to Virginia to visit his
wounded brother George. He was deeply affected by the suffering he saw and became a wartime nurse in a Washington,
D.C., hospital. He continued to publish poetry over the
course of his lifetime, much of which was criticized as being
immoral, but many other poets defended his work. He lived
his last years in Camden, New Jersey, and died in 1892.
Whitman is considered a romantic poet. He celebrated
nonconformity, independence, and even rebellion against
tradition and the usual way of doing things, like e. e. cummings, who followed that attitude in the twentieth century.
He wrote his poems his way, not the right way, and in
them he celebrated individuality above all else. For this
reason, hes considered symbolic of the American tradition of
individualism, of the right to be yourself no matter what your
age, religious beliefs, or race. He was a man far ahead of his
time. Later he became a patron saint to people involved in
the civil rights, punk, and other movements.
I Sit and Look Out. At first glance, I Sit and Look Out
appears to be free verse, but the form is actually one called
syllabics. In this form, either the number of syllables in each
line is the same, or the lines follow a regular pattern. If you
look closely at this poem, youll find that each line contains
23 syllables. This allows the poet to create a pleasing formal
structure that pleases the ear, without being confined to oldfashioned rigid line lengths, meter, or rhyme schemes.
This poem doesnt require paraphrase. Whitman usually
speaks clearly, directly, and simplyfrom his heart to the
hearts of his many admirers. His poems often follow the
usual pattern of standard English sentences, with some

Lesson 4


In addition to the use of 23 syllables in each line, Whitman

also repeats the simple word I at the beginning of each line.
This creates parallelism between lines. I see, I hear,
I observe, and so on are repetitive, and repetition has been
an element of poetry since ancient times, when it was first
used as a device to help speakers remember their lines.
Note too the way the poet ties together the beginning and
end of the poem. It beings with I sit and look out upon.
That same phrase is repeated with a slight variation at the
very end of the poem. This repetition creates the effect of
journeying from the poets sitting place into the world of
human beingsyoung men, mothers, sailors, laborers, prisonersand then returning, dumbfounded, amazed at just
how much misery there is in the world.
Song of Myself. Only the first and last stanzas of what is
a very long poem are included in your text. But these are
enough to capture the flavor of the whole piece.
This poem represents a striking example of the romantic attitude toward life. Today we often think of romantic as having
something to do with love, but its meaning in art and philosophy is different. Romantic artists valued the individual over
the crowd, passion over restraint, emotion over intellect, and
freedom over law. For the most part, they believed that basic
human instincts are good and that the endless rules, customs, laws, and traditions that try to bind them and control
them are bad.
Whitmans opening lines are paradoxical. He begins by celebrating himselfthat is, by staking a clear claim to his own
individuality, making it clear that he is a separate, unique
person. Then, however, he says that hes totally a part of his
environment. Hes related to the blade of grass he observes
both he and it are made from the same soil and air. Likewise,
hes related to his pasthis ancestors all are the same.
Again, the paradox: hes a unique separate being, but one
who at the same time believes that hes part of a global
family that includes past, present, and future, organic (grass)
and inorganic matter. This spiritual relationship to all things
is called pantheismin Greek, pan means everything and
theos means god. Whitman believes that we all share a
spiritual kinship. Most traditional European philosophies


American Literature

and Western religions hold that there is a distinction

between body and soul, things and spirit. Whitman is
rejecting all of that in favor of pantheism.
In the line Creeds and schools in abeyance, Whitman
means that he has nothing to do with the traditional ways of
thinking. He then says, I permit to speak at every hazard.
In other words, as a democratic individual, Whitman feels
that he (and everyone else) has the right to say whatever
he wants whenever he wants to. Finally, he connects this
speaking without hazard with Nature without check with
original energy. This means that he believes his own inner
mysterious nature cant and shouldnt be controlled. This
attitude is a basic element in the Romantic outlook.
Note that Whitmans verse structure in this poem is related
to what hes saying. He was one of the first important
American poets to reject the schools and creeds of poetry
that said poems must follow certain rules (for example, the
sonnet). His poem, written in free verse, is a rejection of all
that. He certainly practices what he preaches!
Whitmans poem reflects the individualistic spirit in American
literature and life. His sensibility has found expression in
countless songs, poems, and documents. Today, many
American poets and songwriters, such as Bob Dylan and
Patti Smith, are great admirers of Whitman and keep his
spirit alive in their own writing.

Analysis of I, Too
Langston Hughes (19021967) was born in Joplin, Missouri.
He grew up in Kansas and attended Columbia University in
New York City.
Hughes came from a militant African American family. His
grandmothers two husbands were both militant abolitionists, meaning that they were prepared to use violence to end
Hughes enjoyed the poetry of Walt Whitman and Carl
Sandburg. In the 1930s, he visited the Soviet Union and
became something of a Communist. In 1938, he staged a
play called Do You Want to Be Free? which combined jazz,

Lesson 4


blues, and black nationalism (a feeling that African Americans

should have their own state). Later he was called to testify
before the House Committee on Un-American Activities,
because many people were afraid of his ideas.
Hughes wrote poems, plays, childrens books, and essays.
One of his most famous works was an essay called The
Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. In it he says, We
younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual
dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people
are pleased we are glad. If they arent, it doesnt matter. We
know we are beautiful. And ugly too . . . . If colored people
are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure
doesnt matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,
as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the
mountain, free within ourselves.
Hughess poem I, Too reflects some of the language and
themes of Whitman in terms of individualism and what people and their century sing. Whitman also wrote I Hear
America Singing (2223), as well as Song to Myself. Hughes,
however, underscores the history of the African American,
the darker brother, who hasnt been allowed to be part of
Americas plenty. When he does finally join that table,
Hughes says America wont feel the utter pride in itself that
Whitman shared. Instead, it will feel ashamed at not seeing
the beauty of all people who are Americans.


American Literature

Self-Check 12
1. Of the poets youve read in Assignment 12, which one uses syntax as a metaphor?
2. Which of the poets says that a poem doesnt have to mean anything at all?
3. In Melvilles Misgivings, the description of a coming storm is used as a/an _______
for war.
4. Emphasizing passion, emotion, and individuality is characteristic of _______ artists.
5. What situation in the United States caused Archibald MacLeish to think about social
6. Which one of the poets that youve read in Assignment 12 suggests that America has
something to be ashamed of?
7. What first does Phillis Wheatley have to her credit?
8. Which one of the poets do many people consider to be the greatest American poet?
Check your answers with those on page 174.

Lesson 4


Read the poems listed below. Read them to yourself; then read
them aloudslowly. As you do, look for examples of figurative
language and poetic techniques. Determine what the poet is
doingreflecting, telling a story, making a point. After youve
read each poem several times, return to this study guide and
read the analyses that follow.

Bury Me in a Free Land by Frances E. W. Harper

(pages 2728)

Chicago by Carl Sandburg (page 53)

Shine, Perishing Republic by Robinson Jeffers

(pages 6364)

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

(pages 7778)

Note: In this assignment, youll continue to analyze the

poems according to things like meter, rhyme scheme, and
word choice. In addition, however, youll begin to discover the
meaning or meanings of some of the poems.

Analysis of Bury Me in a Free Land

The Underground
Railroad was a
system of helping
escaped black
slaves successfully
move to free areas
in the North.

Frances Harper (18251911), a black woman, was born in

Maryland. Although Maryland was a slave state, Harper was
born free. Although she became an orphan, she was still able
to study at a good school for black youth in Baltimore. At 25,
she became the first woman professor at Union Seminary. In
1853, Harper moved to Philadelphia where she helped with
the Underground Railroad. She spent her life fighting for the
abolition of slavery and other progressive causesgiving
speeches, writing poems and essays, and even staging a sitin in Philadelphia in 1859 to protest segregated streetcars.
After the Civil War, she traveled throughout the South lecturing on civil rights for African Americans. She also wrote on
countless other subjects before her death in 1911.
Bury Me in a Free Land is easy to read. Harper uses a simple, sing-along style of verse. In fact, this poem has been set
to music. What most makes the poem interesting is that she


American Literature

doesnt shy away from using brutal details to make her

point. Her concrete imageryvery striking images that are
rooted in the real worldgives her poem the power that it
does. Here are some examples of that imagery:

And the mothers shriek of wild despair

the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,

blood-hounds seizing their human prey,

young girls from their mothers arms

Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,

These details make the horrors of slavery come alive before

our eyes. Her plea to be buried in a free land isnt just a
nice philosophical idea. Her imagery makes the alternative
horribly clear.

Analysis of Chicago
Carl Sandburg (18781967) was born in Illinois. He served
as a soldier in the Spanish-American War and then returned
to work for the Social Democratic Party in Wisconsin. He first
became popular in 1914 when he published the poem
Chicago in Poetry magazine.
Sandburg was very much a populist writer. That is, he
celebrates the lower classes and the working class and their
contributions to America. His populism is also demonstrated
by his interest in American folklore. Sandburg was a promoter of folk art as opposed to that produced by so-called
professional artists, whether in painting or music or literature. He compiled collections of American folk tunes, and
folklore was the basis of his famous stories for children,
the Rootabaga Stories. Sandburg also wrote a scholarly
six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.
In Chicago, Sandburg conducts an imaginary conversation
with the city of Chicago. To do this, he has to personify the
citygive it human characteristics. This process is called

Lesson 4


The poem is actually in two parts. In the first, Sandburg

mentions the negative ways in which people have characterized the city. Theyve called it wicked, brutal, and wanton.
Sandburg admits that all these charges are true. In fact, he
gives evidence for each one of these criticisms.
The second part begins with the line And having answered
so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and
I give them back the sneerjust as any real Chicagoan
would! He then lists the things that make Chicago worth living in. Notice the words he chooses. All of his verbs (singing,
flinging, laughing) and adjectives (proud, strong, cunning,
magnetic, bold, fierce) are full of life and energy. His lines,
too, roll along, full of vitality.
As you read through the poem, notice that you dont stop at
the end of each line. Instead, youre swept alongjust as
Sandburg says that anyone living in Chicago is swept up in
the citys own energy. The poem has no rhyme and no distinct meter.
Chicago lies right in the heart of America, and Sandburgs
vision of this city is in many way similar to the vision
Americans have of their country. They acknowledge its
faults, but compared to other countries, America is still
young, energetic, ambitious, laughing as a young man

Analysis of Shine, Perishing Republic

Robinson Jeffers (18871962) was born in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, but moved to California when he was 16. He
lived in Carmel, where most of his poetry is set. His poems
deal mainly with the idea that modern people have divorced
themselves from nature and have neglected wildness in favor
of civilization at a great cost to their spiritual selves. He
hated his society and even his own humanity, preferring to
think of himself as an animal. In fact, he once wrote that he
wished he could cut humanity out of my being, that is the
wound that festers. His poems and other works also incorporate many tragic Greek themes, as the ancient Greeks


American Literature

were often concerned with ideas about humanitys pride.

During his life, Jeffers produced many volumes of poetry and
In Shine, Perishing Republic, Robinson Jefferss vision of
America is very different from Sandburgs. Shine, Perishing
Republic is a lament. Jefferss America settles in the mold
of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire. This means
that the republic is seeking to become an empire. Its powerhungry, always seeking to expand through both military and
economic conquest. Although some people protest this policy,
their protest is too minor to matter, and quickly dies out.
With each dying cry of protest, the country becomes more
determined to pursue its doomed course:
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops
and sighs out, and the mass hardens, . . . .

A lament is a sad
song in which the
writer expresses
some grief or

He smiles sadly when he realizes that America will follow the

same path to ruin that all of the other empires have followed.
Then, he reflects that decay is necessary for new life:
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to
make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay . . . .
He then compares America to a meteora brief flash against
the sky, having its brief shining moment before it fades
He concludes by admonishing his readers to be especially
moderate in their love of their fellow manin other words,
dont love or trust your fellow Americans too much. Noble
peoplethe ones most worthy of admiringdo love their
fellow man, but that, he suggests, will only get you into
trouble. Jeffers is clearly no admirer of humankind, so he
also suggests staying away from cities or places where
humanity congregates. He calls them thickening centers
where corruption is found.

Lesson 4


Being an American seems to mean that youll fall prey to

vulgarity and corruption. However, Jeffers says that you
can avoid that problemcorruption never has been compulsory. Instead, he suggests living apart from humankind
in a state of nature (there are left the mountains).

Analysis of The Negro Speaks of

Langston Hughess poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers was
published in W. E. B. Du Boiss African American magazine
Crisis. In it, Hughes talks about having known rivers that
he didnt actually see in real life. As you read the poem,
notice that all of the rivers he describes have something in
common. The Euphrates is in Iraq. The ancient city of
Babylon was built between it and the Tigris River, in whats
called the birthplace of civilization. Both the Congo and the
Nile run deep into the heart of Africa. In other words, all
three of these rivers would have been traversed by ancient
peoples, dark-skinned peoplesHughess own ancestors. He
cites each of them in one line apiece, but he devotes his
lengthiest lines to the Mississippianother river famous in
African American lore and literature. On the banks of the
Mississippi, slaves toiled until freed by Abraham Lincoln.
These rivers, Hughes says, are ancient as the world and
older than the flow of human blood in human veins. His
ancient ancestors sailed on and drank from these rivers,
so, in a sense, theyve become part of the blood in his veins.
Therefore, he says, My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
He contemplates the glorious history of black culture, which
built pyramids and established the first civilizations. When
he says he has seen the Mississippi turn all golden in the
sunset, he means that he expects black civilization to rise
up and become glorious once again.

If you enjoy The Negro Speaks of Rivers, consider

reading poems by the following individuals:


Maya Angelou

LeRoi Jones

Africa Bambaata

Ishmael Reed

American Literature

Self-Check 13
1. True or False? Frances Harper was sold into slavery when she was 10 years old.
2. What technique does Frances Harper use to make the horrors of slavery clear?
3. What kind of people did Carl Sandburg write about?
4. To whom or what is Sandburg speaking in his poem Chicago?
5. A sad song in which the writer expresses some grief or sorrow is called a/an _______.
6. In The Negro Speaks of Rivers, what do the three rivers have in common?
Check your answers with those on page 175.

Lesson 4




American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to

When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 4, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
1. Walt Whitmans excerpt from Song of Myself can be considered
an expression of
A. populism.
B. romanticism.

C. imagism.
D. conventionalism.

2. Which one of the following poems has the rhyme scheme

AA BB CC DD . . .?

since feeling is first

From To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth
From Song of Myself


Lesson 4
Poetry, Part 1


3. Which one of the following poems is written in syllabics?


From To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth

since feeling is first
Ars Poetica
I Sit and Look Out

4. According to Archibald MacLeish, a poem should


celebrate the poet.

be, not mean.
oppose tyranny.
not feel obliged to follow the rules of syntax.

5. Syntax refers to

the rules for writing a proper sentence.

the process of opposing authority and convention.
an attempt to imitate reality.
returning to ones place of birth.

6. The phrase my blood approves is an example of

A. argument.
B. personification.

C. paradox.
D. irony.

7. Of the poets you read in this lesson, which one believed in nature without check?
A. Robinson Jeffers
B. e. e. cummings

C. Frances E. W. Harper
D. Walt Whitman

8. Which poet in this lesson called human cities thickening center; corruption?
A. Robinson Jeffers
B. Frances E. W. Harper

C. Carl Sandburg
D. e. e. cummings

9. Which two poets wrote about slavery?


e. e. cummings and Archibald MacLeish

Phillis Wheatley and Frances E. W. Harper
Walt Whitman and Herman Melville
Carl Sandburg and Robinson Jeffers

10. The poem Chicago is written in

A. syllabics.
B. iambic pentameter.


C. blank verse.
D. free verse.

Examination, Lesson 4

11. Which one of the following lines is written in iambic pentameter?


Between the dark and the daylight

I lift my lamp beside the golden door
Among twenty snow mountains
Make me a grave whereer you will

12. since feeling is first is best described as a _______ poem.

A. reflective
B. discursive

C. narrative
D. descriptive

13. In Chicago, the phrase City of the Big Shoulders is a

A. metaphor.
B. simile.

C. narrative.
D. discourse.

14. Which one of the following poems follows a patterned rhyme?

A. Chicago
B. I Sit and Look Out

C. I, Too
D. Bury Me in a Free Land

15. Which one of the following dramatic poems is answering someone elses question?

From Song of Myself

From To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth
Bury Me in a Free Land
Shine on, Perishing Republic

16. Which poet sees, hears, and is silent?

A. Phillis Wheatley
B. Walt Whitman

C. Carl Sandburg
D. Robinson Jeffers

17. Ars Poetica compares poems to

A. folk songs.
B. things people can touch.

C. women.
D. cities.

18. What does the speaker in From Song of Myself sit and observe?

The moonlight through the trees

The hustle and bustle of Chicago street life
The effects of slavery
A blade of grass

19. My soul has grown deep like the rivers is an example of

A. a metaphor.
B. a simile.

Examination, Lesson 4

C. a paraphrase.
D. irony.


20. since feeling is first contrasts



the ancient and the modern.

sight and touch.
passion and logic.
people and animals.

Examination, Lesson 4

In this lesson, youll look at some new poems that include

some elements and styles you havent studied yet. Before you
begin that material, however, lets quickly review what youve
learned. As you read each of the poems in this lesson,
remember to take notes on these elements:

Diction: What words and phrases does the poet use and

Structure: What is the rhyme scheme? How is the poem

divided? How do these affect the meaning of the poem?

Meter: What is the meter, and why do you think the poet
utilizes that metrical form?

Sound: How does the poet use rhyme, assonance, consonance, alliteration, and rhythm?

Subject: What is the subject of the poem?

Theme: What is the authors attitude toward his or her


Type: Is the poem narrative, descriptive, discursive,

reflective, or some combination of these?

Tone: Is the tone of the poem cheerful, angry, deliberative, melancholy, hopeful, or something else?

Think about these elements for each poem you read, and
youll soon find that you start identifying these elements


Poetry, Part 2


Read the poems listed below. Read them to yourself; then read
them aloudslowly. As you do, look for examples of figurative
language, and take notes on the above questions. After youve
read each poem several times, return to this study guide and
read the analyses that follow.


This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams

(page 61)

In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound (page 62)

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost (page 48)

Mending Wall by Robert Frost (pages 4849)

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (pages 4950)

Note: In this assignment, youll concentrate on determining

the meaning of the poems you read.

Analysis of This Is Just to Say

William Carlos Williams (18831963) was born in New Jersey
and lived his whole life there. He was a successful physician,
a sort of country doctor, before he turned to poetry. Hes
most famous for his poems about the city of Paterson, New
Jersey, which was falling on hard times when he lived in the
Williams usually wrote about things poets in former times
might have considered trivial or insignificant, but his intention was to allow his readers to see them in a new light. One
of his famous statements is, No ideas but in things. In
other words, he wasnt as interested in abstract art or thinking as he was in capturing the essence of an object. For this
reason, hes considered one of the major imagist poetspoets
who focused on creating a specific image that would appeal
to the readers five senses. Imagists usually adhered to the
following ideas:


They used the language of everyday speech and tried to

find the exactly right word.

They preferred free verse to more formal styles.

They believed in the absolute freedom of subject

matterpoets could write about anything they wished.

They tried to be very particular in their descriptions.

They focused on descriptions of thingsalmost the way

painters sometimes do.

American Literature

As you read Williamss poem, decide for yourself whether this

poem lives up to those goals.
One of the pleasures of Williamss poems is their ambiguity.
That is, people never quite agree on what they mean. The
poem This Is Just to Say is short, simple, and sweet.
Someone eats some cold plums that someone else was
saving for breakfast. Is there more to it than that?
Readers are free to interpret poems however they wish, as
long as they stick to the actual text. Is Williams being symbolic here? That is, is he talking about something other than
The idea behind the poem seems to be that we all give in to
some irresistible impulses. When something is so delicious,
so perfectso sweet and so coldwe often cant resist
taking it for our own, even if we know it belongs to someone
else, even when we know we really shouldnt.
Some people think this poem is about sex. Plums are moist
and sensuous, like our bodies are. And sometimes sexual
desires drive people to commit sins they ordinarily wouldnt.
Therefore, some people interpret this poem to mean that the
speaker is apologizing for having had an affair with someone
he shouldnt have. Others feel that hes talking about taking
someones virginitysweet and yet cold. Still others feel
that the poem is aboutwell, eating some plums.
Imagist poems are like that. As MacLeish says, they simply
are; they dont try to mean. And yet readers cant help trying
to decipher meanings behind the poems.
Reread the poem yourself. It might just be a perfect apology
and excuse for having committed a small act of selfishness.
It might be about far grander themes. What do you think?

Analysis of In a Station of the Metro

Ezra Pound (18851972) was born in Idaho. His family
moved to Pennsylvania, where he met William Carlos
Williams when both were students at the University of

Lesson 5


Pound studied classical languages, such as Latin and Greek,

as well as Chinese, so that he could read poets from other
cultures in their original languages. He also translated a
great deal of Chinese poetry into English for the first time.
He was a lifelong student of art, music, literature, philosophy, and other subjects. Much of his poetry includes references to things he read. He was also for some time an
imagist, as this poem shows.
Pound was a friend to many poets. He inspired them and
helped them with their poetry. He also had some interesting
political ideas, and he was thrown in prison by the
Americans after World War II for his vocal support of the
Italian fascist dictator Mussolini. He also spent 12 years in
an institution for the criminally insane for thinking and writing what he had. When he was released, he moved back to
Italy where he died in 1972.
The poem In a Station of the Metro may seem meaningless
and confusing on first reading. In fact, heres what Ezra
Pound said about it: I dare say it is meaningless unless one
has drifted into a certain vein of thought. To help you drift
into the vein, read what Pound said inspired his writing of
this poem:

The Metro is the

French subway


Three years ago in Paris I got out of a metro train at

La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and
then another and another, and then a beautiful childs
face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried
all that day to find words for what this had meant to
me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me
worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that
evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I
was still trying, and I found, suddenly, the expression.
I do not mean that I found words, but there came an
equation . . . not in speech, but in little spotches of
colour. . . . That evening, in the Rue Raynouard, I
realized quite vividly that if I were a painter, or if I
had, often, that kind of emotion, or even if I had the
energy to get paints and brushes and keep at it, I
might found a new school of painting, of non-representative painting, a painting that would speak only
by arrangements in colour. . . .

American Literature

Pound is trying to create a word picture of what he felt. Some

poets might have tried to capture every aspect of the train,
every detail of the womans face. In fact, Pound actually did
try at first to write a long poemit ran to 30 lines! However,
the idea of imagist poems is to condense an experience into
one sharp, extremely focused image. Its easy to imagine the
petals of a flower framed against a black limb. For Pound, that
metaphor perfectly captures what he saw that day in the
French train station.

Analysis of Fire and Ice, Mending

Wall, and The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost (18741963) was born in San Francisco,
California. When he was 11, his family moved to
Massachusetts. He attended a number of schools, including
Harvard, but never received a formal degree. Instead, he
worked at various jobs, including a shoe cobbler and a newspaper editor. He tried farming in New Hampshire, and his
poetry often deals with New England farmers.
In 1912, he moved to England, where he met with other
poets and published two volumes of poetry. He returned to
the United States in 1915 and lived in New England until he
died in Boston in 1963.
Fire and Ice. Frost begins this poem with a simple statement, explaining how different people think the world will
endSome say . . . in fire, some say in ice. Lines 3 and 4
compare fire with desire. Frost is saying that desire, like fire,
consumes and destroys. Next, he pictures hate as ice. Ice is
something thats rigid and unmoving. One works quickly
(fire) and the other more slowly (ice). However, according to
Frost, it seems that one can destroy as well as the other.
Note that Frost never says one theory is better than the
other. In fact, he agrees with both equally. He seems to be
saying that humans are torn between the two, love and hate,
and that we cant help it. He may not be talking about the
end of the world, but about normal human experience. While
poets sometimes use simple metaphors to talk about great
things, they can also use grand ideaslike the end of the
worldto talk about everyday aspects of our lives.

Lesson 5


Mending Wall. On the surface, Mending Wall is about

two neighbors who meet once a year to mend the wall that
stands between their properties. The narrator of the poem
wonders why they bother with the mending. He says, He
[the neighbor] is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple
trees will never get across and eat the cones under his
pines. But the neighbor simply says, Good fences make
good neighbors. Apparently the neighbor feels the fence will
keep them right with each other, but the narrator doesnt
understand his reasoning. He wants to know why they make
good neighbors. The neighbor just keeps on mending the wall
and then repeats, Good fences make good neighbors.
But it seems that theres another meaning behind this poem.
Perhaps the word neighbor can mean anyone with whom we
are close emotionally. When the walls between us begin to
crumble, we become vulnerable. Therefore, we begin to
rebuild the walls so that we dont get too close to each other.
Several lines in this poem are worth examining a little closer:

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

It seems strange that the narrator, the one who questions the value of the wall, is the one who informs the
neighbor that its time to begin repairs. Maybe the narrator knows the wall is a crutch for both of them and he
or she is too afraid to actually tear it down.

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

This line may mean that people have to work at keeping
their emotions to themselves, instead of sharing them
with those close to them.

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

The job of repairing the wall is a difficult one, whether
its a real wall between two properties or an imaginary
one between two people. And yet, mending the fence
brings these two very different people together in a companionable way. So perhaps, that regular, dependable
interaction is why good fences (which can be done only
together one on each side) do make good neighbors.
What do you think?


American Literature

The Road Not Taken. Of the three Frost poems youve

read, this is probably the easiest one to analyze. On the surface, its a simple tale of someone who arrives at a fork in the
road and must decide which way to go. He would like to take
both routes, but eventually decides to take the one less
traveled by. He thinks he might keep the other road for
another day, but then he understands that hell probably
never come back that way again. And perhaps he cant
return since his choice changed him and the direction of his
travels. In the end, his choice has made all the difference.
As with many poems, The Road Not Taken has a deeper
second meaning. The two roads probably represent choices
that people must make in their lives. They would like to
make both choices, but they realize thats impossible. Once
their lives get headed in one direction, its difficult to turn
back. At the end, Frost tells his readers that the choices
people make will make all the difference in their lives.

Self-Check 14
1. Describe what it means for a poem to be called ambiguous.
2. What made Ezra Pound write In a Station of the Metro?
3. Which poet in this assignment was also a physician?
4. True or False? In Fire and Ice, Frost prefers the world to end with a fire.
5. What are the two levels of meaning in The Road Not Taken?
Check your answers with those on page 175.

Lesson 5


Read the poems listed below. Read them to yourself; then read
them aloudslowly. As you do, look for examples of figurative
language and answer the questions given earlier. After youve
read each poem several times, return to this study guide and
read the analyses that follow.

Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar (pages 4243)

Because I could not stop for Death by Emily

Dickinson (page 29)

Success is counted sweetest by Emily Dickinson

(page 32)

The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden

(pages 7980)

Note: For this final assignment on poetry, youll continue to

examine the meaning of the poems, along with such factors
as meter and rhyme scheme.

Analysis of Sympathy
Paul Laurence Dunbar (18721906) was born in Dayton,
Ohio. He penned a large body of dialect poems, standard
English poems, essays, novels, and short stories before he
died at the age of 33. His work often addressed the difficulties encountered by members of his race and the efforts of
African Americans to achieve equality in America.
Dunbar moved to Toledo, Ohio, in 1895, with help from
attorney Charles A. Thatcher and a psychiatrist. In 1902,
Dunbar and his wife separated. Depression stemming from
the end of his marriage and declining health drove him to a
dependence on alcohol, which further damaged his health.
He continued to write, however. He ultimately produced 12
books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play, and five
novels. His work appeared in Harpers Weekly, the Sunday
Evening Post, the Denver Post, Current Literature, and a number of other magazines and journals. He traveled to Colorado


American Literature

and visited his half-brother in Chicago before returning to

his mother in Dayton in 1904. He died there on February 9,
Sympathy is probably most famous for its line I know why
the caged bird sings, which was adopted as the title of a
book by Maya Angelou, one of Americas leading poets today.
Dunbars poem uses an extended metaphor to describe
the ways a bird feels when its caged. He describes the
sensations a bird experiences in spring when other birds
are singing and all things are springing to life. The sense of
being in prison is both psychological and physicalthe bird
yearns for freedom in its very bones.
Dunbar never comes right out and says I am like the caged
bird because . . . . Instead, he says that he knows why the
caged bird sings. In other words, hes telling us that he has
similar sensations, so we know that hes in fact talking about
himself (and in this case, his race, who were caged by all
kinds of restrictionslegal, economic, and cultural). We usually assume that caged birds sing because theyre happy, but
Dunbar makes it clear that African American songs arent at
all happy. Theyre prayers for deliverance.
Dunbar could simply have talked about why its wrong to
imprison living things. Instead, he tells you what its like to
be one in hopes that youll understand the plight of the bird
and of his people.

Analysis of Because I could not stop

for Death and Success is counted
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (18301886) was born in Amherst,
Massachusetts. She attended Mount Holyoke College and
then spent most of her life in her family home in the middle
of town. She wrote more than 1,800 poems. Most of them
were found by her sister after Emily died. Only 10 were published during her lifetime. She had a nervous breakdown in
1862 and didnt write any more after thatshe just worked
in her garden and hardly ever left the house.

Lesson 5


Because I could not stop for Death. Because I could

not stop for Death is a highly symbolic poem. Dickinson is
reflecting about what happens when a person dies. Her tone
is very peacefulshe compares the process of dying to a carriage ride, accompanied by both Death (the end of physical
existence) and Immortality (a life to come, which suggests
that her soul will live on).
Death itself is personified as a gentleman: He kindly stopped
for me. The living, of course, dont stop for Death. Instead,
we dread it. Death has civilitythat is, hes polite and
In her final stanza, Dickinson suggests that the event
occurred centuries ago, but that each century since then
seems shorter than a day on earth. In other words, a persons time on earth is nothing compared to the eternity that
follows, where centuries are shorter than days.
Success is counted sweetest. To help you understand
this poem, lets examine it line by line. First, we write the
line as Dickinson wrote it. Then we paraphrase the linethat
is, put it into our own words. Finally, we analyze the important elements of the line.
Success is counted sweetest
by those who neer succeed.
Paraphrase: People who dont succeed think more
of success than those who do succeed.
Analysis: Notice the poets use of alliteration with
the letter s.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Paraphrase: To truly appreciate or understand
something, you must not own it. Instead, you must
be in need of it.
Analysis: The poet uses the word nectar (something sweet) to mean success or anything else that
seems desirable. Shes saying that you cant appreciate it unless you sorely need it. For example, a
person who eats and eats to excess every day doesnt
understand the advantage and benefit of food as
well as a starving person.


American Literature

Not one of all the purple host

Who took the flag today
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory
Paraphrase: No one on the winning side of the battle can define victory as well as . . . .
Analysis: The purple host who took the flag
today refers to those who have won a battle.
Purple is a color of royalty, which adds desirability
to their situation.
As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.
Paraphrase: As the loser of the battle who hears
the celebration of the victorious side as he lies
Analysis: These last four lines give you a glimpse
at the loser of the battle. Hes dying, and as he
dies, he can hear the shouts of victory coming from
the winning side. Notice the words Dickinson uses
here. Forbidden ear suggests that the dying soldier can hear the celebration that he is forbidden
from participating in. Agonized indicates the feeling the soldier is experiencing, and clear presents
the idea that the soldier cant block it out. He can
hear it all too well.
In one sentence, heres what Emily Dickinson is saying:
Those that dont have something (be it success, nectar, or a
victory) are better able to comprehend and explain its meaning than those people who do have it.

Analysis of The Unknown Citizen

W. H. Auden (19071973) was born in York, England. As a
teenager, he felt alienated in his society. When Auden was in
his 30s, he wrote about love and politics. He was less difficult to understand than many of his peers, because he
wanted his poetry to be accessible to everyone.

Lesson 5


In 1938, he visited America for the first time. In 1939, he

moved to America permanently, though he continued to
travel to Europe regularly throughout his life. He believed
that Americans took poetry less seriously than English people. Therefore, he thought that in America he would be freer
to explore new ways of expressing himself through poetry
than he would in England, where audiences would have
expected certain things from each poem.
Auden wrote some famous poems about paintings and
other works of art. He had an important experience when
he saw paintings by the Dutch artist Breughel in Brussels.
Breughel, unlike many of his sixteenth-century contemporaries, painted common people, especially peasants, at work
and at play. Reflecting on that, Auden came to see that the
common people were as important as anyone else, and that
regular day-to-day life was as important as great political
events. This discovery is reflected in his own poetry.
Audens poetry is often written in a form known as syllabics.
As you should remember, Walt Whitmans poem I Sit and
Look Out was written in syllabics. That is, each line has a
certain number of syllables. The lines in a syllabic poem may
rhyme, but most poets who use syllabics dont feel required
to use rhymes or even meter. A line must contain a certain
number of syllables, but thats all that mattersnot whether
there are certain accented and unaccented syllables.
Syllabics lets a poet write with a certain structure (even
though its not usually obvious) without sounding too formal
or old-fashioned.
The Unknown Citizen is a satire. That is, its criticizing
something by making us smilegrimlyat its ironic tone.
The speaker of the piece is some faceless person, who obviously has no sense of what human needs and desires are.
Consider how he describes the unknown citizens life: He did
his job, he never complained, and he has, it seems, everything necessary. The speaker might be an official statistician, who sees everything in terms of numbers. It seems as
though hes checking off boxes as he analyzes the subjects
life. He has a phonographcheck. He was marriedcheck.
He satisfied his employerscheck. And so on.


American Literature

In the narrators eyes, people are just the sum total of what
they own, where they work, and whether theyre married.
Furthermore, this bureaucrat represents a state in which
individuals count only in terms of their value to the community. Citizens in this state arent expected to have feelings or
spiritual longings. He doesnt mention desire or hate, love or
lust, art or passion. No, its a drab account, and the speaker
could just as easily be talking about a robot.
The state that Auden is describing is totalitarian. Its in total
control of subjects. But the speaker obviously doesnt understand people, either. He suggests that since this unknown
citizen had everything the state thinks he needs, therefore
he must be happy!
Auden is satirizing state bureaucracies and totalitarian
states, suggesting that they crush the human spirit. But hes
also suggesting that maybe theres hopethat the human
longing for freedom and happiness endures, and that states
that try to crush it are doomed.

A totalitarian state
is one that has a
central leader who
dictates to his or
her subjects.

Self-Check 15
1. In your own words, tell what the line I know why the caged bird sings means.
2. Who rides in the carriage in Because I could not stop for Death?
3. What words does Emily Dickinson use to describe Death?

Lesson 5


Self-Check 15
4. What does the purple host refer to in Success is counted sweetest?
5. The person described in The Unknown Citizen is a symbol for _______.
Check your answers with those on page 175.


American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to
When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 5, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
1. In Fire and Ice, Frost compares fire to
A. hate.
B. desire.

C. bureaucracy.
D. plums.

2. What does W. H. Auden say is necessary for Modern Man?


A phonograph, a radio, a car, and a frigidaire

Marriage and five children
To escape from both desire and hate
Fruit that is delicious and so sweet

3. In his poem In a Station of the Metro, Ezra Pound compares

his vision to
A. a sculpture.
B. a block of ice.

C. flowers on a branch.
D. a fork in the road.


Lesson 5
Poetry, Part 2


4. The plums in William Carlos Williamss poem belong to

A. the speaker of the poem.
B. the writer of the poem.

C. the audience of the poem.

D. an unnamed someone else.

5. In Because I could not stop for Death, Dickinson says the horses heads were pointing
A. the schoolyard.
B. the graveyard.

C. eternity.
D. her past.

6. How often does the speaker of Mending Wall meet his neighbor?
A. Every Saturday
B. Once a year

C. Once in a lifetime
D. Every time he goes outside

7. Who says Good fences make good neighbors?

A. Death
B. A faceless bureaucrat

C. Someone in the Metro

D. The poets neighbor

8. In Sympathy, Paul Laurence Dunbar compares himself to


wild horses.
a caged bird.
a petal on a black bough.
a nameless citizen.

9. Which poet lived in and wrote about New Jersey?

A. Robert Frost
B. Emily Dickinson

C. William Carlos Williams

D. Ezra Pound

10. Which two poets are considered Imagists?


Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams

Ezra Pound and Emily Dickinson
Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams
Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson

11. Petals on a wet, black bough is an example of a/an

A. simile.
B. convention.

C. metaphor.
D. allegory.

12. Which one of the following poems describes the experience of being African American?


Fire and Ice

The Unknown Citizen
Because I could not stop for Death

Examination, Lesson 5

13. The Unknown Citizen can be considered a/an _______ poem.

A. imagistic
B. conventional

C. satiric
D. dramatic

14. How many of Dickinsons poems were published during her lifetime?
A. 0
B. 2

C. 10
D. 1,800

15. Whom does the narrator of Mending Wall want to blame for the walls destruction?
A. Elves
B. Neighbors

C. Cows
D. Hooligans

16. At what time of day is the narrator of The Road Not Taken making his choice?
A. Morning
B. Noon

C. Evening
D. Night

17. Of the following statements, which one best describes the theme of Success is counted

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

It takes money to make money.
Poor people know what it means to be rich better than rich people do.
He who has gets.

18. According to W. H. Auden, the phrase The Unknown Citizen is


a newspaper obituary.
inscribed on a monument by the state.
found scribbled on a napkin in a dead mans pocket.
a translation of an ancient poem.

19. In Sympathy, the birds song is a

A. carol.
B. complaint.

C. song of joy.
D. prayer.

20. Which one of the following statements best describes the job of repair in Mending Wall?

Both men enjoy the mending task.

Mending the wall was a difficult job.
Both men thought the wall was useless.
The men make a game of their task.

Examination, Lesson 5




American Literature

Read the following Introduction to Nonfiction and the background information on W. E. B. Du Bois. Then read Of the
Meaning of Progress (pages 3745) and The Sorrow Songs
(pages 155164) in The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois.
When youve finished reading the essays, return to this study
guide and read the analyses.

Introduction to Nonfiction
Thus far in your American Literature course, youve discovered two types of writing: fiction and poetry. Now youll take
a close look at nonfiction.
Fiction and poetry use the art of creating stories from the
writers imagination. He or she may base a story or a poem
on something that really happened, but the author makes
changes to the facts to make the story more exciting.
Nonfiction is different than either fiction or poetry in that it
deals with facts. When we read nonfiction, we expect that
the author is telling us the truth. He or she is telling us what
really happened, not something that has been altered to make
it sound better. Nonfiction is literature about real people and
A reporter who writes about sports, for example, must stick
to the facts. Some team lost; some team won. Someone
scored; someone blocked a punt. Sportswriting is an example
of nonfiction. It may tell an exciting storythe game may
have been won or lost in the last few minutes of playbut it
still sticks to the facts. Notice as you read, however, that
nonfiction writers use the same tools of the trade as fiction
writers and poets, such as figurative language and irony.




Here are some specific examples of nonfiction, arranged into

Informational Nonfiction




Current events

Technical Nonfiction





Auto repair

Personal Nonfiction



Of course, this is just a short representative list. Nonfiction

can also be categorized not just on the information presented,
but on how its presented. For example, consider the category cooking. Cooking information can be presented in a
number of different ways. Sometimes recipes appear on the
back of a soup can or on the side panel of a box of cereal.
These recipes are likely to be very basic, consisting of only
ingredients and instructions. A cookbook often goes a step
further than that. For example, the author might include
some information about where a dish originated, how to
shop for fresh ingredients for specific dishes, and what type
of utensils to use in preparing the dish.
Neither one of these writings would probably be considered
literature. However, some talented writers have published
books that present the authors experiences with food, and
they include recipes as part of their story. For example, a
chef who spent a year cooking at a restaurant in France


American Literature

might describe some of the dinners he enjoyed while romancing a lovely jeune fille (young girl), or he might describe the
effect of a hearty breakfast in the Provenal countryside. If
his writing is of a certain quality, if his themes are universal
(and love and food are certainly universal themes), if he
can capture the smells and tastes of eating in Paris in his
memoirs, then his cookbook might continue to educate and
entertain readers for years to come. And it may earn the title
The selections youll read for this lesson fall into the following categories:
1. Memoirs and essaysthe thoughts of W. E. B. Du Bois
expressed in essay form, based on his recollections. (The
word essay comes from the French jessai, which means
I try. When an author writes an essay, he or she is trying to express an idea, support an opinion, or defend a
theory. Sometimes a writer writes to figure out how he
or she feels, not knowing where the writing will lead.)
2. Autobiographythe story of a womans life, expressed in
chronological order (that is, the order in which things
happened over time)
Despite the different categories, these examples have something in common. All are personal writing. The writers speak
from their hearts and describe their own personal experiences
and deep emotions. They care deeply and passionately about
the subjects they discuss.
Writers of literary nonfiction go beyond simply informing.
That is, they dont seek to simply pass on information.
Instead, they try to touch the readers or listeners hearts as
well as their minds. They create a mood. Theyre emotional,
and theyre able to communicate those emotions to their
readers as well. The critical reader who pays attention, who
reads passages aloud, is able to experience similar emotions.
And that, in short, is what turns nonfiction into literature.

Lesson 6


Background: W. E. B. Du Bois and

The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. Du Bois (18681963) was born in Great Barrington,
Massachusetts. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University
the first African American to do this. He was a sociologist,
author, and civil rights leader. At first, he believed that race
problems could be solved through social science, but he later
came to understand that only agitation and protest would
work. He eventually became discouraged with conditions in
the United States and moved to Ghana, where he joined the
Communist Party. A year before he died, he renounced his
American citizenship.
The Souls of Black Folk is a collection of essays on a wide
variety of subjects, all related to the living conditions of
African Americans at the end of the nineteenth century.
W. E. B. Du Bois writes about famous African Americans,
about their aspirations, and about slavery and its aftermath,
among other topics.

Analysis of Of the Meaning of

Of the Meaning of Progress is the most autobiographical
piece in The Souls of Black Folk. To explain what he means
by progress, Du Bois uses the stories of a few people he knew
in the backwoods of Tennessee. He tells the story of his life
among themthe people he knew, what their own stories
were, and what became of them. In doing so, he uses specific
examples to make more general points, and he lets the readers draw their own conclusions.
The essay is largely a collection of anecdotesvery short simple stories. Du Bois begins by talking about his own
experiences as a teacher. He finds a job and is invited to
eat dinner with the white man who hires him. Hes pleased,
but then fell the awful shadow of the Veil, for they ate first,
then Ialone (39). The Veil is his metaphor for the laws and
customs that separated blacks from whites at that time.


American Literature

Consider why he chose to use a veil to explain the separation

between the races. He might have chosen a wall, which is a
hard and fast barrier. A veil is something that you can see
through, but its no less real and meaningful. In fact, the veil
makes the experience that much more painful, for it allows
African Americans to see what opportunities they lack in
their lives.
Du Bois displays his real talent when he describes details.
He cant make them upremember, this is nonfictionbut
he knows how to use them symbolically. For example, I was
haunted by a New England vision of neat little desks and
chairs, but, alas! the reality was rough plank benches without backs, and at times without legs. They had the one
virtue of making naps dangerous,possibly fatal, for the
floor was not be trusted (39). In this description, Du Bois
draws a clear distinction between teaching white children
and teaching poor black children, for falling asleep in his
class could be literally deadly if a student fell off the bench
and through the flooring.
While ordinary schoolteachers had to face minor troubles
like children falling asleep in class, Du Bois faced tougher
obstacles. The most serious and difficult was this: His students were eager to learn, but they were needed at home.
This situation seems tragic to him when he sees students
like Josie: The longing to know, to be a student in the great
school at Nashville, hovered like a star above this childwoman and her work and worry (40).
On pages 4142, Du Bois reflects on what unites these
people, what creates their sense of community. While he
mentions both joys and sorrows, he emphasizes their shared
sense of sufferinga common hardship in poverty, poor
land, and low wages and the Veil of racism that hung
between us and Opportunity (41).
These people are of two types. Those who have a dim recollection of slavery dont understand why they dont have real
opportunity (since theyre not slaves) and they sank into
listless indifference, or shiftlessness, or reckless bravado (42).
Then, there are those who know slavery only from stories
theyve heard. Their young appetites had been whetted to
an edge by school and story and half-awakened thought.

Lesson 6


Ill could they be content, born without and beyond the

World. And their weak wings beat against their barriers,
barriers of caste, of youth, of life; at last, in dangerous
moments, against everything that opposed even a whim (42).
When Du Bois returns after 10 years, he finds that the youthful hopes of a few have been squandered. His young students
have fallen prey to early pregnancies, prison, and death.
Du Bois doesnt provide the answer to the question of the
meaning of progress. He sees the new school they have as a
symbol of progress. And yet, when he thinks about Josie, who
died young, he cant help but think about whether African
Americans will ever experience real opportunity in America.
His last line isnt hopeful: I rode to Nashville in the Jim Crow
car (45). Jim Crow laws legalized segregation between blacks
and whites. For Du Bois, no real progress had occurred.

Analysis of The Sorrow Songs

Du Bois begins each essay in The Souls of Black Folk with an
epigraphthat is, a few lines from another source that create
a theme for the essay that follows. Each one is a bit of a
song, which demonstrates how much music means to him.
In The Sorrow Songs, Du Bois stresses the idea that
American music is characterized by vigor and ingenuity (156),
unlike European music, which is more formal and traditional.
American music is full of energy and newness. And the most
American music of all, he says, is African American.
He writes a brief history of African American music, including the touring minstrel shows. In fact, one troupe managed
to raise $150,000 to found Fisk College, which Du Bois
attended. In this sense, his very education can be traced
back to African American music!
Du Bois complains that many people misinterpret the Negro
folk-songs that were the foundation of all African American
music to come. They tell us . . . that life was joyous to the
black slave, careless and happy (157). Du Bois says this is
wrong, and that these songs are a music of an unhappy
people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death
and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of
misty wanderings and hidden ways (157).


American Literature

Du Bois then provides a sketch of African American music

beginning in Africa. Hes irate at the way in which white
musicians have stolen black music. He also talks about
what would later come to be called Gospel music. African
Americans interpreted Bible stories, especially those about
the Israelites in slavery, for their own needs. And he ends his
essay with a challenge to the white establishment. He asks
how this country became yoursthe white person. His challenge ends with this question: Would America have been
America without her Negro people? (163). He wants you and
all of his readers to think about the answer to this question. In
many ways, hes causing his readers to consider the same concept that Langston Huges wrote about in his poem I, Too.

Self-Check 16
1. Writing thats based on fact, not imagination, is called _______.
2. W. E. B. Du Bois attended _______ University.
3. Laws segregating black and white people were called _______ laws.
4. What article does Du Bois use to symbolize the unwritten laws that separate blacks and
5. Of the Meaning of Progress takes place in the state of _______.
6. How does Du Bois think that American music differs from that of European countries?
7. What challenge does Du Bois give his readers near the end of his essay?
Check your answers with those on page 176.

Lesson 6


Read the following background information on Helen Keller.
Then read pages 138 in The Story of My Life by Helen Keller.
When youve finished reading the assignment, return to this
study guide and read the analysis.

Background: Helen Keller and The Story

of My Life
The Story of My Life covers Helen Kellers history to age 22,
so its really the autobiography of her youth. To find out
more about her, try these other sources:

Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne

Sullivan Macy by Joseph P. Lash, which contains many
good illustrations

Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy: A Tribute by the Foster

Child of Her Mind, written by Helen Keller in 1955, when
she was 75

Anne Sullivan, Helens teacher, plays a remarkable role in

The Story of My Life. Anne was the daughter of a drunken
brawler. Unlike Helens relatively pleasant family circumstances, she was raised in a poorhouse. She developed
trachoma at age five, and by the time she was 11, in 1866,
she was legally blind. She later married John Macy, who
helped edit The Story of My Life.
As for Helenshe too fell in love, but her mother scared off
her suitor. She never married. She spent her life working for
the American Foundation for the Blind and was hugely
instrumental in helping the blind to receive both understanding and civil rights in America. She was both popular
and famous. During her lifetime, she had the honor of meeting with seven different presidents of the United States.


American Literature

Analysis of The Story of My Life

(Chapters 114)
As youve already learned, an autobiography is the history of
a persons life, told in his or her own words. Its a recollection and reassembling of factswhere I was born, where I
lived, what I did, what happened to me. Those are the objective elements. But all history has a subjective element, too.
Every historian has to decide what to leave out and what to
include. When it comes to autobiographies, the subjective
element is even stronger because the person is relating personal details of his or her life.
Chapter 1. Helen Keller admits this in her opening paragraph when she says, I find that fact and fancy look alike
across the years that link the past with the present. The
woman paints the childs experiences in her own fantasy (1).
In other words, shes reinterpreting her own history even as
she writes it. That she can explain this early in her own
autobiography is real evidence of her own honesty.
As you read her autobiography, constantly keep in mind that
Helen Keller was both deaf and blind. Then, try to notice her
almost incredible attention to sensory detail. For example, on
pages 23, Keller writes, But the rosesthey were loveliest
of all. Never have I found in the green-houses of the North
such heart-satisfying roses as the climbing roses of my
southern home. They used to hang in long festoons from our
porch, filling the whole air with their fragrance, untainted by
any earthy smell; and in the early morning, washed in the
dew, they felt so soft, so pure, I could not help wondering if
they did not resemble the asphodels of Gods garden. This
statement is an example of Kellers lifelong appreciation of
beauty. Even though she was deprived of sight, shes keenly
aware of smell and touchmaybe more than the person who
has sight.

Sensory details
are those that
appeal to the five
touch, sight, smell,
and hearing.

Keller uses sensory descriptions to make her sudden loss of

sight and hearing that much more real to the reader. For
example, on page 3, she writes, One brief spring, musical
with the song of robin and mockingbird, one summer rich in
fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by
and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child.

Lesson 6


Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness

which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the
unconsciousness of a newborn baby. By bringing to life
the simple pleasures of sight and sound that most people
take for granted, Keller can then show just how intense the
loss of both was to a child.
Chapter 2. Chapter 2 focuses on Kellers recollections.
These memories are scattered and haphazardlike most
of our childhood memories. Rather than trying to create a
chronological narrative, Keller instead captures the sense
of a grown-up simply jotting down the few memories of early
childhood that remain to her.
Chapter 3. Chapter 3 opens with this statement: Meanwhile,
the desire to express myself grew (8). Shes frustrated with
the few signs she uses to make her basic wants understood.
When people misunderstand her signs, she flies into temper
tantrums. In Chapter 3, she also describes her trip to
Baltimore, and she discusses how she got her aunt to sew
two eyes onto a doll. Since shes going to visit an oculist (eye
expert), this effort is symbolic of her own desire for sight.
Chapter 4. In Chapter 4, Keller describes the most important day I remember in all my life (10)the day she first met
Anne Sullivan. Sullivan teaches Helen how to read by spelling
letters onto the palms of her hands, beginning with doll.
On page 12, Keller describes how, after a frustrating day,
Sullivan runs fresh water over one hand while spelling
water on the other. As Keller writes, Suddenly I felt a misty
consciousness of something forgottena thrill of returning
thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed
to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool
something that was flowing over my hand. That living word
awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! In
other words, this experience first showed her the direct connection between language, as she was learning itthe squiggly shapes of lettersand the thing language was pointing
to. Once she understood the concept of languagethat letters made words, and words identified thingsshe was able
to proceed to learn so much faster. In literature, this kind of
sudden breakthrough in understanding is called an


American Literature

Chapter 5. Chapter 5 describes more outings in nature.

Keller was obviously very comfortable outdoors and was very
responsive to what she could enjoy through touch and smell
and taste.
Chapter 6. This chapter finds Keller trying to answer a
question that people are still trying to answer today: What is
love? Read carefully to see how her teacher communicated
the concept of love to her.
Chapter 7. Keller describes the way in which she learned to
read. Miss Sullivan uses words printed in raised letters and
uses them to identify objects and actions. She describes
Sullivans talent in teaching her, how she never nagged, and
how, when it came to books and other subjects, Sullivan
seemed to know exactly how to talk to heras if she were a
little girl herself (17). She attributes this remarkable sympathy to Annes own long association with the blind (17).
Keller once again talks about the role of nature in her education, how she enjoyed it and learned from it. Anne Sullivan
was able to connect art with science. For example, when she
gives Helen a chambered seashell, called a Nautilus, she
then reads her the poem The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver
Wendell Holmes. Keller explains how fascinated she was with
the shell-building process of the mollusks [shelled sea creatures]. She uses a natural simile, then, as she writes that
this process is symbolical of the development of the mind.
Just as the wonder-working mantle of the Nautilus changes
the material it absorbs from the water and makes it a part of
itself, so the bits of knowledge one gathers undergo a similar
change and become pearls of thought (19).
She uses another natural simile to explain how Anne
Sullivan was able to teach her so well. She compares a
childs mind to a shallow brook which ripples and dances
merrily over the stony course of its education and reflects
here a flower, there a bush, yonder a fleecy cloud; and she
attempted to guide my mind on its way, knowing that like a
brook it should be fed by mountain streams and hidden
springs, until it broadened out into a deep river, capable of
reflecting in its placid surface, billowy hills, the luminous
shadows of trees and the blue heavens, as well as the sweet

Lesson 6


face of a little flower (20). (Remember that a simile must use

the words like or as.)
Chapter 8. Chapter 8 describes Kellers first Christmas
with Anne Sullivan. Compare this experience with previous
Christmases: I hung my stocking because the others did; I
cannot remember, however, that the ceremony interested me
especially, nor did my curiosity cause me to wake before daylight to look for my gifts (6).
Chapter 9. In Chapter 9, Keller talks about her trip to
Boston and her continuing education at the Perkins School.
One of her more interesting notes on what she learned
involved the Pilgrims: How my childish imagination glowed
with the splendour of their enterprise! I idealized them as the
bravest and most generous men that ever sought a home in a
strange land. I thought they desired the freedom of their fellow men as well as their own. I was keenly surprised and
disappointed years later to learn of their acts of persecution
that make us tingle with shame, even while we glory in the
courage and energy that gave us our Country Beautiful (22).
This incident is an example of disillusionment. Many autobiographies contain examples of this themeof finding out
that things we believed or were taught to be true werent the
whole truth. In some sense, thats the experience of every
American writer. Theyre educated to believe in individual
freedom, democracy, equal rights for everyone, peace, and
justiceonly to find out later that theres a wide gap between
the ideal and the real. Different writers react differently to
that. Some grow bitter and cynical; others are inspired to
work harder to narrow that gap and to make the ideal the
real. Keller is one of the latter.
Chapters 1012. These chapters describe more of Kellers
appreciation of natural settings. Read them closely for the
marvelous attention to detail Keller provides.
Chapter 13. In Chapter 13, Helen learns to speak. Her first
phraseit is warmrepresents a real triumph, but she
proceeds to discuss how very long it took her to be understood by others. The thought of being able to communicate
with her mother and sister inspires her to learn to speak:
My little sister will understand me now, was a thought
stronger than all obstacles. I used to repeat ecstatically,


American Literature

I am not dumb now. I could not be despondent while I

anticipated the delight of talking to my mother and reading
her responses from her lips (32).
Chapter 14. This chapter describes Helens experiences at
having been charged with plagiarism. It may seem that she
goes on at a great length about this topic, but this shows
just how much her own sense of honesty and integrity
mattered to her and how important it was that others see it
in her. Her explanation of the root of the problem is very
interesting: At that time I eagerly absorbed everything I read
without a thought of authorship, and even now I cannot be
quite sure of the boundary line between my ideas and those
I find in books. I suppose that is because so many of my
impressions come to me through the medium of others eyes
and ears (33).
In other words, being a blind and deaf girl, and at the same
time such a voracious reader of so many books, made it difficult for her to distinguish sometimes between her own original thoughts and those she had read. She develops this
theme at greater length a few pages later in explaining that
her own writing is sometimes peppered with the thoughts
and expressions of others:

Plagiarism refers to
the act of copying
or rewording someone elses actual
words or ideas and
presenting them as
if they were your
own. Its an illegal
offense thats punishable by law.

It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own

thoughts from those I read, because what I read
becomes the very substance and texture of my mind.
Consequently, in nearly all that I write, I produce
something which very much resembles the crazy
patch-work I used to make when I first learned to
sew. This patchwork was made of all sorts of odds
and endspretty bits of silk and velvet; but the
coarse pieces that were not pleasant to touch always
predominated. Likewise my compositions are made up
of crude notions of my own, inlaid with the brighter
thoughts and riper opinions of the authors I have
read (37).

Lesson 6


Self-Check 17
1. A history of a persons life written by that person is called a/an _______.
2. Details that appeal to a readers sight, taste, hearing, touch, and smell are called
_______ details.
3. What senses did Helen Keller lose?
4. What was Helen Kellers teachers name?
5. The seashell Keller describes, which shares the name of a famous poem, is called
a/an _______.
6. Finding out that things a person once thought were true arent true at all is called
7. In what city were the Perkins School for the Blind and Radcliffe College?
Check your answers with those on page 176.

Read pages 3875 in The Story of My Life by Helen Keller.
When youve finished reading the assignment, return to this
study guide and read the analysis.


American Literature

Analysis of The Story of My Life

(Chapters 1523)
Chapter 15. Having been accused of plagiarism once, Helen
Keller lives in lifelong fear of it ever happening to her by accident again. She explains her feelings on page 38:
I was still excessively scrupulous about everything
I wrote. The thought that what I wrote might not be
absolutely my own tormented me. No one knew of
these fears except my teacher. A strange sensitiveness
prevented me from referring to the Frost King; and
often when an idea flashed out in the course of conversation I would spell softly to her, I am not sure it
is mine. At other times, in the midst of a paragraph
I was writing, I said to myself, Suppose it should be
found that all this was written by some one long ago!
An impish fear clutched my hand, so that I could not
write any more that day. And even now I sometimes
feel the same uneasiness and disquietude.
The rest of Chapter 15 is devoted to Kellers time at the
Worlds Fair, which she enjoyed in the company of Alexander
Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. As usual, Keller
doesnt simply enjoy herself; she milks the experience for its
educational worth and concludes by noting that in the three
weeks I spent at the Fair I took a long leap from the little
childs interest in fairy tales and toys to the appreciation of
the real and the earnest in the workaday world (41).
Chapters 1617. In Chapter 16, Keller recounts her
experiences studying other languages and literatures. She
learned French, Greek, and Latinenough to prepare her for
Radcliffe, the prestigious Cambridge university she entered
in 1896. She also studied at Wright-Humason School for the
Deaf in New York City. Her main goal at this school was to
train in vocal culture and lip-reading.

Lesson 6


Chapters 1820. These chapters summarize the positives

and negatives she experienced at Radcliffe, along with the
specific subjects she studied. She could have decided not to
attend due to her handicaps, but she sums up her need on
page 51:
I remember my first day at Radcliffe. It was a day full
of interest for me. I had looked forward to it for years.
A potent force within me, stronger than the persuasion of my friends, stronger even than the pleadings of
my heart, had impelled me to try my strength by the
standards of those who see and hear. I knew that
there were obstacles in the way; but I was eager to
overcome them. I had taken to heart the words of the
wise Roman who said, To be banished from Rome is
but to live outside of Rome. Debarred from the great
highways of knowledge, I was compelled to make the
journey across country by unfrequented roadsthat
was all; and I knew that in college there were many
bypaths where I could touch hands with girls who
were thinking, loving and struggling like me.
In these three chapters, Helen recounts some of her experiences doing additional preparatory work with Mr. Gilman.
In Chapter 20 in particular, she reflects on the nature of
university-level education:
But in college there is no time to commune with ones
thoughts. One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to
think. When one enters the portals of learning, one
leaves the dearest pleasuressolitude, books and
imaginationoutside with the whispering pines. I suppose I ought to find some comfort in the thought that
I am laying up treasures for future enjoyment, but
I am improvident enough to prefer present joy to
hoarding riches against a rainy day (51).
Chapter 21. This chapter is devoted entirely to Helens
explanation of how much books meant to her. She uses the
word devoured (56) to describe how she attacked each book
she got her hands on. In fact, everyone should take a lesson
from Helen and read more. In todays world, too many people
are content to watch television and go to the movies and be
passively entertained. Learn from Helen: I have depended on


American Literature

books not only for pleasure and for the wisdom they bring to
all who read, but also for that knowledge which comes to
others through their eyes and their ears (5556).
Chapter 22. As you read Chapter 22, remember that Helen
is both blind and deaf and yet she enjoys a wide variety of
amusements. In this chapter, she mentions her love of being
outdoors, swimming, boating, canoeing, and sailing. Pay particular attention to her description of how she feels the differences between things, such as the difference between the
country and the city (66).
Would you think a blind and deaf girl would enjoy museums
and art stores and the theater? As you read her telling of visiting such places, try to imagine what it would be like to do
those things without the senses of sight and hearing.
Chapter 23. If Chapter 23 had a title, it would probably be
Friends. Helen closes her autobiography by describing her
association with a variety of peoplefamous people and ordinary peopleand what she learned from them.

Self-Check 18
1. With whom did Helen go to the Worlds Fair in 1893?
2. What are some of the languages that Helen studied?
3. For what particular reason did Helen attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in
New York City?

Lesson 6


Self-Check 18
4. True or False? Helen didnt enjoy mathematics.
5. What book did Helen love above all others?
6. True or False? Because of her limitations, Helen wasnt able to enjoy outdoor activities.
Check your answers with those on page 176.


American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to

When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 6, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
1. When W. E. B. Du Bois uses the Veil as a symbol, he means

the poor conditions of the people he was teaching.
the difference between whats expected and what happens.

2. What is the greatest obstacle Du Bois faces in providing his

students with an education?

Theyre needed to work at home.

Theyre uninterested in books.
Theyre racists.
They dont trust him.


Lesson 6


3. The benches on which Du Boiss children sit are symbols of the


difference between their education and white childrens education.

gulf between teacher and student.
peoples reliance on natural, organic products.
African Americans talent at woodcraft.

4. In Of the Meaning of Progress, what does Du Bois suggest most strongly creates the
sense of community among African Americans?
A. Desire for education
B. Anger at racism

C. Shared suffering
D. Foods they share with others

5. To Du Bois, the new school represents


the triumph of the white ideology.

a new form of slavery.
the efforts of African Americans to create their own culture.

6. The bits of song that precede each essay in The Souls of Black Folk are called
A. anecdotes.
B. biographies.

C. epigraphs.
D. epiphanies.

7. What does Du Bois say are the unique characteristics of American art (including music)?
A. Beauty and peace
B. Vigor and ingenuity

C. Racism and oppression

D. Educational and humor

8. Du Bois says that Negro folk-songs are reflections of


carelessness and happiness.

disappointment and unhappiness.
vim and vigor.
anger and rebellion.

9. In concluding his essay The Sorrow Songs, Du Bois claims that


Black music isnt American.

America wouldnt be America without African American contributions.
Africa would have been a better place had America not kidnapped slaves.
African music plays no part in American musical tastes.

10. The woman paints the childs experiences in her own fantasy is an example of


the relationship between literature and painting.

the problems a blind person has in writing an autobiography.
womans intuition.
the subjective element in history and autobiography.

Examination, Lesson 6

11. The term sensory details refers to particular details that


clarify the point the author is trying to make.

appeal to the readers five senses.
make the readers laugh at themselves.
make readers wonder if theyre reading fantasy or realistic prose.

12. The book that began Helen Kellers lifelong love of reading was
A. the Bible.
B. The Scarlet Letter.

C. the Iliad.
D. Little Lord Fauntleroy.

13. How old is Keller when she first meets Anne Sullivan?
A. 3
B. 5

C. Almost 7
D. Almost 10

14. What is the first word Sullivan spells on Kellers hand?

A. Doll
B. Water

C. Helen
D. Anne

15. Which one of the following incidents is an example of an epiphany?


Meeting a new person (for example, Anne Sullivan)

Separating from ones parents
Coming to a sudden new understanding of something (for example, language)
Becoming depressed by ones condition in life

16. Keller compares the way one gathers and absorbs knowledge and makes it part of
oneself to

a summer storm in a meadow.

a parent nurturing a child.
letters pinned on a dolls pinafore.
the way a mollusk adds to its shell.

17. The statement A childs mind is like a shallow brook is an example of

A. an anecdote.
B. a metaphor.

C. a simile.
D. sensory detail.

18. When Helen Keller discovers that the Pilgrims werent as noble as she had been taught,
she experiences
A. brainwashing.
B. true happiness.

Examination, Lesson 6

C. disillusionment.
D. a loss of faith in Anne Sullivan.


19. The first sentence Keller learns to speak is

A. The doll is on the bed.
B. It is warm.

C. I like water.
D. I love Anne.

20. In Kellers opinion, the colleges of her day focused too much on


learning, not thinking.

studying, not socializing.
modern languages, not Greek and Latin.
male students, not females.

Examination, Lesson 6

Read the following information on drama and the background
information on Eugene ONeill. Then read pages 133 in
Beyond the Horizon. As you read the play, refer to the analysis
that follows.

The Elements of Drama

A drama is the literary form designed for presentation by
actors representing the characters. Sounds simple, doesnt
it? Basically that definition is accurate, but as youre probably aware, theres much more to a drama.
A drama is similar to poetry in that its meant to be heard
and seen, not just read. In fact, most of the early plays were
written in verse. While drama was originally always seen live
onstage, most of the drama today is presented through television and the movies. Shakespeares play Hamlet is an
example of drama, but so is your favorite television show.
A drama tells a story through action and dialogue. Most
plays are structured around the same elements of fiction as
the short story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling
action, and resolution, as well as conflict. Although most
dramas incorporate these critical elements, the methods of
doing so are different from the methods used by a short
story writer.



History of Drama

Drama may be the oldest literary form, since it developed

before written languages evolved. The first dramas may have
pertained to the basic concerns of our primitive ancestors.
They would drape themselves in skins and reenact the
huntone player playing the animal and the other, the
hunter. Some people believe that drama may have started
as a religious ritual. Staging the drama was meant to call
down the power of the gods upon the hunter.


Drama became more sophisticated in ancient Greece.

Playwrights such as Sophocles and Euripides used Greek
myth as the basis of their dramas. While gods and other
supernatural beings played a part in their stories, the focus
of these playwrights was on the human condition, and their
plays ask very profound questions: What does it mean to be
human? What is the meaning of life and death? Modern
dramatists still ask those same questions. The point of
dramaand all artisnt to answer these questions, but to
ask them in such a way that the audience can think about
them from fresh perspectives.
For many centuries, drama centered on religious themes.
In fact, most of the arts in the Western (European) world
emphasized religion, because of the dominant role it played
in peoples thinking and because of the political influence
of the church. Right up until Shakespeares own boyhood,
nearly all drama focused on religionon humans relationships to God.
Contemporary drama usually focuses on ordinary people and
on their day-to-day issues and problems. But dramatists use
these issues to get people to think about bigger issuesfor
example, to what extent are we defined by our careers? How
important is love in our lives? How much obligation do we
owe to our parents? Whats the significance of tradition in
our lives? These are all questions we deal with throughout
our lives. Usually, though, we dont give them much
conscious thought. Drama allows us to see these questions
played out on stageand these specific questions are all
themes of Beyond the Horizon.

Nature of Drama
An audience watching a film understands that filmmakers
use special effects. Films are often judged by how realistic
in appearance the special effects are. We know that when the
car explodes, the stuntman driving the car has safely exited
the vehicle; we know that when the rockets battle each other,
were really seeing computer animation or drawings of some


American Literature

When we enter the theater to watch a film, we choose to

suspend our disbelief, to use a phrase of poet Samuel
Taylor Coleridge. We do the same thing when we enter a
theater. We enter a world of lets pretend or of make
believe thats familiar to us from childhood. The playwright
can choose to create a realistic drama in which the action is
played out in a recognizable setting, for example, a living
room, a nursing home, or a used-car lot. Or the playwright
can choose an unrealistic setting: the surface of the moon,
an enchanted wood, or a magic garden.
Certain dramatic conventions apply. Most plays are presented
on a stage that has three walls. The audience understands
that the fourth wall is invisible. The lowering or raising of
the curtain or of the lights signals the start and stop of the
action. Some plays are performed with elaborate sets and
scenery, others with minimal staging and props. If the playwright and actors do their jobs, we fall into the reality they
present, and with them we pretend its real also. Its sometimes a shock to see an actor who has portrayed a paraplegic
walk confidently on stage to take his bow at the end of a
performance. His performance may have been so convincing
that we thought he was a paraplegic in real life.

How to Read a Play

Reading a play differs from reading short stories. In most
plays, the playwright doesnt give much of his or her own
exposition. Therefore, in reading a play, you have to fill in
many blanks. You have to imagine all the details and create
the scenes in your mind. You create your own setting, imagine what the characters look like, and also imagine all the
other things that are taking place onstage while a performer
is reciting the lines youre reading.
So, an important rule in reading a play is to read slowly.
Each time you meet a new character and begin reading what
he or she is saying, try to picture that character. What does
she look like? What is he wearing? What does her voice
sound like?

Lesson 7


Then do the same with each speech. What tone is the character using? Is he whispering or shouting? Speaking clearly
or mumbling? Talking quickly or slowly? What else is he
doing? Is he tying his shoes, looking out the window, taking
his love in his arms, making threatening gestures?
Then, do the same with the setting. In Beyond the Horizon,
allow yourself time to conjure up visions of each setting.
What does the farmhouse look like? The landscape?
Also pay attention to the following points:


The way you receive information about context. Because

you dont have an author who can explain things, you
have to pay close attention to the ways in which characters create a contextin other words, how they talk
about previous events that led up to present circumstances. For example, in Beyond the Horizon, Eugene
ONeill devotes a certain amount of time to allowing
characters to explain what has taken place previously.
This is an example of exposition. Also, note the ways in
which characters demonstrate their social relations
that is, who is more powerful, what their socioeconomic
status is.

Examples of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony means that

the audience knows something the characters dont, or
the audience views something in a way that the characters dont view it.

Minor characters. Dramatists avoid too many minor

characters, so assume that they have a very real reason
for each one.

Setting. Whats the significance of the setting, both in

terms of place (parlor, field) and time (daylight, nighttime)?

The central conflict and subconflicts. There are several

conflicts in Beyond the Horizon. How do they connect
and mirror each other?

American Literature

Background: Reading ONeill and Beyond

the Horizon
Eugene ONeill (18881953) was born on the corner of
Broadway and 42nd Street in Manhattan, New York City
right in what would become the heart of the American theater district. His father was an actor in the romantic plays
that were popular during that era. He traveled with his
fathers theater troupe and went to Princeton University
for one year. After being suspended, he went on a goldprospecting trip to Honduras, Central America, which
inspired events in Beyond the Horizon.
Soon after he returned, he had a serious bout of tuberculosis. While recuperating, he began to read contemporary
playwrights who were writing realistic drama. In 1916, he
moved to Provincetown on Cape Cod. There he joined a theater company and began writing his own plays. Between
1920 and 1922, he wrote seven full-length plays. In the
years that followed, he wrote dozens more. Some of his more
popular plays include A Touch of the Poet (19351942), More
Stately Mansions (19351941), The Iceman Cometh (1939),
A Long Days Journey into Night (19391941), and A Moon for
the Misbegotten (1943).
In 1936, ONeill received the Nobel Prize for literature. But
around this time his career began to suffer. His plays
became even more depressing, and many of the ones that are
most famous today werent even staged.
The conflicts in ONeills plays are often between a person
and his or her sense of what he or she should be. For this
reason, ONeill once wrote that Most modern plays are
concerned with the relation between man and man, but
that does not interest me at all. I am interested only in the
relation between man and God.
He also wrote of the playwrights need to dig at the roots of
the sickness of today as I feel itthe death of the old God
and the failure of science and materialism to give any satisfactory new one for the surviving primitive religious instinct
to find a meaning for life in, and to comfort its fears of death
with. Many of ONeills characters embark on this searcha
search for meaning and purpose in their lives.

Lesson 7


As an American author, ONeill also had something to say

about his country. He summed up Americas promise and
what he saw as her great failure in these words:
The United States, instead of being the most successful country in the world, is the greatest failure . . .
because it was given everything, more than any
other country. Through moving as rapidly as it has, it
hasnt acquired any real roots. Its main idea is that
everlasting game of trying to possess your own soul by
the possession of something outside it.
As you read Beyond the Horizon, try to answer the following

From what psychological or spiritual sickness does

each character suffer?

What old gods are dying or dead in this play? That is,
what things did the people worship and find meaningful
in the past?

What does each character try to possess? Does that

quest for possessing something outside of oneself lead to
success or failure?

Your answers to these questions will lead you to the central

themes of the play.

Analysis of Beyond the Horizon

Act One
Scene One. The setting for each act is important. Youll find
that each setting suggests something about each character,
especially Robert, as they age over the course of the play.
The setting for Act One, Scene One, tells us something first
about the environment: a successful farm, by the looks of
thingsmyriad bright-green blades of fall-sown rye are
sprouting (1). It also tells us something about character.
Robert is a young man (23 years old), and the sprouting
seeds of rye are symbolic of his own youth and promise.
Robert is reading a booknot necessarily something we
expect to find a farmer doing in his field, which suggests


American Literature

that Robert may be at odds with his environment. Andrew,

on the other hand, looks and acts very much the part of the
farmer: He is twenty-seven years old, an opposite type to
Roberthusky, sun-bronzed, handsome in a large-featured,
manly fashiona son of the soil, intelligent in a shrewd way,
but with nothing of the intellectual about him (2).
In their initial discussion, Andrew laughs good naturedly at
Roberts love of poetry. He says he prefers anything sensible (2). The brothers are quite differentopposites, in fact
but theyre very affectionate toward one another nonetheless.
Much of the opening discussion between the brothers serves
as exposition. The purpose of exposition is to expose the
background of the storythat is, filling the reader in on the
information needed to understand the action of the play.
The brothers talk about Roberts plan to go to sea. Robert
is excited about the prospect. Andrew, on the other hand,
makes it clear that hes very happy where he isworking
on the farm.
Robert gives two reasons for his wanting to go to sea with
this uncle (his mothers brother), who is a captain:
1. Hes afraid the farm might claim him. He remembers
how his mother used to read, but now she does her
duties on the farm and finds no time for reading. He
doesnt want this to happen to him.
2. He wants to go just because of the beauty and mystery
of the world: Supposing I was to tell you that its just
Beauty thats calling me, the beauty of the far off and
unknown, the mystery and spell of the East, which lures
me in the books Ive read, the need of the freedom of
great wide spaces, the joy of wandering on and onin
quest of the secret which is hidden just over there,
beyond the horizon? Suppose I told you that was the
one and only reason for my going? (7).
ONeill is drawing a picture of two distinct types of people.
Robert is the dreamy, intuitive, wandering-poet type. Andrew
is the practical, down-to-earth, business-oriented, levelheaded farmer. If each were to follow his true natureas
they plan when the play opensthen Robert would go to
sea and Andrew would stay and work on the farm.

Lesson 7


But they dont. A woman comes between the brothers.

Rather, the brothers allow their feelings for Ruth to come
between their destinies and their natural roles in life. When
Robert confesses his love for Ruth (12) and she responds by
saying that she loves him and not Andrew (a lie, as you shall
see), his fate is sealed. When Robert decides to stay, he
rationalizes his decisionthat is, he rethinks everything so
that his new plans make sense to him. Listen to what he
says on page 14:
Perhaps after all Andy was rightrighter than he
knewwhen he said I could find all the things I was
seeking for here, at home on the farm. The mystery
and the wonderour love should bring them home to
us. I think love must have been the secretthe secret
that called to me from over the worlds rimthe secret
beyond every horizon; and when I did not come, it
came to me. [He clasps RUTH to him fiercely.] Oh,
Ruth, you are right! Our love is sweeter than any distant dream. It is the meaning of all life, the whole
world. The kingdom of heaven is withinus!
This is very romantic, of course, and Robert himself is a true
romantic. But as ONeill shows, the world has a way of grinding down romance, and people who stake their entire futures
on youthful passions often pay a terribly tragic price.
Scene Two. In ONeills opening description, you find that
the sitting-room of the Mayo house is clean, well-kept, and
in its exact place . . . the atmosphere is one of the orderly
comfort of a simple, hard-earned prosperity, enjoyed and
maintained by the family as a unit (15). In this scene, however, order and unity are demolished forever.
In the first part of this scene the family discusses Roberts
plans. Roberts mother doesnt want him to go, and even his
father says hell miss him. Then, Andrew mentions that no
one seems to consider the fact that Robert himself wants to
go. Then, he hesitates and adds, At least, not if he still feels
the same way about it. In this simple statement, Andrew
reveals that he has suspicion about Robert and Ruth.
When Robert returns from taking Ruth and her mother home
(20), the family explains that theyve accepted the fact that
hes going. At this point, Robert announces that hes


American Literature

changed his mind. The family congratulates him on his

engagement to Ruth, but Robert is upset to see the pain in
Andrews eyes (22). Robert then explains that he plans to
study hard and learn the family farming business. Listen
carefully to what he says: This means the beginning of a
new life for me in every way. Then he adds, Im going to
start learning right away (23). Remember these words.
Theyll be repeated near the tragic end of the play.
Andrews reaction to Roberts news is a sudden desire to get
away. He clearly needs to be away from his brother and the
woman he loves.
Mayo reacts angrily to Andrews plan to take Roberts place.
He disowns his son and issues a stern warning:
You lie when you say you want to go wayand see
things! You aint got no likin in the world to go. Your
place is right here on this farmthe place you was
born to by natureand you cant tell me no different.
Ive watched you grow up, and I know your ways, and
theyre my ways. Youre runnin against your own
nature, and youre goin to be amighty sorry for it if
you do. Youre tryin to pretend to me something that
dont fit in with your make-up, and its damn fool pretendin if you think youre foolin me (28).
Mayo is angry, but his words are prophetic. Both Robert and
Andrew are in fact running against their natures, and that,
ONeill suggests in this play, is the basis for tragedy. Both
young men rationalize their choicesAndrew says he hates
farming, but hes clearly lying. Robert, on the other hand, is
fooling only himself when he says he can learn to love and be
successful at farming. Both are guilty of self-delusion
Robert because he wants pleasure (Ruth) and Andrew
because he wants to escape pain (Ruth).
Despite this terrible scene between family members, the two
brothers still love one another and even ask forgiveness of
each other. As the scene ends, Robert can be heard stumbling to his feet, and the dark figures of the two brothers
can be seen groping their way toward the doorway in the
rear (33). This groping in the darkness too is symbolic. The
brothers are literally groping in the darkness to find the
doorway, and theyre figuratively groping blindly into their
dark futures.

Lesson 7


Self-Check 19
1. Of what literary genre is Beyond the Horizon?
2. How are drama and poetry similar?
3. Why is context important in drama?
4. Who is James Mayo?
5. At the start of the drama, where is Robert planning to go?
6. How are Robert and Andrew rationalizing their actions?
Check your answers with those on page 177.


American Literature

Read pages 3589 in Beyond the Horizon. As you read, refer to
the analysis that follows.

Analysis of Beyond the Horizon


Act Two
Scene One. The room from Act One, Scene Two, the image
of cheerful order, has changed, reflecting a change in the
characters own lives. Read carefully ONeills description of
the room and compare it with what you saw before.
This scene takes place three years later. James Mayo is now
dead. When the scene opens, Mrs. Atkins and Mrs. Mayo are
discussing the situation. Mrs. Atkins believes that God took
Mr. Mayos life because he was a godless blasphemer. Mrs.
Atkins is blaming Robert for the poor condition of the farm,
but Mrs. Mayo defends him.
Ruth and Robert seem to fight constantly, and they use their
daughter against one another (42). Every little thing sparks a
battle. Ruths only consolation seems to be reading Andrews
letters, which Robert sneers at, saying, sarcastically, that
she probably knows them by heart by this time (41).
Ruth finally cracks and tells Robert how disgusted she is
with him:
What do you thinkliving with a man like youhaving to suffer all the time because youve never been
man enough to work and do things like other people.
But no! You never own up to that. You think youre so
much better than other folks, with your college education, where you never learned a thing, and always
reading your stupid books instead of working. I spose
you think I ought to be proud to be your wifea poor,
ignorant thing like me! [Fiercely.] But Im not. I hate it!
I hate the sight of you! Oh, if Id only known! If I hadnt been such a fool to listen to your cheap, silly,
poetry talk that you learned out of books! If I could
have seen how you were in your true selflike you are

Lesson 7


nowId have killed myself before Id have married

you! I was sorry for it before wed been together a
month. I knew what you were really likewhen it
was too late (48).
But worse yet, she gets carried away and admits that she
loves Andrew. The scene ends on a bitter note, Ruth excited
as can be when Andy arrives, sure hell save her, and Robert
angry and hurt.
Scene Two. Robert is once again sitting outside. This time
he looks seawardtoward the future he never had. Robert
is now clearly without hope.
In his conversation with Mary, his daughter, he says, But
you mustnt ever believe in fairies . . . there arent any good
fairies (52). Consider the difference in this conversation and
the one he had with Ruth, when he said, There wasnt much
about our home but the life on the farm. I didnt like that, so
I had to believe in fairies. [With a smile.] Perhaps I still do
believe in them (1112). Fairies represented Roberts sense
of something beyond the horizon, something beautiful and
mysterious. Now, he sees, instead, nothing but bitter mocking devils (52).
Andrew enters and talks about life at sea. Robert still wants
to believe in the myth. He needs to believe that there was
something worthwhile beyond the horizonsomething he
would have appreciated but that Andrew has missed. He
asks Andrew sarcastically, So all you found in the East
was a stench? (55). Andrew had the opportunity to see
what Robert wanted to see. But Andrew had no appreciation
for it. Andrew offers Robert money, which Robert refuses.
Andrew is planning to make his fortune in Argentina and
Robert knows hell need the money to get started (57).
Andrew also tells Robert that he realizes he was never in
love with Ruth. At this point Robert realizes that everything
each of them has done was at cross purposesthey all acted
blindly. Ruth chose the wrong man; Robert married a woman
who loved another man; Andrew didnt really love Ruth and
really hadnt had to go to sea to forget her.


American Literature

In the conversation between Andrew and Ruth on pages

5962, Andrew assumes that each thing he tells Ruth is
making her feel better. He believes that it will make her feel
better knowing he never loved her. Instead, he just causes
her immense pain, though she doesnt let on. The scene ends
with Andrew leaving to start his business, full of hope, and
with Robert and Ruth totally beaten down by events.

Act Three
Scene One. This is the third time youve been in the Mayo
parlor. In the beginning, it was well ordered. The second look
showed a little change, mostly in the atmosphere. Now,
things are quite different. Carefully read the description on
page 67. Its five years since the end of Act Two.
Mary is dead. Robert is very sick. And Ruth has given up
hope. Robert, on the other hand, sounds something like his
earlier self. He fantasizes about starting a new life in the city.
His words sound like the excitement he expressed about the
future back in Act One: After all, why shouldnt we have a
future? Were young yet. If we can only shake off the curse of
this farm! Its the farm thats ruined our lives, damn it! And
now that Andys coming backIm going to sink my foolish
pride, Ruth! Ill borrow the money from him to give us a good
start in the city. Well go where people live instead of stagnating, and start all over again (72).
But to Ruth, his speech sounds like he used to talkonly
mad, kind of (73). Ruth herself is beyond any enthusiasm.
When Andrew arrives, she tells him, Theres a time comes
when you dont mind anymoreanything (77).
Robert was planning to borrow money from Andrew, but it
turns out that Andrew has failed at business. To Robert,
though, Andrews real failure isnt his failure at business
its what he has become:
Youa farmerto gamble in a wheat pit with scraps
of paper. Theres a spiritual significance in that picture, Andy. [He smiles bitterly.] Im a failure, and
Ruths anotherbut we can both justly lay some of
the blame for our stumbling on God. But youre the
deepest-dyed failure of the three, Andy. Youve spent

Lesson 7


eight years running away from yourself. Do you see

what I mean? You used to be a creator when you loved
the farm. You and life were in harmonious partnership. And now[He stops as if seeking vainly for
words.] My brain is muddled. But part of what I mean
is that your gambling with the thing you used to love
to create proves how far astray youve gotten from the
truth (82).
Mayo said long ago that Andrew was running away from
himself. Robert repeats that charge. And Andrew is mature
enough to recognize and accept the truth in it. In taking
Roberts hand, each acknowledges their tragic failures, but
still show their love for one another.
Scene Two. Robert dies. But not as pathetically as you
might have thought he would. To him, death is an escape
finally he goes beyond the horizon, as he never could in
life: You mustnt feel sorry for me. Its ridiculous! Dont you
see Im happy at lastbecause Im making a start to the faroff placesfreefree!freed from the farmfree to wander
on and oneternally! Even the hills are powerless to shut
me in now (88).
But the survivors are left to contemplate the wreckage of
their own lives. ONeill seems to suggest that people, no
matter how smart or sensible they seem, are at the mercy
of dark forces in the universe and that only a superstitious
belief in life beyond the grave offers any consolationeven
if that too is a myth.


American Literature

Self-Check 20
1. What difference occurs in the Mayos parlor in the three years between Act One and
Act Two?
2. In Act Two, Scene One, what does Ruth tell Robert about her feelings?
3. Where is Andrew going to make his fortune?
4. True or False? When Andrew returns in Act Three, Scene One, hes a millionaire.
5. True or False? Ruths mother, Mrs. Atkins, has secretly helped with expenses.
6. What did Andrew want Ruth to tell Robert before he died?
Check your answers with those on page 177.

Lesson 7




American Literature


Whichever method you use in submitting your exam
answers to the school, you must use the number above.
For the quickest test results, go to
When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in
Lesson 7, complete the following examination. Then submit only
your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination
answer options described in your Test Materials envelope. Send
your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do
not wait until another examination is ready.
Questions 120: Select the one best answer to each question.
1. What is Robert doing when you first meet him in Beyond the

Sowing seeds of rye

Reading a book
Writing a poem to Ruth
Avoiding Andrew

2. Robert decides not to go to sea because



knows Andrew wants to go deep down inside.

wants his fathers approval.
wants to stay with Ruth.
has decided he can be good at farming.


Lesson 7


3. When Andrew tells his father that hes going to sea, what does his father tell him?


he hopes he will write often

Robert was the one who was born to be a seafaring man
hes running away from something
his uncle is a drunken sea captain who cant be trusted

4. In Act One, Scene One, Robert claims that he can be a farmer and Andrew says he has
actually always hated farming. What are both men guilty of?

Trying to win their fathers love

Trying to impress Ruth

5. At the end of Act One, the image of the two brothers stumbling towards the door in the
dark is symbolic of

being disowned by their father.

their physical desire for Ruth.
their inability to see their future clearly.
their poverty on the farm.

6. The sprouting seeds of rye at the beginning of Act One, Scene One symbolize

Andrews hard work.

Ruths beauty.
Roberts youth and potential.
the virtue of hardworking Swedish farmers.

7. Where does Andrew return from in Act Three?

A. San Francisco
B. China

C. New York
D. Buenos Aires

8. In Act Three, what does Robert tell Ruth he wants to do?


Borrow money from Andrew and move to a city

Leave Ruth and move to the East
Find a cure for pleurisy
Make Ruth and Andrew happy at last

9. In Act Three, Robert says that Andrew is a failure because he



didnt propose to Ruth first.

ran away from himself.
fears death.
lost all his money gambling.

Examination, Lesson 7

10. Andrew tells Ruth that Robert made a great sacrifice by


never telling Andrew that he knew Ruth loved Andrew and not Robert.
not borrowing money in Act 2.
not telling his father that Andrew loved Ruth.
letting him go to sea in his place.

11. What does Robert tell his daughter Mary about fairies?


she shouldnt believe in them

theyre beyond the horizon
they live in the enchanted East
he went to sea to find them

12. What is Robert and Andrews mothers family name?

A. Schottenheimer
B. Scott

C. Mayo
D. Majorca

13. When Andrew tells Ruth he never really loved her, Ruth is
A. hurt.
B. angry.

C. relieved.
D. unmoved.

14. When Robert knows hes about to die, he

A. says he welcomes death.
B. says hes terrified of dying.

C. asks for a priest.

D. curses Ruth.

15. Why does Mrs. Atkins say that Mr. Mayo died?


Robert refused to help on the farm

Andrew went to sea and broke his fathers heart
Mr. Mayo was a blasphemer
Robert married Ruth against Mr. Mayos will

16. Why does Ben tell Robert and Ruth hes quitting the farm?

They work him too hard.

Everyone else laughs at him for working there.
The food is terrible.
He cant stand their fighting.

17. Both Robert and Andrew end up doing whats not natural for them. This situation is an
example of
A. pantheism.
B. irony.

Examination, Lesson 7

C. epiphany.
D. rising action.


18. Sometimes authors use characters to talk about something that has happened previously.
This technique is an example of
A. exposition.
B. epiphany.

C. allegory.
D. mimetics.

19. The genre to which Beyond the Horizon belongs is

A. drama.
B. comedy.

C. satire.
D. novel.

20. The protagonist of Beyond the Horizon is

A. Robert.
B. Ruth.


C. Mr. Mayo.
D. Andrew.

Examination, Lesson 7

Self-Check 1
2. False
3. True
4. True
5. False
6. True

Self-Check 2
1. d
2. f
3. b
4. e
5. a
6. g
7. h
8. c

Self-Check 3
1. The murderer is the protagonist. No, Poe doesnt say
whether the individual is a male or a female.
2. He doesnt like the look in the old mans eye.
3. He compares the old mans eye to that of a vulture.
4. It seems that guilt gets the better of him and he feels
forced to confess.
5. False


1. True


Self-Check 4
1. tableau
2. Some of the words Bierce uses are sharp pressure, sense
of suffocation, keen, poignant agonies, pulsating fire, and
intolerable temperature.
3. It illustrates Farquhars added appreciation of those
things he thought he wouldnt see anymore.
4. The bridge Farquhar was to destroy was the Owl Creek
Bridge. Its ironic that the very bridge he was to destroy
became the gallows for his hanging.

Self-Check 5
1. The narrator operates an office in which the employees
copy legal documents.
2. Initially, Bartleby works very fast and accurately.
3. This question may be answered differently by different
people. Certainly, one possibility is that the wall symbolizes the lack of future that Bartleby had. That is, it represents the dead end he sees in his life.
4. The most important element in Bartleby is character
(or characters)both Bartleby and the narrator.
5. Some words and phrases that the narrator uses to
describe Bartleby are pallidly neat, incurably forlorn,
silent, respectable, honest, poor, pale, passive, eccentric,
and deranged. You may have found some others.

Self-Check 6
Your answers will differ from those given here, but theyll
probably be similar in nature.
1. Louisa Ellis is a neat, overly methodical person who has
very particular ways of doing things. Shes unable to
change her way of living.
2. Joe Dagget is a kind, honest, and loyal person.


Self-Check Answers

3. Lily Dyer is an attractive young girl who is capable and

helpful to Joes mother. She has some level of integrity
since she says she wouldnt have Joe if he were to leave
Louisa after all these years.

Self-Check 7
1. John is a physician of high standing.
2. He says theres really nothing the matter with his wife
except a temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency.
3. She sees a woman behind bars.
4. She feels imprisoned because shes a woman being controlled by her husband.

Self-Check 8
1. new
2. False
3. True
4. First-person point of view
5. negative capability
6. reality, or real life

Self-Check 9
1. third-person omniscient
2. the environment or nature
3. Lou
4. 16
5. Frank Shabata
6. flashback

Self-Check Answers


Self-Check 10
1. Shes not aware of her own personal needs or the needs
of others.
2. Mexico
3. Franks yellow cane
4. False
5. False
6. True

Self-Check 11
1. simile
2. epic
3. iambic pentameter
4. couplet
5. alliteration
6. trimeter
7. 14
8. We WEAR / the MASK / that GRINS / and LIES.
The meter is iambic tetrameter.

Self-Check 12
1. e. e. cummings
2. Archibald MacLeish
3. metaphor
4. Romantic
5. Great Depression
6. Langston Hughes
7. She was the first African American to publish a book in
the American colonies.
8. Walt Whitman


Self-Check Answers

Self-Check 13
1. False
2. Imagery
3. Carl Sandburg wrote about the lower classes and the
working class.
4. Hes speaking to the city of Chicago.
5. lament
6. All three rivers are related to the history of Langston
Hughess ancestors.

Self-Check 14
1. An ambiguous poem is one for which people cant agree
on its meaning.
2. He saw a number of beautiful faces in a Metro station.
3. William Carlos Williams
4. False
5. One level of meaning is that the poem is about a person
taking a walk and having to decide which way to go
when he comes to a fork in the road. A second level is
that the poem refers to a persons life and the decisions
he or she must make at various times.

Self-Check 15
1. It means that the poet is like the caged bird and has
similar feelings.
2. Death, Emily Dickinson, and Immortality
3. Emily Dickinson describes Death with words such as
kindly, slowly, and civility.
4. The purple host refers to the side that won the battle.
5. a totalitarian state

Self-Check Answers


Self-Check 16
1. nonfiction
2. Harvard
3. Jim Crow
4. Veil
5. Tennessee
6. Du Bois says that American music has vigor and ingenuity rather than the beauty of European music.
7. He asks them to think about where America would be
without her Negro people.

Self-Check 17
1. autobiography
2. sensory
3. Helen Keller lost both her sight and her hearing.
4. Anne Sullivan
5. Nautilus
6. disillusionment
7. Boston

Self-Check 18
1. Helen went to the Worlds Fair with Miss Sullivan and
Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.
2. Helen studied German, French, Latin, Greek, and, of
course, English.
3. She went there for the purpose of obtaining the highest
advantages in vocal culture and training in lip reading.
4. True
5. The Bible
6. False


Self-Check Answers

Self-Check 19
1. Beyond the Horizon is a drama.
2. Both drama and poetry are meant to be heard and seen.
3. The readers or viewers dont have an author who can
explain things. Therefore, they must carefully glean
information from context.
4. James Mayo is a farmer in his 50s. Hes married, has
two sons, and loves the life of farming.
5. Hes going on a sea voyage with his uncle, who is a
6. Robert rationalizes his actions by explaining that hell
learn farming, will do it well, and will grow to love it.
Andrew rationalizes by saying that he hates farmingis
sick of itand needs to get away.

Self-Check 20
1. The room was originally extremely neat and well kept.
However, as Act Two opens, ONeill describes a room
that gives evidence of carelessness, of inefficiency, and
of industry gone to seed. There are shabby chairs, holes
in the curtains, and things out of place.
2. She tells Robert that she discovered soon after their
marriage that she doesnt love him. Instead, she says
that she has always loved Andrew.
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
4. False
5. True
6. Andrew wanted Ruth to lie to Robertto tell him that
she never loved Andrew and that she had said so only
because she was mad and didnt know what she was

Self-Check Answers