LITR 5535: American Romanticism

Index to Sample Student Final Exams, fall 2003

Copy of 2003 final exam

Under each question is a link that will take you to sample answers for that question.

1.  Why do “desire and loss” re-appear so frequently in American Romantic texts, both as driving forces in the “romance” narrative and as indexes for Romantic values?

Describe the significance of this pattern for the romance narrative and its general significance in Romanticism, citing works by three or four writers.

*Consider Bradstreet, Rowlandson, Edwards, Poe, Hawthorne, Douglass, Jacobs, Stowe, Whitman, Wolfe, Hurston, Fitzgerald, Out of the Past or other Romantic films. Feel free to suggest others.

Sample answers to question 1 on desire & loss

2. How has American Romanticism continued or changed in post-Romantic American literature?—i. e., literature after the American Renaissance of the pre-Civil War generation?

Refer to at least three writers from our last three class meetings and to a contemporary poem from the presentations,

Relevant writers from our last three classes: Wolfe, Sandburg, Ginsberg, Jewett, Twain, Chesnutt, Zitkala-Sa, Black Elk / Neihardt, McKay, Hurston, Toomer, Hughes, Cullen, and Fitzgerald. Maybe Whitman.

Contemporary poems from presentations: James Wright, "A Blessing," N 2752; Joy Harjo, "Call It Fear," N 2834-5; Denise Levertov, "The Jacob's Ladder," N 2708; Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish,” N 2612; Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays," N 2669; Sylvia Plath, "Blackberrying," N 2783; Jarrell, “Thinking of the Lost World,” N 2673-75.

Sample answers to question 2 on post-Romanticism

3. Historically, Romanticism is associated primarily with European literary traditions and cultural values, and the American writers most typically associated with this literary movement (e. g., Cooper, Poe, Emerson, Whitman, Fitzgerald) are of European descent. In America and especially the United States, however, Romanticism must adapt to a multi-racial nation. In turn, writers from non-European races must consider Romantic themes and genres as options for their own compositions.

            Write an essay involving three writers representing the three major early American races: American Indian, European, African.

            Consider how race either complicates the formulas of Romanticism or is adapted to them unselfconsciously.

            Reflect how such investigations transform our conception of Romanticism. Is it a style based on universal truths, or a set of historical and cultural conventions, or a shifting set of features that reflect the desire and perspective of the observer? How does the usefulness of the term Romanticism change?

·        For a European-American writer, you should probably choose a writer who represents race more or less directly, like Stowe or Cooper, but if it suits your purposes, you might choose a writer who treats the issue less directly or even apparently ignores it (e.g., Irving, Whitman, or Fitzgerald).

·        For African American writers, choose among Douglass, Jacobs, McKay, Hurston, Toomer, Cullen, or Hughes.

·        For Native American writers or texts, consider Zitkala-Sa, Black Elk, William Apess, “Iroquois Creation Story,” or “The Cherokee Memorials.”

·        If these lists leave out someone from our reading, use your judgment to add appropriate names as necessary.

·        You may discuss more than three writers, but many more might dilute any productive cross-racial tension you might achieve by comparing fewer writers from different racial contexts.

Sample answers to question 3 on multi-racial Romanticism

4. Citing at least three authors, review and evaluate some varieties of the Gothic encountered this semester. Why does the Gothic recur so frequently in American literature or beyond? Why is it so adaptable to different environments, and what different purposes may it serve? What are some possible theological, intellectual, and cultural sources, limitations, and biases?

            Default organization: Identify or define the Gothic as a literary genre or mode. Review in some detail the sub-categories of the Gothic encountered across the semester with examples from selected authors and texts. Evaluate the appeal and limits of the Gothic in terms of the questions above. (Other organizations are possible.)

Possible authors: Rowlandson, Edwards, Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Douglass, Jacobs, Wolfe, McKay, Cullen, Plath, Out of the Past, other films noir.

Sample answers to question 4 on varieties of the Gothic

5. Write an essay concerning some persistent or occasional issue, problem, or theme significant to the course but overlooked by the previous four questions. You are welcome to use aspects of the course objectives. Your choice for this question may overlap with other questions above. If your topic appears to range beyond the course's evident subject matter, defend or rationalize your topic. Relate your topic to the larger subject of American Romanticism--what relevant insights does your discussion reveal or suggest? Refer to at least three writers and their texts.

One sample answer to question 5: "The Mysterious Female: Elusiveness and Male Desire"