LITR 5535: American Romanticism

Copy of Final Exam 2006

LITR 5535: American Romanticism, fall 2006—Final Exam

4 December 2006

Open-book, open-notebook.

Format: either in-class or email.

·        In-class: use paper, pen, books, and notebooks. Exam questions are handed out at 4pm. Finish writing by 6:50pm.

·        Email: Email answers to instructor by 8pm, Monday 4 December 2006. You may take the exam any time after our last class on 27 November. Like the in-class students, spend no more than three hours on the exam. Please keep a log indicating when you stop and start.


Write 2 essays, spending at least an hour on each, based on 2 of the following questions.

Additional requirements:

Give each essay a title.

Refer to a previous sample final in both your essays. (If this proves unworkable, briefly explain in email.)


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 Columbus, Smith, Bradstreet, Rowlandson, Edwards, Poe, Hawthorne, Douglass, Jacobs, Stowe, Whitman, Jewett, Zitkala-Sa, Wolfe, Hurston, Fitzgerald, or others.

2. How has American Romanticism continued or changed in post-Romantic American literature?—that is, literature after the Civil War and American Renaissance of the pre-Civil War generation of the1820s-1860s?

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

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

Contemporary poems from presentations: Joy Harjo, "Call It Fear," N 2834-5; Denise Levertov, "The Jacob's Ladder," N 2708; Sylvia Plath, "Blackberrying," N 2783; Simon J. Ortiz, “Earth and Rain, the Plants and Sun,” N 2814-15; Cathy Song, "Heaven," N 2847; Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays," N 2669; Theodore Roethke, "I Knew a Woman," N 2641; Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish,” N 2650; Gwendolyn Brooks, "kitchenette building," N 2698

Warning: If you presented one of these poems, resist the temptation to reprise your presentation in full, but references to highlights are welcome.

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 compositions.

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

            Consider how race either complicates, absorbs, or exemplifies the formulas of Romanticism. 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, 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,” “The Cherokee Memorials,” or Simon J. Ortiz.

·        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 productive cross-racial tension you might achieve by comparing fewer writers from different racial contexts.

If you wish to involve an Asian writer from our course, consider Cathy Song, "Heaven," N 2847.


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 detail the backgrounds and sub-categories of the Gothic encountered across the semester with examples from selected authors and texts. Evaluate the appeal and limits of the Gothic.

Possible authors: Rowlandson, Edwards, Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Douglass, Jacobs, Wolfe, McKay, Cullen, Plath, Harlem Renaissance authors.

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.

Possible items for #5: Byronic hero; transcendence and/or Transcendentalism

Previous example from Model Assignments 2003: "The Mysterious Female: Elusiveness as a Means of Increasing and Prolonging Male Desire in American Romanticism"