American Romanticism Final Exam 2008

Official Due Date: 4 December 2008

Open-book, open-notebook.

Format: Take your midterm in-class or online

Open-book, open-notebook. 

  • Use any relevant course materials plus brief references to outside sources as helpful

  • Discuss assignment and receive suggestions or feedback from classmates, UHCL Writing Center, or mentors, but no direct writing contributions or hands-on editing from another person.

  • Don't copy or borrow from outside sources without attribution--honor code violation! (Just tell where you got the idea or words--your research will impress!)

Options for taking exam:

  • come to classroom during exam period and write answers in dark ink in bluebook or on notebook paper, or use a laptop

  • spend a roughly equivalent time at a terminal writing an electronic document and sending it to the instructor at via email.

  • No attendance expectations on 4 December--instructor won't be there.

Length: Most previous essay answers to similar questions run from 5-8 paragraphs, but sometimes a lot more or a little less depending on paragraph length.

Timing: The approximate maximum time limit is 3 hours for in-class exams and 4 hours for online exams.

  • Spend at least 1-2 hours writing each essay.

  • In-class exams and online exams are read separately, minimizing the time difference.

Email students may write and submit the exam anytime between the end of class on Thursday, 20 November, and 11pm Tuesday, 9 December. (Or pre-arrange another submission time)

Keep a log of when you stop and start. Dividing up the exam process with pauses and breaks is OK, but otherwise try not to take any advantage unavailable to in-class students. Consult with instructor by phone or email.

Sending your midterm by email: Try both of the following

  • Attach your word processing file to an email message. (My computer uses Microsoft Word 2007. The only program it appears unable to translate is Microsoft Works.  If in doubt, save your word processing file in "Rich Text Format" or a “text only” format.)
  • Paste the contents of your word processing file directly into an email to

Response to email: Instructor will acknowledge receipt of email exam within a few hours--if no response, check address. Grades and notes are returned by email about a week after the deadline, if not before.

In-class protocol: Since you already have a copy of the midterm, come to the classroom at 7pm and begin writing whether instructor is there or not.

  • On the evening of December 4 the instructor will be at Alvin Community College and so unavailable. When finished, turn in exam at Bayou 2529 with instructor’s name prominently displayed. 

  • Short breaks OK.

  • Write in blue or black ink in a bluebook or notebook paper on fronts and backs of pages.  No need to erase—just draw a line through anything you don’t want read.

  • If preferred, you may write on a laptop.

How to prepare for essay questions / answers:

  • Do as much note-taking, outlining, prewriting, and practicing as you find helpful.

  • Discuss questions and answers with classmates. It's not cheating to help each other prepare.

  • Review questions, preparation, and "practice drafts" in advance with UHCL Writing Center, professor, fellow students, other mentors or collaborators.

  • For students using word-processors, revise and improve before submitting.

  • Work with terms and ideas from Course Objectives.


Write 2 essays, spending 1-2 hours on each, based on 2 of the following questions.

Requirement: Give each essay a title.

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, 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: Sandburg, Ginsberg, Kerouac, James, 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; Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays," N 2669; Theodore Roethke, "I Knew a Woman," N 2641; Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish,” N 2650

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., 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, 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.

  • 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.


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, Poe, Hawthorne, Douglass, Jacobs, McKay, Hughes, Cullen, Plath, Dickinson, others.

Not required but noted: The African American authors Douglass, Jacobs, McKay, Hughes, and Cullen are not gothic writers but are included among options because of their experiments inverting the gothic color code whereby white or light equals purity or virtue, and black or darkness equals decay or sin.

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"


6.  Develop an essay on how this course influenced or reflected your experience as a student and / or teacher of American Romanticism or its constituent identities: American Literature, Romanticism, the American Renaissance. Content and / or methods.

The most basic approach to this essay might be, "What knowledge did you start with, and what have you learned?" Unify by demonstrating which of your starting points continued but vary by showing how they changed or were replaced by other themes or interests.


7. Redevelop  your midterm essay to include two writers since the midterm and how they extend the points you made. Also consider discussing improvements in writing, if appropriate. Welcome to consult.


8. One-essay option: Instead of two essays, write one long essay (at least a dozen paragraphs) reviewing and unifying your learning experience and outcomes for American Romanticism. You might incorporate the assignments for questions 6 & 7 directly above. To unify, consider focusing on the single most profound (or sublime) lesson you take from the course, apply to examples, and analyze the significance and applications of this learning experience.


Grading standards:

Quality of writing: significant themes are consistently presented, organized, and developed throughout essay; unity and transitions between parts of essay; surface quality (absence of chronic errors); inclusion of titles.

Surface quality: My attitude in reading a timed writing exercise like this is not to watch like a hawk for minor errors but rather to see how far you go in developing our shared ideas. Occasional careless errors don’t count against you, but you may lose credit for chronic problems such as run-on sentences or fragments, or a repeated inability to use apostrophes or divide paragraphs.

Evidence of learning: All exams must use central terms and themes from objectives in developing examples from texts. Knowledge from beyond the course and on-the-spot inventiveness are impressive, but first and foremost demonstrate learning by comprehending and explaining the course’s essential materials.

Extension of learning: The best exams go further than comprehending course terms, objectives, and texts. The student's voice also refreshes, extends, or varies objectives, themes, and terms with examples from class, from readings, and from reading and experience beyond our class. Make our course meet your world.