LITR 4232 American Renaissance

Henry David Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government”

midterm update > teaching Thoreau

"Civil Disobedience"

reader: Faron Samford


Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

Thursday, 16 October: Henry David Thoreau 1853-1872, introduction + “Resistance to Civil Government” + Backgrounds to Civil Disobedience

Text-Objective Discussion: Nicole Bippen

Tuesday, 21 October: Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1698-1751, 1780-1792: introduction + selections from Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Text-Objective Discussion: Shanna Farmer

Thursday, 23 October: midterm exam

Tuesday, 28 October: Edgar Allan Poe 1528: Introduction; “Sonnet—To Science”; "To Helen" 1534-6: “The City in the Sea”; 1542: “Annabel Lee.”

Text-Objective Discussion: Josh Hughey (poem[s] besides "Annabel Lee")

Text-Objective Discussion: Alicia D. Atwood ("Annabel Lee")

Thursday, 30 October: Poe's fiction 1543-1565: “Ligeia”; “The Fall of the House of Usher”

Text-Objective Discussion: Natalie Walker



Course Objectives:

1. To use "close reading" and "Historicism" as ways of studying classic, popular, and representative literature and cultural history of the "American Renaissance" (the generation before the Civil War).

2. To study the movement of "Romanticism," the narrative genre of "romance," and the related styles of the "gothic" and "the sublime." (The American Renaissance is the major period of American Romantic Literature.)

3. To use literature as a basis for discussing representative problems and subjects of American culture (Historicism), such as equality (race, gender, class); modernization and tradition; the individual, family; and community; nature; the role of writers in an anti-intellectual society.



midterm update





> teaching Thoreau




Walden = individual alone in nature and responding to it , standard image of Romanticism

“Civil Disobedience” or “Resistance to Civil Govt”—abolitionist, theorist of passive resistance, influence on King, Gandhi











"Resistance to Civil Government" a. k. a. "Civil Disobedience"

2 Thoreaus 

could do either Thoreau, but not time to do both, so how fit in with course?

This part of the course is marching up to the Civil War, 1861-65.

upsides of Civil War: slavery ends, so war was worth fighting

downsides: enormous loss of life: 600,000 killed in population of 30 million, whole communities devastated; plus, after Lincoln's assassination, no coordinated plan for recovery

Literature suffered enormously--it takes about a generation for outstanding literature to start reappearing; many potential writers killed or economically undercut

Couldn't slavery have ended without war?

Thoreau: Freedom of speech, press, political choices provides model for political dissent in advanced, pluralistic societies  

"Democratic societies don't go to war with each other."

Good! But plenty of problems remain to be resolved without fighting.

problem: amoral society: capitalism, freedom of / from religion

how to morally influence or challenge an amoral political system?

1674 How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today?

Mexican War 1675

Intellectual heritage of civil disobedience or passive resistance

Discussion assignment: how does Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" crystallize or reflect other figures' actions or beliefs?

What's "Transcendental" about Thoreau's vision of justice?

+ What's romantic about Thoreau's vision of the individual, nature, and society? (objectives 2 & 3)

research proposals & assignments


research proposals

Thursday, 2 March: midterm exam

Tuesday, 7 March: Edgar Allan Poe.  Introduction.  “Sonnet—To Science”; “Romance”; “The City in the Sea”; “Annabel Lee.”

Reader: Cana Hauerland

Thursday, 9 March: Poe, “Ligeia”; “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Research Project Proposal due.

Reader: Heidi Gerke

Research Project Proposal due. Thursday, 9 March

Actually a "window" starting that week and continuing into next week. Research proposal submitted by email. Try to have your submission to me before Tuesday, 14 March. In any case, don't put me in a position to ask you where it is.


from syllabus

Research Project

Students have a choice of two options for their research projects.

·        Option 1 is a traditional 7-10 page analytic / research essay relevant to the course. 

·        Option 2 is a 10-15 page journal of research and reflections concerning a variety of materials relevant to the course.

Weight: approximately 30% of final grade

Due dates:

·     proposal due 9 March (or earlier)

·     project due 11 April


·     option 1 (analytic / research essay): 7-10 pages + "Works Cited"

·     option 2 (journal) 10-15 pages. (“Works Cited” often incorporated as parts of pages)

Research proposal: Due via email by 9 March (or before).

Write at least two paragraphs containing the following information:

·        Indicate which option—Option 1 (essay) or Option 2 (journal)—your research project will take. (If you are trying to choose between the two options, start your email by explaining the situation. If you are trying to choose between different subjects, do the same--explain and explore the situation.

·        If Option 1, list the primary text(s) you intend to work with. Explain the source of your interest, why the topic is significant, and what you hope to find out through your research. Describe any reading or research you have already done and how useful it has been.

·        If Option 2, mention your possible choices of topics for categories listed in Option 2 (journal) requirements.

·        For either option, conclude by asking the instructor at least one question about your topic, possible sources for research, or the writing of your research project.

·        Email or otherwise transmit an electronic version of your proposal to me at

·        Research report proposals will be posted on the course webpage.

·        If you want to confer about your possible topic before submitting a proposal, feel free to confer with me in person, by phone, or by email.

Response to Research Proposal

·        The instructor will email you a reaction okaying the proposal and / or making any necessary suggestions.

·        You are welcome to continue going back and forth with the instructor on email until you are satisfied with your direction.

·        Student does not receive a letter grade for the proposal, only a “yes” or instructions for receiving a yes. Students will not lose credit for problems in reaching a topic as long as they are working to resolve these problems.

·        The only way you can start getting into trouble over the proposal is if you simply don’t offer very much to work with, especially after prompts from instructor. An example of a really bad proposal is one sentence starting with “I’m thinking about” and ending with “doing something about Poe,” then asking, “What do you think?” In these cases, a bad grade won’t be recorded, but the hole the student has dug will be remembered. Notes regarding the paper proposal may appear on the Final Grade Report.

Description of Research Options: . . .

model assignments



Tuesday, 28 February: Harriet Beecher Stowe. Read introduction (2547-49) + selections from Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Chapter I: In Which the Reader is Introduced to a Man of Humanity (2549-2556); Ch. VII: The Mother’s Struggle (2556-2561); Ch. XL: The Martyr (2583-2585)

Web-highlighter: Amanda Matt (any LITR 4232 midterms)

Thoreau influential world-wide for a century and a half

Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) widely considered the most politically influential novel ever written

President Lincoln on meeting Stowe: "So you're the little woman who started this big war?"


Thursday, 2 March: midterm exam


terms and forms: conclude Douglass, preview Thoreau

"The intellect" . . . "intellectuals"

Obj. 3: the writer's conflicted presence in an anti-intellectual society.

Odd position of USA and rest of the Americas in terms of being constantly caught between being an "advanced, developed, mature society" (in which intellectuals can typically find a stable place) or a "frontier society"--constantly moving and reforming, in which intellectuals like everyone have to constantly prove their merit. (e. g., rowdy Texas as home of "testing" and "accountability" for teachers--New England, with lower divorce and mobility rates as paradise for intellectuals)

Studying mostly New England writers, longest and deepest American intellectual traditions (which doesn't mean that everyone likes them)

What is "the intellect?"

Not the same thing as intelligence.

intelligence 2. The power of meeting any situation . . . . Intelligent people seem to work closely with the world and its phenomena, receiving and processing input rapidly on many fronts.

Mechanics, office managers, secretaries . . . .

This does not describe many intellectuals, who are comparatively absent-minded and often technically incompetent

"Intellect" often involves not an engagement but a separation from phenomena

>>>imagination, memory, reason, understanding

Discussion last class, mostly in relation to "the sublime"--ideas or patterns that may be universal across cultures--we put "sublime" name on it, but maybe only a term of convenience?

Insofar as you're developing ideas, memory-symbols, identifications, recognition patterns for the sublime, Romanticism, the gothic, etc., you're living the intellectual life

Disadvantages: makes you grumpy with details, busy-work--also makes you windy of speech: all of your ideas need background or explaining, a build-up rather than an instant recognition

Advantages: If advanced society is built around organization and manipulation of symbols, you can advance from one who is being manipulated (having your buttons pushed) to being one who does the manipulation or at least understands how it works.

Learn to distinguish the same old same old from the genuinely new

"Critical thinking" is an acceptable synonym for intellectual activity

Most people regard it as magic, and to some degree it is inborn . . . just guessing, it usually seems as though about 10% of the population is intellectually inclined, and the rest just want to be left alone.

One of the main vehicles for intellectual action in common life is religious experience: symbols, rituals, abstractions, ideas, ethics

Can be developed. Reading and writing seem essential. It's not clear that new forms of "computer literacy" will replace these. (Electronic media appeal more to senses than to intellectual depth; films, TV, computer games are all "more exciting" than reading, but give up depth, reflection, self-creation of the imagination.)

Anyway, it's what you were doing last class, and I'll model a little more before we go for the pleasure of discussion--



"Alliances of difference"

Other possible terms: coalitions

Examples from Fuller and Stanton: women and blacks both excluded by original political structure

> Women work against slavery, gain some voice, Douglass works for women's movement'


In Douglass's experiences with Mrs. Auld, how do you see a similar "alliance" working or breaking down?

Fuller 1701 family union and national union



preview Thoreau

"form" of Transcendentalism

"transcend": to rise above or beyond . . .

Fuller 1713

Emerson 1583, 1584

Handout re "Higher Law"

Thoreau 1747







preview Thoreau discussion

"Resistance to Civil Government" a. k. a. "Civil Disobedience"

Intellectual heritage of civil disobedience or passive resistance

Discussion: How might teachers use the traditions of civil disobedience, passive resistance, or nonviolence in lesson plans, etc.?

What problems of "political correctness" does this tradition present, especially in wartime?

How does Thoreau fit into this tradition?

What's "Transcendental" about Thoreau's vision of justice?

+ What's romantic about Thoreau's vision of the individual, nature, and society? (objectives 2 & 3)

conclude Douglass

Combines excitement of "representative" literature with fertility of "classic" literature

one idea glanced at last class: minority or marginalized people always know more about the dominant culture than the dominant culture knows about minority or marginalized people

example: p. 1838

most of last class: How is slave narrative like a romance?

1856 It was a glorious resurrection from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom

1861 the flickering light of the north star . . . beckoning to us

1871 I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a free State.

romance not just a literary phenomenon, but a literary response or reflection of a human, cultural phenomenon

how unlike?

Escape not reported 1868

1871 freedom with a catch

1875 employment, reward, but white calkers refused to work with me  


Alliances of difference

from The Declaration of Independence 1776

            We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . . .



Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

1881 This, to you

1886 What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?

1897 Fellow-citizens!



A momentary "alliance of difference" is illustrated in Douglass's early encounters with Mrs. Auld, who teaches him to read and write

1837 here I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions; it was the face of my new mistress, Sophia Auld. . . . Little Thomas was told, there was his Freddy,--and I was told to take care of little Thomas . . . .

(Douglass goes on to note that Mrs. Auld never owned slaves before but earned her own living, so possible class connection, but main connection seems to be an adoptive family situation)

But alliances of difference can flip:

1840 slavery proved as injurious to her as it had to me . . . . She now commenced to practise her husband's precepts


Margaret Fuller, "The Great Lawsuit," 1843   

p. 1633  . . . Though the national independence be blurred by the servility of individuals, though freedom and equality have been proclaimed only to leave room for a monstrous display of slave dealing and slave keeping; though the free American so often feels himself free, like the Roman, only to pamper his appetites and his indolence through the misery of his fellow beings, still it is not in vain that the verbal statement has been made, "All men are born free and equal."  There it stands, a golden certainty, wherewith to encourage the good, to shame the bad. . .


Margaret Fuller, "The Great Lawsuit," 1843

          Of all its banners, none has been more steadily upheld, and under none has more valor and willingness for real sacrifices been shown, than that of the champions of the enslaved African.  And this band it is, which, partly in consequence of a natural following out of principles, partly because many women have been prominent in that cause, makes, just now, the warmest appeal in behalf of women . . .

Stanton, 2042: journals mock; anti-slavery papers stand by + Frederick Douglass




One people?

LITR 4232 objective 3 re historical problems of race, class, gender, etc.


(From LITR 4332 American Minority Literature)

4b. To distinguish the ideology of American racialism—which sees races as pure, separate, and permanent identities—from American practice, which always involves hybridity (or mixing) and change.

Tabular summary of 4b

American racial ideology (what dominant culture thinks or says)

American racial practice

(what American culture actually does)

Races or genders are pure and separate.

Races always mix. What we call "pure" is only the latest change we're used to.

Races and genders are permanent categories, perhaps allotted by God or Nature as a result of Creation, climate, natural selection, etc.,

Racial divisions & definitions constantly change or adapt; e. g., the Old South's quadroons, octaroons, "a single drop"; recent revisions of racial origins of Native America; Hispanic as "non-racial" classification; "bi-racial"


Douglass matter-of-factly demonstrates that the "facts on the ground" don't match the story being told

1825 The whisper that my master was my father

1825 mulatto children

1826 a very different-looking class of people

1863 yellow devil, mulatto devil


from Jacobs

1962 nearly white, Anglo-Saxon ancestors

1967 secrets of slavery, father of eleven slaves  

1968 children of every shade of complexion


cf. Cora in Last of the Mohicans

cf. American Indian writer William Apess (whose father was white and whose mother was registered as "a negro woman")



Question: does America have a story that expresses this data?

Melting pot?

> LITR 4333 American Immigrant Literature



preview Stowe 


Tuesday, 5 October: Harriet Beecher Stowe. Read 2475-78 (introduction for Stowe) + selections from Uncle Tom’s Cabin; 2478-85 (Chapter I: In Which the Reader is Introduced to a Man of Humanity); 2485-2490 (Ch. VII: The Mother’s Struggle); 2499-2505 (Ch. XIII: The Quaker Settlement); 2512-2514 (Ch. XL: The Martyr); 2514-2517 (Ch. XLI: The Young Master); 2518-2522 (from Preface to the First Illustrated Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Reader: Audra Caldwell

Thoreau influential world-wide for a century and a half

Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) widely considered the most politically influential novel ever written

President Lincoln on meeting Stowe: "So you're the little woman who started this big war?"

earlier in semester read her memoir on Sojourner Truth

Intro 2475-78

Stowe from prominent northern evangelical family (compare Douglass on "religion of the south")

The Beecher Tradition

Harriet, Lyman, & Henry Ward Beecher

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Bring up b/c some confusion by students in past over her identity—want to identify her as an African American writer, perhaps because she describes African American characters with strong feeling

But she describes lots of characters, both black and white and lots in-between—

Significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ch. 1, p. 2478

somewhat like a Dickens novel, many different characters, subplots

 describes moral and economic confusion of slave-owning families

conversation between slave trader Haley & owner about Tom


Web highlight

Henry David Thoreau, 1669-1686 (introduction + “Resistance to Civil Government”)

Web-highlighter: Natalie Cizmar


“Resistance to Civil Government”

In this short essay, Thoreau expresses a few points. One is that he has lost faith in the system of democracy; in fact, it seems hard to tell if he ever had faith in it to begin with. Speaking of government, Thoreau says, “Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?” (1677) When government does things like this, it is stifling knowledge and creativity and, essentially, the human spirit. Thoreau urges people not to let the government do this by not giving it their money. The people who protest against the government’s policies are still helping it “directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, by their money” (1677). Thoreau believes that people should live without government interference. Yet if you refuse to pay your taxes, you go to jail where you may be free in mind but not in body. How realistic is this “resistance” to government in the form of refusing to give it your money?

            Also, it was interesting how Thoreau depicted jail. On meeting his room mate, he assumed he was “an honest man, of course” (1682). While in jail, he also wonders if the government “should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services in some way” (1681). I think Thoreau is saying that all the people in the government are dishonest, and all the honest people are in jail. Is this an accurate view? Do people still believe this today?


Midterm Review

“Identify & Signify”

Midterm samples 2003

The romantic notion of divine recognition of the universal equality of man came later in Truth's speech on page 2533 when she commented, "Dar's de white folks that have abused you an' beat you an' abused your people-think o' them! But then there came another rush of love through my soul, an I cried out loud, 'Lord, I can even love de white folks!' Truth speaks in this passage of the transcendent quality of love through the prism of religious sentiment. Truth, in both passages, frees herself spiritually from the bondages of oppression and mistrust. According to her beliefs, she is a child of God and by birthright is as free and equal as any other human being. [DG]

I chose the first paragraph and a half of the Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton to analyze.                                                                              This work is both classical and representative. The style is refine and would have appealed to elite minds. Yet, it also would have appealed to mundane minds, and minorities. The purpose and reason behind the work helped make it representative. It is aimed at a specific group of individuals, it represents their sentiments. It can be adapted though to suit any number of populations. 

Option X: Formal/Literary Essay

Midterm Samples 2003

Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow is overflowing with gothic elements.  Similar to Cooper, Irving makes the transition from dark castles to dark landscapes.  The headless horseman, with his flaming appearance, attack in the dark gloomy woods.  He describes the scary wooded scenes illicitly with “limbs gnarled and fantastic” and describes his scary encounter with the monster as something “gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler.”  Though Cooper and Irving avoid the use of the European castles (etc.), they thoroughly achieve the gothic image through the landscape.


Option Z: Cultural/Historical Essay

Midterm Samples 2003

In James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans", Cora, a mixed race female, asserts her influence. At a telling scene (page 142, Cooper), Hawkeye cautions Cora about venturing into the woods to save herself [and Alice] from the impending doom brought on by the "Mingos". He questions whether these females are "equal to the work". Cora exclaims, "We are equal!" Cora, the heroine of Cooper's imagination, asserts her basic equality in the presence of an "uncrossed" white man. Clearly Katrina Van Tassel never made such an assertion. Nor did the "negros" of Irving's tale. The expansion of the definition of "men" begins with Cora's presence and assertion.


Thursday, 7 October: midterm exam


LITR 4232: American Renaissance Midterm preview

Date: 7 October 2004

Format: Open-book, open-notebook (but not a cure-all)

2 options for taking exam

·         in-class: 11:30-12:50; write in ink on exam sheet for ID’s; write in ink on paper or bluebook for essay

·         email: 1 hour and 20 minutes between 11:15am and 1:30pm; write in word processing file; attach and paste into email message to (or just reply to my email); include log of starts and stops, total time spent

Around 11:15am, the exam will be emailed to all the class's email addresses and posted to the course webpage under the “Model Assignments” tab.

Total time: In exams like this, most students who do well usually spend almost all of the class period. If you spend less than 1 hour writing, you'd better be brilliant. (This doesn't mean I grade by how much time you spend; this only answers students' questions regarding how long or how much they should write.)

Part 1. “Identify and signify.” (15-20 minutes)

Choose and analyze a passage from our course readings—and make it matter!

·        Choose a passage. First, try consulting your memory: Which page or moment in our texts reminds itself to you? Ask yourself why, and explain why you’ve chosen it. Some reasons may be personal, but make the passage’s appeal or significance as universal as possible. The passage does not need to be one we went over in class, but it should connect to one or more of the course objectives or themes. You might treat two passages as long as they’re intimately and directly connected to each other.

·        Analyze. Midterm samples can provide examples of this process. Describing how the language works to create meaning, to appeal to readers, and to develop themes or ideas. You analyze the textual passage on its own terms, but meaning can also develop by comparing it to other texts.

·        Make it matter. Why or how does the passage speak to literary and/or cultural issues in and beyond this course?

Warning: Do not submit a pre-written answer. Write your answer during the allotted time. You may practice and use notes, but you are not expected to deliver a “perfected” answer as with a take-home assignment. I ask the class to regard this as an issue of honor. If you see fellow students cheating or hear them speak of cheating, please let me know in as much detail as you like.


Part 2. Essay section (50 minutes to 1 hour)

time: approximately one hour

topic: You will write an organized, critical essay in response to 1 of 2 questions.

·        Both questions will require the discussion of writings by at least 3 and possibly 4 writers (though you're welcome to include more). In both questions you will have some or complete choice in choosing your authors. Naturally you'll write some more about 1 or 2 authors than you will on all three authors.

·        The two essay questions may involve somewhat similar subject matter, so don't be afraid of overlapping.

·        One optional essay question will be organized around a cultural or historical problem from objective 3, but remember that this is a Literature course and emphasize the language that is being used, issues of literacy or voice, or other elements that link literature and language with culture and history.

·        The other optional essay question will be organized around objective 2. Therefore it is a more formal literary issue, but this question will also involve cultural or ethnic identities and voices.

Warning regarding essay question: Pay close attention to the question and write your essay to answer it. A common mistake in an exam like this is that students will make up their minds what they’re going to write before they see the exam. They may write well, but if they don’t pay attention to the question as it is written, they can lose credit.

Advice for both parts: Keep your eye on the clock.

·        Keep the objectives in mind, but don’t simply repeat objectives and don’t simply quote texts; interpret, explain, explore, connect.

·        Don't copy out long quotations. Quote briefly, and always comment on quotations, highlighting their language and meanings.


References to previous midterms & student presentations:

On your midterm, refer to webpage midterm samples at least once (any year)

refer to student presentations at least once



Resistance to Civil Government" a. k. a. "Civil Disobedience"

Intellectual heritage of civil disobedience or passive resistance

Discussion: How might teachers use the traditions of civil disobedience, passive resistance, or nonviolence in lesson plans, etc.?

What problems of "political correctness" does this tradition present, especially in wartime?

How does Thoreau fit into this tradition?

What's "Transcendental" about Thoreau's vision of justice?

+ What's romantic about Thoreau's vision of the individual, nature, and society? (objectives 2 & 3)


The Thoreau Reader

Emerson's Eulogy of Thoreau


“Resistance to Civil Government” 1672-1686


1674 conscience = resistance

1674 my government does not equal slave's government (cf VN War)

(cf. Stowe, George)

1675 war on Mexico

1675 opponents of reform = merchants and farmers

1675 freedom x free-trade (cf. China)

1675 a cheap vote

1676  American as conformist (x individualism)

1677 action from principle

1679 just man is in prison--jail as honorable

1679 clogs

1679 all in prison, or give up war & slavery? [cf. drug war?]

1679 little property > danger to state

1679-80 more money, less virtue

1679    support of clergy


Moral influence on amoral society

potential problem: Thoreau's potential action is often a form of non-action, withdrawal--hard to represent dramatically


1681 higher law

(i. e., Transcendentalism as idealism, separates from details of earthly life and connects to larger principles)

(cf. Emerson, "look up . . . ." + oversoul concept)


1683 prison > huckleberry fields (individual > nature)

compare this scene to Douglass at Chesapeake Bay and Emerson at start of nature

psychosocial structure inherited from Enlightenment/Romanticism

individual self/soul-----society/institutions-----nature

atom/organism--------"machinery"--------------organic whole


individual has potential to be good

society is corrupting or at least limiting

nature redeems individual—order, hope

1681 machinery of society

1674  machines


1681 plant / man (Romanticism)


1682 out of prison; cf Rip Van Winkle