Purpose: To develop comprehension and appreciation for our literary heritage.
My first objective is to get my students to recognize and understand the ideas of innocence, tradition, salvation, and industrialism and the loss of innocence. We will study the works of well-known American authors whose writings meet the criteria of great literature. I feel that the lack of interest on the part of my students comes from their inability to read and their cultural withdrawal. I am hoping that the approach described here will create more interest and more appreciation for American literature. I also feel that presenting the cultural background which influenced creations in American literature will help students develop some appreciation for literature as an art as well as for their American heritage.
Students will read stories and novels containing the themes listed above. Innocence is man’s beginning in a new land where he dreams and strives to be free, but is tormented by his religious background. Tradition is inner conflict between the old and the new. Salvation is man’s battle to save his soul. Industrialism is the great machine and its role in the loss of innocence. To help explain why these ideas are a part of American literature, I have included folklore and witchcraft stories which will give students insight about their beginning and will be interesting reading.
Before I can get students interested, I must help them understand what a writer is saying. Most skillful writers construct sentences full of subordinated thoughts but place the main ideas in the main clauses. Students must be able to tell the difference between the lower-ranking idea and the independent idea. They must understand that the main clause is the basic structure of a sentence, and that modifying clauses and phrases add details or explain conditions which define or limit the meaning of the main clause. I feel that most of the students I teach are not aware of the importance of sentence structure. Most of them become confused when I talk about coordination and especially subordination. I believe that this causes their poor comprehension and their lack of interest and keeps them from being able to follow ideas and directions. Therefore, my second objective is to get students to understand the thought process in sentence syntax. This will be done through diagnostic testing and reviewing sentences taken from various forms of literature (excluding poetry, which will be discussed later). We will identify all kinds of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.
Students will learn about various sentence patterns and be able to identify subjects and predicates. They will know the difference between clauses and phrases, and remember that the important thought is always found in the main clause.
Since creative writers use figurative language to heighten expression, students will familiarize themselves with symbolism, imagery, irony, allusion, allegory, and archetypes found in American literature. The following literary terms will be covered: short story, novel, drama, poetry, essay, biography, autobiography, plot, journals, characterization, setting, plays, conflict, protagonist, antagonist, point of view, tone, metaphor, analogy, mood, satire, foreshadowing, coincidence, climax. This list will grow as we progress because the works we read will contain unfamiliar references to myths and historical events. To give an example of defining the terms: the short story is one of the most popular and oldest literary forms. The short story is a brief narrative. Since primitive times, fundamental human instincts have been talked about using fiction.
Not unsimilar to these tales of old is the folklore of today. Contributions to our American literature have been made by Blacks, lumberjacks, cowboys, sailors, and others. A good example of the incredulous yarns which circulate about the fire in loggers’ camps is the Paul Bunyan Saga. Many of these tall stories have been gathered and written down by James Stevens.—H. C. Sheikert,
(New York, 1934), p. xxv.
My fourth objective will be to teach four genres of literature in the following order: short stories, novels, plays, and poetry. Essays, biographies, autobiographies, personal letters, notebooks, sketchbooks, and diaries of authors will be explored in order to give students insight into the author’s background and to point out to students that art and form are very much a part of the author. We also will use slides, artifacts of the author’s times, filmstrips, recordings, and films. We will use as many different types of work by a single author as we can so students will get to know and understand him. We will get to know how the writer creates his or her art through style, characterization, setting, plot, point of view, theme, and tone. I want to get the students to respond to point of view and tone, and to think critically about the implications of the work. I hope to achieve these goals through this multiple approach.
Short stories and novels will be compiled from such authors as Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, James, Wright, Ellison, Jesse Stuart, James Baldwin, Toomer, Shirley Jackson, and others if time will permit. These stories will be taught not only as examples of art, but in order to increase students’ awareness of the variety of human experience. All aspects of the short story and the novel will be taught. Hawthorne’s
will then be studied in class to help students recognize the ideas of innocence and salvation which are found in other American novelists’ works. We hope to view the film
in class. I chose the short story to teach first because students have a big adjustment to make upon returning to school. I have included rhetorical thought exercises and literary terms because students must be equipped to understand what they read.
The unit on short stories will last for eight weeks. One week will be spent testing and reviewing exercises to develop sentence sense. After students have grasped these exercises, homework assignments will be made, and one day each week will be devoted to discussions on homework and to answering any questions students may have. Some exercises have been included to develop understanding of syntax. Mimeographed sheets of literary terms will be given to students. They will keep these in their notebooks, identifying the terms they know and looking up the others in literary dictionaries which are in the school library. We will spend two class periods discussing these after the class has been given time to look the words up.
Four class periods will then be spent on Hawthorne and his background. Students will view slides and pictures of artifacts dating from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, and will learn about the influence of historical customs and traditions on the works they will read. Each student will research a topic relevant to the period discussed, and will present an oral report to the class on what he or she has learned. (Two or three class periods will be devoted to these reports.) Students will pool their knowledge of historical topics to make a class scrapbook. Along with this activity we will read Hawthorne’s stories “The Ambitious Guest” and “Young Goodman Brown,” using the questions and exercises that accompany this unit.
Two of the five weeks left will be spent reading other short stories by Hawthorne and the other authors. During the last three weeks students will read
The Scarlet Letter
in class and at home. Class discussions will deal with Hawthorne’s personality, style, point of view, use of symbolism, and ideas about innocence, tradition, salvation, and industrialism. Finally, we will view the movie and compare it with the novel. Class activities will include a “question box” for which everyone will write questions about characters and scenes; writing projects about characters, setting, and incidents in the novel; and a “newspaper” about important events that occurred in the stories or in
The Scarlet Letter
Introduction to Unit
The ideas of innocence, tradition, salvation, and industrialism and the loss of innocence have been present in American Literature since its origin. Before the colonists arrived around 1630, they thought their dreams were to come true in a new land which might be compared to a beautiful garden where nothing was blemished by all the sins of the Old World.
In the first writings, we see evidence of the writers clinging to nature because of its order and purity. Man’s inability to cope with nature created many problems for him. So literary craftsmen used these human experiences to design fictional plots. Frontier life provided a setting for many fictional stories about man’s purging himself to fit in with his new and pure surroundings. Innocent characters were featured in beautiful garden settings. The real encounters people had in the westward movement and Indian wars brought people back to their traditional ideas; failure to understand their new experiences led to superstition and witchcraft. Ancestral beliefs created many problems for the Puritans. So a battle to save themselves from evil laid the foundations for literary art. Growth in America brought about a great change. Railroads, shipping, mass production, foreign trade, and a change in political ideas are responsible for industrialism and the loss of innocence. So American authors used these ideas to create stories which present characters with points of view and moods woven into plots. These plots developed in settings from America’s beginning through America’s industrial age. We may derive the author’s meaning through his use of symbolism. We will strive to discover artistry in American literature.
Biographical Facts about Nathaniel Hawthorne
The first American author we will study is Nathaniel Hawthorne, who spent most of his life (1804-64) in Salem, Massachusetts. Two events in early life enabled him to achieve the kind of perspective on human existence which is necessary for philosophical romance at its best. Because of an injured foot which Hawthorne acquired playing ball when he was about nine years old, he was not able to attend school or be with his friends for three years. His father, a sea-captain, died from yellow fever when Nat was four years old. This left him with a mother who isolated him from everyone except his relatives and his two sisters. With his isolated family and his wounded foot, all Nathaniel did was read and daydream.
Hawthorne’s second period was his self-imposed retirement from the world after graduating in 1825 from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. This period lasted about twelve years. Hawthorne continued to live apart from normal existence in a world of dreams, spending most of his time in a dismal room on the third floor of the old house in which his family lived. In 1828, his first short stories and sketches appeared anonymously in gift-books and magazines. In 1837, these stories were collected and published as Hawthorne’s
. His injury and his self-retirement did not make him a recluse but made him a modest, reticent, imaginative man. His contact with nature and his devotion to the past can be found in all of his works.
During the early years when Nathaniel was recuperating from his foot injury, his mother, Elizabeth, took him and his sisters to visit their uncles in Raymond, Maine. While there, Hawthorne enjoyed the backwoods.
Along with developing the habit of reading, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, swimming, skating, and walking. Legg’s Hill, Rattlesnake Mountain, Thomas Pond, and Sebago Lake were places that Hawthorne dreamed of all year round.
Hawthorne destroyed all known copies of his first novel,
(1828). He married Sophia Peabody in 1842, and they moved to Concord and lived in a house called the “Old Manse.” These were the happiest years of his life. He worked at the Custom House as a measurer of salt and coal. He invested in the Brook Farm Experiment, in the hope that the community would provide a good place to begin married life. Realizing its lack of privacy, he moved back to Salem where he worked as a surveyor. He was removed from office by scheming politicians in 1849. His best friend was the fourteenth President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, who appointed Hawthorne as consul at Liverpool and Manchester, England. After living abroad for seven years, Hawthorne returned to Concord in 1860. He died in Plymouth, New Hampshire on May 19, 1864, and was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
He was a country gentleman, a product of the past because his ancestors interested him greatly. He was obsessed with the nature of sin. His first American ancestor, William Hawthorne, arrived from England in 1630 and was remembered for having given orders to have Quakers whipped in the streets. William’s son John was one of the judges at the Salem witch trials and was said to have drawn a curse from one of the victims upon himself and his descendants. Hawthorne read much Colonial history and delighted in old documents. He studied the psychology of the Puritans and peopled his stories with characters who are either outright Puritans or who possess Puritan traits.
His theme is “unpardonable sin” found in the presumption and bigotry of the Puritans. Aspects of his local community and local people are used in most of his works. Hawthorne’s other preoccupation was the use of the literary symbol, the significant object which could be manipulated to reveal ever-deeper sources of meaning. Most of his successful works concentrate on the forces of conflict in a single, often ambiguous object— a flower, a statue, an embroidery symbol. His use of symbolism greatly influenced later American fiction.