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Making Connections

  1. One of the few things that Thomas Paine and Jonathan Edwards have in common is their reliance on simplicity and directness of rhetorical style (see Paine’s Common Sense and Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”)  In Franklin’s Autobiography, he also declares a bias in favor of clarity of diction. Other examples of authors whose writings are often thought to be disarmingly simple, but which follow in the tradition of direct American rhetoric, include Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall–Paper;” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro;” William Carlos Williams’s “The Young Housewife;” Allen Ginsberg’s Howl; Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral;” and Billy Collins’s “Forgetfulness.”
  2. Since this part of the anthology covers the very beginnings of American literature, works from the later periods understandably and often refer back to some of these foundational texts. Illustrative comparisons are possible between Columbus’s letters to Spain and Emma Lazarus’s “1492;” Anne Bradstreet’s The Tenth Muse and John Berryman’s “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet;” between William Bradford’s chapter “Mr. Morton of Merrymount” from Of Plymouth Plantation and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The May–pole of Merry Mount” and between Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and Robert Lowell’s “Mr. Edwards and the Spider.”
  3. Narratives of discovery expeditions are among the first European writings that deal with the New World, from the letters of Columbus to the writings of Cabeza de Vaca, Thomas Harriot John Smith, and William Bradford.  These early writings helped set the tone for later works on travel, including Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of Captivity and Restoration; Sarah Kemble Knight’s The Private Journal of a Journey from Boston to New York; Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative; Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry;” Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat;” Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening;” Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird;” Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur; and Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.”
  4. Texts that deal with religious fervor, both from the Puritan days and from the Great Awakening, abound in American literature before 1820. From deeply religious works like Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation and John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity to more disturbing though no less religious displays such as Mary Rowlandson’s Narrative of Captivity and Restoration and Cotton Mather’s “The Trial of Martha Carrier” from The Wonders of the Invisible World, the period before 1700 was saturated with Calvinist faith. The Great Awakening’s zeal prompted works like Phyllis Wheatley’s “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, 1770” and “Thoughts on the Works of Providence” as well as Jonathan Edwards’s “A Divine and Supernatural Light” and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Other religious and spiritual writings for comparison include Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature and “Brahma; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister’s Black Veil;” Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “A New England Nun;” T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” and “Burnt Norton;” Robert Frost’s “Design;” Robert Lowell’s “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket;” and Philip Roth’s “Defender of the Faith.”
  5. The ideals of the Enlightenment, reason and sympathy, helped give rise to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The Crisis , Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.  They shaped the founding fathers’ understandings of the world they lived in and laid the foundation for the independent nation the Revolution produced. Works that use Enlightenment ideals to represent the promise of the young nation include Crèvecoeur’s Letters to an American Farmer, Equiano’s Interesting Narrative, and the letters of John and Abigail Adams. Later works which interrogate that promise for its actual content of reason and sentiment include Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux;” Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?;” W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folks; Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask;” Countee Cullen’s “Incident;” Carlos Bulosan’s “Be American;” Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; and Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead.”