Essay One: What is an American? LIT 331 American Literature I

Essay One: What is an American? LIT 331 American Literature I

At the center of this course is the question of “identity.”  Not only will we be talking about American Identity in general, but our course will often focus in on the conflict between what society expects versus individual identity and individual expression. In “Letter III:  What is an American,” Crevecoeur asks the question and provides this answer:

What then is the American, this new man?  He is either a European, or the descendant of a European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. . . . He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.  He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater.   Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men. . . .Americans are the western pilgrims. . . .The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions.  From involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor, he has passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample subsistence—This is an American.  (Crevecoeur, 2013, p. 312).

Using texts from the first two seminars, write an essay that explores that central idea of the American as a “new man” who reshapes himself in response to the environment.  Tied up in this idea is that stepping away from conforming to tradition on one hand and conforming to a new set of standards on the other. In your first paper, you’ll be analyzing a specific author’s work in light of that idea of how the American is a “new [hu]man”.

Choose one of the following as the basis for your essay:

  1. Analyze Bradford’s selections in light of Crevecoeur’s definition of “American.”  Does Bradford’s account of the early settlers’ experiences support that idea that the “American is a new man, who acts upon new principles”?  Use both Crevecoeur and Bradford in your essay to support your argument.
  2. Just as Crevecoeur felt the true American “must therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions” Bradstreet is quoted by Baym in our head note as saying that “when she first ‘came into this country’ she ‘found a new world and new manners,’ at which her ‘heart rose’ in resistance” (cited in Baym, 2013, p. 110).  Discuss the idea of resistance to the expectations Puritan culture had for women, as seen through Bradstreet’s poetry.
  3. Wild card option:  With your instructor’s approval, you may develop an essay for this assignment that analyzes a work from seminar 1 or 2.  You must consult with your instructor first, indicating which text you wish to use and how that analysis will demonstrate the concept of identity formation in the face of tradition or societal expectations.  For instance, you might discuss how Wheatley’s poetry demonstrates her formation of an individual identity and discusses her turning away from “the land of errors” (Wheatley, 2013, p. 404).  Or, you might want to analyze one of the slave narratives and how that writer (Equiano, Douglass, or Jacobs) not only chronicles their journey from slavery to freedom, but also their journey toward their authentic and fully realized identity.

Requirements:

Textual Support:  In addition to calling on Crevecoeur’s work, you must use at least one text from Norton’s Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Eighth Edition assigned in Seminar 1 or Seminar 2 in your essay as support for your reasoning. Do not use The Scarlet Letter in this paper. Expect to provide clear quotations that are closely analyzed from these texts to demonstrate how the reading during those first two seminars creates a sense of who the “American” is.

Length:  Your essay should have no fewer than five paragraphs (you’ll actually need more) and should be no fewer than 1250-1500 words (approximately five double-spaced pages in Times New Roman 12 point), not counting the title page and references page.  Note that this is a minimum length.

Thesis Statement:  Please formulate a clear thesis statement that directly presents your argument point.  Do not use a purpose statement, a quotation, or question as your thesis.  See the resource on developing and writing a thesis statement in the Writing Process tab of the Baker College Writing Guide.  Consider previewing the main literary texts you are analyzing in that thesis and/or the introduction paragraph.

Organization:  Note that this type of paper does not rely on plot summaries.  While you do want to provide a bit of context for the literary texts you are analyzing, this should be done fairly quickly and concisely so you can move on to using those texts to support your larger analysis/argument thesis.

Additional Requirements:

  • Do not use first person (“I” or “we”) or second person (“you”) in this essay.  The focus is on textual analysis and making a larger interpretive argument, so personal experience and narrative tone are not appropriate.
  • Do not rely on large, block quotations for support.  The block quotations in this assignment are intended to point out the heart of Crevecoeur and Turner’s arguments from the beginning of seminar 1 so you can refer to this assignment sheet as you read the material.  Ideally, your paper will not contain block quotations, as you’ll be using paraphrase and concise quotations.
  • Your paper should be edited.  Make sure you’ve spelled authors’ names correctly and employ spell checker.
  • Your assignment should be in APA format with a title page and references page.  Note that the entire paper should be double-spaced and should use APA style citations.

Course: LIT 331 American Literature I
School: Baker College

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