Location: [Reed College] [Department of English] [Laura Arnold][ Nation and Narration]Daily Readings
What is a Nation?
1. One of Questions that I would like you to be considering this semester (and for Fri.) is what a nation is and how literature helps construct an image of a nation. For Friday read the following essays:
2. Ralph Waldo Emerson(1803-1882) was the leading figure of the philosophical movement associated with the American Renaissance--Transcendentalism. We will be investigating Transcendentalism (and Emerson's work) in more detail throughout the semester, but for the meantime, it is useful to know that Emerson and the Transcendentalists were heavily influenced by the British Romantic philosophers (Carlyle, Coleridge) and that Transcendentalists believed in the divinity of humans and the unity of God. They felt that God was is everywhere immanent in Creation and, consequently, that all people partook in the spark of the eternal Divine. As you read "The American Scholar" you might want to consider how Emerson's notion of the divinity of mankind relates to his definition of what it means to be an American. How does Emerson define the "American Scholar"? How does this relate to your own understanding of your education? What rhetorical strategies does Emerson use to convince us of his message?
3. Before Emerson was a Transcendentalist, he was a Unitarian and Channing was his mentor. (For background on Unitarianism, please see the attached entry from A Companion to American Thought, courtesy of classmate Adam Holdorf.) William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) graduated from Harvard in 1798. He had come from a prominent New England family and was the pastor of Federal Street Church in Boston from 1803 until his death. His congregation was comprised of some of Boston's wealthiest merchants and most influential politicians. His cousin/wife was a wealthy heiress whose father had made it big in the "Rum" (i.e. slave) trade; their marriage left Channing independently wealthy. He converted to the Abolitionist movement late in life. Channing was a significant participant in the Unitarian Controversy (1805-1825), and he helped "legitimize" Unitarianism and later Abolitionism. Although a mentor to Emerson and other Transcendentalists, he was too "old school" to make the conversion. As you read his essay, you might ask yourself what Channing sees as the role of national literature. How does this relate to why we read American literature today? (Why do we read American literature today?)
4. Related Web Images. If you have not already perused Thomas Cole's Course of Empire and Voyage of Life this would be a good time to do so (see the page on Narrative Strategies. How does Cole's image of the nation in the Course of Empire compare to that proposed by Renan? How does Cole's representation of the life of the individual compare to that of Emerson's American Scholar?