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Return to the Epic Hero in American Fiction

Page history last edited by Abigail Heiniger 8 years, 2 months ago

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Return to the Epic Hero in American Fiction


This semester we have studied different constructions (and deconstructions of the hero in American fiction). Our study has carried us through different regions, literary eras and genres. The exams will emphasize the higher-order thinking we've been working on all semester. You do not need to memorize names and dates (remember - you can create a word bank that I will pass out to everyone at the exam). Instead, you should be able to link texts with their central themes (and constructions of the hero). 


Discussion Questions:

Novel Heroes 

  • Identify all the authors and their texts (since the last exam).
    • Identify the central theme of each text.
    • Briefly analyze the way the hero (or heroism) is constructed in the text. 
  • How does the non-fiction novel The New Bedford Samurai compare with the hard-boiled detective thriller Indian Killer
    • How does the character of Manjiro Nakahama develop? What imagery does the author use?
    • How does the character of John Smith develop? What literary devices does the author use?
      • Compare and contrast the use of sounds and imagery in these texts. 
    • How is nature treated in both texts? Does nature become a part of the heroic narrative?
  • How does Manjiro's map resemble his journey in the novel?
  • How do both Manjiro and John Smith challenge (and conform to) our expectations for American heroes?


Modernism and Regionalism

  • How does the action in "A Life You Save May Be Your Own" fits into the heroic quest narrative (or does it)? 
    •  How do these characters reflect a REGIONAL identity? How do they reflect a larger American identity?  
  •  How does Miss Emily's conflict with the city over taxes become symbolic of her conflict with society in "A Rose for Emily"?
  • How do Miss Emily's relationships with men make a commentary on gender construction in the South? 
  • Compare Winold Reiss' "Drawing In Two Colors" with Langston Hughes' "The Weary Blues." How do both works incorporate ekphrasis and celebrate the Harlem Renaissance?  
  • How does the Harlem Reniassance represent American Modernism in a different way?
    • How does "Harlem Shadows" compare with "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock"?  


The Domestic Heroine

  • During the nineteenth-century, women's writing rose like a tsunami, engulfing the literary world. Several male authors expressed perplexity and distress at the new competition these "scribbling women" posed. Later women writers would analyze the socioeconomic forces that propelled women into the literary marketplace, including the spread of public education (and literacy), the growth of the middle class, and the social acceptability of writing for profit among middle-class women. Consider Louisa May Alcott's "Modern Cinderella: Of, The Little Old Shoe" from The Atlantic (ca 1870). What expectations does this story set up for the domestic heroine? What is her heroic journey? When does she act? When do other people act? How does it compare with the traditional heroic journey we've been studying? 



  • How does Roosevelt's statement about motherhood compare and contrast with Freeman and Gilman's critiques on motherhood (the expectations placed on women)? What does Roosevelt implicitly expect women to do in this speech? What do Freeman and Gilman say wives and mothers actually contend with?
    • "No piled-up wealth, no splendor of material growth, no brilliance of artistic development, will permanently avail any people unless its home life is healthy, unless the average man possesses honesty, courage, common sense, and decency, unless he works hard and is willing at need to fight hard; and unless the average woman is a good wife, a good mother, able and willing to perform the first and greatest duty of womanhood, able and willing to bear, and to bring up as they should be brought up, healthy children, sound in body, mind, and character, and numerous enough so that the race shall increase and not decrease."


Images to Remember


What are these images and how do they relate to the texts we've studied? 


Winold Reiss 

"Drawing In Two Colors"  (1915-20)





Winslow Homer. "Breezing Up a Fair Wind" (1873-76)


Winslow Homer. "Dinner Horn" (1870)


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