Which of these authors most deserves to be read by those who study American literature--and why?  Washington Irving, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney, William Cullen Bryant, William Apess, and...

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charcunning | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Emerson is so applicable still today. I think that my students most readily identify with the themes present throughout his works and are able to link his ideas and beliefs to modern-day dilemmas.

Many students find Emerson difficult, but when we finish readinig his work, they always state that he was enjoyable.

I do Emerson in conjunction with Into The Wild by Krakauer.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I would have to say Washington Irving for several reasons.  While Emerson is, of course, significant to any discussion of American writing, Irving is more accessible and offers more universal application.  For example, my students (high school juniors) struggle with satire, especially more formal satire. They are used to Saturday Night Live and MadTV "satire" and often miss that older authors are being satirical.

Because of students' familiarity with several of Irving's stories, a teacher can easily go beyond the plot and characters and focus on Irving's satirical style and the subjects of his satire.

Additionally, Irving's Romantic elements work well for teaching the era, and lead to so many other American styles and genres.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Absolutely Emerson!  (And I'll admit that there is absolutely nothing I can add here that would further #3 and #9 which were perfect answers as to the reasons why.)  One exciting example that I have discovered of late is one of Annie Dillard's newest novels, The Maytrees.  Annie Dillard is a wonderfully modern Transcendentalist.  I had a field day in comparing the Transcendentalism of the coast vs. the Transcendentalism of the woods.  Not sure why.  But it proved to me yet again that the school of thought that is Transcendentalism absolutely transcends time and place (not to mention lends itself to some really cool classroom activities).

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Of the authors you list, I rank Emerson as pre-eminent. He was not just a literary figure, but an important philosopher and leader of the Transcendental movement. Essays like "Self-Reliance" and "The American Scholar" have stood the test of time and continue to be studied by students of literature; literature does not become great if it is not returned to over and over by teachers of the next generation. These essays define what it means to be American, not only during the nineteenth century but also in the contemporary world.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The discussion of Emerson in post #3 makes a very strong case for reading Emerson. I would add only this. Read Emerson for an understanding of Transcendentalism, a philosophical movement that played an important role in American culture and influenced other American writers and thinkers--most notably Thoreau. Without Emerson, would we have Walden or Civil Disobedience? And one can't think of Civil Disobedience without thinking of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Transcendentalism died out as an identified social force before the twentieth century, but many of the principles of Transcendental philosophy have become ingrained in our culture.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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In reply to mwestwood:  I never heard that Bradbury quote.  Thanks!

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As already stated, the recognition of Irving is of paramount importance as this author is credited with the first American short story.  He is also among the first chronicler of American history and the humor that presents itself again and again in such writers as Mark Twain.

That Emerson is, as timbrady so succinctly says, "the intellectual underpinning of our democracy" points to the importance of keeping his work alive.  How far this country has digressed from the paths of thought of this great and of those Henry David Thoreau!  We would do well, indeed, to not forget our real history which is recorded in the writings of such greats as Emerson and Thoreau.

With the reminders of Emerson and Thoreau perhaps the decline of a once great culture may be stayed.  After all, Ray Bradbury cautioned, "You don't have to destroy a culture by burning books.  All you have to do is get people to stop reading them."

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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I'll speak for Emerson.  He is clearly one of the influential thinkers in the history of our country.  In some ways, he is the intellectual underpinning of our democracy much as Whitman gives us the poetic expression of this same reality.

Essays like "Self-Reliance" which lays out the importance of non-conformity, of knowing that who we are depends on what we know of ourselves and our values and not what others tell us, lays the groundwork for the equality that is democracy.  His "American Scholar" tell us that we need a literature and a knowledge commeserate with the greatness of our country, and that each of us has a knowledge that is not based on schooling (tuition), but is a direct link to truth (intuition) that can guide our ways of knowing.  And "The Divinity School Address" which applies the principles of both "Self-Reliance" and "The American Scholar" to religion, encourages us to build a direct relationship with the Divine and not follow teachings that have no life for us.

These are just three of his essays, but they seem to contain the view of an American that we have built some of our higest ideals on.  Perhaps it is best expressed in the opening paragraph of "Nature":

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? [bold mine] Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

To me, it doesn't get any better than this.

 

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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I don't think that authors deserve or don't deserve to be read. It is the other way round. It is the readers who need to be judged for their ability to be able to appreciate and enjoy reading different authors and books. It is interesting that good authors are also avid readers. They read, appreciate, and enjoy much wider range of authors works than an average reader.

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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janetbarnes,

I will try to keep this under 100 pages and not compare them, but to praise my favorite, Washington Irving. Although Washington Irving is no longer fashionable in American Literature, and although his work remains known largely because of two short stories, those stories—"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle"—are American classics. Many of us have grown up with them. They were part of the folklore for children's movies of days gone by, and they are with us still. But the significance of Irving's work goes beyond nostalgia. These two tales speak to us of the early American Republic, of the growing pains and anxiety that must have accompanied the momentous shift from English colony to independent nation.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" reveals something of the malaise the author felt about the bustling, industrious society that America was becoming. In the classic showdown between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, Irving sketched an American crossroads, a choice between the goblin-haunted, past-driven schoolteacher and the brash, up-and-coming, muscular realist—which one will win the girl?

"Rip Van Winkle" is assuredly Irving's true claim to immortality, and this story of a man who falls asleep for twenty years seems indeed to escape the law of time, for it haunts us still with its mystery. Once we realize that Rip sleeps precisely through the American Revolution, the story begins to bristle with cultural overtones. Yet its deepest riddle has to do with the strange vision and potion that caused Rip to sleep in the first place, and this question is inseparable from Rip's own odd temperament, his refusal to grow up. It is a prophetic American hang-up.

Irving is something of an eclipsed figure in American Literature today: his writing and his education are profoundly Anglophile in character because he spent much of his life in England, courting the famous writers and noblemen of his day. Thus, he hardly seems to be an "indigenous" figure. Yet, because he is writing in the early years of the 19th century, at the beginning of the American experiment, his work sheds an interesting light on the cultural anxieties of the young nation.

The legacy of "Rip Van Winkle" is rich and various, and we are still working our way through it. Hart Crane invokes, in "The Bridge", Rip as "the muse of memory." James Joyce's hero, Leopold Bloom, is memorably figured as Rip Van Winkle: the work of time is seen as the corrosion that besets married life. Rip Van Winkle is particularly present and accounted for in other literary works among the American classics.  Thoreau's performance in moving to Walden Pond can be seen as ambivalent: Face reality or flee reality? Melville's Captain Delano, "Benito Cereno," will display the frightening dimensions of the childlike vision. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, our most famous literary children, make us wonder if avoiding adulthood is an American vocation. Hemingway's Jake Barnes, of The Sun Also Rises: emasculated male, is a bitter version of Rip's fate—that is, fit only for men. Faulkner's Quentin Compson, in The Sound and the Fury, expresses Irving's chief theme, albeit in a tragic key: you cannot grow up. The universal warning of Irving's story goes beyond literature altogether: Where has life been? How did we lose it?

I like what you have to say about Irving. I work with chikdren as an Aide and am shocked at how little kids know about folklore and fairy tales. Five year olds don't know nursery rhymes. I love the book Touch Magic. Have you read it?

Who is the author? Since I do not remember the book I can say that I haven't read it. If you have, what did you think of it? When did you read it?

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prowriter | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

janetbarnes,

I will try to keep this under 100 pages and not compare them, but to praise my favorite, Washington Irving. Although Washington Irving is no longer fashionable in American Literature, and although his work remains known largely because of two short stories, those stories—"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle"—are American classics. Many of us have grown up with them. They were part of the folklore for children's movies of days gone by, and they are with us still. But the significance of Irving's work goes beyond nostalgia. These two tales speak to us of the early American Republic, of the growing pains and anxiety that must have accompanied the momentous shift from English colony to independent nation.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" reveals something of the malaise the author felt about the bustling, industrious society that America was becoming. In the classic showdown between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, Irving sketched an American crossroads, a choice between the goblin-haunted, past-driven schoolteacher and the brash, up-and-coming, muscular realist—which one will win the girl?

"Rip Van Winkle" is assuredly Irving's true claim to immortality, and this story of a man who falls asleep for twenty years seems indeed to escape the law of time, for it haunts us still with its mystery. Once we realize that Rip sleeps precisely through the American Revolution, the story begins to bristle with cultural overtones. Yet its deepest riddle has to do with the strange vision and potion that caused Rip to sleep in the first place, and this question is inseparable from Rip's own odd temperament, his refusal to grow up. It is a prophetic American hang-up.

Irving is something of an eclipsed figure in American Literature today: his writing and his education are profoundly Anglophile in character because he spent much of his life in England, courting the famous writers and noblemen of his day. Thus, he hardly seems to be an "indigenous" figure. Yet, because he is writing in the early years of the 19th century, at the beginning of the American experiment, his work sheds an interesting light on the cultural anxieties of the young nation.

The legacy of "Rip Van Winkle" is rich and various, and we are still working our way through it. Hart Crane invokes, in "The Bridge", Rip as "the muse of memory." James Joyce's hero, Leopold Bloom, is memorably figured as Rip Van Winkle: the work of time is seen as the corrosion that besets married life. Rip Van Winkle is particularly present and accounted for in other literary works among the American classics.  Thoreau's performance in moving to Walden Pond can be seen as ambivalent: Face reality or flee reality? Melville's Captain Delano, "Benito Cereno," will display the frightening dimensions of the childlike vision. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, our most famous literary children, make us wonder if avoiding adulthood is an American vocation. Hemingway's Jake Barnes, of The Sun Also Rises: emasculated male, is a bitter version of Rip's fate—that is, fit only for men. Faulkner's Quentin Compson, in The Sound and the Fury, expresses Irving's chief theme, albeit in a tragic key: you cannot grow up. The universal warning of Irving's story goes beyond literature altogether: Where has life been? How did we lose it?

I like what you have to say about Irving. I work with chikdren as an Aide and am shocked at how little kids know about folklore and fairy tales. Five year olds don't know nursery rhymes. I love the book Touch Magic. Have you read it?

epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

janetbarnes,

I will try to keep this under 100 pages and not compare them, but to praise my favorite, Washington Irving. Although Washington Irving is no longer fashionable in American Literature, and although his work remains known largely because of two short stories, those stories—"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle"—are American classics. Many of us have grown up with them. They were part of the folklore for children's movies of days gone by, and they are with us still. But the significance of Irving's work goes beyond nostalgia. These two tales speak to us of the early American Republic, of the growing pains and anxiety that must have accompanied the momentous shift from English colony to independent nation.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" reveals something of the malaise the author felt about the bustling, industrious society that America was becoming. In the classic showdown between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones, Irving sketched an American crossroads, a choice between the goblin-haunted, past-driven schoolteacher and the brash, up-and-coming, muscular realist—which one will win the girl?

"Rip Van Winkle" is assuredly Irving's true claim to immortality, and this story of a man who falls asleep for twenty years seems indeed to escape the law of time, for it haunts us still with its mystery. Once we realize that Rip sleeps precisely through the American Revolution, the story begins to bristle with cultural overtones. Yet its deepest riddle has to do with the strange vision and potion that caused Rip to sleep in the first place, and this question is inseparable from Rip's own odd temperament, his refusal to grow up. It is a prophetic American hang-up.

Irving is something of an eclipsed figure in American Literature today: his writing and his education are profoundly Anglophile in character because he spent much of his life in England, courting the famous writers and noblemen of his day. Thus, he hardly seems to be an "indigenous" figure. Yet, because he is writing in the early years of the 19th century, at the beginning of the American experiment, his work sheds an interesting light on the cultural anxieties of the young nation.

The legacy of "Rip Van Winkle" is rich and various, and we are still working our way through it. Hart Crane invokes, in "The Bridge", Rip as "the muse of memory." James Joyce's hero, Leopold Bloom, is memorably figured as Rip Van Winkle: the work of time is seen as the corrosion that besets married life. Rip Van Winkle is particularly present and accounted for in other literary works among the American classics.  Thoreau's performance in moving to Walden Pond can be seen as ambivalent: Face reality or flee reality? Melville's Captain Delano, "Benito Cereno," will display the frightening dimensions of the childlike vision. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, our most famous literary children, make us wonder if avoiding adulthood is an American vocation. Hemingway's Jake Barnes, of The Sun Also Rises: emasculated male, is a bitter version of Rip's fate—that is, fit only for men. Faulkner's Quentin Compson, in The Sound and the Fury, expresses Irving's chief theme, albeit in a tragic key: you cannot grow up. The universal warning of Irving's story goes beyond literature altogether: Where has life been? How did we lose it?

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