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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   



4. Spirit of Nationalism

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
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Activities: Author Activities


Margaret Fuller - Author Questions

Back Back to Margaret Fuller Activities
  1. Comprehension: How does Fuller describe her relationship with her father in her "Autobiographical Romance"? How does she feel about the rigorous education she received?

  2. Context: In Chapter 1 of Summer on the Lakes (included in the archive), Fuller describes her experience at Niagara Falls, a popular tourist destination in the nineteenth century. How does her initial emotional response to the Falls--"I felt nothing but a quiet satisfaction ... everything looked as I thought it would"--relate to contemporary cultural ideals of the "sublime"? What kinds of expectations mediate her experience of the Falls? Why does she envy the "first discoverers of Niagara"? Does she ever come to feel the "sublimity" that she hoped to find in the scene? How?

  3. Context: "The Great Lawsuit" echoes and builds on many of the ideas and values first articulated in Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings. How does Fuller's essay compare to some of Emerson's essays which also call for social and intellectual change among Americans ("The American Scholar" or "Self-Reliance," for example)? What ideals does Fuller have in common with Emerson? How is Emerson invoked in Fuller's writing style? How does Fuller extend Transcendentalist ideals in her discussion of the role of women in American society?

  4. Exploration: How does Fuller's "Autobiographical Romance" relate to earlier traditions of American autobiography, such as Benjamin Franklin's or Frederick Douglass's narratives of their own lives? Does Fuller describe her development as a process of self-making in the same way that Franklin and Douglass do? How does her attitude toward literacy and education compare to Franklin's and Douglass's?

  5. Exploration: George P. Landow, professor of English and art history at Brown University, argues that the sublime is "an aesthetic of power." For Landow, "the spectator of natural sublimity always experiences a situation of being overpowered by the size or energy of the sublime phenomenon, an endless desert, majestic mountain, raging ocean, or thundering waterfall: In the terms of descriptions of proper gender relations of the period, the enjoyer of the sublime, who is often described as being "ravished' by the experience, takes an essentially feminine role. Under the influence of Edmund Burke who contrasted the bracing sublimity of masculine power to the relaxing effects of feminine beauty, sublimity became an explicitly gendered aesthetic category. Nonetheless, both men and women experienced it in the same way." Test Professor Landow's argument that men and women experience the sublime in the same way by comparing Fuller's experience of Niagara Falls in the first chapter of Summer on the Lakes with that of Nathaniel Hawthorne's male narrator in "My Visit to Niagara."




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