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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

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Activities: Author Activities

John Smith - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: What vision of colonial commerce does Smith offer in his description of New England's potential? How does Smith's model of colonial labor and trade differ from the model most Spanish colonizers adopted in Mexico and South America? For example, what kinds of commodities and economic potential does Columbus seem to value in his letters to the Spanish monarchs?

  2. Comprehension: What problems does Smith have with the other English colonists in the Virginia Company? How does he represent his own leadership abilities? What role do class and nobility play in his leadership and in the colony in general?

  3. Context: How does Smith mobilize the "discourse of wonder" in his narrative? At what point does he experience wonder himself? When does he displace the experience of wonder onto the natives he encounters?

  4. Context: One of the models for heroic conduct that influenced Smith's self-fashioning was the figure of the knight or knight-errant, a traveling man of honor committed to helping people (often women) in trouble through his brave acts. One of the most popular and influential knight stories of Smith's day was Miguel Cervantes's story of Don Quixote, a middle-class man who becomes a knight-errant and works on the side of chivalry, the good, and endangered maidens. What knightlike traits does Smith possess? What does Smith gain rhetorically from placing himself in this tradition?

  5. Context: Why does Smith interrupt his narrative in The General History with passages of translated classical verse? What general rhetorical purpose do classical allusions play in the narrative?

  6. Exploration: Like later colonial leaders William Bradford and John Winthrop (Unit 3), Smith hoped to secure the stable establishment of an English colony in America and his own authority within it. How do Smith's attempts to consolidate his own authority compare to Bradford's and Winthrop's? How do the conflicts and tensions between colonists in Jamestown compare to the conflicts and tensions within Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay?

  7. Exploration: One of the models of the ideal conqueror for Spanish and British colonists alike was the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who wrote his autobiographical commentaries The Gallic War in the third person and referred to himself as "he." What impact does Smith's choice of a third-person narrator have on The General History? Which other explorers use this strategy? How does Smith's narration compare to Henry Adams's self-conscious use of the third person in The Education of Henry Adams (Unit 9)? Why do you think Smith used first-person narration in his accounts of New England?

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