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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Utopian

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Activities: Author Activities

Sarah Kemble Knight - Teaching Tips

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  • Early in her Journal Knight narrates a moment of fear and uncertainty brought on by feeling alone in the woods, acknowledging that she experienced some spiritual concern about her "call" to make such a journey:
    Now returned my distressed apprehensions of the place where I was: the dolesome woods, my company next to none, going I knew not whither, and encompassed with terrifying darkness; the least of which was enough to startle a more masculine courage. Added to which the reflections, as in the afternoon of the day that my call was very questionable, which, till then I had not so prudently as I ought considered.
    While this passage sounds akin to the kind of spiritual examination common in traditional Puritan autobiographical writings, Knight quickly undercuts its religious tone. Rather than recount an assurance of grace or gratitude for God's mercy, she instead reports her relief at catching a glimpse of the moon, which she proceeds to describe in neoclassical heroic couplets. You might ask students to focus on this passage in order to highlight the difference between the secularism of Knight's Journal and the profound religiosity of most of the other texts included in this unit. Ask them to consider the significance of Knight's homage to "Cynthia," the pagan goddess of the moon, in a moment of uncertainty and distress.

  • While Knight does not seem to have written her Journal for publication, she probably did circulate it in manuscript form for the amusement of her friends and relatives. Ask students to look for clues that might indicate the kind of audience Knight imagined reading her book. You might point out her lack of introspection, her sarcastic comments about social inferiors, and her inclusion of poetry and allusions to European literary texts. What kind of image was Knight trying to create for herself?

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