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

4. Spirit of Nationalism

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Activities: Author Activities

Margaret Fuller - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Margaret Fuller Activities
  • Ask students to consider why Fuller would have titled her essay "The Great Lawsuit." What kind of case is she pleading? Who are the principals involved in the "suit"? You might have the class read the first footnote to this essay in The Norton Anthology of American Literature to gain insight into what Fuller intended with the title. Ask your students whether they think they could stage this lawsuit as a mock court case. How might one try this case? Would it benefit from being performed? What would have to be changed or omitted from Fuller's original text?

  • Fuller was famous for her ability as a speaker and an interlocutor, a skill she marketed in the popular "Conversations" she ran for women in Boston. A student recalled her talent for facilitating discussion: "Whatever was said, Margaret knew how to seize the good meaning of it with hospitality, and to make the speaker feel glad, and not sorry, that she had spoken." Eventually the Conversations attracted so much attention that Fuller admitted men to the group. According to all in attendance, however, the inclusion of men disrupted the informal, hospitable atmosphere of the Conversations. As Emerson put it, the men apparently felt that they "must assert and dogmatize," and their more formal style of rhetorical debate silenced many of the female participants. After you provide students with this background information, ask them to think about Fuller's style of composition and argumentation in "The Great Lawsuit." How does she go about persuading readers to share her views? What kind of resolution does she seem to expect for her "lawsuit"? How does Fuller's model of argumentation differ from the masculine tradition that Emerson characterized as "asserting and dogmatizing"?

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