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

9. Social

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Activities: Author Activities

Henry Adams - Teaching Tips

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  • Students often comment on the strangeness of Adams's use of the third person in a work in which he himself is the subject. Ask them to think about why Adams might have chosen this more detached way of writing his autobiography, and about what effect the third person narration has on the reader's understanding of Adams as a character. You might ask students to write a journal entry about an incident from their own lives in the third person. Have them discuss the experience of writing about themselves in this way. What difficulties did they encounter? How did the use of the third person change their relationship to their own history?

  • Perhaps because Adams found his wife's suicide so devastating, he is completely silent about the event as he narrates his life. In fact, he never even mentions that he was married. Ask students what effect this absence has on the autobiography and how the knowledge of Adams's personal tragedy changes their understanding of him. You might have them examine the chapter entitled "Chaos," in which Adams vividly describes his reaction to his sister's tragic death. Might this episode be a displaced description of his reaction to his wife's suicide? How does this encounter with death affect Adams? What conclusions does he draw about life from this experience?

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