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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 - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Adams sees the Virgin and the Dynamo as important symbols of their respected ages. What does the Virgin represent? What does the Dynamo represent? What conflict does Adams see between them?

  2. Context: In 1870 Adams wrote an article entitled "The New York Gold Conspiracies," detailing the scandalous behavior of men like Jay Gould, who bankrupted the Erie Railroad through corporate mismanagement and became involved in a plot to corner the gold market. To Adams's surprise, the article was refused by the English periodicals The Edinburgh Review and The Quarterly. He was outraged by the power corrupt American businessmen, politicians, and corporations exerted over the free press, even in England: "One knew that the power of Erie was almost as great in England as in America, but one was hardly prepared to find it controlling the Quarterlies." How does the corporate culture created by the robber barons affect Adams? How does he respond to it in his memoir?

  3. Context: What does Adams mean when he claims in his chapter "The Dynamo and the Virgin" that "The Woman had once been supreme" but that "an American Virgin would never dare command; an American Venus would never dare exist"? What kind of role did women occupy in America in the late nineteenth century, according to Adams? What kind of critique of sexual politics does he offer in this chapter? How does Adams's view of the limits of the American woman compare to Sarah Piatt's or Edith Wharton's views?

  4. Exploration: How does Adams's autobiography compare to Benjamin Franklin's autobiography? What concerns do these two writers have in common? What values do they share? How do their attitudes toward spirituality and science compare? What makes the outcome of their lives, and their view of America's future, so different from one another?

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