American Lit to 1865

Gender and Transcendentalism

Transcendentalists had no problem rebelling against conventional thought and tradition: as you have seen in these readings, they embrace nonconformity as a central tenet of their philosophy. They also, true to their name, believe higher truth is found in transcending reality. However, it is debatable whether writers can escape their culture completely, specifically in the way it which culture shapes gender roles. Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau are more enlightened on gender issues than most people of their time, but when Emerson says (for example) that “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist,” one wonders whether he also means “woman” in that declaration (just as we wonder about the scope and intention of “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence). Yet when Margaret Fuller died, Emerson said that he had “lost my audience,” and we know later feminists found inspiration from the Transcendentalists. So, it is complicated; it is also a hot topic in Transcendentalist studies, and for this paper you will get a chance to jump in and join the argument.

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Choose two texts  (See additional materials) we’ve read for Module Two, and argue for which text makes a more effective argument against oppressive gender norms and roles. First, you must define feminism in a 19th century context; then you must measure two texts against that definition, and evaluate which one is more effective. Make sure to provide textual evidence to support your claims. It is crucial in this essay that you clearly identify and focus on particular gender roles or expectations that are discussed in both texts. (An example of a traditional gender norm is that men are more rational, while women are driven more by emotions.) You may choose two texts from the same author, or choose texts by different authors, but the texts should be ones we’ve studied in Module 2. Remember the sage advice of Paul Roberts: when assigned a choice of topics for a paper, always “take the less usual side!”

As with all papers in this class, it must conform to the standards of college writing.  In this class, I require that essays be: typed, double-spaced, 12 pt. standard font, 1-inch margins, with a clever and interesting title attached (please no cover pages).  MLA format is required for this paper: that means you need to include in-text citations and a works cited. Please see the Writing Toolkit module for help. This paper should be around 4-5 pages; anything less may not do justice to the topic. You may view the rubric for the paper here; the syllabus also has information about how I grade your papers.

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