Dr. Alex E. Blazer Course Site Syllabus
First Day Poems Recommended Reading Selected Reading
In Class Activities Article Summaries Take-Home Exam
Short Paper Annotated Bibliography Research Paper


American Transcendentalism: Beyond and Beneath the I

English 319-75: American Literature from 1830 to 1865

Fall 2004, MW 4:00-5:15PM, Bingham Humanities Bldg 113

First Day Poems

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The Apology"


Think me not unkind and rude

    That I walk alone in grove and glen;

I go to the god of the wood

 To fetch his word to men.


Tax not my sloth that I

    Fold my arms beside the brook;

Each cloud that floated in the sky

  Writes a letter in my book.


Chide me not, laborious band,

    For the idle flowers I brought;

Every aster in my hand

    Goes home loaded with a thought.


There was never mystery

    But 't is figured in the flowers;

Was never secret history

    But birds tell it in the bowers.


One harvest from thy field

    Homeward brought the oxen strong;

A second crop thine acres yield,

    Which I gather in a song.




Give to barrows, trays and pans

Grace and glimmer of romance;

Bring the moonlight into noon

Hid in gleaming piles of stone;

On the city's paved street

Plant gardens lined with lilacs sweet;

Let spouting fountains cool the air,

Singing in the sun-baked square;

Let statue, picture, park and hall,

Ballad, flag and festival,

The past restore, the day adorn,

And make to-morrow a new morn.

So shall the drudge in dusty frock

Spy behind the city clock

Retinues of airy kings,

Skirts of angels, starry wings,

His fathers shining in bright fables,

His children fed at heavenly tables.

'T is the privilege of Art

Thus to play its cheerful part,

Man on earth to acclimate

And bend the exile to his fate,

And, moulded of one element

With the days and firmament,

Teach him on these as stairs to climb,

And live on even terms with Time;

Whilst upper life the slender rill

Of human sense doth overfill.

Recommended Reading

I've placed articles about Transcendentalism and the Sublime on Minerva's Electronic Reserves and Blackboard > Course Documents to supplement the Norton Anthology's discussion of the subject. Please read them at your leisure, perhaps one per week or when I mention an article in class. I also recommend that you read the critical articles and student article summaries on Blackboard's course documents and discussion board, respectively.


The Sublime

Study Questions

When reading Transcendentalist essays and literature, you should pay particular attention to the following issues, conflicts, and themes:

My approach to Transcendentalism is that all Transcendentalist authors believe in the mind's ability to achieve higher states of spiritual reality. However, such positive transcendence is not guaranteed; consequently, the mind that faces its most sublime fears and strives to achieve its most imaginative possibilities in a quest for ultimate knowledge may descend into melancholic and mournful or obsessional and destructive thinking. There exist two kinds of transcendence: "positive" transcendence, which encompasses the creative, idealistic, and self-determining genius, and "negative" transcendence, which consists of the destructive death drive toward absolute negation of self and the world. Emerson and Thoreau are positive Transcendentalists for they believe in the possibility of the mind to transcend society and achieve a more or less spiritual or simplified grace; Fuller, Douglass have one foot in positive and one foot in negative transcendence for they believe in the ability to transcend their gender stereotypes and physical enslavement, respectively; however, Fuller and Douglass both experience anguish because of their knowledge of transcendent possibilities, a knowledge of self-negation that ironically pushes them toward transcendence. Hawthorne and Melville are negative transcendentalists because Young Goodman Brown, Bartleby, and Ahab each acquire a debilitating knowledge in the face of more or less extreme existential quests.

Selected Reading

The Norton Anthology and Critical Editions offer much more writing by most of the authors that we're going to read than we can possibly examine in this course. I encourage you to read all of these texts, but we'll only have time to examine a limited number of them in class. Please be prepared to discuss the following selections.


Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nature (Emerson 27-55)

"The American Scholar" (Emerson 56-69)

"The Divinity School Address" (Emerson 69-81)

"The Transcendentalist" (Emerson 93-104)

Emerson, "The Over-Soul" (Emerson 163-74)

"The Poet" (Emerson 183-98)

"Experience" (Emerson 198-213)

from "Poetry and Imagination" (Emerson 297-319)

read all selected poetry (Emerson 429-83), but these are the ones we'll most likely discuss:

"The Sphinx"

"The Problem"


"The Humble-Bee"

"The Snow-Storm"

"The Apology"

"Merlin I"

"Merlin II"




"The Chartist's Complaint"

"The Titmouse"




Henry David Thoreau

"Resistance to Civil Government" (Baym 1788-1806)

Walden, or Life in the Wood, Chapters 1-3, 5, and 18 only (Baym 1807-66, 1875-81, 1974-82)

"Life without Principle" (Baym 1788-2028)

Walt Whitman

read all poems (Baym 2127-274), but these are the ones we'll most likely discuss:

Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)

"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

Letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson [Whitman's 1856 Manifesto]

"From Pent-up Aching Rivers"

"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

"Song of Myself" (1855) [note: not the 1881 version]

"I Sing the Body Electric" [online]

Emily Dickinson

read all poems (Baym 2499-544), but these are the ones we'll most likely discuss:

67 [Success is counted sweetest]

185 ["Faith" is a fine invention]

258 [There's a certain Slant of light]

280 [I felt a Funeral, in my Brain]

324 [Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—]

341 [After great pain, a formal feeling comes—]

448 [This was a Poet—It is that]

465 [I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—]

536 [The Heart asks Pleasure—first—]

547 [I've seen a Dying Eye]

712 [Because I could not stop for Death—]

1126 [Shall I take thee, the Poet said]

In Class Group Activities

1. Emerson: Defining Key Terms

Last week, we grounded our general understanding of Emerson's project by looking at "The Transcendentalist" and Nature. Today, we'll discuss specific concepts by looking at four other essays. Divide into four groups of three or four members.


Group 1: "The Over-Soul"

Group 2: "The Poet"

Group 3: "Experience"

Group 4: from "Poetry and the Imagination"


Each group should analyze one essay by answering the following questions. Select a secretary to report your findings to the rest of the class.

  1. Provide the essay's thesis and define its titular and key terms, for example the over-soul, poetry, experience, and the imagination.
  2. Select a passage or two that brings the essay into clear focus and explain the passage.
  3. Describe Emerson's argument about the place of poetry and object of writing (and reading) literature.

2. Hawthorne's "Blackness" and "Young Goodman Brown"

In "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Herman Melville argues that Hawthorne's stories have a certain blackness. Today, we'll debate that issue after completing the following groupwork.

  1. Define the "blackness" that Melville sees in Hawthorne's work.
  2. Do a character sketch of Young Goodman Brown by paying particular heed to his arc. In what world and view of the world does he start and end? What happens to him and his view of the world?
  3. Is Melville's reading of blackness in Hawthorne's work apt? Why or why not?
    • I'll assign half of the groups the pro position and the other half of the groups the con position.
  4. If your group has the time, consider what makes Hawthorne a Transcendentalist. Do Goodman Brown, Hester, Pearl, or Dimmesdale "transcend"?

3. Hawthorne's Troubling Transcendence in The Scarlet Letter

Last week, we discussed the blackness at the heart of Young Goodman Brown, both the character and the story. Today, we'll look at the ambivalent characters and ambiguous symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. Each group is responsible for examining the transcendentalist aspect of their assigned character, and how that transcendentalist ideal is troubled by the events and relationships in the novel.


Here are the questions:

  1. What are the transcendentalist traits of the character?
  2. In what ways are these aspects diverted, subverted, or even perverted? Why?
  3. How does the character to relate to the predominant symbol, the scarlet letter? Or, what does the scarlet letter do to the psyche of the character?

Here are the groups:

  1. Hester Prynn
  2. Pearl Prynn
  3. Arthur Dimmesdale
  4. Roger Chillingworth

4. Melville's Relationship to Nature in Moby-Dick

Melville's understanding of and relationship to Nature is a bit more complicated than Emerson and Thoreau's. We'll begin our analysis of Moby-Dick with groupwork that looks at the main characters and the authors' attitudes toward the sea and the whale.

  1. Ishmael
    1. Why does Ishmael go whaling?
    2. How does he speak of the sea, whales in general, Moby-Dick specifically, and whaling?
  2. Starbuck
    1. How does Starbuck feel about Nature and about his occupation?
    2. What kind of mate is Starbuck (how does he perform his whaling duties in general) and how does he regard Ahab's relation to Moby-Dick and the Pequod's mission?
  3. Ahab
    1. Describe Ahab's monomania.
    2. What does Ahab's quest for vengeance against the whale suggest about his regard for life and Nature in general?
  4. Melville
    1. Given that the tale is written in first person, is it fair to equate Ishmael's attitude toward the sea with Melville's?
    2. How might Melville's attitude be distinguished from Ishmael, Starbuck, and Ahab's? In other words, how does the conflict between the three views engender Melville's theory and theme of Nature.

5. Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"

We'll conclude our discussion of Poe's paradoxical complication of life and death, the beautiful and the grotesque, the rational and the irrational by examining "The Fall of the House of Usher." Divide into four groups.

  1. the house
  2. Roderick
  3. Madeline
  4. the narrator

Each group is responsible for the following tasks:

  1. Do a character (or, in the case of the house, setting) sketch.
  2. Interpret the character's core conflicts and discuss the key issues surrounding the character.
  3. Determine the most important passage that reveals the character's central issues.

6. Whitman's Poetry

During the last class period, we discussed Walt Whitman's Preface to Leaves of Grass, his letter to Emerson, and his poem "Song of Myself." Today, we'll look deeper into the poetry.


Here are the groups:

  1. "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
  2. "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
  3. "Pent Up Aching Rivers"
  4. "I Sing the Body Electric"

Here are the issues the group should discuss:

  1. What is the poem about? What is the narrative of the poem?
  2. What are the issues and themes of the poem?
  3. Does the poem fulfill the task of the poet as set forth by Whitman himself in his Preface to Leaves of Grass and letter to Emerson?

Article Summaries

In order to open up the critical perspective of the class, we'll be using scholarly articles that comment on the works of literature that we're reading in the class.


Twice in the quarter, you will write a two page (500 word) article summary of an essay that analyzes and interprets an work of literature that we're reading in class. Scholarly articles are found in the Norton Critical Editions or Blackboard > Course Documents.


Your first summary should primarily appreciate the essay under review: What interpretive issues does the essay broach and/or answer? What is the article's thesis and controlling idea? (How) does the essay illuminate the work of literature in question?


Your second summary should primarily interrogate the essay under review: What interpretive issues does the essay fail to broach and/or answer? What is "wrong" with the article's thesis and controlling idea? What does does the essay fail to illuminate about the work of literature in question?


Article summaries are due in Blackboard > Article Summaries discussion board by the start of class on the date listed. Format your summary to Word so all students can read it; you may use my MLA styled template. Sign up for two slots at least two weeks apart so I can grade and return your first summary before you write your second summary. Your first summary should summarize the article while the second should interrogate it. You will also be asked to briefly outline the article and your response to it during class. You can collect your graded article summary, approximately one week after you post it, in Blackboard > Tools > View Grades. Click the "0" link to open up your grade. Your graded paper is the attached file in section 3 Feedback to Student.


Week Due Article Student
Week 1      
Week 2 M, 8-30

Emerson criticism (in Emerson)

Firkins (Emerson 657-63)


Suzanne Moffitt

West (Emerson 742-58) Jacob Lee
Miller (Emerson 668-79) Justin Linde
Porte (Emerson 679-697)  
Morris (Emerson 777-90)  
Waggoner (Emerson 697-704) Kevin Mullins
W, 9-1

Thoreau criticism (in Blackboard)


Gleason Matt Mattingly
Kleine Suzanne Moffitt
Moore Jacob Lee
Week 3 W, 9-8

Fuller criticism (in Blackboard)



Stacey Wimsatt

Reynolds and Berthold  
Week 4 W, 9-15

Douglass criticism (in Blackboard)



Kevin Webb

Wardrop Matt Mattingly

Jacobs (in Blackboard)



Hasan Khan

Week 5 W, 9-22

Hawthorne criticism (in Blackboard)




Brittany Robertson

Paulits Kevin Corbin
Week 6 W, 9-29

Hawthorne criticism (in Hawthorne)

Fogle (Hawthorne 308-14) or

Waggoner (Hawthorne 315-24)


Hasan Khan

Andrea Ulrich

Male (Hawthorne 324-33) or

Gross (Hawthorne 336-42)


Melanie Zettwoch

Crews (Hawthorne 361-70) or

Porte (Hawthorne 375-83)


Stephanie Stout

Stubbs (Hawthorne 384-91) or

Leverenz (Hawthorne 416-22)


Emely Clevinger

Week 7      
Week 8 W, 10-13

Melville criticism (in Blackboard)



Brittany Robertson

Stempel and Stillians Andrew Walker
Week 9 W, 10-20

Melville criticism (in Melville)

Benzanson (Melville 641-56)


Tammy Wintermute

Hayford (Melville 657-69) Andrew Ulrich
Brodtkorb (Melville 669-74) Kevin Corbin
Hayford (Melville 674-96) Melanie Zettwoch
Week 10 W, 10-27 Paglia (697-702) Emely Clevinger
Wenke (702-12) Josh Ganz

Melville criticism (in Blackboard)




Van Cromphout Stacey Wimsatt

Poe, criticism (in Blackboard)



Justin Linde


Joel McQueary

Andrew Walker

Week 11 W, 11-3 Bieganowski Josh Ganz

Stephanie Stout

Week 12 W, 11-10

Whitman criticism (in Blackboard)



Tammy Wintermute

DeLancey Kevin Webb
Week 13 W, 11-17

Dickinson criticism (in Blackboard)



Joel McQueary

Week 14      
Week 15      
Week 16      

Take-Home Exam

Transcendentalism is a particularly American version of idealism. What does Transcendentalist philosophy mean to particular authors we’ve read? How do these specific authors evoke their own version of the Transcendentalist ethic? Do all Transcendentalists believe in the same set of ideals? Compare and contrast how two of the four authors we've read so far (Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and even Douglass, who was not a Transcendentalist per se but certainly one in spirit) would, firstly, define Transcendentalism and, secondly, achieve transcendence. Think of this take-home exam as half-exam and half-paper. In terms of being an exam, show what you know about the movement and its ideas; in terms of being a paper, analyze and interpret specific works of literature. You must quote from assigned primary texts to prove your argument, and you may also use recommended and critical reading to help support your analysis if you wish.

Short Paper

In the first third of the semester (and, consequently, the take-home exam), we painted a fairly optimistic and, dare I write it, idealistic, view of the Transcendentalists. The first paper will allow you to investigate the complexities of a particular Transcendentalist stance by providing a more nuanced reading of only one author. Using one of the authors that we've read so far (Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Douglass, Jacobs, Hawthorne, or Melville), but one which you did not write your first exam on, write a paper that focuses on the trials and tribulations of Transcendentalism, the emotional suffering and mental anguish that go part and parcel with achieving transcendence. (Although Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs do suffer physically in their quest for freedom, you should also look at the complex emotional and mental effects rather than merely the corporeal.) For the essayists and autobiographers, you could delve into the obstacles that hinder one's movement toward transcendence and/or the costly emotional consequences of a particular journey . For the poets and fiction writers, you could analyze the costly intellectual, emotional, and/or spiritual consequences of a particular transcendental quest. Or you could look at the negative, melancholic, or obsessional side of transcendentalism from your own analytical viewpoint.

Annotated Bibliography

The take-home exam allowed you to work through a general conception of the Transcendentalist movement while the short paper allowed you to more fully investigate a work of literature. The article summaries showed you some scholarly approaches to literature. The research paper is your space of writing to merge your ideas about a work of literature with what critics in the field are thinking. Before you write the paper, you must do the research in an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is a list of secondary sources that includes summaries of those materials. While the article summaries required you to summarize one critical article in 500 words, an annotated bibliography requires you to summarize ten articles in 75-100 each. A full two weeks before your research paper is due, you will compose an annotated bibliography of the research materials that you might use in the research paper. Here's the format you should follow for the annotated bibliography.

  1. Thesis in Progress: In a couple of sentences, state your tentative interpretive thesis in progress and the question that is guiding your research. (You will be asked to share this with the class.)
  2. Summary of Findings: In at least 250 words, summarize the various ways critics are interpreting the work of literature. For instance, point out interpretative debates.
  3. 10 Secondary Sources
    • type of sources: Spread your search evenly between scholarly journal articles and scholarly books or book chapters; do not use encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, websites, or primary texts. Here is a handout on literary research methods at UofL.
    • arrangement and citation format of sources: arrange sources alphabetically and format them according to MLA citation standards
    • annotations: summarize and evaluate each of the 10 sources in 75-100 words by
      1. identifying the issue or question that the source is investigating,
      2. defining the source's thesis or main idea relevant to the work of literature you're researching, and
      3. explaining how the source helps your understanding of the work of literature

Research Paper / Final Portfolio

Research Paper : In your take-home exam and short paper, you analyzed works of literature while honing your understanding of the Transcendental aesthetic and worldview. In your article summaries, you outlined and interrogated scholars' readings of two work of literature. In the final paper, you will continue that process of interpretive analysis while using scholars in the field to augment your interpretation. The final paper will be a 9-10 page research paper on a Transcendentalist work of literature of your choosing, although you should share your topic with me before you begin. Here are the three choices for research topics:

  1. a text we've read in class, but on which you have not yet written a formal paper or exam,
  2. a text we've not read in class, though by an author we've read in class, or
  3. a work by an author we have not read in class. Possible authors include William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emma Lazarus.
    (Click here to see the list of Transcendentalist texts students chose to pursue.)

Rigorously interpret and analyze the work of literature, and use four scholarly journal articles, books, or book chapters to support your interpretation (Click here to learn how to conduct literary research at UofL). Although this is a research paper, the emphasis should be on your ideas, your way of reading the text; the research should help you develop and support your interpretation, but it should not take the place of your interpretation.


Final Portfolio: The final paper must be turned in with a final portfolio. This portfolio will consist of

  1. a cover letter explaining what you've learned about Transcendentalist literature and the progress of your writing in the course (include rationale for your revision of Paper 1 and/or 2 if you choose to revise them)
  2. all previously graded assignments, with professor's remarks:
    • Article Summary 1: Appreciation
    • Article Summary 2: Interrogation
    • Take-Home Exam
    • Short Paper
    • Annotated Bibliography
  3. optional revisions of the Take-Home Exam and Short Paper (note: these revisions are optional, not mandatory)
  4. research paper

If you turn in your final portfolio as a hard copy, place all materials in a folder. If you turn in your final portfolio electronically, enclose the separate documents into a single zip file (Windows XP has built in zip functionality; you can download WinZip at www.winzip.com). So I can quickly and easily find documents within your electronic portfolio, name each individual document according to the following system: Cover Letter, Article Summary 1: Appreciation, Article Summary 2: Interrogation, Take-Home Exam, Short Paper Annotated Bibliography, Exam Revision, Paper Revision, Research Paper.

Research Paper Topics

Emely Clevinger

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Kevin Corbin

Herman Melville, "Bartleby, the Scrivener"

Josh Ganz

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Hasan Khan

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Jacob Lee

Walt Whitman, poetry

Justin Linde


Matt Mattingly

Edgar Allan Poe

Joel McQueary

Edgar Allan Poe

Suzanne Moffitt

Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, poetry
Brittany Robertson Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin

Stephanie Stout

Edgar Allan Poe, detective fiction

Andrea Ulrich

Walt Whitman, poetry

Andrew Walker

Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown"

Kevin Webb

Walt Whitman, poetry

Stacey Wimsatt

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin

Tammy Wintermute

Edgar Allan Poem
Melanie Zettwoch Emily Dickinson, poetry