ENG 203 Final Essay Questions

Three of the following five questions will be on the final. You will choose two of those and write an insightful, cohesive essay in response to each.  Be sure to have a clear thesis and support it with specific textual examples and careful analysis.

  1. What kind of education is needed to form citizens who can contribute to a healthy democracy?  Douglass views education as a pathway to freedom; Sedgwick points to the need for an education in other cultures that shapes young people’s affections and sentiments; Thoreau worries that intellectual training alone will not lead students to true freedom, so he proposes that college include practical education; Hank thinks only experiential education can break open the tunnel vision imposed by our cultural beliefs.  It seems that as the nineteenth century progressed, American authors became increasingly concerned about the proper form of education.  Using at least three of our texts (not necessarily the ones I mention), make a claim regarding how citizens in a healthy democracy should be educated.
  2. Community seems lacking in many of our texts: Thoreau goes off to Walden Pond, Ishmael joins 30 “Isolatoes” on the Pequod, Dickinson is viewed by some as a “hermit,” and Hank is isolated in 6th century culture.  Must community be lost if we achieve freedom?  Are we freed from community or for community?  Drawing on at least two texts, make an argument about whether freedom and community can coexist, and if so, under what conditions.
  3. Some authors, such as Sedgwick, Hawthorne, and Thoreau (consider especially his chapter “Former Inhabitants”), seem to view rural or wild areas as refuges for those discriminated against because of their race or gender. Others, however, like Douglass (who finds most freedom in Baltimore and then New Bedford) and Hank Morgan view the pastoral countryside  as a place of injustice and oppression. Develop an argument that draws on at least three texts to articulate the relationship between nature and just societies (particularly for minorities who are marginalized by the dominant culture).
  4. While authors like Douglass describe the transformative power of reading, other authors point out that realizing these benefits may be challenging. Thoreau writes at length about how and where we should read. Melville humorously describes Queequeg picking up a book and beginning to count “the pages with deliberate regularity; at every fiftieth page as I fancied stopping a moment, looking vacantly around him, and giving utterance to a long-drawn gurgling whistle of astonishment.” Similarly, Hank prints a newspaper even though few people can read; the people handle its pages “cautiously and devoutly as if it had been some holy thing come from some supernatural region.” While these illiterate people treat the text reverently, they don’t have access to the transformative literacy that Douglass describes. Using three texts, make an argument regarding the conditions under which literacy can convert or transform readers.
  5. The Constitution aimed to “form a more perfect union” through a legally binding text, and Protestants turned to the Bible in lieu of an ecclesial hierarchy. In this context, the literary authors we’ve studied are both drawn to and worried about the potential for texts to unify disparate people and generate consensus. From the scarlet “A” that Hester wears to the doubloon Ahab nails to the mast, those texts which are supposed to be definitive end up bearing multiple meanings. Drawing on Hawthorne, Melville, and at least one other author, make an argument for how imaginative literature might unify a diverse people.